Fox Point Neighbors are celebrating a recent win in a grassroots effort to preserve a historic home and a centuries-old green space in the heart of the local historic district. About a year ago, developer Joseph Furtado shared plans to develop two adjoining plots on the western end of Williams and John streets; one of which contains a historic cottage, the other an empty lot. With the help of architect Friedrich St. Florian, Furtado applied to the Providence Historic District Commission (PHDC) to move and renovate the cottage, which has been nestled in the central, woodsy area on that block since the 1800s. Furtado and St. Florian then proposed removing most of the established woodlands of the adjacent lot, razing a historic wall, and building townhouses with views of Narragansett Bay.
Over the course of the past year, more than 50 neighbors have objected to these plans, as did the PHDC, which delayed its vote on the cottage renovation three times. “The buildings are huge,” commented a neighbor about the proposed townhouses at a spring ‘21 FPNA meeting on this issue. “There are many garages and driveways. They come to within inches of the property lines…The [buildings] look like a big, unattractive mall.”
In an apparent victory for preservationists, the developer has since placed the house and lots on the market. “I don’t know who will buy [the house and land],” the same neighbor commented recently, “but we have at least successfully avoided a potential complex.” Indeed, neighbors have confirmed that they are prepared to challenge designs by any new owners who “seek to densify or diminish the historic context of this unique community.”
Brown University has recently purchased River House on Point Street to offer affordable close-to-campus housing for graduate students. This brings Brown’s investment in the Jewelry District to $225 million over the last decade through such major projects as South Street Landing and the Innovation Center at 225 Dyer St. A university press release notes that roughly 1,600 Brown faculty, students, and staff work, teach, and conduct research daily in the Jewelry District. The subsidiary created to own River House will inherit the existing Tax Stabilization Agreement in full and “offered the best way to fully honor existing property tax commitments to the city,” according to the press release.
On the new business front: Ocean Biomedical, a biotech company founded by Brown University’s Dean of Medicine Dr. Jack Elias and his colleague Dr. Jake Kurtis, is readying a public stock offering. The new company aims to provide a route to turn medical research findings into working solutions for patients. Not long ago, Dr. Elias expressed the hope that one day he’d be able to look out his office window and see the biomedical research industry thriving in the Jewelry District. Ocean Biomedical’s public offering brings that dream to reality.
Soon, he’ll be able to look out and see another sign of life in the District: new trees. Over the past three years, with the help of City Forester, Doug Still, the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program, and Brown University, residents Olin Thompson and Allison Paschke and volunteers have planted 60 new trees as part of the JDA’s Greening the District program. Twenty more trees will go into the ground during the upcoming 2021 fall planting season.
Back in early 2020, South Providence Neighborhood Association (SPNA) and the Providence Preservation Society (PPS) started conversations about the racial disparities and negative impacts experienced by neighbors in the Southside as a result of the historic preservation policies and practices. It was determined that neighborhoods throughout the City have experienced the beneficial and harmful effects of historic preservation unevenly. Both organizations are now exploring how past harms may be corrected in local planning and preservation policy, along with how communities historically excluded from historic preservation may harness the power of its processes and resources to achieve their own goals. This fall, PPS with support from SPNA will launch a series of focus groups to receive feedback from neighbors of historically excluded groups about their experiences and impacts of local preservation-related decision-making policies. The initiative also seeks to learn about their priorities for the neighborhood in an effort to identify how preservation can support their goals. As part of this initial launch, PPS is seeking residents in the Southside who are interested in serving as compensated facilitators for the project, as well as residents who would like to contribute to the discussions in focus groups. Interested Southside residents should email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.