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Grow Smart outlines state and local policies for building a stronger, more vibrant RI

Briefing Book includes recommendations, resources for candidates and voters

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October 13, 2016 – Hot off the e-press, our 2016 Briefing Book for Candidates and Voters is now on the street.   In it we assert that Rhode Island is on a comeback path due in large part to key investments in smart and sustainable economic development recently embraced by voters and elected officials.  Grow Smart RI, which turned18 this year, is calling for further state and municipal policy reforms that can accelerate Rhode Island’s new found positive momentum.

Over the past couple of years our state has turned some important corners.  We’ve started to make smart economic investments that have helped reduce unemployment and spark additional development and redevel­opment projects, many in our compact, centrally located neighborhoods.   But with the national economic wind behind our back, now is the time to double down on smart growth strategies that are working for Rhode Island – and to make sure that municipalities have the resources and technical assistance necessary to implement these strategies.

Yes, we’ve made meaningful progress in the last few years, but there is still much work to be done.  We’re convinced that our state has tremendous untapped po­tential — and that our best days can still be ahead of us.

The briefing book offers a comprehensive, positive policy reform agenda designed to capitalize on Rhode Island’s many underutilized and underappreciated strengths and is organized around the following broad goals:

  • Sustainable Economic Growth
  • Revitalized Urban and Town Centers
  • Expanded Transportation Choices
  • Strengthened Farms and Food Systems
  • Increased Conservation of Forests

While its immediate purpose is to influence the current election season’s policy dialogue, the Briefing Book is also intended to be a resource for elected officials, their staffs and citizen activists in the policy deliberations of the 2017 General Assembly session.

Highlights of specific recommendations include:

State Recommendations

  • Economic Development Incentives: Continue to make the Rebuild RI Tax Credit more user-friendly and promote recent positive changes to the program among developers, property owners and municipal officials.  Enable the State Historic Tax Credit (“HTC”) to complement the Rebuild RI program by capitalizing the HTC with multi-year funding so that it’s once again a predictable and reliable economic revitalization incentive.
  • Infrastructure: Develop a competitive grant program similar to MassWorks in Massachusetts that targets state infrastructure investments in urban, town and village centers where public investment can be maximized for long term, environmentally friendly economic growth.
  • Targeted Investments in Rhode Island’s future: Advocate passage of Questions #5 (Port Infrastructure Projects), Question #6 (Green Economy Bond) and Question #7 (Affordable Housing Bond), all measures that will reinforce positive trends in sustainable economic development and quality of place.
  • Mass Transit: Prioritize development of a comprehensive vision and master plan for transforming our mass transit system into one that better serves a 21st century economy and gets people where they need to go when they need to get there.
  • Farmland Protection: Identify and protect land for agriculture in urban, suburban and rural communities and prioritize implementation of the 2014 voter-approved program to link the next generation of farmers with available land.

Municipal Recommendations

  • Permitting: Streamline and standardize the building permitting process to avoid unnecessary delays and improve predictability and reliability. Promote new opportunities adopted by the General Assembly and Governor for unified development review by municipal planning and zoning boards.
  • Zoning: Adopt policies that allow the necessary density (particularly in urban, town and village centers) to address unmet workforce housing needs and revitalize local Main streets and Downtowns.
  • Pedestrian and Bike-friendly Streets: Adopt a resolution or ordinance acknowledging the importance of designing road repair and reconstruction projects to include pedestrian-friendly “complete streets” elements whenever practical.
  • Adopt Smart Growth Land Use Techniques: Smart Growth land use techniques such as the Transfer of Development Rights, Conservation Development and Village Zoning, can all help to accommodate development while preserving meaningful farmland and forestland.

The Essence of Smart Growth

  1. Efficient community development that revitalizes urban, town and village centers, conserves open space and protects the environment.
  2. At its heart, smart growth is about encouraging a pattern of development that prevents waste – waste of buildings and neighborhoods, of environmental resources, energy, tax dollars, of people’s time and of people’s individual and collective potential.

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