We salute the Parcel 2 neighbors for their “win” in the fight over the height of proposed apartment buildings by Boston-based developer Urbanica, who have agreed to reduce the project’s height from six stories to four, and appear to be willing to make other accommodations.
But for neighbors, height may be the least of their problems as most of the other nearby “195” properties are now in play or under development. Parking and traffic congestion threaten to radically transform the character of the area.
There isn’t enough available parking in these projects to accommodate the residents, commercial tenants, and workers, which could well exceed 150 people, most with cars. And the majority of the existing South Main and South Water Street workforce also park on neighboring streets and even deeper into Fox Point.
This is the BIG picture: the tremendous shortfall in parking will dramatically impact Benefit, South Main, and South Water streets, as well as all the side streets in the surrounding neighborhoods with both increased traffic and parking. If South Water or South Main streets become a bottleneck, Benefit Street will become the major escape route and traffic will greatly increase in a similar fashion to all the streets, which added speed bumps. The Jewelry District will also be impacted by the traffic and congestion caused by these developments.
This will be further compounded by the mess created by the eliminated travel lane and reduced parking on South Water Street to accommodate a virtually unused bike lane.
And, to further compound the issues, located just blocks away are three of the city’s more popular tourist sites: the handsome new Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Bridge, the historic Benefit Street’s Mile of History, and Wickenden Street’s eclectic shopping.
When the 195 Commission was created in 2011, hopes were high that the valuable acreage created by relocating the highway would be followed by an onslaught of major commercial projects that would profoundly impact the city. The commission was to specifically seek out new initiatives that would “foster economic development” and “generate job creation opportunities” that in turn would enhance the value of surrounding neighborhoods and augment our sense of place. Noble words.
In June of 2019, the legislature, frustrated by the slow pace of development on the 195 land and the Elorza administration, passed legislation giving the state control over decision-making on development projects within “special economic development districts,” bypassing the City!
Now, the 195 Commission’s mission and intent have essentially become, “let’s just take what we can get, as fast as we can get it” and residential developers have pounced. The “shovels in the ground and cranes in the air” will eventually bring welcome tax dollars to city coffers in 5-20 years after the tax stabilizations and other incentives expire, but it will fall far short of being the economic catalyst most of us imagined.
There is still time to make some changes in these projects concerning parking and traffic to ameliorate their impact on both the residents who live in the adjoining neighborhoods and those who need to be able to leave the city in a timely fashion. The Parcel 2 parties have agreed to do an updated traffic and parking study.
Then it will be up to the City’s Planning Department and the area Councilman, who have not made the parking and traffic effects of these projects a top priority, to do what’s right for the neighborhoods and the City so the already fragile fabric of the area is not completely ruined.
While it’s always easy to accuse view blockage as classic NIMBY-ism (Not in My Backyard), we would be remiss without offering a shout out to the several neighborhood organizations that banded together at the eleventh hour to address these important issues. Benefit Street is one of the jewels of our city, a critically important tourist attraction, and an irreplaceable symbol of Providence’s unique historic heritage. Fortunately, it is well represented by one of the city’s newest neighborhood associations, the Mile of History Association. The group now is carefully monitoring two upcoming zoning issues, the newly purchased Old Court Inn at 144 Benefit Street and a two-story addition being considered for 5 Benefit Street.
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