PROVIDENCE – The Providence City Council is expected to decide Thursday night whether to authorize a 600-foot apartment tower in the I-195 Redevelopment District.
The project, known as the Hope Point Tower, has been divisive. Although the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission has agreed to sell the parcel to the developer, its agreement is contingent on city approvals.
And so far, city panels are recommending rejection. The City Council’s Ordinance Committee in July recommended a denial of the required rezoning. Earlier, the City Plan Commission also recommended a rejection.
Several prominent organizations, including the Providence Preservation Society, have urged people to contact the council to oppose the development.
The rezoning would allow the building to scale beyond the 100 feet now allowed for new construction in that area, to up to 600 feet. The project, put forward by The Fane Organization of New York, involves a 46-story building, primarily residential apartments.
Beyond the public hearings on the project, council members have received dozens of emails and letters since May on the project, according to a request for public documents submitted to Council President David Salvatore by the Providence Business News.
The response for letter and email correspondence submitted to Salvatore was fulfilled by city attorneys who redacted names and addresses on the documents, with the exception of statements submitted by people who also testified in a public hearing on the project.
A total of 27 letters or emails were received by Aug. 27, not including those submitted by the developer.
About one-quarter of the correspondents were in favor of the project and urged the council president to either work with the developer or approve it outright. Three quarters of the respondents were opposed.
The response by the city was not required under Rhode Island law, which exempts from public disclosure correspondence between elected officials and constituents, according to a council spokesman and an analysis prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.
In the interest of transparency, the city said it would issue the documents with names redacted.
According to the correspondence, people who support the Fane tower want to see more economic development in Providence, including employment and new residents.
“Progress and change should be embraced, not feared or thwarted,” wrote one Providence resident on Aug. 26. “We just lost the PawSox because of the political foot dragging and a parochial mindset. Let’s not repeat this action for the city. Thirty years ago, Boston had only one tall building in town. Look at its skyline now.”
Another resident emphasized the potential of the building to act as a catalyst.
“Not only will this create hundreds of jobs for residents of Rhode Island, it will also set the stage for things to come in Providence,” the person wrote, on July 17. For years the downtown area of Providence sat vacant with blighted empty buildings because nobody wanted to make the investment in the city center. This project will act as a catalyst for the future growth of the city and set the tone of things to come.”
Opponents cited the design of the proposed high-rise, or its location in a zone not intended for such a tall building. They emphasized the historical scale of the capital and the potential for the tower to overwhelm the planned park and pedestrian bridge on the Providence River.
“Providence must not be spoiled by a tacky tower, plunked down like a giant sore thumb hovering over the city,” wrote one resident in late May. “Perfect for Nouveau Riche Dubai, but in our city, distinctive for its grace and good taste, it would look ludicrous, a public laughingstock.”
Another email said the city should not approve any development, particularly on the prominent I-195 land, that flouts the zoning and “power of place” that Providence offers.
“I am not against modern buildings, but I am FOR buildings that complement the historic fabric of Providence. …I understand Providence badly needs tax revenue; however, please don’t sell out on the Fane proposal. It opens the door to more bad things.”
Another correspondent identified themselves as a homeowner and small business owner, and said they resented carrying a heavy tax burden, while the development would likely receive incentives:
“As a homeowner in Providence, I am paying very high property taxes compared to other states and while I am happy to contribute to schools (as shockingly bad as they are), roads, government and infrastructure, public services and the rest, I am not happy to subsidize wealthy developers.”
Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@PBN.com.