City receives Brown’s master plan

New home-ownership program for faculty and staff unveiled as part of revised development strategy

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

After receiving a final draft of the University’s Institutional Master Plan last week, the City Plan Commission will hold a public meeting about the plan on April 25 to hear comments from neighborhood residents.

Planned construction of Sidney Frank Hall, the Jonathan Nelson Fitness Center and the Walk are all major components of the next five years of development outlined in the plan, in addition to a revised traffic flow system. The plan also provided details of a new program through which eligible Brown faculty and staff can buy unused, University-owned houses on the East Side.

The IMP was designed over the past several years, during which the University sought to ensure a higher level of community input than it has in the past. The plan has three main goals: developing a circulation structure on campus that fosters community, consolidating Brown’s core of academic buildings on College Hill and moving beyond College Hill to off-campus projects and real estate ventures.

Michael McCormick, director of planning for Facilities Management, said he hopes that, barring any major last-minute changes, the IMP will be ready to go before the City Council in May for a final vote regarding its approval.

Parking – or lack thereof – and traffic congestion have been topics of particular concern for community members at public meetings held by the University. Brown will lose almost 400 parking spaces in the next few years to new construction, and administrators recently announced plans to move undergraduate student parking entirely off campus to help relax this parking squeeze. The University also commissioned a traffic study to come up with a better system of traffic lights for Waterman and Angell streets.

“I think one of the continuing concerns with the College Hill area is parking,” said Ward 2 City Councilwoman Rita Williams. “(Brown) has to continue to have plans that accommodate (the number of cars on College Hill), especially with the increase in faculty that will be coming to this area,” she said, citing the completion of the Life Sciences Building as one catalyst for automobile congestion.

“We feel very good about our traffic study and our parking plan. We’ve heard a lot of skepticism, but we feel like it’s the best we can do at this point,” McCormick said.

“Traffic and parking, from day one, are always the most difficult issues to deal with – on any campus, but especially here on College Hill,” he said. McCormick went on to predict that most of the public discussion set to continue on the city level this month will revolve around these issues and the University’s request that the city abandon portions of Fones Alley and Olive Street so Brown can absorb the land.

“We’ll find out if they’re willing to do that or not,” McCormick said.

Brown to Brown home ownership

The Brown to Brown Home Ownership Program is designed to help the University attract and retain faculty and staff by putting under-utilized properties into productive use, thus providing housing and improving relations with neighbors and the city, according to the University’s Web site. Through the program, eligible faculty and staff will be able to buy Brown-owned properties on the East Side for 80 percent of their market value. When the home next goes up for sale, the University is entitled to buy it back for 80 percent of its market value.

Two aspects of the home-ownership program are especially significant for neighboring College Hill residents and the city: houses in severe need of repairs will get the renovation they need and, once purchased, the houses will become taxable by the city as privately owned residential properties.

Several dozen faculty and staff members have already expressed interest in the program, according to Brendan McNally, special assistant to the executive vice president for planning.

“There’s been good interest,” McNally said. He stressed the win-win nature of the program for the University, its neighbors and the city.

“Respecting the boundaries of Brown’s institutional zone, putting these houses into productive use is something we wanted (for all three constituencies),” he added.

“One thing that has made this very attractive in terms of Brown’s neighbors and the city is that houses like this would go onto the tax roles. …For some of these big houses, that number is pretty significant,” McNally said. A $500,000 house on the East Side of Providence pays about $10,000 in real estate taxes to the city each year, including applicable homestead tax exemptions.

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