Fane tower zoning change gets initial approval from Providence City Council

THE PROVIDENCE City Council on Thursday pushed forward a zoning change that would allow a New York developer to construct the city’s tallest building.Above, a rendering of the Hope Point Tower. / COURTESY FANE ORGANIZATION
THE PROVIDENCE City Council on Thursday pushed forward a zoning change that would allow a New York developer to construct the city’s tallest building.Above, a rendering of the Hope Point Tower. / COURTESY FANE ORGANIZATION

PROVIDENCE — With a divided vote, the Providence City Council on Thursday pushed forward a zoning change that would allow a New York developer to construct the city’s tallest building.

The 46-story residential tower proposed by The Fane Organization needs a zoning change to authorize a height of up to 600 feet. The actual design may result in a tower that’s less than that. Current drawings indicate the height will reach 530-plus feet.

The current zoning would allow new construction of up to 100 feet.

Council members approved a first reading of the zoning ordinance on a vote of eight in favor, five opposed and two abstaining.

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Voting in favor were council members: Luis Aponte, Jo-Ann Ryan, Carmen Castillo, Michael Correia, Nicholas Narducci Jr., Wilbur Jennings Jr., John Igliozzi, and Terrence Hassett.

Voting against were members Nirva LaFortune, Mary Kay Harris, Seth Yurdin, Samuel Zurier and Bryan Principe.

Abstaining were the council President David Salvatore and Council woman Sabina Matos.

The council will need to vote on the project for a second time before the zoning change is authorized. That meeting is expected to be held as early as next week, potentially on Tuesday.

If Mayor Jorge O. Elorza signs the change, the project, which entails some $300 million in construction, would then move forward to design review. A city panel, the Downtown Design Review Committee, will review the exterior design of the building. 

Ultimately, the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, a quasi-public agency, would be tasked with final approval for the project, called Hope Point Tower.

The vote on Thursday followed more than an hour of sometimes emotional debate, as council members who opposed the project tried to add a requirement to the development that would mandate a 15 percent affordable housing share.

The amendment would have required 15 percent of the units in the skyscraper to be leased at a rate for low and moderate income residents. Or, the developer could bypass that by paying $100,000 for each affordable unit to a City Council fund for affordable housing.

The amendment, introduced by LaFortune, failed.

“We don’t have a market for it,” she said of the luxury building. “There is no demand for it.”

On the zoning change, council members who voted in favor of the tower said Providence needs to expand, to literally grow up.

Councilman Aponte said the same council members who were arguing that the tower should contain a percentage of affordable units are living in neighborhoods with very little affordability.

He also challenged council members who objected to the standardized tax stabilization agreement that the project will qualify for — an administrative TSA that is available to all large projects in the I-195 district.

“No one complained when the Cambridge Innovation Center got a 20-year tax stabilization,” he said, referring to a major tenant in the Wexford Science & Technology innovation building, now under construction in the district.

“The only thing before us this evening is a zoning issue, a height relief amendment to our zoning.”

Salvatore, who has already publicly said he opposes the tower in the proposed location, said after the meeting he abstained from voting because of the lack of information provided to the council, specifically that no one from the Ordinance Committee would explain to the full council how they arrived at their decision to recommend the project.

Matos said she abstained because she has concerns about affordable housing and wants to speak privately to the developer about including it. She said she didn’t want to vote against the project, however, for that reason alone.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.