Greater City Providence

Executive Suite: Providence kicks off high-stakes zoning overhaul

This week: Bonnie Nickerson, Providence’s director of long-range planning, and Scott Wolf, executive director of Grow Smart Rhode Island, on the high stakes for Providence’s first zoning overhaul since 1951. Providence Business News’ Patrick Anderson joins the panel.

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  • This is encouraging.

    The talk sounded good but I hope they do not chicken out on ditching parking minimums. She mentioned that the zoning ordinance was already updated in the Jewelry District. Why then was that little apartment building disallowed for not being half parking garage?

    The decades long overnight parking ban having only recently ended, most existing dwellings now have off street parking. Is it too much to hope that the parking NIMBY types just be happy with their own precious spaces, stop screeching, and not mess this up?

  • I was really pleased to see that they’re talking about parking maximums. They were not considering that at the last meeting. I feel like Jason, Andrew Fenelon, Jonathan Harris, and I may have pushed them in that direction with our comments (Jonathan’s was just a “Hear! Hear!” to the other commenters, but he also made it onto the evening news).

    It’ll be interesting to see how the city addresses mixed-use development in parts of the city where different uses will literally be touching one another in the same building. Arthur Eddy was mentioning that this was a real problem, where the zoning sometimes allowed something but safety code didn’t, and visa versa.

    Congrats on the mention in Streetsblog.

  • Andrew I: The structural zoning in the Jewelry District and Downtown is done, it had to be done on the quick because there was a date in the 195 legislation that Providence’s Zoning would be abided by (if the Commission feels like abiding by it) from, so the City wanted it updated before then. I was on a committee that worked on that. Surface parking is mostly removed from that rewrite (there’s some slippery language about it and some guidelines for if it were to appear somehow). I think removing surface parking largely does away with parking minimums downtown in practice if not literally by the language of the code, though the project in the Jewelry District proves otherwise.

    Removing or reducing parking minimums or instituting parking maximums would be added to the zoning descriptions that cover the downtown and Jewelry District. I’m not sure how that impacts the 195 land as those amendments would now fall after the date that the 195 Commission recognizes our zoning as valid from. There’s a giant caveat in the 195 Commission legislation that says they’ll look at our zoning, but can basically do anything they want. If we change minimums, developers can continue building as much parking as they think they need/want, so it doesn’t really matter much. If we impose maximums, I suspect we’ll see the 195 Commission ignore them when they feel like it.

  • Also, I see no indication from what I’ve heard coming out of the planning department that they will chicken out on parking changes, and we see in the video Bonnie saying that parking maximums are very much on the table. However, parking changes are going to be an amazingly politically charged issue; neighborhood groups, the City Council, the Mayor probably campaigning for another office, the media.., all have to be educated on why these changes are good and needed. The Planning Department won’t chicken out, but they may be told to not do something if the politicians feel it would not be prudent for them to support these proposed changes.

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