Last night the City Council appointed five members to the Redevelopment Agency, dormant since about 2004, to foster the expansion of businesses in Highland Corporate Park, put vacant industrial properties to use, and convert failing residential buildings into new housing.
Rhode Island Title 45 empowers cities and towns to establish redevelopment agencies, "to acquire, by purchase or condemnation, properties in violation of the locality's or city's minimum housing code," for redevleopment for business and residential use.
Economic Development Direct Matt Wojcik told Council members at a work session in the second floor conference room at City Hall last night there are many properties in Woonsocket like 84 Fairmont St., site of the recent expansion of The Plastics Group of America (TPG), long vacant, sitting on the city's books valued at $300,000, now restored with a $1.2 million investment from the owner. Now, he said, its assessed taxable value will likely rise to $1.2 million, "And all we really had to do is come through with federal funds for a water commission and job creation center program," he said.
The Redevelopment Agency would be better positioned to marshal the resources to make more projects like that possible, Wojcik said. As an independent body, the Redevelopment Agency has its own bond rating, and wouldn't be burdened by Woonsocket's junk bond status.
Also, Wojcik said, the covenants and deed restrictions held by the Redevelopment Agency will be needed to allow expansion of businesses on the Woonsocket side of Highland Park.
To get rolling beyond that, the Council will have to designate a redevelopment area through a public hearing process. An action plan, including proposed financing and construction costs, for that area is drawn up by the Redvelopment Agency, which is sent to the Planning Board for review and then sent to the Council for approval. Wojcik said the process is the fastest method of making zoning changes.
Also, Wojcik said, the body has a limited power of eminent domain to seize property within the designated area of redevelopment "Especially if ownership is unclear, or taxes are past due," Wojcik said.
A redevelopment agency can also submit its own Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) projects to the state, he said.
Later in the evening at the formal City Council meeting in Harris Hall, the council approved all of Mayor Leo Fontaine's appointments to the committee:
Douglas Brown (returning member, term expires Oct. 31, 2015)
Roger Bouchard (term expires Oct. 31, 2016)
Julie Larivee (term expires Oct. 31, 2013)
Albert Beauparlant (term expires Oct. 31, 2017)
Paul Gould (returning member, term expires Oct. 31, 2014)