PROVIDENCE – Initial renderings of a 15-story building proposed for the base of College Hill were reviewed by the Downtown Design Review Committee Jan. 22.
A public hearing on the project attracted about a dozen speakers, most of them opposed to the scale of the building, which would use development rights from an adjacent historical building.
Designed by DBVW Architects, the proposed building would wrap around two sides of the Congdon & Carpenter building, the oldest section of which dates to 1790.
The new structure at 131 Canal St., proposed for what is now a surface parking lot, would include 227 apartments marketed to students, over a ground floor with three retail tenants. It is proposed by Vision Properties, of Conshohocken, Pa., which is developing Edge College Hill on an adjoining site.
According to the design documents, the portion of the new building facing North Main Street would be only three stories, designed to complement adjacent buildings. The main section, between the Congdon & Carpenter building and the Edge College Hill building now under construction, would be 7 stories and 15 stories. The larger height is proposed using the development rights from the historical building.
In the public hearing, speakers questioned the size of the building and the design choices.
The Providence Preservation Society, in a submitted letter, questioned the transfer of development rights from the historical property to the proposed new construction, the relationship of the donor property to the developer and the design itself.
“The design appears conventional compared to the neighboring Elizabeth Building and the New Rivers building, as well as its counterparts on the three other corners,” said Brent Runyon, executive director of the preservation society. “This site demands a very good building.”
A speaker for a construction trades union, the Allied Painters, spoke in favor of the project, saying it would help create construction jobs.
Opponents included residents of College Hill and representatives of the historic First Baptist Church, which is diagonally across North Main Street from the site.
Timothy More, an attorney representing the church, said it would be “tragic” if the new building were allowed, which he said would effectively block views of the church building, which was built in 1775.
“The scale of this building is so out of proportion to the neighborhood that it just can’t be allowed to be built,” he said. He questioned whether the transfer of development rights was legal.
“The idea that you can take a postage-stamp building and transfer those little air rights above that building to a building of this scale, is absurd,” he said.
Stanley Lemons, a deacon at the church, questioned whether no one would have the need for a car in the building. The project does not include parking facilities for cars, as this is not a requirement under the D-1 zoning district.
Lemons read into the record a letter from the church pastor, the Rev. Jamie Washam, who said the two buildings, including the one under active construction, are a visual block in the historic area, which Providence should protect.
“My 7-year-old son asked me why they are building a prison there,” she wrote.
Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at email@example.com.