Metro, News

Hope Point Tower moves closer to zoning approval

If approved, Hope Point Tower would be on track to be tallest residential tower in New England

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Providence City Council voted to approve a change in city height ordinances for the Hope Point Tower Project Thursday night. The Council will need to vote one more time on the issue before it goes to Mayor Jorge Elorza’s desk for final approval. Even with initial height approval, the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission will retain influence over the design process, according to Peter McNally, the Commission’s executive director.

The proposed Hope Point Tower is a 600-foot-tall luxury apartment complex slated to be built on former I-195 land in downtown Providence. If the tower receives the necessary zoning approval from City Council, it will be the tallest building in Providence and the tallest residential tower in New England. The project has already received approval from the Commission, which owns the land on which the tower would be built.

If Elorza, who has yet to come out with an official stance on the project, rejects the ordinance change, the Council has the power to overrule his decision. The Mayor “is waiting on full council passage and hopefully a refined design before making a final decision,” spokesperson Emily Crowell told WPRI.

The issues have divided the city. Before the vote, the Providence Preservation Society submitted a petition with 1,809 signatures to the mayor and City Council, opposing the proposed development. PPS also took out a full-page ad in Thursday’s edition of the Providence Journal, urging city residents to contact their council members and advocate against the building. The Providence Journal published an editorial Wednesday endorsing the building, writing, “We hope and trust the City Council will do the right thing, putting the people’s interests ahead of the loud naysayers and special interests.”

At the meeting, Providence resident Valentina Adamore told The Herald that she opposes the tower.

With the Superman skyscraper standing empty, the “reduce, reuse, recycle” method would work much better than building a new project, Adamore said.

Although some residents have been skeptical of the project’s benefits, labor unions have supported the initiative because of the commitment of the developer, the Fane Organization to use 100 percent union labor.

“The city can certainly use the tax money it will generate,” said President of the Providence Central Federated Council Paul MacDonald, pointing out the project’s $300 million price tag.

Though he said that the residents opposing the project are good people, “most of those people are not worried about the price of a gallon of gasoline,” MacDonald added.

At the meeting, Ward 10 Councilman Luis Aponte also expressed enthusiasm for the project’s potential to bring in sizable amounts of tax revenue. Explaining that much of Providence’s properties are non-taxable, he urged the Council to approve the project with consideration of its taxability. Every time “Brown wants a nicer facility for its professors and students,” the city has to consider where they are going to collect revenues, Aponte said.

On the other hand, Ward 2 Councilman Samuel Zurier focused on the “more than $81 million” in tax incentives to be granted to the Fane Organization if the tower is approved.

“This is classic trickle down economics,” he said, adding that the income generated by the tower after its construction will pale in comparison to the tax cuts.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan spoke in favor of the tower.

“I agree we have an affordable housing crisis,” Ryan said, but it “should not be placed on the back of the developer” and instead should be the city’s responsibility.

Yesterday’s meeting featured a proposed amendment to the ordinance change in addition to several impassioned speeches from council members. Ward 3 City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune introduced an amendment requiring that 15 percent of any residential project built on the lot must qualify as “low-and-moderate income housing.” If the developer decides to exclude the affordable units, the amendment mandated that they would have to pay a fee. LaFortune’s proposal also required the City Plan Commission to review and approve the project’s design and layout to make sure a proposed park nearby would not be negatively impacted. After some discussion, the amendment was dismissed as irrelevant to the zoning ordinance at hand.

Ward 13 Councilman Bryan Principe, who strongly disagrees with the zoning change, motioned to introduce an amendment to throw out all the city’s zoning ordinances, but then promptly retracted it.

Despite arguments against the zoning change, Fane spokesperson Dante Bellini said he is “gratified” that the Council passed the first vote and is looking forward to the next one. “We’re hoping history repeats itself,” he added.

PPS Executive Director Brent Runyon has not lost hope yet in preventing the zoning change.

“Anything’s possible in politics,” he said.