Easter-egg hunt proposal prompts discussion of inclusiveness

The SNA board voted at its Feb. 18 regular meeting to go ahead with an Easter-egg hunt on March 30, but only after a lengthy discussion of the implications of celebrating a Christian holiday in a neighborhood with a large Jewish population.

Some Jewish members of the board asked if the Easter event would imply that the organization is ignoring the beliefs of many members of the community, including such faiths as Muslim or Hindu, and would be insulting to them.

After some soul-searching, the board decided that the event, marking an officially recognized holiday, was being planned not with a sense of excluding people of non-Christian faiths, but with the purpose of including as many people as possible. The board debated calling it a “spring” event, but decided that “Easter eggs” were uniquely recognizable and acceptable.

Members of the board said during the discussion that they had no intention of denigrating any faiths and encourage suggestions from people of all faiths to suggest ways to celebrate the diversity of the Summit neighborhood.

House to hear I-195 Commission Bill tomorrow

As an update on the previous post regarding the I-195 Commission vote, to be heard by the House tomorrow, please see the following from our neighbors in Fox Point:

The House has I-195 Redevelopment Commission on docket tomorrow, Wednesday, June 29th.  Take 30 seconds to read the updated information below about the now 61 acres of prime real estate, of which you would have no voice, while your property taxes go up.

Urge Speaker Fox and the Providence delegation to vote no to the Senate version of the bill directly at http://www.citizenspeak.org/campaign/paul7of7/stop-i-195-redevelopment-commission

(Click on image to enlarginate)

Update of Clarke Florist site

An update on the Clarke Florist site from the Friends of Preserve Hope Street:

Dear Friends of Preserve Hope Street,

Our journey to find a good use for the Clarke Florist site continues, and we wanted to send everyone an update.

Zoning Appeal: The Schartner team has filed an appeal of the Providence Zoning Board ruling in Superior Court (case number CA 11-3099).  It is unclear if this step was taken by Schartners or by the developer who was working with them on the drive thru proposal.  The City of Providence will be defending the decision of the zoning board.  No hearing date has been set, and we have been informed that this could take a while –  a few months up to a couple of years.  Abutters to the Clarke’s site have been legally notified, and we are exploring how best to support the City and the Zoning Board in this case.  We are VERY grateful to Steve Litwin, who has been offering his legal services to us at no charge.  If we hear more specifics, we will let you know.

Update on the Site:  As you may have noticed, the flower shop is now closed.  The signs say they have “moved,” but this means that they have forwarded the phone lines to the flower shop still operated by Schartners.  An area of focus for us is supporting Schartner in identifying a new owner or a tenant for the site.  We would hate to see the building deteriorate further and risk demolition. We would love your help in spreading the word to anyone you think might be interested in setting up a neighborhood-friendly business. We are concerned that potential tenants know that neighbors are NOT anti-business, we just want a business appropriate to a residential block.

As always, your ideas and questions are welcome.  We will continue to post updates to our Facebook page, to our web

site www.preservehopestreet.org and send out e-mails with any news. Thanks for continuing to follow this story.


Concerned Hope Street Abutters

Zoning Variance Denied for Clarke’s Florist Site

Zoning Variance Denied for Clarke’s Florist Site

Report on the March 16 Zoning Variance Hearing

by Summit Neighbor Elva Mathiesen

The drive-thru coffee shop proposed for the Clark’s Flower Shop site on Hope Street was the last item on the agenda.

When the neighbors finished filing into the hearing room, all the seats were full and many people were standing.

The lawyer for the developer proposing the coffee shop (“Brewed Awakenings”) presented and questioned a small army of witnesses, as follows:

The architect of the proposed new building, parking lot, and drive-thru lane; a civil engineer, testifying that the present building has deteriorated beyond repair; a traffic engineer with traffic flow studies, testifying that the drive-thru is not incompatible with current traffic on Hope Street, even at rush hours; a real estate agent, testifying that the new business would not bring down property values; Mr. Schartner, the owner of Schartner Florists, LLC., the current owner of Clark’s, who has owned it for only a few years, testifying that he can’t make a go of the business; and David Levesque, the developer, the owner of several other “Brewed Awakenings” coffee/sandwich shops elsewhere in R.I. which, he says are highly successful.  (He said the one near the Capital Grille downtown had to close because it was dependent on foot traffic, and there was no foot traffic during inclement weather.)

As I listened, it seemed to me that Levesque, the developer, was speaking out of two sides of his mouth:  on the one hand, he insisted repeatedly that his coffee/sandwich shop would be a place to eat, meet people, and feel comfortable staying a while; on the other hand, he said that 40% of his business would be drive-thru.

It seemed to me that Levesque was overly sanguine about how many cars would be “stacked” in the drive-thru lane.   Orders would be placed at one window and picked up at another.  Levesque said that cars would have to wait at the pick-up window no more than 45 seconds, but I wasn’t able to follow his reasoning.

(If one car in the stack wants to turn left on Hope Street, it’s going to be idling a lot longer than 45 seconds, and so will all the cars behind it!)

Throughout the testimony of the developer and his witnesses, I couldn’t help but be struck by how careful they all were to avoid mentioning the day care across the street (1/2 block to the north) and the public elementary school one and a half blocks west.  The traffic engineer made no mention of the fact that during morning rush hour, prime drive-thru coffee time, parents would be parking and dropping off babies and toddlers, and kids would be walking to school.

The traffic engineer admitted that he hadn’t factored in bicycle traffic.

Anticipating one argument of the neighbors against the project, the issue of “intensification” of commercial activity, one of the developer’s witnesses (or the lawyer, or the developer himself, I don’t remember which) said that the stretch of Hope Street between Rochambeau and Olney was a neighborhood “in transition” between residential and commercial.  As evidence for this statement he cited the double- and triple-decker houses lining that part of Hope Street, saying that they were “four-, five-, and six-family houses, and one 7-family house.”  This was news to me!

(The few businesses in this mile of Hope Street have been there since before I came to Providence 44 years ago; and if there are residential buildings with four to seven dwelling units each, I haven’t noticed them.)

Sixty-one people came to the hearing and I estimate that at least half of them testified, all against the project.

A lawyer (hired by a neighbor) and Jesse Polhemus (vice president of the Summit Neighborhood Association) led off, Jesse quoting the Zoning Ordinance’s section on granting variances.   One of the qualifications for being granted a variance is that “intensification” of business activity does not occur.   (Providence’s Comprehensive Plan also forbids intensification of business activity on this segment of the Hope Street corridor.)

Many abutters testified, expressing their concern about the noise and fumes from idling vehicles in the drive-through lane, and the lights in the parking lot.  (“Brewed Awakenings” would stay open until 10 p.m., and until 10:30 on Friday and Saturday nights.)

Some people asked:  why couldn’t the property, already zoned R-3, be subdivided and dwellings put in?  (On the tax rolls, it’s already two lots.)

One person suggested that rather than being razed, the greenhouse should be preserved as a valuable community resource for people growing their own food, especially in this time of rising food prices.

Asher Schofield, who owns Frog & Toad, directly across the street from the Citizens Bank parking lot and drive-thru, and Robert Mathiesen, who lives at 45 Lauriston Street, three houses from the Citizens Bank drive-thru, testified that the Citizens Bank drive-thru is noisy and hazardous.

After the neighbors’ testimony, the lawyer for the developer summarized his arguments and droned on for half an hour, accusing the neighbors of NIMBYism and not buying enough flowers.

In my view, if the coffee shop and drive-thru go in, the 12-foot-high arbor vitaes touted by the architect are not going to shield the abutters from the noise, lights, and fumes.  And, regarding the fumes, one abutter testified that she has an asthmatic child.  In fact, the abutters’ quality of life would deteriorate drastically.

After the lawyer had his say, the developer himself took the floor and harangued us for at least 20 minutes about how his coffee shop would produce jobs (25 – 30, most of them part-time) and generate more tax revenue.  He got very emotional toward the end… but I don’t think his last-ditch appeal changed anyone’s mind.

The Zoning Board of Review’s deliberations began with one member’s stating that he counted 61 people who showed up to testify, the most he’d ever seen at a hearing.

Myrth York, the chairman, held up a stack of letters and a stack of e-mails, each at least one inch thick.  Summarizing them, she said that all expressed opposition to the variance, including letters from our state representative, our state senator, and our councilman.  (She did not mention phone messages.)

In addition to the universal opposition to the project, the Board’s deliberations focused on the issue of “intensification” of commercial activity in that location, which was explicitly discouraged by the neighborhood charettes and forbidden by the Zoning Ordinance and Providence’s Comprehensive Plan.

In the Board’s view, the drive-thru aspect of the project constituted “intensification”.

A motion to deny the variance passed 4 o 1.

A second variance, regarding dimensions of signage, was also denied.  (It became moot when the first variance, to raze Clark’s and build a new building with a drive-thru, was denied.)

Elva Mathiesen

45 Lauriston Street


For former inmates, mentors make a difference (ProJo)

Former convict Johnathan Bassett, left, and mentor Brent Mancuso play a board game at OpenDoors.

The Providence Journal / Ruben W. Perez

Most programs that try to prevent released inmates from going back to prison involve probation offices, job-training classes and counseling visits. But on Wednesday night at the Broad Street offices of OpenDoors this month, it was pizza, backgammon and a book club.

OpenDoors, a nonprofit social-service agency that helps released inmates reenter society, is one of 16 organizations across the country to participate in the Second Chance mentoring program that tries to match recently released inmates with people who can provide them with friendship and guidance as they adapt to the world after prison.

Some of their mentors are ex-inmates who say they get to give the help they’d wish they’d gotten when they were released.

On a recent evening, the program was in high gear. About a dozen mentors and their matches were in the main meeting room at OpenDoors, chatting and joking while others played chess, backgammon or cards. In another room, a smaller group was discussing “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,” by Don Miguel Ruiz…

FULL PROJO ARTICLE HERE: http://www.projo.com/news/content/MENTORING_HELP_01-18-11_M3LQFOG_v79.424eca.html

Representative from RIPTA to discuss potential new bus route in Summit

A representative from RIPTA will attend the next SNA Board meeting to hear our neighbors’ thoughts and answer questions on the proposed new bus route in Summit.

If you took part in the survey we posted, or if you have other thoughts, concerns, suggestions, or questions, please come present them on Monday, December 13.  The meeting will begin at 6:30pm with regular business, and the RIPTA representative is on the agenda to start at 7pm.  Regular meeting business will continue after.

The meeting will be held at Summit Commons (99 Hillside Ave) in the cafe (not the main dining room).  Enter in the front entrance, go right after the front desk and the cafe is on your left.

Here is some info on the subject, with comments below.

Hope you can make it!