PROVIDENCE — After hours of public comment, an advisory committee to the Providence City Council on Tuesday recommended it reject several zoning changes that would allow a 46-story residential high-rise on a prominent site overlooking the Providence River downtown.
The Fane Organization’s Hope Point Tower is one of the largest developments, and among the more controversial, to reach the City Plan Commission in the last several years.
The City Council has the authority to change the city’s zoning, and the commission’s decision is advisory only. But in several extended comments, the commission members made clear they felt the project was out of scale for Providence and ill suited for the city’s housing needs.
Said commission member Luis Torrado, an architect appointed by Mayor Jorge O. Elorza: “We are stewards of the comprehensive plan. I’m sorry, but a 46-story tower is not of moderate height. It is a skyscraper. Many cities build as high as they can because they want to become prominent. That is not going to make this city special. What is going to make the city special is to keep what has made it special all along.”
The zoning changes sought by the New York developer would change the site’s zoning from a 100-foot limit on buildings to 600 feet, and allow another city committee that oversees design to waive a requirement that new buildings be in context with surrounding structures.
Before voting 5-2 against the zoning changes, the commission members listened to four hours of public comment on Tuesday. Two weeks ago, another public hearing extended for three hours.
The commission’s vote came despite a planning staff report that found the project complied with the city’s comprehensive plan, which encourages mixed-use development downtown. One of the staff recommendations would have required Fane to rent 15 percent of the units at affordable rates.
But in the end, the commission voted to recommend a denial.
Commission members who voted against said the tower project was not appropriate for the location, and would diminish a public park that is being created as part of the Interstate 195 Redevelopment District.
Several commission members said the city had just revised its zoning within the past six years, following a lengthy public process — which identified the Dyer Street site, also known as Parcel 42, as the best suited for a mid-rise building, up to 100 feet in height.
The project introduced by developer Jason Fane would include luxury condos on top floors, and larger rental apartments in the mid section, and more moderately priced apartments at the bottom, he told the commission, without specifying rental amounts or costs.
In fact, when asked by commission chairwoman Christine West whether he had conducted a market analysis that would indicate sufficient demand for the luxury units, he said he had no such information and viewed the opening of a sales office as the best method to determine market value.
“We do not have that information,” Fane responded to West. “With this project, as you do not have good appraisal comps, it’s necessary to look at the factors, not the numbers.” Some of the factors Fane cited included an increase in the population of professionals moving into Providence, who will need housing.
He said the commute to Boston would make the city appealing to its transplants, and characterized it as a 35-minute distance.
In describing the apartments, Fane revealed for the first time publicly that the top floors would be designed as luxury condos for sale to buyers, while the mid- and lower sections of the building would be rentals. There would be separate elevator areas for the various sections, he said.
West, who was among the five commission members who voted against the project, said she was opposed on several grounds.
“What we see before us is not mixed use,” she said. “It is an apartment building with some retail on the ground floor,” and other spaces intended to provide amenities for the tenants and residents, she said.
The building also would require a reduction in the land area of the public park. A bill that would provide that has been introduced at the General Assembly.
“We’re taking the public land for the private use of the residents of this tower,” she said.
Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.