Metro, University News

Luxury apartment plan approved for Thayer

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 24, 2012

Gilbane Development will begin construction on a new apartment complex at 257 Thayer St., replacing Squires Salon and Sahara Hookah.

Plans for a new upscale apartment complex on Thayer Street between Euclid Avenue and Meeting Street are moving forward after the outlines for the complex, set to be built by Gilbane Development, were approved by the Providence City Council Aug. 1.

Construction on the 257 Thayer building is slated to begin in June 2013, said Robert Gilbane ’71 P’02 P’05, chairman and chief executive officer of Gilbane Development. The complex will have a U-shaped layout, with a courtyard opening out onto Brook, as opposed to the previously proposed closed-off rectangle. More definitive plans regarding the development will be released in the next few months, Gilbane said.

To move ahead with development, there needed to be a zoning change for the entire block stretching between Euclid, Thayer and Brook that would reassign the area to “support high-density residential and limited commercial development,” according to the ordinance amending the city’s zoning code. The proposed construction also required a change to the city’s comprehensive plan to re-classify the area as high-density residential instead of the mix of two zoning classifications that had been previously designated.

The City Plan Commission submitted a recommendation in favor of approving the zoning and comprehensive plan changes, and the city council approved the changes with two votes July 30 and Aug. 1.

Both the Providence Preservation Society and the College Hill Neighborhood Association, local groups dedicated to safeguarding the neighborhood’s integrity, supported the Gilbane project with specific stipulations.

The society asked that Gilbane Development move some of the nine houses slated for destruction to another location a few blocks north and that developers document the houses that are demolished for the historical record, said James Hall, the preservation society’s executive director. Gilbane Development has proposed allocating $200,000 to move one house, provided that the Providence Preservation Society pays for the relocation of another house at the same cost, Hall said

Over the summer, Gilbane hired a new architecture company — the Providence-based Union Studio Architects — to design the complex after the Providence Preservation Society and the College Hill Neighborhood Association requested the changes. Hall said he thinks the current design is an improvement and better conforms to the architecture of the surrounding area.

Squires Salon and Sahara Hookah are among the buildings to be destroyed to make way for the new development. Richard Schwaery, owner of Squires, could not be reached for comment about the future of either business.

Allison Spooner, president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, said the organization does not have a position regarding the current developments, as it needs time to see if Gilbane honors more of the recommendations the group submitted. The association offered eight recommendations in response to Gilbane’s proposal, including that local stakeholders form a committee dedicated to overseeing Thayer’s future development, Spooner said.

Responding to concerns, Gilbane submitted a letter of intent July 25 stating that the company will not seek a tax abatement and will participate in a study of the greater Thayer area, according to the website of Providence City Councilman Sam Zurier, whose ward includes the area of the proposed development.

The University will participate in the committee, said Marisa Quinn, vice president of public affairs and University relations. “The development prompted an interest in the coming together of (the College Hill Neighborhood Association), (the Providence Preservation Society) and Brown to consider a shared agenda for the future of Thayer Street … including safety and security and economic development,” Quinn said.

Providence real estate mogul Ed Bishop ’54 P’86 P’91 has also proposed construction on Brook — he has been attempting to rally support to build a $35 million luxury hotel intermittently since 2004. Bishop currently needs to get approval from the City Plan Commission and the city council for similar changes to zoning and the comprehensive plan. He said he will begin pursuing these changes in November.

The Gilbane development plans will go back to the City Plan Commission for further approval and review, Zurier said. There are two stages of review – the master plan and the preliminary plan. The master plan involves all conceptual ideas for development and has been approved, said Robert Azar, acting director of planning and development for the City Plan Commission. The preliminary plan “is much more detailed, with fleshed-out building plans,” he said.

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