In August, the Providence City Plan Commission approved the master plan of a five-story mixed-use building to be located at 269 Wickenden St., the first of a series of approvals needed prior to construction. But some residents of Fox Point have expressed concerns regarding the size and character of the development.
The project will merge two existing lots at the corner of Wickenden and Brook Streets and will include 62 residential units, three commercial spaces and internal parking according to the developer’s proposal.
At the Aug. 15 commission meeting, the commission also allowed the development to be five stories tall instead of the four permitted by the neighborhood’s zoning.
In a June 2 press release posted to the Fox Point Neighborhood Association website, FPNA Vice President Daisy Schnepel said the proposal, which she described as “unreasonable, incompatible development,” “could forever change the environment” of Fox Point and Wickenden Street.
Vin Scorziello, a member of the association’s board of directors, expressed his concern that this development would “set a precedent” for developers to construct larger buildings on Wickenden.
This, he worries, would jeopardize the “funky feel” that characterizes Wickenden now, particularly if smaller businesses get driven out by increasing prices.
“People appreciate that Wickenden is unique,” he said. “It has a lot of quirky stores and characters on the street who own them. … Lots of the businesses just have their own kind of flavor.” Scorziello emphasized that he was speaking for himself, not the association.
In a letter to the City Plan Commission, Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves ’13 MA’15 expressed sentiments similar to those of Scorziello, stressing the importance of “maintaining the vibrancy and historic fabric of” the neighborhood.
Goncalves drew comparisons between Wickenden and Thayer Street, which has been developed significantly in the past three decades. One of Goncalves’s chief concerns is “keeping ‘Wickenden Wickenden,’” he wrote.
But other residents hope this development will help address the housing crisis in Providence.
At the meeting, Wickenden Street resident Ian Saxine emphasized the importance of the “human character” of the neighborhood, which he said has decreased as a result of gentrification.
“Cities are not museums,” he said at the meeting. “If we are going to make room for young people to continue to … make a home in Rhode Island, we are going to have to build more housing.”
Robert Azar P’24, deputy director of planning at the commission, emphasized that producing more housing is important for moderating rents. “The rents that are being charged are a function of supply and demand,” he said in an interview with The Herald.
Azar also explained that the process for approval of new developments involves looking at consistency with zoning and the city’s comprehensive plan, which speaks to the compatibility of a building within the neighborhood, he said. According to him, the commission looks at “character” as objectively as possible during the approval process.
“When people talk about the character of the neighborhood, that is a very subjective term,” he added. “I don't believe that you can simply say a project is in keeping with or not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. You have to go much further than that.”