Metro, University News

Proposed Thayer housing draws criticism

Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Construction of the proposed housing project at the corner of Meeting and Thayer streets could start by August 2013.

Tuesday night’s public discussion held by the College Hill Neighborhood Association saw a heated debate between opponents of the proposed 257 Thayer Street student apartment complex and the few residents in favor of it.

Robert Gilbane ’71 P’02 P’05, chief executive officer and chairman of Gilbane, Inc., gave a detailed presentation about his proposed student housing project that would sit on the corner of Meeting and Thayer streets and eliminate nine to 10 houses on the block. The project was continually referred to as an “opportunity,” allowing for a stronger sense of community and new partnerships. But Gilbane met opposition from the College Hill community.

Gilbane cited various projects that his company has completed, the Rhode Island School of Design’s 15 West dormitory being the nearest  to the proposed construction. The Thayer project takes Gilbane’s idea of “the next level of student housing,” used on the RISD campus, to College Hill.

The apartment-style living would have one entrance on Thayer street, an underground parking garage, four stories of suites, a lounge and study spaces. Gilbane noted that the community would see a decrease in traffic, as students who currently live off campus would not need to drive their vehicles to campus. In addition, he added that one of the main aspects of college life is socialization, which he feels would be fostered by this dormitory complex.

After an hour of Gilbane’s presentation, the crowd of about 50 people began to get restless, and Gilbane was interrupted with questions and concerns.

Most people expressed the opinion that the chosen location is wrong. One member of CHNA called the project “massive and intrusive.” After one member voiced his opinion that the project should be integrated with the neighborhood rather than closed off, the room was filled with applause. Applause also met the opinion that Gilbane had stepped on Brown’s toes by not speaking with them.

“I do not speak for Brown,” Gilbane said.

Marisa Quinn, vice president of public affairs and University relations, noted the recent long-term plan to increase the number of beds on campus as well renovations to current dormitories. This comment was met with a murmur from the back of the room suggesting that “Brown should just stop growing.”

Quinn previously wrote in an email to The Herald, “Brown welcomes projects and activities that strengthen the character and offerings of the Thayer Street district and that are consistent with what we understand to be in the interests of the College Hill Neighborhood Association and others with a stake in the success of the area.”

Those in favor of the project felt that it would increase the density of the neighborhood, thereby increasing safety. In addition, supporters argued that the buildings that would need to be demolished are not vital to the neighborhood.

The idea of the preservation of the neighborhood pervaded the discussion — with some arguing to keep the existing houses and others suggesting that the new complex could reflect the current architecture of the area.

The proposal must be approved by the Providence City Council before work can begin. Gilbane hopes to begin construction by June 2013, The Herald previously reported, which would require approval by late April. Residents expressed concern over the fast approaching deadline, with one woman calling the project a “snowballing of development.”

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