PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The proposed residential development on a parcel of former I-195 land is raising hackles among neighbors, who say the potential buildings are too tall, lack green space and could cause traffic and parking issues.
Tayo Heuser and Jeff Shore, a married couple who live on Benefit Street, are among those who signed a letter sent by Councilman John Goncalves to state leaders raising concerns about the three proposals currently under consideration.
Heuser and Shore’s back porch currently lends a water view of the Providence River and recently built pedestrian bridge, with the city in the background. That view will be “completely obliterated” by a six-story apartment building under any of the three plans, Heuser told 12 News.
“It’s out of scale with the neighborhood,” Shore added. “We have a very tight community, and to build this sort of monolith in front of us is just bad.”
More than a dozen people who live near the parcel along with Councilman John Goncalves, D-Ward 1, sent a letter to the I-195 Commission and Gov. Dan McKee laying out concerns about the three proposals by Boston-based firms that each want to put a residential building on Parcel 2, an acre of land on South Water Street stretching from James Street to Dollar Street.
The parcel is most recognizable for its annual sunflower blooms, a tradition started by a former RISD student in 2016. But the vacant plot of land was always headed for development, after the state moved the highway and created a commission to market and sell the resulting prime real estate.
The letter expresses opposition to the height of all three proposals and a lack of sufficient parking spaces, while also suggesting more green space is needed.
“The proposed height of the project between five and six stories is too tall and conflicts with the skyline view,” the letter reads. “Community feedback is strong for a reduced structure.”
Acknowledging a shorter building is a “lofty ask” — a six-story building complies with zoning rules — the neighbors are asking for more transparent features and “cut-outs” in the architecture, so it doesn’t block the view from College Hill. They are also asking for “shadow studies” to be conducted during the design process, to see how much the building will block sunlight.
The letter also expresses concern about traffic and congestion in the area, since at least two of the proposals include far fewer parking spaces than potential residents.
All three of the proposals including parking structures, but only one will have a designated parking space for each unit. The proposal by Urbanica includes 90 parking spaces for 194 apartments; the Eden Properties development would include 48 parking spots for 156 apartments, and the Parent + Diamond/Urban Spaces proposal would include 120 parking spaces for 120 condominiums, plus 20 spaces reserved for the ground floor retail businesses.
If residents and their visitors are using up street spots, it will leave fewer spots for people visiting the businesses on the street or the pedestrian bridge and adjacent park, the neighbors argue.
195 Commission Chair Bob Davis was not immediately available to comment. The commission’s next meeting is Jan. 19. While an agenda has not yet been posted, the commission had been slated to discuss Parcel 2 at its December meeting, which was cancelled.
Shore noted that a commission member agreed to visit his home to see how the view will be obstructed, indicating a willingness to listen to the neighbors.
The ire over Parcel 2 is part of a larger request by Goncalves, who represents the sections of the city in Fox Point, the Jewelry District and downtown that contain the former 195 land, to include the community in a more official way in the development decisions.
He’s calling on the 195 Commission and the governor to form a task force made up of neighborhood abutters and businesses who can help form the “request for proposals” — the solicitation for developers — before they even go out.
The proposals and designs for buildings should incorporate “sensitivity to the historic vibrancy of our neighborhood,” Goncalves said.
He added that he was concerned about the commission “diverting from the original mission of creating a true Providence Innovation & Design District and life-sciences mecca full of vibrant ‘knowledge-based’ jobs in information technology, engineering, biomedical, biotechnology, and other fast-growing sectors.”
Goncalves is also asking for a comprehensive road plan to head off potential traffic problems caused by an influx of new development. In addition to the Parcel 2 project, construction is currently underway on another 195 parcel on South Water Street that will become apartment building with a grocery chain.
State Rep. Chris Blazejewski, the House majority leader who represents part of Providence, indicated support for the neighbors’ concerns.
“I join with and share in the concerns of Councilman Goncalves and the community regarding the development of Parcel 2,” Blazejewski said. “It is critical that the I-195 Commission listen to the voices of the neighborhood and address community feedback in considering projects for this land.”
McKee’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter.
The city of Providence has no control over what is built on the state-owned land, after state lawmakers stripped the city of its zoning authority following a battle over the height of the Fane Tower, a skyscraper proposed for a parcel on Dyer Street.
All three proposals for Parcel 2 would have 90% or more of the units rented or sold at market rate. The Urbanica proposal would have 194 units with just 12 categorized as affordable; the Eden Properties proposal has 156 apartments with 7 of them affordable; and the Parent + Diamond/Urban Spaces proposal would include 120 condominiums, with 12 affordable units.