Batista bill streamlines appeals for comprehensive permits

Legislation is part of Speaker Shekarchi’s housing package


STATE HOUSE –Rep. José F. Batista is sponsoring legislation that would help streamline the appeals process for comprehensive permit applications for affordable housing.

The legislation, which is one of the 14 bills in Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s legislative package to help address the housing crisis, is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow before the House Judiciary Committee.

Representative Batista’s bill (2023-H 6083) would phase out the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB), helping to streamline an appeals process that is often lengthy.

SHAB hears and adjudicates appeals of local review board decisions relating to comprehensive permits, which are streamlined local permits that generally allow for greater housing density in exchange for the production of a percentage of long-term affordable homes. 

Under the legislation, the appeals of local review board decisions that now go through SHAB would instead go to Superior Court, beginning Jan 1, 2024, at which time SHAB would be phased out. The legislation does not change any of the standards for that review, only the entity that conducts it.

Currently, applicants go through SHAB for appeals, but Superior Court is already the venue that abutters must use if they wish to appeal comprehensive permits.

“One thing that has become clear over the past couple of years is that complicated regulatory structures are a barrier to creating the affordable housing we need in Rhode Island. Making the process clearer, simpler and quicker is critical to the production of more affordable housing,” said Representative Batista (D-Dist. 12 Providence). “Obviously, this is one element of a very broad-ranging crisis, but I’m proud to sponsor this bill as part of the House’s efforts.  Rhode Island is losing residential developers to adjacent states, due, in large part, to the red tape and length of the current process. People in my district and across the state are heavily burdened by the high cost and lack of availability of housing, and we need to address all the barriers to housing creation that we identify.”

Under the bill, applicants would continue filing any appeals with SHAB through Dec. 31, 2023, but any appeals that have not been decided on Jan. 1, 2024, would need to be transferred to Superior Court to complete the appeal process.

The bill provides local review boards 30 days to submit their complete record of the matter, and requires that the Superior Court expedite appeals and decide them as soon as possible. The bill also limits appeals to applicants and aggrieved parties, just as zoning and planning appeals are limited.

A separate bill (2023-H 6060) sponsored by Speaker Shekarchi as part of the housing package would create a dedicated land use/housing court calendar within Superior Court, which would help ensure timely action on those appeals. That bill is also scheduled for hearing before the Judiciary Committee tomorrow.