The “Battle of Shooters” began in early 2007 when the Providence Department of Planning & Development, (DPD) released its draft of the Comprehensive Plan — abandoning the Old Harbor Plan, found in the previous version. Head of the Bay Gateway Committee (HOBG), a spin-off of FPNA and the Friends of India Point Park, was soon formed to advocate for a public waterfront. That saga is detailed below.
The City Plan Commission, (CPC), over exhausting objections from personnel with the Department of Planning and Development, (DPD), voted four to one abstention February 23rd to remove residential zoning recommendations for Shooters in both the Waterfront Plan and the College Hill, Wayland and Fox Point Neighborhood Plan.
Bryan Principe, City Council president designee, made the prevailing motion that “the Providence Planning Department revise wording of the College Hill/Wayland/Fox Point Neighborhood Plan and the Waterfront Plan in ALL instances referencing zoning of Parcel 10, ‘Shooters,’ in Fox Point, so that the two plans are consistent in prohibiting residential uses for Parcel 10, while allowing other W-2 uses.”
Earlier, Robert Azar, director of current planning for the Department of Planning & Development, (DPD), again brought forward City Solicitor Adrienne Southgate, who recommended CPC make no decision on zoning because neither she nor of Bruce Kogan, a professor of law at the Roger Williams Law School, could definitively predict its legality. Kogan, who provided legal advice for a Head of the Bay Gateway, (HOBG), memo to CPC, refuted Southgate’s claim at the January CPC meeting that a lawsuit by the state "would likely result in a finding of a taking by a court if it down-zoned Shooters.”
In the HOBG memo, Co-Chair David Riley concluded that, “The hypothetical threat of such a lawsuit should not inhibit or intimidate citizens or the City Plan Commission from envisioning and encouraging the best possible use of the key waterfront parcel at Shooters for the economic development, civic enjoyment, and public safety benefits of hurricane barrier protection for residents and visitors in Rhode Island for generations to come.”
Apparently, CPC agreed by rendering a decision over DPD’s assertion that no decision was expected or recommended. “We’ve had six meetings, tons of discussions, more or less, on the best development for that particular parcel, and we need to bring it to a close tonight,” Vice-Chairman Harrison Bilodeau said. Bilodeau, who presided over the meeting, repeated Southgate’s assertion that she was not aware of any legal action taken by the State against a City in similar cases. “At this point, CPC must consider the best possible use for the site and leave the legal issues to the lawyers.”
While Andrew Cortes, the mayor’s designee on the commission agreed that Providence needed a public waterfront he abstained from voting. He then said that discussion was fine, “but no action is required.”
“Discussion has to lead to a conclusion,” Bilodeau replied. “I don’t want to concede that we need to put it off.” Principe, Meredyth Church and Sam Limiadi agreed with Bilodeau unanimously terming the Shooters location as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“The Waterfront Plan now excludes Shooters entirely,” Sam Limiadi said. “We need a revision and a vote.” Principe added that CPC should also consider who would be the best neighbor for nearby tugboat activity, which is required by existing “turning lanes” near the Shooters site. “As far as tax revenue, increasing property values behind the site (Fox Point) would far outweigh property taxes from a condominium,” Principe said.
“All that being said, a vibrant, active public waterfront in Providence, so close to WaterFire could generate millions of tourist dollars by skimming off just some of Newport’s success.” Principe urged that Providence should begin looking at the combined potential of the two cities as a way of securing the 34th America’s Cup in 2013 over San Francisco and San Diego. (Software billionaire Larry Ellison, who won the America’s Cup Sunday, February 13th, has suggested bringing the competition to Newport or to one of those cities in California).
Finally, Azar, Southgate and DPD staffer Melanie Jewett objected to the idea of CPC making a decision on Shooters because a decision was not mentioned on the agenda or advertised. At that point, local attorney Andrew Teitz, who said he had experience with similar public meeting procedures, asked to be heard. “Procedurally, you are okay to make a ruling,” Teitz pointed out. “It (Shooters) was on the agenda, everyone knew it was coming up.”
Even though the Commission approved the Waterfront Plan December 15th, it did so without including the Fox Point/India Point waterfront, which is one-third of the plan’s defined scope.
At the January meeting, CPC had also moved to invite Michael Lewis, director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, (RIDOT), to Tuesday’s meeting, but Lewis declined the invitation, Azar said.
The Coastal Resource Management Council, (CRMC), denied a request January 27th from Providence’s Department of Planning & Development, (DPD), to change the water classification in front of the Shooters site.
The request from DPD Director Thom Deller attempted to piggyback the change onto one being made concerning the adjacent Community Boating Center — moving the classification from a Type 6 for Industrial Waters, to a Type 4 for mixed use. In a letter, dated January 20th Deller said, “After further investigation, we think it would make sense to further extend the Type 4 water designation to include the adjacent parcel, the former ‘Shooters’ site.”
CRMC’s Coastal Policy Analyst James Boyd explained the significance of changing the water classification for the current owner, Rhode Island Department of Transportation, (RIDOT), or for prospective owners. Anything other than a Type 6 designation, removes “burden of proof” from the developer of the adjacent land that his project would not “detract from or interfere with” the functioning of the nearby industrial waters, Boyd said.
Daisy Schnepel, president of Fox Point Neighborhood Association, (FPNA), questioned Deller’s reference of “further investigation” cited in his letter. “Mr. Thom Deller, knows that the City Plan Commission, (CPC), has failed twice to include an opinion on Shooters for the Waterfront Plan — a part of the new Comprehensive Plan, Schnepel told the council. “In fact, at the last two CPC meetings on the Waterfront Plan, the majority of the commissioners expressed more favorable opinions regarding the parcel becoming an active public waterfront than DPD’s plan for any high-rise building.
David Riley, co-chair of Head of the Bay Gateway, (HOBG), cited a quote from CPC Commission member Meredyth Church in the January 24th edition of the Providence Journal, as evidence of widespread support for a public waterfront. “We need to listen to the people of this city, and the people are screaming that they don’t want a hotel or a residential tower on that property,” Church was quoted as saying at the January 19th CPC public meeting.
Schnepel pointed out that Shooters has already functioned as a marina, “with no complications to safety, river traffic or noise.” She then sited CPC’s exclusion of condominiums from Allens Avenue as proof of the incompatibility of residential zoning on a working waterfront. “Adjacent to this former marina, (Shooters), is the Providence Steamboat Company and the “turning basin,” necessary for East Providence terminals,” Schnepel pointed out. “Turning basins require loud tug whistles for safe communication between land and sea.”
While breakwaters can be constructed to protect marinas, Schnepel said, “There are no breakwaters for sound.”
In December, the CPC removed residential use at Allens Avenue from the Waterfront Plan.
After listening to the testimony, the CRMC unanimously voted to grant the change from Type 6 to Type 4 for the Community Boating Center, but to leave the waters in front of the Shooters site as Type 6, industrial waterfront use.
The proposed use of the Shooters site, as “an amenity is well-known,” said Donald Pryor, concerned citizen and longtime environmental advocate. “Changing the water for this site at this time would be viewed as arbitrary and capricious.”
The issue of a public waterfront for Providence versus a condominium on the bay will be revisited at the February meeting of the City Plan Commission, which has yet to be announced.
The City Plan Commission expressed support for the growing public sentiment for a public waterfront, but postponed a voted last night on the state-owned Shooters site, adjacent to India Point Park, on January 19th.
Prior to taking up the Shooters issue, CPC Chairman Stephen Durkee stepped down saying, that he may have been incorrect in an earlier statement, that he could officiate at the meeting because “his term extended to the end of the month.” That statement was a response to a complaint at the beginning of the meeting from local attorney Andrew Teitz, who questioned if the Chairman should be officiating since he did not “have a contract with the City.”
Robert Azar, director of current planning for the Department of Planning & Development, (DPD, immediately confirmed Durkee’s assertion that his contract extended to the end of the month. But before the issue of Shooters was addressed, the CPC took a five-minute break and Durkee returned to admit the possible error. Vice-Chairman Harrison Bilodeau thanked Durkee for exercising “an abundance of caution,” by stepping down from handling the remainder of the meeting. The Board then “re-voted” on all the prior issues dealing with other neighborhood plans.
Azar, then addressed the Commission, bringing forward City Solicitor Adrienne Southgate to “explain the implications of downsizing the site and to give legal advice to the board (on the possibility of a lawsuit).” Azar admitted that even though the Commission approved the Waterfront Plan in December, it did so without including he Fox Point/India Point waterfront, which is one-third of the plan’s defined scope. The Shooters site, a parcel on that waterfront, also appears as an overlapping element in the College Hill, Wayland and Fox Point Neighborhood Plan, which the Commission passed in October, Azar pointed out.
At the December 15th meeting on the Waterfront Plan, five of the seven commissioners — Sam Limiadi, Meredyth Church, M. Drake Patten, Council President Designee Bryan Principe and Vice Chair Harrison Bilodeau — expressed the belief that the Shooters site should be preserved for public use.
Those statements conflicted with CPC’s October ruling on the neighborhood plan, when CPC Chairman Stephen Durkee interrupted discussions of a public waterfront and moved it towards a vote. At times during the hearing on the neighborhood plan, commission members seemed divided, some in favor of down-zoning, others for restrictions on the parcel and still others voicing support for public use. But, a vote was unexpectedly called and the revised neighborhood plan was passed, allowing an eight-story condo, office or hotel on the Shooters site.
At last night’s meeting, the commissioners again expressed their favorable views on a public waterfront for Providence. However, Southgate characterized down-zoning (removing the residential usage) “as serious,” and would likely result in a “substandard value” for the parcel. Azar agreed, saying, down-zoning could be viewed as “depriving the rights of the owner,” (the State) of its value.
Bilodeau pointed out that while there may or may not be a reduction in value, the state could not claim, “all value would be eliminated.”
Bryan Principe, City Council president designee, questioned Southgate if she knew of any instances where the State of Rhode Island had sued one of its cities over the development of a public amenity. She said no that she “was not aware of any, but I’ll do research on it.”
Principe called for the City and State to look at the special quality of the location — its proximity to the growing “knowledge corridor” being established by the universities in the Jewelry District, and its’ link to the East Side as reasons for the two governmental entities should work together.
However, Azar kept bringing up the possibility of a lawsuit, saying the board should not make a decision that would cause the state to “sue you and the City Council. There could be action, but there might not.”
Restricted development of this site would “impede (residential) uses, which could provide 24-hour activity on the shoreline,” Azar continued. “There was an incident at the Community Boating Center recently where all of the boats were sunk by vandals,” Azar said. “If there was the presence of a condominium there, then maybe this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.”
Principe fired back, saying that the development (of the 1.7 acre parcel) into dynamic maritime uses, possibly with RIPTA (Rhode Island Transportation Authority) personnel on site, would provide the same 24-hour presence. “The impact on the tax base from this 1.7 parcel not being developed into condominiums would be negligible,” Principe added. “In fact, public use of this property just might increase property values behind this site (Fox Point).”
He then cited the often-used planning department principle of not providing a zoning change to a piece of property that is not in keeping with surrounding property. For Shooters, “that surrounding use is public, (with no residential housing). “We should be guiding (the City) towards a vision of what is best.”
Board member Meredyth Church agreed. “The public has made its sentiments well known — they are opposing residential development there in favor of public use,” she said. “I hear from a lot of people who wish there was a Marina. They’d love to enter (Providence) from a harbor and be able to go into the city for dinner.”
Board member Sam Limiadi questioned why the city and the state would not be willing to “work together on the creation of public use of the site.” Andrew Cortes, the mayor’s designee on the commission said he “likes all the uses (put forth) by the HOBG, (Head of the Bay Gateway Committee). But, if we down zone (the Shooters site) are we skewing it towards a public use,” that may not produce revenue? Cortes asked.
Azar again cautioned the commission to “be realistic” and not render a decision until the next meeting when Southgate could return with more legal advice on the likelihood of the State of Rhode Island suing the City of Providence.
A motion was then made and approved to invite Michael Lewis, director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, (RIDOT), to that next meeting and continue discussion of the “right of first refusal, which was granted to former Shooters owner, Michael C. Kent.
Under the negotiated eminent domain statute, Kent has the right of first refusal to buy the property back or the option to match the offer of the highest bidder. The city would have the second right of refusal to purchase the property, but indications are that Kent would exercise his right to buy the property back.
In an e-mail plea to the Commission, Ward I Councilman Seth Yurdin said he urged the State to not sell the property because of its adjacency to India Point Park. “I have repeatedly urged the State to refrain from selling this land, where it would be placed back into the private domain and the hands of private developers, Yurdin points out. “I will push by whatever means available to guarantee maximum public access to our waterfront, to protect the neighboring park, and the quality of life in the area.”
The City Plan Commission will
be revisiting the Shooters site and the issue of a public waterfront
at a later date in February at the 4th Floor Auditorium of
the Department of Planning & Development, (DPD), 400 Westminster
At its December 15th public meeting, the City Plan Commission approved the Waterfront Plan, but not before it voted to remove the Fox Point waterfront from the decision. The issue of whether Shooters’ site should be for public or residential and/or hotel use prompted several unsuccessful motions, finally resulting in the CPC tabling the issue for one month.
Prior to the voting, five of the seven commissioners expressed the belief that the Shooters site should be preserved for public use. However, the issue of removing residential and hotel use from the Fox Point parcel became mixed up with removing hotels from the Allens Avenue area of the waterfront. During the voting process Thom Deller, Planning & Development Department, (PPD), reminded the commission that it had already passed the existing zoning on the Shooters site, when it approved the final draft of the College Hill, Wayland and Fox Point Neighborhood Plan. (Earlier, on another issue, Deller said that a CPC-approved plan could be revised anywhere along the process and addressed by the City Council).
At that October CPC meeting, the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, (FPNA), urged a delay on the commission’s decision on the neighborhood plan until after public discussion of the Waterfront Plan. But, CPC Chairman Stephen Durkee interrupted discussions and moved the plan towards a vote. At times during the hearing on the neighborhood plan, commission members seemed divided, some in favor of down zoning, others for restrictions on the parcel and still others voicing support for public use. But, a vote was unexpectedly called and the revised neighborhood plan was passed, allowing for an eight-story condo, office or hotel on the Shooters site.
At the Waterfront Plan hearing, the five commissioners – Sam Limiadi, Meredyth Church, M. Drake Patten, Council President Designee Bryan Principe and Vice Chair Harrison Bilodeau – voiced more favorable views than the ones they expressed in October. When an impasse was met, a motion was made to pass the Waterfront Plan allowing for a hotel use in the Allens Avenue parcels, but delay a vote on the Fox Point waterfront, which includes the Shooters site.
Earlier, FPNA President Daisy Schnepel asked the Plan Commission to vote down “this version of the Waterfront Plan because it lacks any vision of an active, public waterfront — the signature of a great city.” Schnepel also pointed to several references existing in Rhode Island’s Land Use and Waterborne Transportation Plans, which should be included in the Waterfront Plan. She then read one, Land Use 2025 (P2-1), “Networks of efficient transport and services will connect and support the major centers…Where land meets water, the waterfront edge will remain the State’s trademark, carefully managed to provide utility and activity, while preserving the beauty of its natural features.”
During the voting process, Durkee stated, “this issue may really be one for the state, not the city.”
David Riley, co-chair of the Head of the Gateway Committee, (HOBG), noted that tourism was not even listed as a goal in the proposed Waterfront Plan, even though it is the second largest economy in the state. Commissioner Principe agreed, saying that the Shooters site with its capabilities to tap into maritime tourism “offers many opportunities to connect with the overwhelmingly successful tourism efforts of Newport.”
The City Plan Commission backpedaled on a Planning Department proposal to label the entirety of the Allens Avenue corridor a re-development area, instead approving a mixed-use plan, minus residences. The commission also approved several amendments regarding the Redevelopment Project Area, including one that moved its “northern boundary to Thurber’s Avenue.” Schnepel pointed out that this decision meant Providence Piers, which has failed many times to operate a ferry service due to environmental problems, will remain in a highly industrial area. “Will the City of Providence be able to put forth this location again as satisfying many of the Rhode Island’s directives regarding land use and transportation?” Schnepel asked.
The night before the City Plan Commission meeting on the Waterfront Plan, FPNA’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to conduct a well-coordinated public awareness program aimed at saving Fox Point’s waterfront for public use. Regardless of the City Plan Commission’s ruling on the Shooters site, FPNA promised to push forward the concept of a public waterfront as a citywide issue, not just one for the neighborhood.
Termed the number one issue for 2010, the public awareness campaign has established an informational blog site, MakeShootersPublic.com. Visitors to the site, which is under development by FPNA, will be able to log in their beliefs on a public waterfront versus another location for high-rise condominiums.
FPNA also voted to print bumper stickers and yard signs with the theme, Save our Waterfront, MakeShootersPublic.com. FPNA will be distributing the bumper stickers through its extensive Neighborhood Coalition e-mail list, which includes 350 FPNA members, plus HOBG supporting organizations and other neighborhood organizations. “This extensive support network already views Shooters, not as a Fox Point issue, but a citywide one,” Schnepel pointed out. “This issue is FPNA’s number one concern for 2010.”
Developments on FPNA’s efforts
for the public use of Shooters will receive coverage in upcoming reports
of the Fox Point News in the East Side Monthly,
on the blog and through periodic news releases.
At its October 20th public meeting, the City Plan Commission sided with the Planning Department over residents, city consultants and opinion polls to pass the final draft of the College Hill, Wayland and Fox Point Neighborhood Plan.
At the center of the controversy was wording in the document allowing for the development of the Shooters’ site — adjacent to India Point Park — into residential condominiums. Residents from the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, (FPNA), urged a delay on the commission’s decision until after public discussion of the Waterfront Plan, which is scheduled for November 17th.
Speaker after speaker gave impassioned pleas for public usage at a long and sometimes contentious meeting. From the onset, an impatient CPC Chairman Stephen Durkee made it clear he wanted to see a high-rise condominium tower on the site by interrupting discussions and moving the plan towards a vote. At times, other commission members seemed divided, some in favor of down zoning, others for restrictions on the parcel or others voicing support for public use.
But, a vote was unexpectedly called and the revised plan was passed, allowing for up to an eight-story condo, office or hotel. More than 100 letters and e-mails supporting a public destination at the Shooters site were presented, including 15 from citywide, statewide, or regional organizations, 29 from local businesses, 20 from elected officials and another eight from neighborhood associations.
Despite the vote, FPNA and the Gateway Committee vowed to push for their vision of a vibrant public destination with maritime uses including a marina, a landing for excursion boats and commuter ferries, as well as a restaurant, visitor center and event space for public and private gatherings.
The neighborhood plan now becomes part of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which must be approved by the City Council and the State Department of Planning before becoming the basis for future zoning recommendations.
The plan was altered to remove all language suggesting extended hours for South Main Street or the I-Way parcels. It was also agreed that after the old interstate highway was removed, that parcel five (the large one) should be divided — either by replacing the former Cent Street or by some other sort of division. Language was also included to make the Wickenden/Benefit/South Main Street intersection more "pedestrian and bicycle friendly.”
The final plan was also altered
to require a public meeting for the College Hill Parking Task Force
Plan before it could be implemented.
At a September public meeting, the City Plan Commission asked the Planning Department to make additional revisions to its final draft of the College Hill, Wayland and Fox Point Neighborhood Plan for consideration at its October 20th meeting.
Residents from the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, (FPNA), spoke at the meeting, asking that the waterfront be viewed as an “active public destination.” At the center of the controversy was the proposed development of a high-rise building at the Shooters’ site. “The character of the neighborhood would not be maintained by (the development of) a 12- to 15-story building,” according to Arria Bilodeau, Head of the Bay Gateway Committee. “It would be incompatible.”
FPNA member Heather Florence said the plan also lacked any reference to the recent re-design efforts for the Wickenden and Benefit intersection, which has received a lot of attention recently by FPNA.
But, the main contention appeared on page 22 of the neighborhood plan, which called for a 12- to 15-story building on the site. “The DPD plan continues to call for a high-rise condominium on parcel 10, the Shooter’s site, despite overwhelming objections throughout the charette process from residents, non-profits and tourism interests who would like to maintain our waterfront for public use,” said FPNA President Daisy Schnepel in a letter to the Commission.
“On that page, the plan not only calls for a 15-story building on parcel 10, but also a 12-story structure on ‘the southern portion of parcels 6 and 8,” Schnepel pointed out. Parcels 6 & 8 are parts of Fox Point’s street grid, which will be developed when portions of the old Interstate 195 are removed.
Still more disturbing news can also only be found on page 22 in a section called, “What Do the Dots Mean,” the letter read. “This sole mention references a huge area of Fox Point’s old warehouse district on both sides of the new I-Way, which calls for the land to be ‘subject to the same requirements of Parcel 10,’” she added. “That means the entire point could become high-rise condominiums, further blocking off the waterfront from public use and the neighborhood from a view of the bay.”
Director of Future Planning Bonnie Nickerson said the 15-story limit (found on page 22) came from a prior document and is no longer under consideration, adding that the page would be removed from the plan. Instead, she said the current proposal calls for a maximum building height of eight stories, or 12 stories if the developer agrees to incorporate features to make the property more accessible to the public.
FPNA also objected to a recommendation in the document for approval of the College Hill Parking Task Force Plan, which has yet to receive any public comment. Also in the letter, Schnepel said that a public meeting was promised by Brown University on more than one occasion, including within the plan itself. “Last September, at a Brown-sponsored public meeting, Michael McCormick, assistant vice president of planning, design and construction, said they were sending their final plan to the Plan Commission, which would hold ‘a series of meetings to secure the public’s input,’” Schnepel said. “No public meeting was ever held.”
When the Plan Commission approves this neighborhood portion of DPD’s report, it will be part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which will influence zoning for the next 10 years.
The Fox Point Neighborhood association (FPNA) continues to work closely with and support Head of the Bay Gateway Committee (HOBG), a group formed to promote the public use of the Shooters property on Narragansett Bay. Most recently Michael Sullivan of the Department of Environmental Quality has voiced his support for this purpose noting that this property would be ‘phenomenal for public use’.
Sullivan is a proponent of the use of the property as a ferry landing to continue ferry service between Providence and Newport. This use is one that HOBG would certainly support and currently HOBG is focusing on a feasibility study. It was also pointed out at the FPNA meeting that the Shooters property would be a good spot to land the ferry because it is walking distance to WaterFire and other downtown destinations and may attract increased use from Newport residents.
Immediate goals of the HOBG include clean up of the property with demolition of the building’s main structure to the foundation. The site could then be used for bicycle and kayak rentals until a long-term use is determined.
The Rhode Island State Properties Committee ignored pleas of elected officials, civic leaders and neighborhood association representatives and approved a request by the Department of Transportation, (DOT), to sell the Shooter’s Property for $3.5 million.
The committee gave the okay for DOT to initiate a request for proposals, (RFP), but with some conditions. These included the submission of a written request for the funding re-imbursement from the Federal Highway Administration; a letter from the city regarding existing and future zoning of the site; a report on the site’s value as a marine terminal, and the results of the Krieger Report. (Alex Krieger, a development consultant for the city and the state, will soon release an evaluation plan for land use after the I-195 Highway is removed.
DOT is “under obligation to sell the property,” which it purchased for $4.7 million from its owner, Michael Kent, back in 2000, according to Daniel Clarke, principal property manager for DOT. (One-third of the property was included in the I-195 construction, leaving the remaining 1.7 acres with a deteriorating building and water rights at issue). “We no longer need the property and must return the money to the federal government to help complete the I-195 project,” Clarke told the committee.
Under the eminent domain statute, Kent has the right of first refusal, or the option to match the offer of the highest bidder. The city would have the second right of refusal to purchase the property.
Upon questioning, Chairman Kevin M. Flynn, admitted that there is no requirement for DOT to turn down any offers below the asking price of $3.5 million. Should the property be auctioned to the highest bidder, it could result in a potential loss. Arria Bilodeau, co-chair of Head of the Bay Gateway, also pointed out that DOT’s appraisals were made in April of last year when real estate prices in general were appreciably higher.
Elected officials also presented reasons to delay the sale, which were also overlooked. State Senator Rhoda Perry asked the committee to take a “broader view,” because of the site’s location and significance to the entire state — especially related to tourism. “This issue deals with the most beautiful and important view of Narragansett Bay that we have,” she added. “This is a now-or-never issue for public access.”
State Representative David Segal urged the committee to wait a few months until there was some idea of what President Barach Obama’s Stimulus Plan might include. The new president’s proposed plan calls for massive federal infrastructure improvements, Segal said. “We need a structure there that allows for broad public use — robust public uses.”
Ward I Councilman Seth Yurdin reminded the committee of the site’s adjacency to India Point Park, which has recently undergone significant improvements. “Public use is increasing,” Yurdin said because of greater visibility and greater access by pedestrians and the traffic on I-195. “What is done with the Shooter’s site dramatically affects the park and the public’s use of it,” he added.
Noticeably absent at the meeting
were any representatives of the Mayor’s Office or the Department of
Planning and Development. But, the sale — with resulting tax revenue — has
the approval of the planning department. Flynn reported conversations
with city planner Linda Painter, who said a 25-foot public access along
the waterfront, would be included in any sale agreement.
Also speaking were representatives of neighborhood associations on the East Side, who unanimously opposed the sale. After first considering a motion to deny the sale, the committee voted three-to-two to allow DOT to initiate the RFP.
The Waterfront Charette Follow-Up Meeting, held in late September, seemed to settle nothing regarding land use along Allens Avenue and India Point Park. At the meeting, the city’s consultant, Ninigret Partners, presented their final words on the four options that face the Allens Avenue industrial sector — continue the status quo, introduce office and commercial buildings, introduce residences or dramatically expand maritime-related uses.
While no zoning recommendations were made, the consultant urged highly specific, “tiered” gradations, buffers and high standards of review. With city government grasping for possible revenue sources, participants with the Working Waterfront and Head of the Bay Gateway Committee wondered if those conditions would be met.
Despite the widespread support of 25 organizations for public-use of the Shooter’s site, the city-funded study failed to include it in the discussion. In a “break-out session” for Fox Point residents, proponents for public use of the property insisted that their on-going opinions be recorded in the resulting draft of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. When the draft is ready in January or February, the saga will continue with further discussion of the draft and then a resulting final version.
However, final zoning decisions recommended in the plan might not be enacted until 2011.
The Rhode Island Foundation, an independent philanthropic endowment, has awarded Head of the Bay Gateway Committee a $5,000 grant to help fund a feasibility study for the development of a public-use concept at the former Shooters Nightclub property.
At a recent board meeting of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, (FPNA), Arria Bilodeau, the committee’s co-chair, said that the foundation’s interest is part of “a growing consensus, that could result in more developer interest (in the Shooters site).” “A vote of confidence from the Rhode Island Foundation is a big plus, because their strategic grants are based on important community issues and needs, like the waterfront,” Bilodeau said.
Also, at the meeting Ward I Councilman Seth Yurdin reminded the board that while the property is now zoned for residential use, there remain restrictions on the number of floors that would be allowed. “Should a condominium project be initiated, the zoning issue of increasing the number of floors would be the next logical occurrence,” Yurdin said.
In March, Yurdin was successful in getting the Ordinance Committee to pass a measure recommending that the property should be rezoned from mixed maritime use to public use. At publication time, however, the Council has not taken a position on the re-zoning issue.
In general, the FPNA board seems more amenable to the site being developed by a business, such as a hotel, as long as it provides some first floor public access and possibly includes restaurants or coffee shops.
A follow-up meeting on the conclusions of the Waterfront Charette has been scheduled for Wednesday, September 24th, — pending confirmation of the availability of the Save The Bay facility, according to Bonnie Nickerson, AICP, of the Department of Planning & Development. “We don't have a date scheduled yet for the Fox Point, Wayland and College Hill Neighborhoods Charrette, but we will be sending out a notice to everyone who attended the charette as soon as we do,” Nickerson said.
At the recent Waterfront Charette, there also was a great deal of support for the public use of the 1.7-acre Shooters site, which is owned by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, (RIDOT). Foremost, Fox Point residents and others made it clear that they do not want to see residential use of the former Shooters Nightclub property.
While most of the June Waterfront Charette was dedicated to the direction that Providence’s Allen Avenue takes, Fox Point residents and others did make their message clear: No residential use of the former Shooters Nightclub property.
The four-day event, hosted by Providence’s Planning and Development Department, seemed to revolve around a city-commissioned report that presented four possible scenarios for long-term use of the industrial waterfront. Those scenarios did not include the fate of the 1.7 acre Shooters cite, which is owned by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, (RIDOT), and currently up for sale.
(However, it is interesting to note that consultant Charlie Cannon said if the working waterfront goes the residential route, the buildings should be recessed from the waterfront to avoid hurricane and flood surges up the Bay, and also kept slightly away from Route 95 to the west).
“Our message was clear, we want our waterfront to retain its public access and we oppose major residential development next to India Point Park,” says Daisy Schnepel, president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association. “ We think that DOT has a responsibility to inform any prospective buyers of the property that there exists a unanimous public opposition to the development of a high-rise residential condominium,” said Schnepel, who attended every session. “This opposition will continue.”
Head of the Bay Co-chairperson Arria Bilodeau urged a public space alternative as a way for Providence to re-capture “its identity as a seaport city,” while creating a vibrant waterfront. “Tourism articles don’t even list our waterfront as having any attractions,” Bilodeau said.
One surprise at the charette was the emergence of another group joining the fight for public use of the Shooter’s site – the scattered Fox Point Cape Verdean community. Once a large population until it was uprooted in the 1960s by the prior Interstate Highway 195 construction, Cape Verdeans attended the charette. “That’s because they still have a stake, according to Claire Andrade-Watkins, an Emerson College Professor, who created the 2006 film, “Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican? – A Cape Verdean American Story.”
“India Point is our space. If nothing else, let’s preserve it for public space,” said Andrade-Watkins, who grew up in Fox Point.
João Goncalves, president of the Subcommittee of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, joined her at the charette. The goal, he said, is to have a space for Cape Verdeans to gather for the Annual Cape Verdean Independence Day celebration, which is now held at Roger Williams Park.
“The Cape Verdean community in Fox Point is gone, but we have not forgotten them. It is our hope to have the festival return to India Point Park. It is part of our Cape Verdean legacy and part of Rhode Island’s rich and diverse history,” Concalves said.
The Department of Planning & Development is planning a presentation on the Waterfront Charette’s conclusions in September. Personnel said that more information on the charette could be found at its website, providenceplanning.org. The charette process was devised by the city as one of the last opportunities for residents to express their views on the Comprehensive Plan, which will determine many city regulations, such as zoning, for the next ten years.
About 60 people turned out to urge that the former Shooters Nightclub property be developed as a public destination at the recent Neighborhood Charette for Fox Point, Wayland Square and College Hill. The waterfront session was the best attended during the four-day event, which was hosted by Providence’s Planning and Development Department. The participants overwhelmingly requested that the site be developed into a marina that could provide deep-water docking for all types of boats — connecting it to the other adjoining transportation modes of highway, interstate bike paths and public transportation.
Many others expressed that the site’s building should house a restaurant, event hall and other tourism-related venues, thereby benefiting not only India Point Park, but the entire city. Planning Department personnel, however, touted “view corridors,” and pointed out that a high-rise condominium development would provide an instant presence on the bay discouraging graffiti and crime.
By now, the issue might have already been settled by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, (RIDOT), who owns the property. RIDOT had agreed to not sell the 1.7-acre site until after the Waterfront Charette, which was held last month and after this article was written.
The charette process was devised
to satisfy public meeting laws by allowing residents to express their
views on the Comprehensive Plan even though it has already been adopted
by the City Council. The plan, which will be used for the next ten years,
will determine many city regulations, such as zoning.
The upcoming Waterfront Charette, which is being hosted by Providence’s Planning and Development Department this month, promises to be well attended by a diverse crowd, including Working Waterfront representatives, real estate developers and a recently formed group of activists called Head of the Bay Gateway Committee.
Head of the Bay Gateway was formed in July of last year to promote public use of the Shooters property on Naragansett Bay. As the Waterfront Charette date nears, its members have a sense of urgency to their cause. The Gateway Committee, composed of elected officials, tourism leaders, preservationists and neighborhood representatives, knows that the property could soon be sold to the highest bidder by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, (RIDOT). RIDOT acquired the 1.7-acre property in 2000 for a staging area during the I-195 highway relocation project. (Rumors abound that high-rise condo development is at the top of the list for development of the property).
In March, Ward I Councilman Seth Yurdin proposed an ordinance that was passed by the Ordinance Committee to re-zone the property from mixed maritime use to public use. (At publication time, the council has not voted on the ordinance). RIDOT agreed at that hearing that it would not sell the property until after the waterfront charette was held.
That time is here; the dates for the Waterfront Charette sessions are June 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th.
The charette process is billed by the city as the last way to “shape action plans to make positive change,” even though the Comprehensive Plan was adopted by the City Council November 1, 2007. The plan, which will be used for the next ten years “to identify change to city regulations such as zoning,” has yet to be approved by the state.
In preparation for the charette, the Gateway Committee held a waterfront workshop, entitled “Making a Special Place at Head of the Bay.” Over 100 participants were divided into five groups, who were instructed to “imagine” a successful waterfront based on its sociability; uses and activities; access and linkage and comfort and image. These parameters and others were provided by Ethan Kent of the Project or Public Spaces, a New York-based non-profit organization that provides workshops and technical assistance to waterfront communities.
Kent emphasized the “power of 10,” rule when thinking about providing enough attractions at Providence’s waterfront of the future. The diverse group came up with countless ideas not only for Shooters, but also for the space below I-195 overpass, the three warehouses owned by Brown University at the end of Gano Street, the pedestrian bridge area now under construction and a strip of land that joins Shooters to India Point Park.
Shooters, however, was clearly on the front burner and participants foremost wanted to see it developed for maritime uses. With construction of an appropriate docking facility, the location could be a destination for ferry transportation, harbor cruises and day use for private pleasure boats. The re-construction of the Shooters building itself could include cafes, shops, restaurants, an entrée to the city’s tourist attractions and facilities for meetings, weddings and other events.
Be sure to check for announcements
of charette locations at the city’s web site, providenceri.org and then by selecting Planning & Development
under “City Departments Online.”
The residents of Fox Point, College Hill and Wayland Square will have one last chance to voice their opinions and concerns for the future development of their neighborhoods at a charette, now scheduled for May 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th .The neighborhood charette is being hosted by the City of Providence’s Planning and Development Department for final resident input into its Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted by the City Council November 1, 2007.
These residents, along with other groups, also can impact the final recommendations for head of Narragansett Bay at a Waterfront Charette to be held June 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th. The Fox Point Neighborhood Association, in conjunction with the Head of the Bay Gateway Committee, will be urging the public use of the Shooters property at the Charette.
Recently, the Head of the Bay Gateway Committee held a waterfront workshop, entitled “Making a Special Place at Head of the Bay.” The interactive workshop was led by Ethan Kent of the Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization that provides workshops and technical assistance to waterfront communities. Founded in 1975, the project has helped neighborhoods revive their waterfronts in over 1,000 communities all over the world. (More on the workshop in the next issue).
Be sure to check for announcements of charette locations at the city’s web site, providenceri.com and then by selecting Planning & Development under “City Departments Online.”
In March, the City Council’s Ordinance Committee also recommended that the Shooters property be re-zoned from mixed-use waterfront to a public space designation. (At publication time, the council has not voted on the ordinance).
FPNA President Daisy Schepel said
she hopes the ordinance won’t be necessary because of growing interest
in making the site into a public space with maritime uses. “The upcoming
charettes are opportunities for the Gateway Committee to garner support
from several sectors in the city and state,” Schnepel said. “If
enough people speak out against proposals for high-rise condominiums
at this location, then maybe Mayor Cicilline and others will weigh in on the importance of it remaining a public space.”
The City Council’s Ordinance Committee seemed receptive to Ward I Councilman Seth Yurdin’s proposed zoning change for the Shooters site, making it a public space designation instead of mixed-use waterfront.
Over 20 persons spoke in favor of the measure, expressing the widespread fears that the Department of Transportation (RIDOT)-owned land would be sold to the highest bidder for condo development. The council chambers was crowded mostly with East Side residents, who expressed skepticism towards Department of Planning & Development Director Thom Deller’s pledge that the sale would not go through until the waterfront charette was held sometime in late April. Daisy Schnepel, president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, (FPNA), asked the committee to pass the ordinance, protecting the property until the charettes for the Waterfront and the Fox Point, College Hill and Wayland Square neighborhoods, could be held.
FPNA board member Claude Goldstein again urged against being pennywise and pound-foolish, pointing out that “there will always be more highway funds, but there always will not be more waterfront.” Other speakers pointed out that taxpayers are the source of highway funds and also for the funding to clean up of the bay; hence they should be allowed to enjoy it. Some speakers said the ordinance was necessary because the Comprehensive Plan and the existing moratorium on zoning variances do not prevent the sale.
After the hearing, Councilman Yurdin said he hopes the council will follow the ordinance committee’s recommendation as a way to secure a commitment from RIDOT to not sell the property. “We’re not going on a handshake and a nod. We’re going to make sure the city is protected.”
That statement by Melvin Carter of Direct Action for Racial Equality, (DARE), at the October City Council public hearing on the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan was the quote of the evening. It seemed to sum up the unanimous opinions of a large turnout of various opposition groups, including the Friends of India Point Park (FIPP), the College Hill, Summit, Fox Point and other neighborhood associations.
However, the three-hour hearing was dominated by representatives of Allens Avenue industrial businesses, who begged, pleaded, and predicted dire consequences if the Interim Comprehensive Plan, which injects mixed residential zoning into their 100-year history as an industrial park, is adopted.
Fox Point Neighborhood Association president Daisy Schnepel urged caution in accepting the new Comprehensive Plan over the old one until all of the neighborhood charettes have been held.
David Riley of FIPP elaborated that the new plan weakens the protections of the waterfront that are in the existing plan, of which the Old Harbor Plan is a part. That plan called for building heights to gradually descend towards the waterfront supplying views to more of the neighborhoods and community, Riley said. “View corridors,” which are proposed in the new plan indicate that tall buildings will be closer to the coastline, providing only peeks of the waterfront to some, but walling it off for most.
At publication time, the council had not voted on accepting the Interim Comprehensive Plan. Even if it does pass, there is an existing moratorium on development in certain waterfront areas along I-195 until the council’s adoptions and approvals of proposed amendments resulting from the Fox Point/College Hill/Wayland Neighborhood Plans and any Waterfront Vision Plan for the moratorium area. The moratorium area includes a large section of Fox Point, including India Point Park, the Shooters property and large parts of South Water and South Main streets.
The Providence City Council put a moratorium on any non-standard development of property along soon-to-be removed sections of I-95 highway — for a year or until the city’s Comprehensive Plan is adopted.
The resolution, which was proposed by City Councilman Seth Yurdin, means no permits will be issued or approved for “any development plans, construction or demolition permits,” that do not comply with the adopted Zoning Ordinance. “Without the moratorium, it’s likely that developers will swoop in before the process is complete, and end up frustrating the city’s vision for the area,” Yurdin said. The moratorium area includes a large section of Fox Point, including India Point Park, the Shooters property and large parts of South Water and South Main streets.
The state Department of Transportation opposed the moratorium, arguing that it will make it much harder for them to sell the one and a half acre property known as the former Shooters nightclub.
However, dozens of Fox Point residents and others came to the public hearing in support of the moratorium. “The waterfront is such a precious commodity,” said Rita Williams, formerly a city councilwoman. “I think we need to move with caution. If we develop this area with inappropriate development, we will regret it.”
Others stressed that the waterfront is a community resource, and the needs of the entire city to have access must be considered as part of a greater waterfront plan. “We feel very strongly that the waterfront does not belong to Fox Point, it belongs to all of Providence,” said Daisy Schnepel, president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association.
In early-July, after this publication’s deadline, the Department of Planning & Development presented new sections on the waterfront in their proposed of the Interim Comprehensive Plan.
This spring a group of interested citizens has formed a Head of the Bay Gateway Committee, (HOBG), to develop a vision for public, maritime-oriented, uses for the Shooters property adjacent to India Point Park. The Gateway group is working with Boston architect Charley Norris to produce renderings that will help demonstrate what various uses could make the building could look like. Charley’s architectural firm of Norris & Norris has extensive experience designing waterfront public spaces. The renderings are being paid for by funds left over from the original creation of India Point Park. The Gateway group welcomes comments, ideas, and input from anyone interested in the future of our waterfront for the public use. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Head of the Bay Gateway effort grows out of the conviction of many persons that this land should be preserved for use by all citizens and not the few who could afford a waterfront condo with spectacular views down the Bay.
The deep-water frontage could
expand the capabilities of sailing programs at the Community Boating
Center and the Brown Sailing Team, as well as provide docking, workshops,
and office space for WaterFire, and facilities for summer recreation.
It could lend itself to kayak and canoe rentals, and visits by historic
ships related to Heritage Harbor Museum and the Steamship Historical
Society of America that is based in East Providence. The site could
potentially attract a wonderful blend of maritime uses and public facilities
that could nurture a park system for the growing downtown population
base, as well as are an engine for tourist revenue.
The Fox Point Neighborhood Association, (FPNA), heard city officials at the Planning Commission’s May 17th Public Hearing say that the vision of the Interim Comprehensive Plan would be “substantially re-written.”
As the meeting began, Thom Deller, director of the Providence Department of Planning and Development, said that over 524 comments had been received and entered on his department’s providencetomorrow.org web site. Those comments and many others at neighborhood meetings have the department including new sections on the waterfront in Chapter Four: The Built Environment and Chapter Eleven: Land Use, Deller said.
The Planning Commission has scheduled a series of public meetings on proposed revisions for the entire plan, expecting to be finished with the document by July for presentation to the Providence City Council.
Several FPNA members and others pleaded for the commission to return to the vision of the Fox Point shoreline becoming a public gateway to Narragansett Bay. That vision was part of the Old Harbor Plan, which also was attached to the current comprehensive plan, adopted in 1994. FPNA President Daisy Schnepel presented numerous letters of support from members of other neighborhood associations, who recognize the importance of the waterfront area being accessible to the entire city.
FPNA Board Member Claude Goldstein urged the commission not to be “penny-wise and pound-foolish” by letting the land go to residential development, instead of preserving it for public use. “A waterfront-friendly use, such as a marina, would offer a return on the investment many times over by encouraging tourism and commerce.”
Ethan Ris, FPNA vice president, reminded the commission: “This is where Providence meets the world, and please, let’s treat it as such.”
Immediate concern over the fate
of the Bootleggers Nightclub (Shooters), a site just west of India Point Park, prompted the
formation of a Head of the Bay Gateway Committee. The land, which is
owned by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), can legally
be sold at less-than-fair market value if used for parks, conservation
or recreation. RIDOT has set many precedents for giving gratis transfers,
including Interstate 95 land to the Meeting Street School, waterfront
land to Jamestown for a ball field and renovation-related land to the
Providence Convention Center. As FPNA President Daisy Schnepel
points out. “Why not save this piece of important waterfront
for the city’s gateway to the world?”
FPNA, along with Friends of India Point Park, (FIPP), hosted a meeting with personnel from the Providence City Department of Planning & Development April 19th for a discussion of the Draft Interim Comprehensive Plan.
Thom Deller, director of the department, told the group his staff agreed to meet with neighborhood groups in order to make refinements and produce a “visionary plan.”
However, Deller failed to adequately answer the association’s concerns about the proposed plan, which abandons the vision of the Fox Point shoreline becoming a public gateway to Narragansett Bay. That vision was part of the Old Harbor Plan, which also was written into the current comprehensive plan, adopted in 1994.
“We can’t make zoning recommendations,” Deller said. Such action could drastically affect property values and asking prices for land, he explained.
Who asked for zoning recommendations? We just wanted the comprehensive plan to continue the vision of a public waterfront, which is in the city’s current Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan, which is passed once every ten years, provides a general document from which zoning changes eventually can be made.
Of immediate concern is the fate of the Bootleggers — a site just west of India Point Park currently owned by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, (RIDOT). David P. Riley, FIPP co-chair, said RIDOT could protect the parcel of land for public use. “If RIDOT were to sell the land for private development, it would be a terrible loss for the city.”
Deller brushed away that idea, saying RIDOT has the right to sell the property and receive a significant amount of money back into their operating budget.
Several members in the audience pleaded for the planners to recognize the importance of the area to the entire city and the irreversibility of not including a vision for the waterfront in their plan. However, planning personnel pointed out that they could not favor one neighborhood over another when it comes to increasing park space.
Both FIPP and FPNA also asked the planners to have more definition given to the terms in the plan like “green space” and “public access” to the waterfront. The general concern of both groups is that the waterfront should not get walled off from the public by private high-rise development along the shoreline at the head of the Bay.
Currently, the plan has a minimum of about 20 feet of waterfront dedicated to public access, according to Linda Painter with the department.
“The Harbor Plan also recommended that ‘building heights south of the Financial District drop in successive planes toward the water to maximize views from buildings and minimize blocking of sun,’” Riley said.
Taller buildings can be incorporated into the waterfront if staggered and still allow for views of the harbor, Painter said.
The development of the waterfront area also is not appropriate for density and safety reasons, some audience members pointed out. Estimates are that a Hurricane Three Storm could cause a surge of 18 feet posing a great danger to a highly developed coastal area.
After this new plan is rewritten, it goes to the Providence City Council for approval sometime this summer.
Stephen Durkee, chairman of the City Plan Commission, has received letters of support for the public use of the waterfront from both our president and from William Touret, vice president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association.
In letters dated May 1st, some of their comments included:
“We also object to the unduly limited vision that the Draft Interim Comprehensive Plan contemplates for the city's potentially spectacular waterfront areas. Its recommendation of a general mixed-use development approach (Section 11.2.3) would seem to all but assure that a far less than optimal result would be achieved. … The attractiveness of such an ambitious open area would so enhance the values of surrounding areas and the city as a whole that it would more than make up for whatever tax and other revenue the city would not receive from private development of the waterfront areas. – William Touret, vice president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association.
“…We fail to understand why there can not be more specific language in the document for the 'land use' of the waterfront that would essentially protect it from exclusionary development and could advocate for expansion of public use of its properties.” – Daisy Schnepel, FPNA president.
At the time of publication in early May, FPNA sent out requests to all the neighborhood associations requesting their support of this citywide issue. If you would like to offer your support, write to: your councilman and Mr. Stephen Durkee, Chairman, City Plan Commission, 400 Westminster St., Providence, RI 02903.
The City has its draft of the new Comprehensive Plan on line in an interactive form for public comment. To access the draft go to providencetomorrow.org and follow the instructions for submitting your comments. Copies of the plan will also be available with comment forms at community centers and libraries or at the Planning Department, 400 Westminster Street.
The first comment period ended March 30, 2007 and a second period will be announced after the public City Plan Commission hearings in April. The hearings are scheduled for April 11, 5:30 pm in the Meeting Street School at 1000 Eddy Street and April 12, 5:30 pm in the Times 2 Academy at 50 Fillmore Street. For questions contact the Department of Planning and Development at 351-4300. This is your chance to have a say about the draft for your City Comprehensive Plan.