In most neighborhoods, the pair of two-story colonials that began rising on a Providence street corner four years ago – one cream-colored, the other gray with a big garage door facing the sidewalk – wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
But this wasn’t most neighborhoods. It was Blackstone Boulevard, the most exclusive section of Providence’s desirable East Side, and neighbors noted the new houses didn’t quite match the shape and style of the estates around them.
They were being built on what was previously a single lot and, as a result, were closer together and narrower than others on the block.
What’s more, the owner of the properties, Providence attorney Thomas H. Diprete, had torn down a faux-Italian villa and was planning to build two more houses on a similar Blackstone Boulevard lot to the north.
While there was nothing they could do at the time to stop Diprete from building the houses, which conformed to city zoning, Blackstone neighbors didn’t forget and have now taken steps to make sure nothing similar is built in the neighborhood again.
In community forums on rewriting Providence’s zoning code, they encouraged city planners to protect the area from future development, which in turn led to a proposed down-zoning of 107 acres along Blackstone Boulevard.
The change, part of the proposed zoning ordinance rewrite expected to go before city councilors for approval later this year, would create a new district for the Blackstone area allowing new construction only on lots of at least 7,500 square feet, up from the current 5,000 square feet. (The current R-1 district calls for 6,000-square-foot lots, but contains a loophole to get down to 5,000 square feet.)
If approved, the change would make houses like the ones built by Diprete on newly created 6,500- and 5,500-square-foot lots illegal.
“It is something we heard complaints about, analyzed, and agreed there is a character there that could be jeopardized if that zoning was to remain in place,” said Robert Azar, Providence director of current planning, about development in Blackstone. “We wanted to preserve that character and prevent where developers buy a large lot with a house on it, demolish it, and subdivide it into two 6,000-square-foot lots.”