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City planning moves forward

Amid neighborhood skepticism, a final draft of a proposal to allow commercial development in the former Shooters Restaurant property by India Point Park was presented on Tuesday night by the Rhode Island Department of Planning and Development.

The development plan — called the College Hill, Fox Point and Wayland Square Plan — was presented to the City Planning Commission as part of a larger initiative called Providence Tomorrow, which aims to promote growth while still preserving the character of Providence's neighborhoods. Mayor David Cicilline '83 and the city council proposed the initiative in 2006.

The department has held multi-day meetings, which members of the community and business owners were encouraged to attend, and drafted plans for the future development of each city neighborhood.

Most of the agenda for Tuesday night's commission meeting was devoted to reviewing the final draft of the plan and to public comments.  A major point of contention at the meeting was over the fate of the property that was once Shooters Restaurant. 

According to Rita Williams, a former councilwoman who represented Ward 2 from 1991 to 2006, the Department of Transportation bought the Shooters property for $4.7 million by eminent domain in 2000.  The building was used to store construction materials and building equipment while Interstate-195 was being moved closer to the waterfront.  

Now that I-195 is complete, the Rhode Island Transportation Department has plans to sell the property, Williams said. "Now the value is much less and they would never recoup the money they paid for it," she said. 

Daisy Schnepel, president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, said at Tuesday's meeting that the Fox Point community would favor a more public or limited commercial use of the area.

The proposed plan would keep the current zoning level, which allows for condominiums, hotels and other residential buildings as tall as eight stories to be built by the water.  The plan proposes to extend the height limitation to twelve stories if developers agree to allow for park space, a community center or a wider waterfront walkway.

The planning department is still in the process of determining incentives for developers, said Bonnie Nickerson, director of long-range planning for the city, in the presentation Tuesday night.

Community members who spoke at the meeting, including Williams, expressed concern that the city is considering allowing condominiums and high-rises to be built on the site in order to bring in property tax revenue rather than opening the waterfront to the public.

One public use for the site proposed by community members at the meeting was the construction of a marina for ferry service.

Another goal of the plan is to help maintain small businesses on Thayer and Wickenden Streets and in Wayland Square and to prevent larger businesses from buying two or three plots of land and turning these areas into large commercial buildings. The planning department proposed a zone change for each of these areas, which limits commercial development to small businesses.  

The department also proposed extending the evening hours for businesses on South Main Street to allow for nightclub activity. 

In order to preserve the residential feel of College Hill, the department also proposed prohibiting institutions, such as Brown and Rhode Island School of Design, from constructing buildings taller than four stories within 100 feet of a residential zone.  Michael McCormick, assistant vice president of planning, design and construction, submitted a written letter of opposition that was read during the meeting. 

Other proposed changes included working with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority to possibly change bus stops to include areas that receive more traffic, protecting historic buildings, such as University Hall and working with local businesses to help improve parking conditions.

At next month's commission meeting the planning department will present a newer version of the College Hill, Fox Point and Wayland Square Plan that incorporates the feedback from the public.



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