City commission approves NMS plan

The Providence City Plan Commission Tuesday approved a revised plan to construct a fitness center on North Main Street and to replace the Sears building with a 300-space parking lot.

Although 11 neighborhood residents testified against the plan and members of the UniteHere! union displayed a chain of 86 letters, many from Summit, opposing the project, the board voted unanimously in favor of the construction.

The approval was conditional on the LA Fitness chain working with planning staff to develop a system to dim after-hours lights in the parking lot and make the building’s signs more in keeping with the surroundings.

Acting Director of Planning and Development Robert Azar admitted that the proposal would not have been permitted under the new zoning rules currently being codified, but said that “this is today” and under current regulations, the developer had met all the requirements.

Commission chair Christine West said that the zoning revision “is an opportunity to make the city we want,” but also said current criteria had been met. She and other members of the panel thanked the residents who had taken the time to testify Tuesday and at a similar hearing in April.

Board opposes North Main Street proposal

The SNA board of directors, at their regular, public meeting Monday night, voted to continue to oppose the proposal to demolish the Sears building on North Main Street and replace it with a parking lot.

In a unanimous voice vote, the following motion was approved: “Given the very minimal nature of the response to the concerns we expressed at the last meeting of the Planning Board, the Board of Directors of the SNA feels compelled to oppose the LA Fitness Project.”

The members of the board took note of the concerns that the developers might abandon the project in the face of opposition, but decided that a flawed plan was not better than no plan. The consensus was that the residents of Summit have the opportunity and the responsibility to insist that changes to the quality of life in their neighborhood be made only in a manner consistent with their wishes. As one member pointed out during the discussion, “Communities such as Barrington and East Greenwich don’t get ugly buildings built in their neighborhoods because they insist on it.”

Other board members pointed out that the developers have invested time and money in proposing the construction and are unlikely to walk away, but said that replacing a long-standing eyesore with an even worse eyesore was not a worthwhile goal.

The SNA board will convey its decision to the Providence City Plan Commission at a public hearing beginning at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday at 444 Westminster St. and encourages all concerned residents to attend to voice their own views.

Parking-lot proposal for North Main Street resurfaces with few modifications

SNA board member Michael McGlynn reads a letter to the Plan Commission outlining objections to the development proposal as UniteHere members hold up signs protesting the parking lot.

The proposal to demolish the Sears building on North Main Street and replace it with a 300-space parking lot is scheduled to come before a city hearing again, but with few of the changes urged by neighborhood residents and the planning panel itself..

The Procaccianti Group, the Rhode Island developers acting for the LA Fitness chain of health clubs, has filed revised plans with the Providence City Plan Commission that show some modifications to the planned building and a few additional plantings, but the size and scope of parking lot remain the same. (The new plans are included below.)

The plan board will resume consideration of the proposal at the regularly scheduled public meeting beginning at 4:45 p.m. May 20 in the Department of Planning and Development’s first floor conference room at 444 Westminster St. A similar hearing is to be held at about the same time in Pawtucket.

At the April 22 public hearing in Providence, members of SNA joined with other concerned neighbors to urge changes in the proposal.

Testifying before the commission, 11 opponents of the application objected to the starkness and lack of environmental safeguards of the plan. SNA board of directors member Michael McGlynn read into the record a letter detailing the organization’s concerns. Some North Main Street merchants, supported by about a dozens members of Local 217 of the UniteHere! union displaying protest signs, also voiced objections.

The commissioners said the city “can do better from this developer” and voted to table the plan until the next meeting after having denied the applicant’s request to combine master and preliminary plan hearings, which would have moved the project along quickly.

The action puts off consideration of the proposal so “we can work together and figure this out,” the board said. The panel also requested an environmental-impact study and told the developer to come back with improvements to its parking-lot design.

At the beginning of the hearing, Andrew Teitz, the lawyer for the applicant, outlined the scope of the proposal, which includes a new building on the Pawtucket side of the city border and the parking lot on the Providence side. The new LA Fitness center structure would face the parking area, not North Main Street, and the only entrance would be from the lot. The building would have large windows looking out onto the street.

The plan calls for the new parking lot to meet just the minimum requirements of the Providence Master Plan, but with few plantings. The lawyer said storm-water runoff management would be better than exists now, but also meet only minimum requirements.

After the developer’s lawyer presented several witnesses who testified to the economic benefits of the proposal, the commission opened the floor to public comments

The first was in a letter from City Councilman Kevin Jackson, who represents the district and who said he supports development, but not in a form that violates the city’s Comprehensive Plan. He wrote that the current proposal doesn’t fit with the urban model of mass transit and needs more landscaping.

The first live witness, who identified himself as Bob Bacon, the owner of a restaurant across from the site, said the plan was the perfect proposal and that the area needed more parking.

Next was SNA Vice President Kerry Kohring, who said the organization supported development but had serious reservations about the proposal and deferred to the presentation of the letter from SNA.

The specific objections in the letter were read by McGlynn, citing problems with streetscape and layout, parking-lot size, landscaping and architecture. The complete text of the letter [PDF].

SNA board member Chris Bull said there was no vision in the plan and that it needed more than a bare minimum of environmental safeguards. Another board member, Grant Dulgarian, testified that the plan does not do justice to a vision of the city on a human scale and that more surface parking is not desirable. He pointed out that a parking deck already exists in the rear of the proposed building.

Several North Main Street business owners also criticized the plan. Peter Kammerer supported LA Fitness but called for a more imaginative proposal that would be interactive with pedestrians. Peter Gallant echoed the need for development along the street but said he had problems with the design and that it should be more pedestrian friendly.

Greg Gerritt, who called himself a friend of the Mosshasuck River, said the storm-water drainage plan was based on the size of the parking lot and was not friendly to the environment.

Jenna Karlin, the staff director of UniteHere! and a city resident, presented pictures of LA Fitness facilities elsewhere in the country that had better building designs for urban locations and did not have large surface parking lots.

Aaron Regunberg, a candidate for state representative from the district, urged the developers to “do it right” and said the current proposal isn’t the best possible design.

Plan Commission Chairwoman Christine West summed up that the board had a duty to the citizens of the area and that much of the current development proposal “works to the detriment of the City of Providence.” The panel then voted the continuance.

Peter Kammerer, of the Sandwich Hut on North Main Street, cites problems with the plan.

RE:ZONING PROVIDENCE – Upcoming Public Meetings

From Providence Zoning….

Come view the proposed changes to the citywide Zoning Map at our open house on Tuesday, April 15th at 12:00pm or join us at one of our neighborhood meetings for a more in depth discussion of the proposed changes within each area of the City.

Open House: Citywide Zoning Map Changes

Tuesday, April 15, 12:00-1:30 PM
at the Joseph A. Doorley Municipal Building, 444 Westminster St.

Neighborhood meetings:

Upper South Providence, Lower South Providence, Elmwood,

South Elmwood, Washington Park Public Meeting

Tuesday, April 8, 5:30-7:30 PM
at the Southside Cultural Center, 393 Broad Street (Trinity Square)

(click here to view flyer and meeting agenda)

Olneyville, Smith Hill, Valley, Hartford, Silver Lake, Manton Public Meeting

Wednesday, April 9, 5:30-7:30 PM
at William D’Abate Elementary School, 60 Kossuth Street

(click here to view flyer and meeting agenda)

College Hill, Fox Point, Wayland, Mount Hope, Hope, Blackstone Public Meeting

Date and location to be announced.

Federal Hill, West End, Reservoir Public Meeting

Date and location to be announced.

Mount Pleasant, Elmhurst, Wanskuck, Charles Public Meeting

Date and location to be announced.

Come be a part of a comprehensive overhaul of the Zoning Ordinance, and help us reshape the future of development in Providence.

For more information, please visit the project website at or call 401.680.8400.

Public Meeting Announcement – RE:ZONING PROVIDENCE

Flyers: English [PDF]  |  Spanish [PDF]

A discussion of the key changes proposed in the draft of the new City of Providence Zoning Ordinance.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
5:30pm – 7:30pm

Joseph A. Doorley Municipal Building, 444 Westminster Street, First Floor Cafeteria


  • Project overview by the City of Providence Department of Planning & Development followed by a presentation by the consultant team outlining the key changes proposed in the draft of the new City of Providence Zoning Ordinance
  • Question & Answer period
  • Open House – Department of Planning & Development staff and the consultant team will be available to talk with you about your issues and concerns.

Re:Zoning Providence will help us better preserve, strengthen, and protect the historic pattern of development that is central to the character of our City, as well as to revitalize and further develop the areas of our City that can accommodate additional economic growth.

For more information, please visit the project website at, or contact:

Martina Haggerty at mhaggerty AT or 401.680.8528

City planning director explains proposal for complete overhaul of zoning ordinance

Providence is currently engaged in a total overhaul of its zoning ordinance in an effort to “craft regulations to guide the markets in a way that is beneficial to the city,” a representative said Monday night.

Speaking to local residents attending the Summit Neighborhood Association’s board of directors’ monthly meeting, Robert Azar, director of current planning for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said the major thrust of the reorganization is to “recognize what we have and preserve it.”

He said the zoning document now is “held together with tape” and has too many loopholes relating to rules dating to the 1950s. Azar said planners in the 1970s began a change that adopted a suburbanization outlook with a separation of uses that is not consistent with today’s urban attitude. He pointed out that cities do not have enough land to compete with suburbs and their vast parking lots surrounding commercial centers. In town, he said, “we love our walkable urban forms and we should seek to preserve them.”

Now, Azar said, there is “a great opportunity for the community” to try to keep the things it has and enhance them by using zoning tools to carry out the vision of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. He cited federal funds available and said planners had hired Camiros, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in zoning laws in urban situations, to assist.

An initial draft report is being reviewed “in house” by the planning department, Azar said, and is not yet ready for public view. He said presenting a huge, detailed and dense document is a challenge and his staff is seeking a way to communicate with residents about the proposed ordinance. It must be approved by the City Council with public input and all “clients” must come together, he said, predicting that a comprehensive proposal would be ready in less than a year.

Azar projected that the final document would be completely reorganized with consistent terminology and voice, clearing out archaic sections on measurements and temporary use. He said there would be better design guidelines to preserve traditional concepts, but would not rule on esthetics, which are subjective. Commercial districts, including Hope Street, should have design regulations that don’t put undue pressure on developers, such as continuing to demand a set number of off-street parking spaces for a certain amount of floor space, he said, adding that zoning should encourage pedestrian activity and biking. He said houses shouldn’t be lost to parking, but that adapting parking rules would be subject to further discussion as the process continues.

The planning director also said the new zoning would support linking public transportation to land use and develop North Main Street as a rapid-transit corridor. “Zoning should be in tune with transportation policies,” Azar said, and “we want to encourage residential with transit” use.

He also said that planners would be evaluating signage and landscaping standards plus how the zoning ordinance would be administered by government and how much public review would be meaningful in refining institutional restrictions and development.

In response to questions, Azar said the variance process would be more transparent, but that some of it was governed by state law. He said that the zoning board should not be changing “use” rules and that planners are developing a citizens’ guide to the new ordinance.

Answering another question, Azar said public parks are zoned as possibilities but do not always occur. He noted that the city cannot take away property rights, such as on the Butler Hospital campus, by zoning and that park use is determined by the Parks Department with public input.

Concerns about excessively tall construction are “well founded,” Azar said, but that “we are trying to encourage development in sync with correct usage.” He agreed that enforcement of current standards is a problem but is under the control of the Department of Inspections and Standards with recourse to Housing Court, not the Planning Department. He said getting compliance or remediation is difficult because only the courts can order changes and usually don’t want to cause financial hardship. He admitted that people who are savvy can manipulate the system to their own advantage.

State law requires that current non-conforming situations be “grandfathered” to continue under the new rules, Azar said, but that they cannot be changed or altered. He said that there is still much controversial debate in the planning community about requirements for developers to comply with the new rules, but noted that downtown projects now have to have building plans in hand before any demolition can proceed. He said “demolition by neglect” was a challenge not addressed by zoning but that the Department of Inspection and Standards has the power to enforce the building code.

Azar pointed out that in Summit, most house lots are undersized according to the old rules. “Some of the things we like best about our city are illegal under current zoning,” he said, but they’re trying to change that “based on what we hear from communities.”

The complete Technical Review and Approaches is available here.

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

(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 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


4th Street bicycle shop zoning issue

The zoning variance for the proposed bicycle shop on 4th Street goes before the zoning board on September 1.  If you are interested in reading the letter sent from SNA to the zoning board, it is here:

February 10, 2010

Myrth York


Providence Zoning Board

Dear Madam Chairperson,

The Summit Neighborhood Association supports the North Hope street business district. Strengthening this business district is important to helping make our neighborhood strong and an enjoyable place to live. In these hard economic times we don’t want to limit owners or tenant businesses in their efforts to be successful.

While the neighborhood association supports a zoning variance that would allow the sale and service of bicycles at 210-212 Fourth Street, we respectfully request that the Providence Zoning Board formally rule abandonment of a nonconforming use at this property before opening any discussion of the new zoning request by the property owners.

Specifically, according to zoning ordinance 201.10 Abandonment; 210-212 Fourth Street, lot 77 in plat 93 has lost any zoning exceptions it may have previously had for the property’s use as a detailing shop, car wash or auto sales/garage repair due to the fact that for more than two years it has not been in use and in fact, such facilities necessary for these uses are no longer in the building.  The ordinance states that, “If any nonconforming use is halted for a period of one year, the owner of the nonconforming use will be presumed to have abandoned such nonconforming use.”

While the Neighborhood Association looks forward to the addition of a bicycle sales and repair service in the neighborhood, we do not support a variance allowing auto sales and service due to significant parking and traffic congestion issues.  The Association believes any auto repair/service would bring unsustainable auto congestion to this already crowded corner of our neighborhood.  Bank of America is on one corner with limited parking.  Many of their employees park on this section of Fourth Street because the bank does not allow its employees to park in their small lot. On the opposite corner is the Seven Stars bakery also with limited parking space.  Finally, the RI Ballet is just opposite with limited parking. We understand from the neighbors on Fourth Street that there is no street parking available on Saturdays when there is ballet practice or a recital. The truth is that this intersection of our neighborhood is so over crowded with parked cars and traffic, that is extremely difficult to turn off Fourth Street onto Hope Street or vice versa, and is in fact sometimes very dangerous.

Additionally, we would ask that the zoning board postpone granting the sign variance until next month to allow time for the applicant to submit to the Summit Neighborhood Association a full color, dimensioned drawing or mock-up of the sign and how it will be hung in relation to the building.  In turn, the neighborhood association will ensure that our neighbors on Fourth Street have the opportunity to review the drawing and comment on it. In this way our new business neighbors can move forward in setting up their new store short of installing the new sign.

Thank you very much for helping us to build and maintain a quality neighborhood for families, businesses and visitors.

Jim Kelley,

President of the Summit Neighborhood Association


PO Box 41092

Providence, RI 02940