Parking-heavy 178-unit apartment project OK’d by Providence commission

WITH 217 PARKING SPACES, and 178 apartment units, a six-story building at 220 Blackstone St. received preliminary plan approval from the Providence city Plan Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. / COURTESY PROVIDENCE CITY PLAN COMMISSION
WITH 217 PARKING SPACES, and 178 apartment units, a six-story building at 220 Blackstone St. received preliminary plan approval from the Providence city Plan Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. / COURTESY PROVIDENCE CITY PLAN COMMISSION

PROVIDENCE – While members of the public and several commissioners expressed concerns about an overabundance of parking, and a few wished there could be some affordable housing involved, the Providence City Plan Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday night to approve a preliminary plan for a six-story, 178-unit apartment building proposed for 220 Blackstone St.

The proposal by AR Building Co. calls for 57 studio apartments, 67 one-bedroom apartments and 54 two-bedroom units to be built on a vacant, 3.56-acre site in Upper South Providence, located near Women & Infants Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital. The applicant, which has its New England construction headquarters in Westerly but is based in Pittsburgh, did not need any variances for the proposed 62-foot-tall building and is able to build the multi-family dwelling by right in the area zoned M-MU 75, according to commissioner members.

During her final meeting serving on the commission, Providence City Plan Commission Chairperson Christine West said the 217 parking spaces seemed like a lot, given that many of the future occupants may be hospital employees who could walk to work. West asked AR Building President Jason Kambitsis if he considered fewer parking spaces, which would be located in the rear of the building, with access provided from driveways on Blackstone and Gay streets.

“My initial reaction to the site is that there is so much parking,” West said. “There’s a plausible argument that many occupants might be attached to [the hospitals] and might not need a car at all.”

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Kambitsis said the plan provides 1.07 parking spaces per bedroom, but that he’d be willing to consider getting rid of 40 of them, keeping the space available for potential parking spaces if the tenants demand more. But he said given that it’s a market-rate project, some tenants may be able to afford more than one vehicle.

“Parking becomes chicken and the egg,” Kambitsis said. “I’m happy to take them out for the time being. … We always want to make sure our tenants can park their car. If you have a place like this, people might make more money and have an extra car.”

As part of the 6-0 vote supporting the preliminary plan for the project, the commissioners made a stipulation that the developer could go to Providence Planning Department staff for administrative approval of a parking reduction.

During a public comment period, one woman who owns a home in the area said she would like to see some units, or at least one unit in the building, to be set aside as low-income housing. The commission also said it received a letter from the South Providence Neighborhood Association calling for the project to include units that local residents could afford, noting that the developer held a Nov. 10 meeting with community members.

“As the majority of our footprint’s residents are Black, Indigenous and people of color, and other historically excluded groups with low-to-moderate incomes, SPNA is extremely concerned that this proposal, as is, with market-rate rent amounts would contribute to the displacement of existing residents, as well as become a barrier to persons who also identify with the majority of our residents for being able to reside in such development,” according to the letter from Dwayne Keys, chairperson of the South Providence Neighborhood Association, who added that neighbors had no problems with the design of the building.

But West and others said it wasn’t within their authority to enforce affordable housing, or to force the developer to reduce parking at the site.

“It’s out of our scope,” said commissioner Miguel Quezada. “We can’t enforce, we can only encourage.”

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.

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