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They’ll need a crane

The economy may be souring, but there are still a few projects underway in Providence. Monday I hit the streets and took some photos of three of them, the new Blue Cross Blue Shield Headquarters in Capital Center, the Capitol Cove project also in Capital Center, and the Hampton Inn project at the St. Francis Chapel on Weybosset Street.

First up, the Blue Cross Blue Shield headquarters. BCBS is moving all of it’s operations into this new building in Capital Center, consolidating all of it’s staff under one roof for the first time. The 13 story building will be mostly glass and several feet taller than the tallest of the neighboring Waterplace condo towers.

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Greater City Providence Position on Vista Della Torre Zoning Hearing

Tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 8th at 7:30pm the Zoning Board of Review will hear a petition on variance for the project known as Vista Della Torre on Federal Hill.

TALON REALTY LIMITED PARTNERSHIP AND THE PROVIDENCE HOUSING AUTHORITY, PROPERTY OWNERS AND TALON REALTY LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, APPLICANT: 21 & 32 Federal Street at Bradford Street. The applicant is requesting relief from Sections 305, 305.1(10), 418, 420.2 and 425, a dimensional variance, and seeks relief from regulations governing maximum height, minimum lot area per dwelling unit, building lines and articulations and corner setback in order to construct a new building measuring 250 feet in height on the Tax Assessor’s Plat 25, Lot 7 and Parcel B-1 of a previously obtained subdivision (formerly a 4,206 square foot portion of land on the Tax Assessor’s Plat 26, Lot 59) and over that portion of Federal Street between the two lots. This proposal is for 174 residential units with approximately 4,100 square feet of retail space predominately to support the residences, a function room and fitness center for the residents only and 345 parking spaces, 50 of which will be reserved for the Dominica Manor (Lot 59). The maximum height permitted is 45 feet and the minimum lot area per dwelling unit requirement is 1,200 square feet per unit, therefore the requirement for 174 units is 208,800 square feet of land area. The subject property measures a total of 9,626 square feet of land area, not counting the 4,748 square feet air rights component. The applicant proposes to meet the requirements of Section 425 (canopy coverage) off site.


Greater City Providence takes the following position on this proposal:

I am writing on behalf of Greater City Providence in regards to the petition to allow for zoning variances related to the development of a residential building which would be sited at #21 and #32 Federal Street in Federal Hill. We submit that it is premature to consider any ad-hoc zoning variances for this building until the completion of the Federal Hill neighborhood plan in accordance with Providence Tomorrow: The Interim Comprehensive Plan, which was approved by Providence City Council on December 7th, 2007 and by Mayor Cicilline on December 17, 2007.

The site of the proposed building is located in a section of the city which is defined by the comprehensive plan as a Transitional Area (Providence Tomorrow: The Interim Comprehensive Plan, Map 11.1, page 96). The purpose of these Transitional Areas is to “provide a transition in height, density and scale between the larger scale development anticipated in the growth districts and the lower scale and density of surrounding neighborhoods (Providence Tomorrow: The Interim Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 11.1, page 98).

Objective LU 2 of the comprehensive plan states that the vision for Transitional Areas of Providence should be decided by the neighborhood planning process which should be used to “Develop a unified design vision for Growth Districts, Growth Corridors and Transitional Areas identified on Map 11.1 ‘Areas of Stability and Change’ that identifies the preferred pattern and character of development including mass, scale, building height, design, use, and density, and considers topography, streets, sidewalks and open spaces (Providence Tomorrow: The Interim Comprehensive Plan, Chapter 11.1, page 98). Deciding these zoning variance requests before the completion of the neighborhood plan would create a potential conflict with its goals and objectives, as well as the objectives of the comprehensive plan.

If the Zoning Board of Review is responsible for “Ensuring that all zoning variances and special use permits conform to the (comprehensive) Plan” (Providence Tomorrow: The Interim Comprehensive Plan, Appendix D), then no decision on this request should be made until we have confirmation that this development is in accordance with the vision of this Transitional Area of Federal Hill . The creation of this vision should be decided by the Federal Hill neighborhood plan. That is why Greater City Providence believes that it is premature to consider any ad-hoc zoning variances for this building approved at this time. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Jef Nickerson, President
Greater City Providence
http://www.gcpvd.org

Greater City Providence promotes the growth and development of the Greater Providence region in as urban a pattern as possible. Special emphasis is placed on the development of more walkable, affordable, and vibrant neighborhoods that are served by more robust mass transit and fueled by greater economic opportunity. Our primary focus is participating in the zoning and planning process to ensure that the Providence of the future is an urban environment and not a city plagued by inconsistent, uninspired, automobile-centric, and suburban-style development.


Zoning Board of Review meets tomorrow night at 7:30pm, Tuesday, April 8th at Providence City Hall, 25 Dorrance Street in the Probate Court Room on the 5th Floor.

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Demolition = Hotel Sierra

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Demolition started today at the future site of the Hotel Sierra on Washington Street. Here we go again, more demolition. This building at Washington and Beverly is known (depending on your dining/drinking habits) as the place where Cuban Revolution/Talk of the Town/New Japan used to be.

This time though, we’re not terribly upset. If we had our druthers would we prefer this building stay? Yes. It is a perfectly nice little brick building which adds nicely to the fabric of Washington Street. Though we’re not brick fetishists, we do like ourselves a nice little brick building. However, nice as it is, it is not terribly remarkable, and like most of Downcity, likely suffering from years of neglect internally. Externally the first floor has been marred by horrid re-cladding sometime in the last half of the last century, it may or may not have remnants of its original facade behind that.

Cuban Revolution found itself a new home on Aborn Street and later expanded to Valley Street. After fighting with the Board of Licenses and winning, Talk of the Town is readying new digs on Atwells Ave. And New Japan, well the owners of New Japan decided they couldn’t bear to start all over again. It’s never good when a local business goes under. But the restaurant business is tough, I can’t get too worked up every time one goes under.

So what’s going to replace it?

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Well nothing all that remarkable really. It rather makes me go, “ho-hum.” But it does not make me choke down bile like the original No-Tell Motel on the Jersey Turnpike-esque rendering did. The Downcity Design Review Committee worked hard with the developer to arrive at what we see above (which I’m not sure is actually the final final rendering). For the fetishists we have brick, the building lines up with the neighboring Cogens Building (which word is will soon be rehabbed by AS220) before stepping back to the mid-rise tower section. Some walls that were blank now have windows in them. The garage entrance is unfortunate doubly so since there is another garage entrance right next to it hiding behind the tree that does not exist in reality. It’s nothing special, but not everything has to be.

But do we really need another hotel?

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I don’t know, the city seems to think we do. We’ve spent a lot of money rehabbing The Dunk and connecting it to the Convention Center to allow for larger conventions. The largest convention we’ve had was the Fraternal Order of Police Officers (F.O.P.) a few years back. That convention saw people staying in Massachusetts and Connecticut. It’s hard to sell a convention when we suggest that attendees lodge in a three state area (even if one of those states is as diminutive as Lil’ Rhody). We have more rooms now than we did during the F.O.P., but still not enough to host that convention. I guess the question is, can the hotels survive between conventions? I guess we’ll see. If not maybe this will be a Johnson & Wales dorm before too long.

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Unlike other recent demolitions, the developer here is not asking for “Temporary” anything. They are demolishing buildings and plan to build their new hotel as soon as the site is ready. A-maz-ing!

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But what really makes this demolition different than ALL the others we’ve seen lately is process. The developer played by the rules. They submitted plans to all the appropriate agencies and committees, they took the direction of the various committees and improved their design, they had public hearings as outlined by applicable law, and they got their demotion permits and street abandonment fair and square.

If an out-of-state developer can understand and play by the rules and in the end, get what they came to Providence looking for, why can our homegrown developers not seem to do the same?

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Oh, and the totally craptacular former McDonald’s on Fountain Street is coming down too.

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Public Works Committee to consider abandonment of part of Orange Street

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Aerial image from LiveLocal

There is a petition to abandon a portion of Orange Street in Downtown which is on the agenda for the February 11, 2008 Providence City Council Committee on Public Works meeting.

2. Petition from Aram Garabedian, Manager, One Financial Center Plaza, LLC, 235 Waterman Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02906, requesting to abandon a portion of Orange Street.

This petition should be referred back to the Providence City Plan Commission (CPC) due to the following reasons.

CPC has not completed their required review of this petition, and the planning department head has not submitted his required report. A discussion with the planning department revealed that the petitioner submitted this proposal to CPC in October of 2006. CPC continued this petition because they did not receive a clear development plan that would be associated with this abandonment. It is also typical that the planning department does not favor abandonments unless absolutely necessary.

In addition to the required reviews not being completed, page 55 of Providence Tomorrow: The Interim Comprehensive Plan states the following: “The relocation of I-195 is well underway and is scheduled to open in 2010. The removal of the current highway superstructure is scheduled for completion in 2012 and will allow for reconnection of portions of the traditional street grid downtown.”

It is our assertion that the abandonment of downtown streets such as Orange Street conflicts with the comprehensive plan’s desire to reconnect the downtown street grid that would be driven by the relocation of I-195.

The City Council Public Works Committee meets Monday, February 11th in Committee Room A at 6:00pm at Providence City Hall, 25 Dorrance Street.

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aka The Tower of Terror II

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Photo of Newport Collaborative rendering by Jef Nickerson for gcpvd.org

Last Tuesday the City Council’s Public Works Committee approved a request by Cranston developer Frank Zammiello to receive an underground easement below a portion of Bradford Street in order to build a condo project dubbed, Vista Della Torre. At the same meeting the Public Works Committee was unable to reach consensus on the developer’s request for air-rights over a portion of Federal Street for the same project.

Last spring Zammiello proposed a 330-foot high 33-story condo tower at the intersection of Federal and Bradford Streets on Federal Hill which would have closed a portion of Bradford Street. Greater CIty Providence opposed this proposal. Our main concerns were that Bradford Street should not be abandoned and that this project was moving along too fast with too little public review.

The developers current proposal is for a 250-foot high 25-story condo tower. They are no longer asking for the abandonment of Bradford Street, instead they seek an underground easement allowing them access from an underground parking garage, located below the parking lot currently used by Camille’s between Bradford and Newton Streets, to their proposed tower located on the other side of Bradford Street. The development also features an arch over Federal Street (basically, the 25-story tower would straddle Federal Street with a 2-story high tunnel running through it, see rendering above), for this they require an air-rights easement.

The three of the five members of the Public Works Committee who were present Councilmen Solomon, Yurdin, and Tejada (Councilman Igliozzi and Councilwoman Young were not present) approved the underground easement of Bradford Street, but did not pass the air-rights for Federal Street. After Councilman Solomon moved to approve the air-rights, Councilman Yurdin refused to second the motion, Councilman Tejada, who is the Chairman of the committee is unable to second a motion. Therefor, though 2 of the 3 present members were in favor of the air-rights, Councilman Yurdin was able to delay approval at least until the next meeting of the Public Works Committee (both easements will need approval by the full Council after they are approved by the Public Works Committee).

The City Plan Commission ended at a tie vote of 3 to 3 on whether to recommend air-rights and the Zoning Board will need to approve a height variance in order for this project to move forward. Councilman Yurdin stated that he felt that the Committee approving the air-rights would provide undo momentum before the CPC and Zoning had their final say.

Speaking to The Providence Journal Mr. Zammiello said he feels there is widespread support for this project. “The only people who are against this project, in my estimation, are the West Broadway Association,” he said.

I believe that sentiment to be slightly disingenuous, on Wednesday morning, when that Journal article was published, I heard two woman who live in Dominica Manor on the bus discussing how much they hope the project is not built. The tower would sit in part on land that is part of the Dominica Manor complex.

Greater City Providence as we have stated before, does not disapprove of this project solely on the basis of height. The original 330-foot proposal was probably too high (and it seems the developer never had any intention of building that high based on statements made at an abutters meeting last spring) the current 250-foot high proposal is a better fit, sitting as it does next to the 175-foot Dominica Manor (200-225 feet would be more ideal). The odious concept of abandoning Bradford Street is now off the table. However, the developer must release its latest plans to the public and explain how it will deal with issues of traffic and how this building will fit into the urban fabric of the neighborhood. This location, sitting on the edge of Route 95 as it does, should act towards “bridging” the highway, reconnecting the West Side to Downcity. Not a literal bridge, but a transition of use and pedestrian experience. Will the Federal Street frontage for example have any public use integrated into it, in the form of retail space? Will Federal Street remain a two-way street or will it become one-way as originally proposed? What will happen with the surface lot between Bradford and Newton Streets under which the parking garage will be built? Will we see future development on this space, open space, more surface parking..?

Another issue, which no one has been able to explain to me to any degree of satisfaction (I may just be dense) is how the developer got the rights to develop a portion of the Dominica Manor property. I think they paid some amount of money for the rights to the land and I know that they have to replace 30-some parking spaces they will be taking to build the tower. However, how can a portion of land currently used for affordable housing be transferred to a private developer with no clause for providing any additional affordable housing?

Councilman Yurdin was right. Let’s slow the momentum for a minute and ensure that we are building a good project here that benefits both the developer and the current and future residents of Federal Hill and the city at large.


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Bradford Street safe, for now.

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Image from Google Maps

Tonight the Providence City Council did the right thing and voted to send the resolution to abandon a portion of Bradford Street back to committee, meaning it will return to the Planning Department and City Plan Commission for review, as it should have all along. Earlier in the evening, the Public Works Committee of the City Council did not have a quorum to hear a resolution to transfer the air rights over part of Federal Street to a developer to build a condo tower at this location. We have been assured that the entire issue will be sent back to Planning and CPC to be presented to the public as one proposal.

Thanks to everyone who wrote letter, sent email, made calls, and otherwise made their Councilors aware of the fact that the process that was unfolding here was wrong. Special thanks to Aaron Masri for digging through various ordinances and charters to find the exact line sections and paragraphs that were being flaunted. Also to David Rocha for pounding the pavement yesterday in the rain during Liberty Fest to talk to people about the issue and urge them to contact their Councilors.

Of course all this does not mean that the street is now guaranteed not to close. But all indications are that the Planning Department and the CPC will require significant changes to this proposal, and most likely will not be in favor of abandoning Bradford Street. A friendly letter to Planning and the CPC wouldn’t hurt however. We will post the date of the CPC meeting this will be heard at as soon as it is announced.

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Does the Providence Comprehensive Plan allow for the abandonment of Bradford Street?

Recapping the preceding sequence of events, on June 19th, City Plan Commission reviewed a request, referred to it by Providence City Council, to abandon a portion of Bradford Street. The developer of a 180 unit residential high-rise, which includes a 275 space parking garage, claims that this street abandonment is necessary to accommodate the proposed site plan. The City Plan Commission voted to continue the request, meaning their review has not been completed. Later that evening, the Public Works Committee of Providence City Council voted to approve the abandonment. Greater City Providence opposes the abandonment of Bradford Street (see Don’t abandon Bradford Street).

Looking ahead, on Thursday, July 5th, the Providence City Council will vote on the resolution to abandon a portion of Bradford Street. However, section 1014 (d) of the City of Providence’s Home Rule Charter indicates that council’s vote may not be pursuant to its provisions (paragraphs 1 & 3 which pertain to this project are referenced below). To paraphrase the charter, section 1014 (d) states that a project such as the abandonment of Bradford Street cannot proceed unless it complies with Providence’s Comprehensive Plan. Also, any project which requires city council approval, such as Bradford Street’s abandonment, must be submitted to the Director of the Providence Department of Planning & Development to determine if it complies with the Comprehensive Plan. Any appeals from the director’s decision would then be heard in front of the City Plan Commission.

The importance of citing the above paragraph cannot be understated enough. The review process for abandoning Bradford Street has not complied with section 1014 (d) of City of Providence’s Home Rule Charter. Providence’s Planning Department and City Plan Commission has not been given a chance to verify this project’s compliance with Providence’s Comprehensive Plan as is stated in the charter. Therefore, in order to ensure that the public’s interest is being represented and the merits of this project are adequately reviewed, please contact the Providence City Council. Insist that no vote be held until it can be determined by the Planning Department that the abandonment of Bradford Street complies with Providence’s Comprehensive Plan.

Please note that the July 5th City Council Meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:00PM at City Hall. The public will not be allowed to speak at this meeting. Ask that your written correspondence be read into the public record if you want to be heard.

From City of Providence Home Rule Charter of 1980, as amended:

Section 1014 (d): The effect of the comprehensive plan.

Paragraph 1: No public or private improvement or project or subdivision or zoning ordinance shall be initiated or adopted unless it conforms to and implements the comprehensive plan and elements thereof.

Paragraph 3: All development and project plans and proposals and all privately developed projects and developments which require approval by the city council or by other city boards, commissions or committees shall be submitted by the appropriate aforementioned public agency to the director of the department of planning and urban development for determination as to compliance with the comprehensive plan and its elements. All appeals from the director’s decisions shall be submitted to the city plan commission for a determination as to compliance with the comprehensive plan.

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