AN OCEAN STATE DISGRACE. RhodeMapRI opponents, who questioned the plan’s economic viability and potential to infringe on individual property rights and the sovereignty of local governments were branded as “racists” and “Ku Klux Klan” by consortium members who designed the plan itself!

This proves our Center’s contention that RhodeMapRI is not a serious economic development plan, but rather a radical social-equity agenda.

[button url=”http://www.golocalprov.com/news/rhodemap-ri-meeting-explodes-into-controversy” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ] See the shocking video here [/button]

Center Challenges Chafee Administration to a Debate

Following an OpEd battle in the Providence Journal, the Center calls for a rigorous debate on this highly controversial issue. Do Rhode Islanders want local housing and land-use decisions being made by un-elected bureaucrats in Washington, DC … or by locally-elected officials?

[button url=”http://rifreedom.org/propertyrights/” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ] Read more here [/button]

Our land, our rights, our local government

Originally published in the Providence Journal, October 20, 2014

–   Read Governor Chafee’s OpEd Response

Center/Stenhouse Response   – Related Media Release

See public comment letter submitted by the Center 

The American Dream once meant ownership of land and a home, with a white picket fence around the yard, as a symbol of independence and a step toward prosperity. To others today, that dream is being reduced to living in a multi-use tenement building, with a rail around a small balcony, in a socially-engineered collectivist society.

It was the design of our nation that each state should be an independent laboratory, largely free of centralized control. It is widely held that local government is better government — most reflecting the will of the people it serves. Similarly, it is understood that land-use and zoning decisions are best made by locally elected officials. These core principles are the basis of our American society.

Urban planning can be an effective tool in providing for growth of population and services, in maintaining these core principles, and in advancing local values and traditions. Conscientious planners should attempt to balance public benefit against potential loss of property rights. To manage these issues, we understand that related decisions are best made by local officials, accountable to their community.

However, the federal government has recently been pushing and funding a centralized approach, often referred to as “sustainable development.” In creating regional planning entities funded by federal grants, and run by unelected ideologues accountable to no one, this approach turns the local planning process on its head.
In 2012, Rhode Island became the first state to formally cede a major portion of its economic development and planning rights to the federal government when it accepted grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a so-called economic development plan that advances a “social equity” agenda that considers private-property ownership to be unfair. This agenda incorporates radical elements from the environmentalist and “social justice” movements, even to the extent where racial quotas could be implemented to determine who will be allowed to live in certain cities and towns.

In the Ocean State, a little-known plan is being aggressively advanced behind the scenes: It is called RhodeMapRI. While its cozily worded claims of benefits may seem attractive, experience with similar plans has shown that serious unintended — perhaps intended — consequences have undermined core principles that Rhode Islanders hold dearly. Urban planning should never supersede the rights of private citizens or the authority of local governments.

The goals of this movement are to force development of high-density “walkable” communities that meet radical social equity standards and that, ostensibly, reduce carbon emissions. By positioning its suggested reforms in attractive “affordable housing,” “social equity” and “environmentally responsible” language, the true intentions of the movement, also called “smart growth,” may severely limit levels of private property ownership and related property rights.

By focusing only on professed benefits, and covering up high costs and many pitfalls, regional sustainable planning acolytes often slip their agendas through, before local officials and residents realize what is going on. It is then often too late to do anything about it. Just Google “Westchester County Agenda 21.”

Among the many unsustainable problems created by RhodeMapRI could be:
•States and counties ceding their sovereignty to federal government agencies.
•Municipalities giving up much local authority to newly created regional non-governmental entities.
•Wasted money spent on an overly-idealistic urban agenda that would further depress our economy.
•Blocking paths to property ownership and infringing on rights of property owners.
•Transportation restrictions discouraging the use of private vehicles.
•Social equity and radical environmentalism as the standards against which future land-use proposals will be measured.
•Over-aggressive affordable-housing mandates that result in reduced and inequitable local property tax levies (as is happening now in Woonsocket and Barrington).
•Oppressive zoning statutes and liberal eminent domain laws that decrease property values.

RhodeMapRI is not an economic development plan. It is a ruse. It is an extreme social-engineering scheme that will serve to throttle economic growth at a time when the Ocean State can least afford it. Property owners, beware.

There are more questions than there are answers about RhodeMapRI and all Rhode Islanders are encouraged to voice their concerns at one of the upcoming public hearings on Oct. 27 and 28.

Who are these people who have written this massive and intrusive plan? Certainly not elected officials from Rhode Island!

For such an elaborate plan that will impact future decades for our state, why just two public sessions in the final week of a major election campaign? What are they trying to hide?

Mike Stenhouse is CEO for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a nonpartisan public policy think tank.

Public forums for the RhodeMapRI plan will be held on Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Powers Building, One Capitol Hill, Providence; and Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. at North Kingstown Senior Center.

Individual Property Rights in the Cross Hairs in the Ocean State

Homeowners, businesses, and other property owners should be aware that a series of bills under consideration in the Rhode Island General Assembly would undermine or erode their individual property rights — the foundation of the U.S. Constitution and the free-enterprise system.

In the name of vague environmental resource benefits, three bills in particular would systematically give the state, or new state and local agencies, authority to infringe upon the rights and freedoms of local property owners.

It appears that the state is seeking a larger role in centrally planning, mandating, or influencing how local land or property may or may not be utilized. The plans are so invasive that Rhode Islanders may be left wondering whether they own their land or merely lease it temporarily from the government.

1) House Bill 6099 would create a new, quasi-public statewide Ocean State Regional Water Authority, with a board consisting of a majority of members appointed by the mayors of Providence, Cranston, and North Providence, ostensibly with the goal of ensuring that enough water is available to communities throughout the state.

Perhaps most egregiously, the new Water Authority would have the power to enter without permission onto any property in Rhode Island to examine the land and drill and dig into the ground. It would also have powers of eminent domain, to take land that the board determines it needs for current or future use. It would also set rates for water and have authority to place liens on properties of delinquent customers, as well as to shut off their water.

The bill further allows the state to purchase or lease from the Providence water system or other local organizations that currently operate such systems and to bring in water from out of state. The purchase or lease price would not be not subject to Public Utilities Commission (PUC) or Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) approval or proceedings, and the costs would be passed on to water customers via increased rates.

“(c) Notwithstanding anything in the general laws to the contrary, and without limiting the provisions of section 46-32-11 set forth above, neither the Rhode Island public utilities commission nor the Rhode Island division of public utilities and carriers shall have any jurisdiction, authority, or other power to approve, reject, review, or in any way affect any acquisition or the terms of any purchase and sale agreement or lease agreement.”

Going even farther, the legislation explicitly prohibits the PUC and DPUC from requiring that the water authority’s purchase or lease payments “benefit, directly or indirectly… the water ratepayers.” In this case, the question of ownership is broader: In publicly held water districts, the taxpayers and ratepayers are responsible for the liabilities of their systems, but under this legislation, they would not likewise be recipients of any of the benefits of ownership.

2) House Bill 5633 and Senate Bill 696 would use state grants and matching funds to pressure cities and towns to create “community preservation committees” (with a majority vote from residents), which would research and implement land purchase and development deals in keeping with ideals of sustainable development. The legislation would allow cities and towns to impose up to an additional 3% tax (renamed as a “surcharge”) on local property that would not be counted in any calculations or limits on the property tax levy.

The state would provide matching funds up to 100% of the additional surcharge, with the money coming from (among other places) an additional $20 fee on all real estate recording instruments (e.g., deeds).

In creating these new local committees, these bills would provide a new path for “affordable housing” or other “green” projects to be approved and funded locally. This presents two potential issues for existing property owners.

First, it is not unusual that the resulting subsidized developments are taxed at lower rates than most others — while existing property owners are subject to higher rights, even surpassing existing caps. This tax level disparity would make it significantly more expensive to live in unsubsidized areas.

Second, these committees, in furthering their preferred land purchase and development deals, may exempt projects from local zoning ordinances.  In contrast, the way the legislation is constructed, the state government could impose requirements that the towns would have to follow. (One example already in the bill is a ban on “artificial turf.”)

While existing local governments would technically have to pass related projects and mandates, it isn’t clear whether the legislation permits them not to do so.

Unelected officials, coordinated and trained via a statewide infrastructure with its own agenda, would have new powers to determine local land use that would create disparate and inequitable tax structures. That all Rhode Island property owners would be forced fund this questionable activity via fees on standard transactions and new, renamed property taxes is clearly a program that infringes on property rights.

3) House Bill 5801 would require any “greenhouse gas emissions source” (as defined by the state Dept. of Environmental Management) in or doing business in Rhode Island to increase its tracking and reporting to the state, as well as impose direct fees on them for use of the DEM. The legislation would also make greenhouse gas emissions a focus of state economic development activities.

By charging commercial property and business owners additional fees or causing them to incur unnecessary expenses for conducting or reporting normal business activities, the state would be infringing on the rights of those owners.

Further, the idea that restricting or charging for greenhouse gas emissions can somehow be considered a serious part of an economic development activity is preposterous. Such fees would only be a further detriment to an already weak state economy that has been hampered by similar dubious statutes in the first place.