Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a prominent land use and zoning attorney, is promoting a package of legislation which will, in some instances, override local control over land use and zoning issues. Today, the R.I. House of Representatives will be voting on one of those bills, House Bill 6090, which overrides local zoning when it comes to converting commercial property to residential property. For example, when it comes to these projects, it will prevent municipalities from requiring more than one off-street parking space per apartment unit regardless of how many bedrooms are located in the apartment unit.
A little over a year ago, Shekarchi had haggled for months with the Warwick Zoning Board to give his client, an out-of-state developer, a significant reduction in the required number of parking units for a project where a hotel would be converted to an apartment complex (See Warwick Zoning Board Minutes 11/9/2021, and 4/12/2022). Eventually, Shekarchi was able to get the Warwick Zoning Board to agree to allow his client to have fewer parking spaces than what is required by Warwick’s zoning code.
The Republican Party of RI has the following comments:
“There are two major problems with Shekarchi’s commercial to residential conversion bill.
“First, it overrides local control over land use and zoning uses and could lead to negative consequences for municipalities, as noted in the letter by Cranston Planning Commissioner Steve Frias.
“Second, it raises the question of whether Shekarchi is pushing legislation, which overrides local control, in order to benefit his clients and his law practice. If Shekarchi’s legislation had been in effect in 2021, Shekarchi would never have needed to negotiate with Warwick’s Planning Department over the parking space requirement. Perhaps, Shekarchi has a client who wants to convert commercial property to an apartment complex, and does not want to follow Warwick’s zone code when it comes to parking, among other things.
“Shekarchi needs to disclose if he has or expects to have any clients who would benefit from this legislation.
“You don’t usually see a state legislator push for a bill that overrides his own municipality’s zoning code. From now on, when Shekarchi pushes a piece of legislation affecting local zoning, the people of Warwick need to ask themselves this question: “Who does Shekarchi really represent, you or his client?”