Greater City Providence

A closer look at the proposed Drive-Thru on Hope Street

Kath Connoly got the planning documents for the proposed drive-thru coffee shop on Hope Street and posted them to the Preserve Providence’s Hope Street Facebook Group.




Yay! The drive-thru can stack 12 cars!

So where are we going to start with this one? Surprisingly, we’re going to start in South County. As you can see from the drawings above, we’ve learned the “coffee shop chain” in question is Rhode Island’s own, Brewed Awakenings. See Brewed Awakenings has a location in South County Commons in South Kingstown.

Brewed Awakenings
Photo (cc) PhosphoricX3

If you’re not familiar with South County Commons, think of Garden City by with a few more sidewalks. It is one of those faux New Urbanist developments built on a greenfield in the middle of nowhere and crafted to look like a “village”, a village surrounded by parking lots with no hope of ever leaving by any mode other than an automobile. So in this autocentric faux urban environment in the far flung suburbs, does Brewed Awakenings have a drive-thru? No.

So why does Brewed Awakenings want to come to Providence, to a real honest-to-gosh urban neighborhood, tear down a building and erect a glorified photo booth with a roadway wrapped around it? Why did they happily settle in surburbia without said drive thru in a building that is gussied up to look like an urban village, but they want to come to Providence and completely discount the fact that they are in a city? Brewed Awakenings, why do you hate Providence?

Let’s also consider brick’s comment in the other thread for a moment:

Another concern I have – aren’t we kind of reaching some kind of coffee shop Event Horizon? I mean I guess I can see if you live in that particular area it is something of a pain to walk to Thayer or up to Hope Village, but that seems pretty specific. There is also a short walk to Wayland.

I guess I would hate to see something else put here that fails.

It has been pointed out if one really needs to be sitting in their car when they get their coffee, there are ample options for that on North Main. And there are places nearby to get coffee if one is willing to get out of their car. Is there a market for this here? Brewed Awakenings was in Providence before, at Waterplace, and that store failed. Happily, the building the Waterplace location was in was suitable for other uses and is now the home of Luxe Burger Bar. If Brewed Awakenings can’t make their business work at this location, we’re left with a building that is really not suitable to be anything else.

Another issue that has been brought up by many people is the red herring. Often, developers will ask for more than they want, then when the community gets upset, they can step back and call it a consession, getting what they actually were seeking all along and looking like they played nice with the neighborhood. Everyone I’ve talked to seems in agreement, a drive-thru will not be approved here. So what is it they actually want?

So to refresh, here is what they are asking for at Zoning:

SCHARTNER FLORISTS, LLC, OWNER AND ACREI, INC., APPLICANT: 394-398 Hope Street, also known as Lots 35 and 36 on the Tax Assessor’s Plat 9, located in a Residential R-3 Three-Family Zone; filed an application seeking relief from Sections 303-use codes 56.1 & 57.2, 604.2 and 607.1 pursuant to Section 200 in the proposed demolition of the existing flower shop (6,545 square feet) and the construction of a new building (2,475 square feet) for a new coffee shop with drive-thru. The applicant is requesting a use variance for this proposal within the residential district and seeks dimensional relief from regulations governing signs. The lots in question together contain approximately 19,624 square feet of land area.

Let’s dig into municode to see what all them Sections and Codes are about.

First, this parcel is currently zoned R-3, which is:

R-3 Three-Family District. This zone is intended for medium and low density residential areas comprised of structures containing single-family dwelling units, two-family dwelling units and three-family dwelling units located on lots with a minimum land area of five thousand (5,000) square feet and a minimum land area of two thousand (2,000) square feet per dwelling unit.

Section 303 use code 56.1 is Eating and/or Drinking Establishments excluding Entertainment, less than 2,500 sq. ft. GFA, which is not permitted within the R-3 zone. And code 57.2 is Drive In Establishment, also not permitted.

Section 600 has to do with signage specifically, 604.2 is: 604.2. Directional sign. A sign identifying on-premise traffic, parking or other functional activity bearing no commercial advertising. Such signs are permitted in all zones except in R Zones, and shall be limited to four (4) square feet in area per sign. This is prohibited in the R-3 zone.

607.1 is: 607.1. R and OS Zones. One (1) of the following types of signs to identify each permitted home occupation and one (1) sign to display the name of a permitted nonresidential use. Such signs may be externally illuminated. The total area of all such signs shall not exceed six (6) square feet on any lot. The applicant is seeking dimensional relief, meaning they want bigger signs.

So by zoning, they are not allowed to have a coffee shop at this location at all. Perhaps if they did not tear down the existing building, it’s zoning exemption would carry over, I’m not sure on this. Certainly tearing down the existing building puts them at square one on zoning.

Were they simply to propose a coffee shop, the neighbors would potentially come out against the project on the basis of traffic. There are numerous schools nearby and kids travel to school in the morning, people also get coffee in the morning. So the coffee shop would increase congetion which would increase safety concerns for children walking and biking in the area. The store is also seeking more parking than is there now. The applicant is also seeking to tear down a building which many in the neighborhood seem to like.

So what to do? Add a drive-thru to the plan. That will get the neighbors worked up. Fight with them for a while, then say, “OK, we don’t need a drive-thru, you win.” Neighbors all say “YAY!” and everyone’s happy. Except all those other issues, zoning, variances, traffic, parking, noise those still remain.

Maybe I’m being too tinfoil hat-ie, maybe the applicant has no clue why a drive-thru would be bad, maybe they honestly in their heart feel this will be a great thing for the community. Be that as it may, the neighborhood needs to identify what they feel is wrong with this proposal and go to Zoning (and their Councilor, and the Mayor, and who ever else needs talking to) with those issues clearly identified. The neighbors need to go in with the determination that the drive-thru is just not happening. Tell the applicant, “No, the drive-thru is off the table, we won’t even consider it, we’re not even going to spend a minute speaking to you about it, get rid of it. Now, these are our other issues with this proposal.”

The first of those issues I would want to talk about is, why does the applicant feel this building needs to come down to begin with? I’ve never been in it, maybe it is literally falling down and not salvagable, but I’d need to see proof of that before I could support tearing it down. Why is the existing building not suitable for Brewed Awakenings? Look at Seven Stars, look at Olga’s, highly popular cafes that have reused existing buildings. Think outside the box a little people.

There is this great garden center in Brighton, Mass. with a cafe in the greenhouse, it is a wonderful space. It seems Clarke’s is not interested in continuing, as they are allowing their building to be torn down, but did they even try to sell the garden center business?

Drive-thru or not, to let this lovely garden center be torn down and replaced with this ugly box with a parking lot would be a huge shame, and a huge blow to a city which is trying to turn away from auto-dependence and build a vibrant walkable/bikable future for itself.

The Zoning meeting for this proposal is August 16th starting at 5:30pm at Providence City Hall, 25 Dorrance Street, in the Probate Court Room on the 5th floor. This item is second on the agenda so should be heard very close to 5:30.

Join the Facebook Group for updates.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Thank you, Jef, for a thorough, insightful, and thoughtful analysis of both what is being proposed and the process and dynamics of development projects like this one. Regardless of where one stands, this is a great background piece on a subject that is murky and emotional for most people.

    As for this specific project, I don’t have an issue with a zoning variance for this location, but I really don’t love a single story, single-unit building with ample off-street parking in an otherwise densely developed stretch of multi-unit, multi-story urban landscape. The drive-through is off the table, and my guess is you nailed it as a red herring to get the other issues approved.

  • Ugh is right.
    Love the Brewed, but…. this is ridiculous and a shame!

    Why not convert the existing greenhouse and shop into the coffee house itself? Theres already tons of parking on that plot and besides… didn’t the senate just approve a forward-looking Livable Communities Act? We ought to be capitalizing on this and not sway towards the auto-centric desires of the past.

    When I envision the converted greenhouse and store I see something like the SoHo Park in the famed New York City neighborhood ( I used to frequent this “garage-garden” and fantastic eatery when I lived/worked in Manhattan. It sits on a 1600 sqft lot and what a (re)treat it was from the busy city outside!

    We really need to start thinking bigger and better, again.

    Some pics:

  • In the 200 section of the Zoning Ordinance a building is “Lawfully Existing: [if] A building, structure, sign or the use of land was lawfully existing prior to June 6, 1923, or was in conformance with the Zoning Ordinance in effect at the time the use was established.” [Also,] “Treatment in Residential Zones: [of] Nonconforming uses in Residential Zones are to be treated in a stricter fashion than nonconforming uses in Non-Residential Zones.”

    To justify the change of use and construction of a new building, it might be argued by the petitioner that the reduced size of the proposed replacement building would be a less intensive use of the land. Though there would be a greater intensification of the use of the lot: 1) the automotive component because of the proposed 26 parking spaces and 12 stacking positions for the drive-thru, a total of 38 cars could be on the site at any given time and 2) the total number of seats proposed for the coffee shop – 100 customers plus employees. Even at holidays it’s hard to imagine that the flower shop would have a hundred plus people in their shop.

    This proposal has similarities to the partially approved CVS pharmacy in Edgewood. Both proposals involve demolition of older contextual commercial buildings in urban neighborhoods and replacing them with inappropriate highly auto-centric suburban strip-retail buildings. CVS will get virtually all that it wanted except perhaps a 24-hour schedule. To get there way they pretended to make huge sacrifices to appease the community with minor modifications like improved pedestrian access, lighting, other landscape features, and façade treatments. The reality is that the building is situated in the center of the site surrounding by parking just as they originally proposed. CVS flatly refused to change the site plan. Nothing of any great significance was changed; they got their way.

    Probably due to its wealth, other than North Main Street, the East Side for the most part has managed to escape this kind of strip-retail development, unlike other city neighborhoods. This project if built would leave a gaping hole in the continuity of Hope Street. The building design is lame, but since there’s no design review process, it’s not relevant to complain about what the building looks like. The issues are public safety, demolition of a existing non-conforming building, change of use from one commercial use to another commercial use within an established Residential Zone, and intensification of the use of the land by parking, stacking, and number of occupants.

    The best outcome would be to preserve the existing building and change its use to permit a coffee house. Hopefully, this will not be a repeat of Edgewood.

  • When you say “planning documents”, does that mean that CPC has to review it as well?

  • Zoning was supposed to hear this issue on the 27th. According to Preserve Providence’s Hope Street’s Facebook page, there is a conflict of interest with members of the Zoning Board which is holding the hearing up.

    A conflict of interest? In Rhode Island? Shocked!

    In the meantime, Preserve Providence’s Hope Street has set up a website on the matter.

  • John:
    CPC will not review this project, it is not big enough to trigger CPC review.

  • You could grow a lot of artisanal vegetables all winter long in that greenhouse. Isn’t that in fashion these days?
    It was never was not in fashion for some of us. I am willing to pay a premium to pick up first-rate salad fixings on the way home to dinner without a slog through the supermarket. That is a habit I sorely miss from my earlier life in the big city. I love coffee too but I almost never buy take-out coffee.

  • I used to live in Providence and worked at Clarke’s for a while around 2006-2009. Because I am writing about this period of my life, I decided to do some research about the store and came up with this, not to my surprise. The business has not been doing well for a while, as far as I can tell, and the new owners (Schartner family) are not known (at Clarke’s or in Exeter) for good sense, good taste, fair treatment of employees or neighborhoods, or any other redeemable quality. They are also more transparent than they seem. Unless they have a wily developer, the Schartners mean what they say; they intend to put this monstrosity in Clarke’s location. I pity my poor ex-co-workers.

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