U. aims to use Fox Point land to ease parking crunch

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tall coffee at Starbucks: $1.65. Books for classes: $300. East Side parking spot: priceless.

Brown may have made rides on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority free, but University officials are still looking for a place to put the hundreds of cars that come onto campus every morning.

Administrators told residents of the Fox Point neighborhood, just south of Brown’s campus, that they are seeking developers to create up to 300 parking spaces on University-owned land now occupied by two little-used warehouses near India Point Park.

University officials sent formal requests for proposals in late July to six area developers, said John Luipold, Brown’s new director of real estate, speaking Monday night at a board meeting of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association. A committee of administrators, including Luipold and Brown’s director of strategic growth, Rebecca Barnes, will review applications received by Sept. 18 and make recommendations to the Corporation this fall on how to use the land, Luipold said.

Though Brown mandates that developers create some parking spaces for University use, a developer could also use the land in other ways, Barnes said. Luipold and Barnes suggested at the neighborhood association meeting that the property could be used for housing, but they were vague about who might live there.

The University doesn’t often request that developers lease Brown-owned land, Barnes told The Herald, but the two warehouses – at 271 to 275 Tockwotten St. – don’t fit into the University’s long-term plans for growth in the Jewelry District and on College Hill. Giving developers autonomy to tear down the buildings and undertake a project largely independent of the University – as long as they provide some parking space – may make the property an asset to the Fox Point neighborhood, Barnes said.

Professor of Visual Art Richard Fishman and his students use one warehouse as studio space. The other warehouse is vacant.

Deborah Dinerman, community and government relations liaison, told the neighborhood association board that University officials are aware of Brown’s previous attempt about six years ago to turn the property into a parking garage, which was stymied after Fox Point residents strongly opposed the plan.

Some residents at the meeting said they thought the University’s effort was similar to its previous plans for the same property and that the neighborhood would get better use out of the properties if they weren’t converted into parking spaces.

Fox Point resident Ethan Ris ’05, who called the University’s plans “a little nefarious,” said he thought the University was attempting the same plan residents shot down earlier, but in a more roundabout way.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Fox Point residents discussed overnight permit parking for residents. Providence currently bans parking overnight on streets, but a pilot program in one Providence neighborhood, Washington Park, allows residents to pay $25 a year for an overnight-parking permit. Fox Point residents heard Patrick Ward, president of Citizens for Resident Permit Parking, detail the specifics of a permit parking program.

But residents were skeptical, saying that Providence police had a bad track record of enforcing the overnight ban in their area. The neighborhood association’s executive secretary, John Rousseau, of Fremont Street, noted that one of his acquaintances only receives tickets for overnight parking about 3 percent of the time. Still, Rousseau said he would circulate a petition for the permit program on his street.

“I’ve never lived anywhere where you can’t park on the street,” he said. “It seems like the street should belong to the people.”

Once a petitioner gains support in his neighborhood, he can take the petition to the city clerk, Ward said. The city council will then consider the petition for a pilot program.

But fears that student cars would overrun the neighborhood will fuel opposition to the program, according to Ris. Brown students living in Fox Point wouldn’t pose a nuisance to residents, Ris said, because a permit program would require car-owners to have a Rhode Island license plate registered to a Rhode Island address – a hassle for out-of-state students living off-campus for only a year. Trading out-of-state tags for Rhode Island tags costs about $50.

– With additional reporting by Zachary Chapman