Council opposes ‘middle housing’ bills

Posted 3/16/22


The Warwick City Council passed a resolution on March 7th condemning pending legislation that calls for bans on single-family residential zoning in communities like Warwick, with …

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Council opposes ‘middle housing’ bills



The Warwick City Council passed a resolution on March 7th condemning pending legislation that calls for bans on single-family residential zoning in communities like Warwick, with populations over 20,000, and requiring those towns and cities to adopt “middle housing” regulations.

“I think that the City of Warwick is quite capable of taking care of our own residential properties, our own residential needs and certainly having control over our zoning etc. I don’t feel that we need nor should we have the General Assembly intervening in the day-to-day business of cities and towns,” said Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur.

The Johnston Town Council may be poised to follow Warwick and Woonsocket city councils in passing a resolution condemning the legislation.

“This is insanity,” Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena said this week. “What they’re doing is usurping the powers of planning and zoning. This is Communism at its best.”

The pending legislation, known as House Bill 2022-H6638, has been sponsored by state Rep. Brianna Henries (District 64, East Providence), Rep. Karen Alzate (District 60, Pawtucket), and Rep. David Morales (District 7, Providence).

The legislators argue the bill would “expand the supply of affordable housing in urban areas, reduce homelessness, and allow Rhode Island residents to access essential services more easily” by requiring the “rezoning of areas formerly zoned as single-family.”

“It would also create the development of middle housing within areas formerly zoned as single-family areas and reduce the use of automobiles,” according to the bill’s opening paragraph, or “legislative purpose.”

Parallel legislation, S 2340, has also been introduced in the state Senate. 

On Feb. 21, Woonsocket City Council voted unanimously to pass a resolution in opposition to the bill. On Monday night, Warwick City Council followed with its own resolution. 

According to the resolution, Warwick City Council asserts that the legislation “would prohibit single-family residential zoning in municipalities with populations over twenty thousand (20,000) and mandate the adoption of zoning regulations for middle housing in single-family residential zones.”

“The model middle housing ordinance to be created by the state building code standards committee would override local ordinances should municipal governing bodies fail to amend their comprehensive plan to provide for middle housing by June 30, 2023,” according to the resolution. 

The bills would “usurp the traditional zoning power of cities and towns to comprehensively regulate, on a local level, the land use in their communities and would overtax local communities’ availability to provide adequate public safety measures and other necessary municipal services,” according to the Warwick City Council resolution. 

The Warwick City Council “respectfully urges the Rhode Island General Assembly not to pass the Bills.”

Polisena said his son, Town Council Vice President Joe Polisena Jr., will introduce a similar resolution at the board’s regular monthly meeting next week. 

“People in this state better wake up come election time,” Mayor Polisena warned Tuesday afternoon. “This is the most absurd legislation — and I was a state senator for 12 years — that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s absurd. It’s disgusting.”

In response to Woonsocket’s council resolution, Rep. Henries Tweeted in defense of her bill. 

“What drives the legislation I introduce today is my experiences with homelessness as a kid,” Henries wrote. “While my mother working full time in the housing industry, my family still couldn’t afford rent because in Rhode Island wages are too low and affordable housing is scarce. That’s why I’m proud to be introducing legislation to undo Jim Crow restrictions on building more affordable homes ... I look forward to the day Woonsocket’s city council joins me in those fights.”

Polisena said Johnston’s legislative delegation is “vehemently opposed” to the “middle housing” bills.

“That’s insane,” Polisena said in response to Henries Tweet. “It doesn’t make any sense to strip the powers of cities and towns. This is a very dangerous piece of legislation. I don’t want to hear about Jim Crow. They should let the cities and towns enact their own laws addressing affordable housing. This is dangerous, dangerous legislation.”

Town Councilman Robert Civetti said he also worries the bills would weaken local control over planning and zoning decisions.

“Zoning really should be at the local level in my opinion,” Civetti said Tuesday. “I don’t think the state should be controlling our zoning laws. We have our zoning rules and regulations and ordinances for a reason. What should be built should be up to the local communities, not handed down from the state of Rhode Island.”

Polisena took his concerns to a recent Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns meeting, hoping to raise awareness of the legislation among his fellow elected officials.

“I don’t plan to give the State House the keys to Johnston,” Polisena said. “We’ll live and die by our decisions. I don’t need the state coming in and mandating what I have to do, and what the council has to do.

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