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  • Peter Phipps

Surprise: Plan Commission goes neutral on 6-month demo delays

In a surprise move, three Providence Planning Committee members blocked a staff recommendation to oppose demolition delays for six months.

The demolition bill, introduced by Ward 1 Providence councilman John Goncalves, now moves back to the city council without the expected opposition of the Planning Commission.

Lily Bogosian, president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Assn., said she was surprised by the vote and said she would now campaign for quick passage of the bill. 

The demolition delays would only apply to properties in the city’s historic districts, one of which, the College Hill Historic District, includes parts of the Fox Point Neighborhood. 

Bogosian testified Tuesday that requiring property owners to wait six months to tear down a building “can make a really-big difference,”

She was joined in support of the Goncalves bill by the Providence Preservation Society and the College Hill and Mile of History neighborhood associations. Fox Point board members Daisy Schnepel and John Woolsey and six other citizens also testified in favor of Goncalves’ bill. One citizen opposed.

Goncalves said Tuesday that he had gathered enough co-sponsors in Council to pass the bill and override a veto, if it came to that.

Citing similar laws in Newton, and other Massachusetts communities, Goncalves said his goal “was to safeguard the city’s cultural heritage.”

Planning commission Deputy Director Robert Azar and commission chair Michael Gazdacko said the bill was unnecessary, adding that the city’s Historic District Commission has done a good job preventing demolitions of  historic properties.

In fact, Gazdacko said, in 20 years not a single building has been torn down in one of the city’s historic districts.  

Gazdacko said several times that, while he opposed the demolition bill, he favored Goncalves’ effort to increase the size of the city’s historic districts. A Goncalves proposal to do just that, was also on the agenda Tuesday, but was pulled for further  study.

Bogosian, while not disputing the past work of the Historic District Commission, argued that development pressure is increasing. The future could be different, she said. 

So, FPNA board member Woolsey said, the city needs “belt and suspenders protection.”

The meeting’s surprise came after the close of public testimony when commission member Noel Sanchez  moved to send the demolition-delay bill back to council without a recommendation from the commission. His motion was seconded by commission member Will Sherry.  Charlotte Lipschitz cast the deciding vote.

Commission member Dave Caldwell and Gazdacko voted “no” and the demolition bill was sent to Council without a recommendation.


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