Members Present: Anthony Arrigo, Jim Barfoot, Grant Dulgarian, Anneliese Greenier, Harriet Hemphill, Kerry Kohring, Britt Page, Sheila Perlow, Joan Retsinas, Peter Sandby-Thomas, Thomas Schmeling, Dean Weinberg.
Members Absent: Sierra Barter, Chris Bull, Daren Bulley, Martha Fraenkel, Daniel MacLellan, Jesse Polhemus, Mary Ann Rossoni.
Guests: Bob Azar (Providence Planning). John Howard, John Bazik, Gayle Gifford, Michael McGlynn, Hien Le, Jim Kelley, Lucy Ann Leprea.
The Board Observed a moment of silence to recognize the passing of former members Claude Goldman and Irma Gross.
Announcements (Dean): Progress continues on the Summit Ave. park & community garden, the show shoveling program, NBC construction, the 2014 candidates forum. WBNA wants to know who designed our website because they find it so well done. Kudos go to our design team.
Minutes. The minutes of our October meeting were unanimously approved on a motion by Joan, seconded by Sheila second. We are still missing minutes from our August meeting. Kerry has these and will send them along to us.
Treasurer’s Report (Harriet Hemphill) We received $65 in membership dues and $70 in additional yard sale income. Of the $380 of receipts from the yard sale, $100 will be given the to the Church of the Redeemer for providing the site, tables, etc. A question was raised last meeting about a $388 item. Harriet informed us that it was for t-shirts, which now have their own line-item. The report was unanimously approved on a motion by Anneliese and a second by Kerry.
Bob Azar from Providence Planning was present to discuss the upcoming zoning revisions. His statement included the following points:
Summit’s commercial corridor and housing stock are in great shape. Our neighborhood is both walkable and livable. Our main goal should be to not let these qualities erode.
The Comprehensive Plan is a vision document, which expresses aspirations. The zoning ordinance should implement this vision by being specific about desired and undesirable uses.
We are fortunate to have a federal grant to support the zoning effort. It gives us an opportunity to do complete review of the ordinance, which has not been done since the early 90s. Aspects of current ordinance go back to 1950s.
The ordinance at that time had a suburban orientation that focused on de-densification and separation of uses. We don’t have land in Providence for that suburban/big-box approach. Rather we have and should preserve a walkable urban space. Our goal is to create regulations that achieve that goal.
In addition, the current zoning ordinance is inconsistent with much of what we actually have in Providence. Few houses are more than 30 ft apart and more than ½ of the lots in Summit are smaller than the ordinance provides for. The highly criticized setback of the Apsara Palace Plaza was legal under the zoning plan when it was built. This was changed but we need more than a band aid approach. This is an opportunity for comprehensive approach.
We are a couple of months into the process. A consulting team called Camiros from Chicago has been engaged. They understand urban zoning, and mixed use. A few focus groups have been held with different constituencies. Discussions have taken place with people who use the ordinance day to day. A public meeting was held in September. Camiros wrote a technical report which is available on the Providence Planning website. They have provided a diagnosis and prescription for how to approach ordinance and the proposals is currently under review in-house, but is not ready for public. We can expect a draft in the next couple of months. This is an Iterative process and Camiros is committed to three drafts. Mr. Azar thinks an ordinance can be adopted a little more than a year from now, though there are many unknowns and a firm date is difficult to establish.
Mr. Azar indicated some of the changes that are expected. The document will be reorganized. The current document is very complicated and was build by accretion over time. It should be intelligible to readers, organized clearly, and consistent in its terminology and how things are measured. As a side note, he remarked that many temporary uses and events, such as the farmers market, violate the current ordinance.
Transit needs will orient development and land use will be linked to transportation networks. The plan will encourage walking, biking and public transportation. There will be an R-line rapid transit along North Main Street. A goal is to encourage more density and mixed use-type on N. Main.
With regard to parking, the current ordinance requires commercial sites to have two spaces for every 1000 square feet (which is small relative to suburban standards. Even adhering to this standard would require large lots between buildings, which militates against walkablilty. We want to encourage more pedestrian activity, biking, with more parking on-street or behind buildings. We definitely don’t want to knock down houses to create parking as was done off of Atwells Ave.
Other items will include evaluating signage and landscaping standards, streamlining application processes while keeping public input. We should keep public review of significant projects but should also make sure that it is meaningful.
In conclusion, a complete overhaul of ordinance is great opportunity for the Planning Department and the community.
Audience Questions and comments:
Jim Barfoot: Will the plan address the process of getting variances?
Bob Azar: That process is established in state law. Some things shouldn’t really need a variance and zoning board often grants them without debate. These requirements would be eliminated. In other cases things are going to the zoning board that should not. Example: change of use (use variance). Zoning board should not be considering these. What should happen is that the City Council should be asked for a change in ordinance. This is cumbersome. These processes should be taken from zoning board.
Jim Kelley: Asked about the public’s ability to understand the ordinance.
Bob Azar: “Citizens guide” will be developed to help people interpret the ordinance and processes.
John Bazik: What is relationship of the Zoning Commission to this work?
Bob Azar: The Zoning Commission established in 2004 or 2005 was ill-fated. It received a lot of push-back which forced the Planning Department back to producing neighborhood plans. Today we have more buy-in to the process that we did not have then. Camiros has looked at this
Gayle Gifford: Did not see parks mentioned in the documents.
Bob Azar: Public parks are zoned, typically open space. Parks are protected for public use in the public interest and will continue that way.
Gayle Gifford: What are implications of allowing higher structures (e.g. allowing teardowns of single family to build multi-family).
Bob Azar- Good question. Does not think it would allow things out of scale. Development should be consistent with what exists.
Gayle Gifford: Asked about compassion centers and the concerns they raise, including but not limited to traffic.
Bob Azar: There are privacy provisions in state law that make them anonymous (but people note than the police know about them). He would like to refer the question to attorneys.
Hein Le: Is there a plan to make the process more transparent by putting documents, etc. on-line.?
Bob Azar: We are already trying to do this by creating a web portal. Consultants are working on the software. They are looking at a GIS mapping tool available to public that would allow viewing of parcels that have applications pending.
Anthony Arrigo: Noted problems with enforcement of the current ordinance. Will there be any change in enforcement of the code?
Bob Azar. Is the first to admit that enforcement is a real problem. This is not under the control of the Planning Department but the Dept. of Inspection and Standards. Planning reports violations to them routinely. They have staffing challenges, but they issue citations. However, the housing court system slows things down. Courts are reluctant to impose penalties and savvy people can manipulate the system. They often start the project before asking for necessary approvals and it is difficult for the city and courts to compel removal of completed projects. The Grove Street School was mentioned as an example. Paving is of special concern in this regard. Citations issued by inspection and standards are public records.
Anthony: will change allow grandfathering.
Bob Azar: Yes. Older non-conforming uses can continue, but they cannot subsequently be changed and remain non-conforming.
John Bazik: Do Inspection & Standards and the housing court have a voice in this process?
Bob Azar: I&S definitely does. This process actually encourages cooperation between them and Planning, which may help with enforcement in the future.
Joan Restinas asked about the recent parking lot project at the Statehouse.
(I missed the answer here)
Jim Barfoot: How much are RIPTA and RIDOT involved?
Bob Azar: RIPTA is very tightly integrated. DOT does bigger projects and state roads so not involved.
Coryndon Luxmore: Raised concerns about developers actions downtown: non-conforming uses, demolition, etc.
Bob Azar: Standards have been raised for downtown. 110 Westminster was demolished before building plans were in place. This is no longer allowed. After debate, a requirement that these projects be bonded was not approved.
Coryndon Luxmore: Will there be any additional requirements for maintenance and safety of existing structures?
Bob Azar: This is addressed in the building code, which is under Inspection & Standards, rather than in the zoning ordinance. The recent property maintenance code is part of state building code and is enforced by Planning. It has requirements for maintenance of facades and even architectural details.
Jim Barfoot: Does zoning include land use (the percent of land devoted to different types of use).
Bob Azar: Within some limits, yes. Planning can say that an area is zoned for 3-family dwellings, but cannot specify rental vs condo. Planning tries to get a sense of how residents, developers, property owners, etc want to see the city develop. They try to understand where the market is going and craft regulations that will guide the market in a way that is good for the city. Institutions bring jobs and economic activity. They don’t pay into the tax base, but also use services differently (no demand for schools).
Mr. Azar concluded with an invitation to contact him or Martina Hagerty, the project manager, and to watch for next public meetings.
Dean: State Senate grants like those received in the past may be available. People with ideas should send them to Dean.
Snow Shoveling Brigade (Tom and Britt): Emails have been sent around and we have a few responses from both volunteers and neighbors in need. Tom and Britt will work together to have plans in place before the first snowfall.
Holiday Caroling: Kerry and Joan and Anneliese reported that they met with Anisa, who ran this last year. They asked for approval from board to continue. Cooperate with Miriam and Seven Stars and Chez Pascal who provided hot chocolate, etc. It was suggested that they should have funds available to cover expenses. Tom moved that we approve an amount up to $100 for them to use. Jim Barfoot seconded, approved unanimously. The date will be left for the committee to work out, but the 22nd of December looks like the best date.
Events Committee (Dean):
- Congratulations were extended to the Arrigos for an excellent fall food event.
- There are funds available for events. Bring proposals.
- Sheila suggests connection with Holocaust museum. She will explore
- 2014 candidate forums. We will combine forces with other groups around city for bigger and better forums.
Newsletter (Kerry): Nothing new to report. We are on schedule for the next newsletter
North Main Committee: nothing new.
Motion to adjourn by Tom, seconded by Sheila. All agree.
Thomas Schmeling, Secretary