PROVIDENCE – You don’t need waterfront access to make asphalt.
Yet for the last three years, a Providence paving contractor has rented a section of prime waterfront real estate along Allens Avenue in South Providence to store and process concrete, stone and asphalt, defying city zoning laws which say the area must be used for waterfront or maritime-related activities.
Now, it’s up to the city’s Zoning Board of Review to decide if they company can continue to operate on the property anyway. The board, which can grant exceptions to city zoning laws, is expected to vote Wednesday night on Narragansett Improvement Co.’s variance application for its operations at 33 8Allens Ave. The decision hinges on whether the company can prove that it will face undue hardship without the variance.
In its application to the board dated Aug.24, Narragansett Improvement Co. described how its operations will suffer if it can no longer store and produce materials at the site. The company’s main offices, including a hot mix asphalt producing plant, are a third-mile down the street along Allens Avenue. Without the secondary site, it will be forced to truck in materials from farther away, costing more money, reducing its ability to compete with other producers and ultimately jeopardizing its long-standing business on Allens Avenue, the company stated in its application.
Others are not convinced by this argument. The city Department of Planning and Development recommended the board deny the variance “as hardship isn’t evident.”
The application has also sparked opposition from area residents and community groups, who point to this as the latest example in a history and pattern of environmental racism that forces pollution and toxic chemicals onto residents of one of the city’s poorest areas, many of whom already face higher rates of asthma and other health problems.
In a letter to Board Chairman Marc Greenfield, Linda Perri, who heads the Washington Park Association, urged the board to deny the variance request, calling it a “step backwards” and “fatally flawed” with “long-lasting negative, social health and equity repercussions on the larger community in South Providence.”
Perri’s letter also included a copy of the letter from the city from October 2020 alerting the company for a second time of violating city zoning code. According to its application, Narragansett Improvement Co. began leasing the 17.6-acre space from property owner Cumberland Farms in March 2018. It is unclear if they knew at the time that they were violating city zoning laws, or how the city found out.
Company President Dustin Everson did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment on Wednesday.
More than three dozen other comments were submitted to the board ahead of the meeting, all denouncing the requested variance and outlining a number of health and environmental consequences by allowing Narragansett Improvement Co. to continue.
“There is a long history of environmental problems in and around the Port of Providence, concentrating many of Rhode Island’s most concerning pollution and safety issues in neighborhoods that are economically and racially disadvantaged,” the Conservation Law Foundation wrote in its submitted testimony. “Residents of these neighborhoods have submitted comments opposing this application, attempting to prevent the approval of yet another nearby source of air, water, and noise pollution. CLF urges the Board to listen to their concerns.”
Several of the written comments also noted that allowing the company to continue illegal activities sets a bad precedent of letting companies get away with breaking the rules without consequence.
“This is how companies get grandfathered in for their illegal and damaging behavior,” said Rep. David Morales, D-Providence, in his submitted comments.
The city Zoning Board of Review meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The meeting includes opportunity for public comment.
Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.
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