R.I. Builders Want to Speed Up Approval Process

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — As the General Assembly enters its final phase of lawmaking for 2017, hearings and votes are on tap for important bills this week.

Land use
On May 24, the House Committee on Municipal Government is expected to vote on a controversial bill (H5475) that speeds up the application-approval process for developing land.

The legislation was advanced by the Rhode Island Builders Association and is favored by developers who want to make building new homes easier and quicker.

Grow Smart Rhode Island, an advocate of sustainable development, opposes the legislation and instead has requested a broad group of land-use experts to review state subdivision rules.

City and town planners also argue that they don't have the staff to make the process move faster. Time is needed to properly vet applications for major subdivisions and avoid mistakes that lead to legal challenges. The bill is also opposed by the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. Both groups object to a provision in the bill that refunds application fees to developers if deadlines are missed.

The Senate version of the bill was heard March 29. No date has been scheduled for a vote.

Water use
Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, sponsors a bill (S334) that prevents water districts from selling water outside of their municipality. The legislation is aimed at the Chicago-based developer of the proposed Burrillvile power plant, which signed an agreement to buy water from the town of Johnston.

The town of Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation are suing the developer, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, in Superior Court to nullify the agreement.

A hearing is scheduled for May 24 at about 4:30 p.m., or when the full Senate concludes its session.

On May 25, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hear a bill (S810) that establishes a statewide water authority to manage Rhode Island's water supplies. The management would include addressing water issues such as drought, climate change, health, demand and supply, conservation and protections of exiting water sources. This cooperative water authority would also be able to finance projects.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at about 4:30 p.m.

Energy program
The House Committee on the Environment & Natural Resources is scheduled to vote on a bill (H5274) that extends the popular Renewable Energy Growth program run through National Grid. The annual allotment for new renewable-energy projects would be expanded to 40 megawatts. The program offers fixed term and fixed pricing for electricity from solar, wind, hydroelectric and anaerobic digester projects.

The distributed generation program began in December 2011 and offers 15-year power-purchase agreements. The program is credited as one of the main drivers is increasing the some 900 employees working in Rhode Island’s renewable-energy sector.

Animal rights
On May 24, the House Committee on Health Eduction and Welfare is expected to vote on a bill (H5882) to prevent animal hoarding. Anyone found guilty of hoarding would face legal action from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and would be required to undergo counseling. Hoarding would be defined as keeping a large number of animals without providing food, water or veterinary care. 

The meeting is scheduled to begin at about 4:30 p.m.

On May 25, the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources is expected to vote on bill allowing pet owners to bring parrots and parakeets into state campgrounds.

Gun violence
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence is holding a Statehouse rally May 23 at 2:30 p.m. The group will also speak to members of the General Assembly to urge support for gun-focused bills that address domestic violence and high-capacity magazines.