Since a public discussion has ensued regarding SNA’s position on the zoning variance for the Rochambeau public library that was recently denied, the neighborhood association has submitted a letter to the editors of East Side Monthly, responding to a published letter in the April issue. The April letter to the editor can also be found here on our website.
I am writing on behalf of the Summit Neighborhood Association (SNA) to address concerns in the Letters to the Editor about SNA’s opposition to a zoning variance for signage at the Providence Public Library, Rochambeau branch.
As a neighborhood association funded by member dues and legislative grants, SNA’s goal is to sustain the residential fabric of the neighborhood that gives Summit its unique and vibrant character. We strive to do this in as transparent, inclusive, and open way as possible – and we are always open to suggestions as to how to include more voices in the discussion.
The facts are simple. Providence Public Library asked for a signage variance in November 2006, their second in several years, to place a 14 foot sign on the outside of Rochambeau Branch. This sign was intended to honor a significant local donor to PPL. SNA has a stated policy of opposing zoning variances without a compelling need, consistent with zoning law and Review Board policy.
SNA and the Friends of Rochambeau reached out to PPL to discuss the variance. Volunteers met at length and explored options to signage that required less square footage, or avoided a variance altogether. PPL was uninterested in any other options.
SNA uses several public forums to discuss these issues and get the “sense of the neighborhood”. The variance was discussed at two board meetings open to the public. Two public blog postings were posted on the SNA website in December, at which anyone could have commented – no one did. Starting in November, after we had clarified the library’s plans, we emailed the neighborhood list of over 400 households, which is open to anyone and includes many non-SNA members. All the comments we received opposed the variance request.
SNA volunteers went door-to-door and talked to neighbors within 200 feet of the library, the boundary for local neighbor objections that the Review Board considers. We asked neighbors whether they supported the variance. No one supported it. Twelve households opposed it.
Based on this feedback, the SNA board chose to oppose the sign. Sure, some of us personally thought the sign was ugly, and some of us didn’t like the way the Library handled the whole thing. But if Summit neighbors – any neighbors – had stood up and said, “I think this sign is a good idea”, we would have stopped, listened, and checked to see whether anyone else felt that way.
Nobody wants to get in a disagreement with an institution of public good like the Library. I personally feel that SNA, the Friends of Rochambeau, and the Zoning Board of Review did everything they could to make this work. The Review Board even invited PPL back again for a second shot in January! PPL didn’t change their proposal, and although their lawyer had implied that the significant donation “may” be in jeopardy if the donor sign was not approved, nothing conclusive was offered to the Review Board as proof of “hardship”.
SNA doesn’t claim to speak for every resident of Summit, but we are here to help create an active voice for the neighborhood that includes and brings together as many points of view as possible. We are often called to have an opinion and take a stand on controversial issues, and each one of these is an opportunity for any Summit neighbor to let their voice be heard. But those voices have to show up during the discussion, not afterwards.
If you live in Summit, join the conversation on how we can continually make our communication and volunteer work more relevant and useful to you. Comment on the blog, join the neighborhood email list, come to a board meeting, or leave us a message on our neighborhood hotline. And please get involved something that lights your fire, whether with the Summit neighborhood, Friends of Rochambeau, or any of the other great local volunteer groups. If you want to be heard, you’ve got to show up !