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Downtown Providence property owners sue over busing plans

PROVIDENCE — A group of downtown property owners have gone to court to halt a series of city and state projects to improve bus service in Providence.

In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court Monday, the plaintiffs — including two entities controlled by former Mayor Joseph Paolino — argue that a bus hub at the Providence Train Station and dedicated bus corridor being built through Kennedy Plaza could erode their quality of life and depress property values.

“The Kennedy Plaza Project and specifically the re-routing of the bus routes, alteration of bus stops and alteration of traffic patterns on Fulton Street and Washington Street stands to cause property damage, property devaluation, inconvenience, annoyance and an interference with the Plaintiffs’ quiet enjoyment of their Properties,” the lawsuit says.

The Paolino Properties’ real estate entities that own 100 Westminster St. and 30 Westminster St. are joined as plaintiffs in the suit by Concerned Citizens of Capital Center, a group of more than a dozen condominium owners in the Waterplace towers. The company that owns a First Bristol Corp.-developed Hilton hotel expected to open soon on Exchange Street is also a plaintiff.

The suit names the City of Providence, the state Department of Transportation and Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, plus several officials leading those government entities, as defendants.

The bus projects targeted by the lawsuit, including changes to Fulton Street, have been designed independently over many years and are at different stages of development.

It’s unclear, for example, whether the train station bus hub project has advanced since the state DOT started talking with a developer about it in 2017.

Work on the Downtown Transit Connector (DTC), a high-frequency bus corridor from the train station to hospital district, on the other hand began in late August and the project is expected to be completed later this year.

But John Mancini, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the fact that property owners haven’t had a chance to weigh in on the transit changes as a single bus master plan is not right.

“This is a unique monster because it really has a series of components to it,” Mancini said. “How does it all interplay? We have not seen those plans.”

The suit asks for the projects to be halted until they obtain “all zoning and planning approvals necessary,” and “proper engineering studies” are conducted. (It’s unclear what land use approvals are legally necessary for the projects.)

Asked why the plaintiffs don’t see improved mass transit service as an amenity, Mancini listed several concerns, including lost parking spots along the DTC route, increased bicycle traffic and drivers unable to reach internal parking garages in some of the buildings.

“Having easy access to transit is a plus; however, the concern is the amount of transit being proposed and the location is problematic,” Mancini said.

The suit says in addition to making Washington Street through Kennedy Plaza “bus only,” city planners are intending to close Exchange Street to automobile traffic. RIPTA and city spokespeople said they did not have information about Exchange Street on Monday.

The plaintiffs are also worried putting part of the bus hub on the State House lawn could make the neighborhood less attractive.

“We are aware of the lawsuit. There are so many allegations in the suit, we have not had a chance to go through it point by point,” said RIPTA spokeswoman Barbara Polichetti.

By Patrick Anderson
Journal Staff Writer

Original Article

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