In June the North Providence Planning Board gave conditional planning approval to a Neon Marketplace gas station on Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence, not far from where I live. Dozens of my neighbors came to the meeting, voicing worries that the project would hurt local small businesses and increase noise pollution and traffic on the street. The hours for the station are 5 a.m. to midnight, and on top of that, there are already over 15 gas stations on Mineral Spring Avenue. Why do we need another one in an already busy community?
Projects like the Neon Marketplace in North Providence are merely indicative of a greater trend in development in Rhode Island — our elected leaders do the bidding of private developers instead of listening to community concerns. For an example, look at the proposed food plaza on open I-195 land in Providence. Outside consultants and developers decided to go ahead with the $4 million proposal without listening to local businesses in the area that would be impacted by the development. Money from a bond issue that our state leaders told us was going toward open space development for environmental and recreational projects across Rhode Island is now going towards undercutting existing small businesses in the area.
It’s the same with the Neon Marketplace — existing small businesses in North Providence, which are the backbone of our community, will take a hit from this new development, funded by the Procaccianti Group, which does over $256 million in revenue each year. Against community opposition the Neon Marketplace was given zoning board approval. Dominick Ruggerio, State Senator for District 4 and my opponent in the upcoming Sept. 13 Democratic Primary, did not attend any planning meetings, and so did not hear the people in the community who spoke out against this project.
It’s a consistent problem in Rhode Island. Our state and local governments support big developers and big corporations who propose expensive projects instead of addressing community needs. Remember the 38 Studios fiasco? Our elected leaders invested over $75 million in taxpayer money in the failed video game company. The same is now happening with the Tidewater Landing development in Pawtucket. Due to cost overruns, $27 million originally earmarked for affordable housing is now going toward the building of a costly stadium.
To help rebuild Rhode Island we need to reprioritize where we’re putting our hard earned taxpayer money, choosing hyper-local projects where the community itself decides what’s built instead of trying to attract big companies with lavish tax credits.
I know from talking with my neighbors in North Providence that we have a need for a vocational technical school, affordable housing, a community health center, and proposals that help small businesses. Every time I pass by the site of the proposed Neon Marketplace, I think about the many other options that could be there instead, built at the behest of the community rather than big businesses.
Lenny Cioe is a registered nurse and a candidate for state Senate District 4.