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7/2/2015 House passes Minority Caucus’ legislation in response to controversial RhodeMap RI: Bill protects local sovereignty
STATE HOUSE - The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H 6040 Sub A, which protects local communities from any interpretation that portions of RhodeMap RI or the State Guide Plan that covers low and moderate income housing, would otherwise subordinate local zoning ordinances to federal control. The measure was sponsored by Representative Justin Price (District 39 - Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond) and co-sponsored by Representative Sherry Roberts (District 29 – West Greenwich, Coventry), Senior Deputy Minority Leader Mike Chippendale (District 40 – Foster, Glocester, Coventry), Representative Doreen Costa (District 31 – North Kingstown, Exeter) and Representative Bobby Nardolillo (District 28 – Coventry).

The development of RhodeMap RI, now referred to as RI Rising, was funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through a ‘Sustainable Communities Initiative Grant’ applied for by the state’s Division of Planning on behalf of the Statewide Planning Council.

In January, 2015, on the heels of unanimous approval to incorporate RhodeMap RI into Rhode Island’s official State Guide Plan by the Rhode Island Department of Administration’s Statewide Planning Council, Minority Leader Brian Newberry and Sr. Deputy Minority Leader Mike Chippendale announced that legislation would be submitted in response to the Council’s vote. Leader Newberry stated that “Many Rhode Islanders, all of the legislative members of the House Minority and many city and town councils have expressed concern with the impact that RhodeMap RI may have on local comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances.”

Senior Deputy Minority Leader Chippendale explained, "The RhodeMap RI initiative is perhaps one of the most dangerous pieces of policy to come out of the previous gubernatorial administration. The plan as written gives immense power to an unelected commission of political appointees who have imposed their will and desires onto every single city and town in the state. This legislation, which is a product of countless hours of work, research and collaboration, eliminates the 'teeth' from this plan, rendering it an advisory document rather than an unfunded mandate on every Rhode Island municipality."

Representative Justin Price, the prime sponsor of the bill said, “H 6040 Sub A is a good first step and I am encouraged by the support from my legislative colleagues in the House. As representatives of ‘We the People’ we must remain vigilant and be ready to analyze and block any plans that would subordinate local control to the decisions of RI’s Statewide Planning Council and, worse, local zoning ordinances to the federal government.”

The House Minority Caucus came out early in opposition to the state’s Division of Planning’s claim that RhodeMap RI was in direct response to the general assembly’s legislative mandate to provide a 4 year economic development plan. Members of the caucus made it clear that it “missed the mark” on that claim.

“The implications of RhodeMap RI were characterized by supporters as an economic development plan at the time that it bubbled to the surface. While it contained some laudable components it clearly was not an economic development plan and it certainly set-up our cities and towns for federal intervention by HUD, providing a pathway to insist upon implementation of their housing and land use standards. Since then, HUD’s intentions to manage local housing development and therefore zoning have been in the national spotlight. It is important that locally elected officials pay particular attention to the expectations of HUD if and when cities and towns apply for future funding from them.” said Representative Sherry Roberts.

Representative Doreen Costa pointed out that “I am pleased that our legislative colleagues in the House supported this legislation. I am happy to say that this as a small step in the right direction. However, we must move forward next session to urge the Senate to support this as well. No state agency should remain unchecked whereby the sovereign rights of our cities and towns are trampled upon. We need to remember that there were many cities and towns that had put in resolutions to opt out and that should be a red flag for everyone.”

RhodeMap RI became a mandate for localities to align their local comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances with the State Guide Plan as soon as it was approved by the Statewide Planning Council. “RI statute required localities to review their own comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances to align with the intent of the State Guide Plan. It became very clear that we needed to step up to protect locally elected officials’ authority to determine the content of their development plans for their own communities, said Representative Bobby Nardolillo, “The last thing any city or town needs is to be sued for failing to abide by HUD’s zoning expectations and so it is extremely important that we continue to monitor the activity of the Department of Administration’s Division of Planning and the Statewide Planning Council to prevent future obligations from being imposed on the state, and our cities and towns.”

For more information, contact:
Lisa Blais, House Minority Office
State House Room 106
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2259