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by David Brussat, Architecture Here and There, contributing writer
Photo: Forty-six-story Fane tower, first proposed in 2016, moves forward after court ruling. (WPRI.com)
The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled that the Fane tower – a proposed 500-foot, 46-story luxury highrise in the Jewelry District of Providence – can go forward toward construction. The tower’s proposed height of five times the limit in the comprehensive plan is not inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. That is what the judge has ruled.
Now Jason Fane is free to buy the land and build his monstrosity.
As for the ruling itself, its attitude was: when it comes to the comprehensive plan setting parameters for zoning laws to carry out the comprehensive plan, “Never mind!” The high court’s Justice William Robinson upheld Superior Court Judge Brian Stern and his December 2020 ruling, reported in GoLocalProv.com, that:
[A]s evidenced by the conflicting recommendations … as to consistency with the Comprehensive Plan, this issue is not entirely clear cut. But our Supreme Court has “recognize[d] that a municipality has discretion in choosing options for conforming its ordinances or land use decisions to its comprehensive plan.”
Maybe under the law a city does have discretion, but if such “discretion” allows a tower five times the height permitted in the city’s comprehensive plan, then the comprehensive plan is not truly a functioning part of the city’s government.
Furthermore, based on the judge’s obviously inappropriate substitution of cockamamie word play for judicious discernment, it seems just as valid to say that Rhode Island has no more of a functioning judiciary than its capital, Providence, has a functioning comprehensive plan.
This sounds outrageous but in fact, reality dysphoria has overtaken great swaths of American society. So yes, it is outrageous: fantasy has taken over for reason in our public and private lives, whether it is what children are taught in schools, or the assault on election integrity, or the invasion of our southern border, or the replacement of merit with racism in rules at work, or the junking of U.S. energy independence in the quixotic quest for renewable power, or the rise of cancel culture and the decline of free speech.
Or the mismatch of Providence’s zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan to enrich an outsider who thumbs his nose at the city’s “cutesy” historical character.
Yes, this national rejection of common sense is on display here in Rhode Island and its capital city.
If anyone has noticed, policymakers in Providence have invited unscrupulous developers to build crap here for decades. The governor or mayor could rescue us from the erosion of our historical character by merely choosing to encourage traditional design over modernist experimentation and megalomania: demand development that strengthens rather than weakens our commercial brand, which depends on our beautiful heritage.
Unlike so many problems facing our communities, there are no complexities to be hashed out. Policymakers must decide that they want to preserve Providence. Once such a decision is made – which would be supported by a very large majority of voters – implementation would be easy and inexpensive.
Step 1 might be to recognize that a 100-foot height limit on Parcel 42 means a 100-foot height limit on Parcel 42. Period.
Just do it.
To read other articles by David Brussat: https://rinewstoday.com/david-brussat-contributing-writer/
My freelance writing and editing on architecture and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, email@example.com, or call (401) 351-0457
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