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Firm’s plans for Providence net mixed reviews
Some Providence residents are unhappy with building heights proposed for downtown, while others are seeking more green space for parks along the waterfront.
It's true. You can't make everybody happy.
Sasaki Associates, a Boston architectural and urban-design firm, knows that. The city hired Sasaki to meld together a dozen plans from various sections of the city and create a comprehensive, 15-year guide for the future of the downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.
The urban planners presented their second version of the plan last night at a public forum at West Broadway Elementary School to an audience of 40 people. Several residents were critical of the proposal even though Sasaki had scaled it down based on feedback from forums held last month.
The buildings are still too high, some said. Others said they weren't high enough. Why isn't there more green space, they asked. Kathryn Madden, a principal urban planner at Sasaki, aimed her laser pointer to a patchwork of small, green rectangles that ran from the Promenade to downtown to Narragansett Landing. Sasaki had tried to create a continuous esplanade of public parks, she said.
“There's just not enough green,” said Virginia L. Branch, who lives on the West Side. “Maybe I'm just delusional. When I heard the highway was going away, I envisioned more green space.”
Sasaki proposed creating a large park along Dorrance Street after Route 195 is relocated. In the plan the firm presented last month, the park encompassed an 8-acre triangle next to the Providence River. Sasaki trimmed the park to 5 acres because some people thought it was too big, Madden said. “Whoever suggested that it was too big was delusional,” Branch said.
Sasaki gathered information from a dozen studies – including former Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr.'s “New Cities” – to form a comprehensive guide.
The firm suggested locations for public parks, areas to cultivate certain industries, ways to improve transportation and ideas for reconnecting neighborhoods cut off by the river and highways. The city's goal is to create a vibrant downtown area where people can “live, work and recreate” any time of day.
The study area runs from Eagle Square in Olneyville, to the Promenade along the Woonasquatucket River, through Providence Place mall and Capital Center, to Downcity and the Jewelry District and down the Providence River to the Cranston line. The area includes Atwells Avenue, Smith Street and the College Hill side of the river.
The heights that Sasaki suggested for buildings along the highway perturbed residents who lived in the neighborhoods west of Route 95. Madden said the height limit should be raised to 150 feet.
“No one wants to live in a four-story building over a highway,” she said. “If we don't give some height there, no development will happen there.”
Janet Keller, who lives on Willow Street in the West End, said the highway already cuts off the western neighborhoods, and tall buildings would make it worse.
“We are very afraid that those heights that you propose there are going to isolate us even more,” said Keller. “First you have to cross a moat, and then you'll have to scale a wall.”
Pedestrian-friendly crossings and building setbacks could offset the feeling of isolation, Madden responded.
Christopher Utter, another West End resident, said the building heights didn't bother him. Utter said tall buildings can act as interesting “exclamation points.” Utter, however, said the plan needed more green space and suggested that there be a greenway linking Roger Williams Park to the waterfront.
And the plan for the waterfront was controversial.
Sasaki recommended keeping the 75-foot height limit at Fox Point and advised the city to acquire a 50-foot path along the water's edge for public use, while allowing commercial buildings next to it.
David P. Riley, co-chairman of Friends of India Point Park, would like to see the entire point dedicated to a public park that could host festivals and recreation. Earlier this week, Riley sent Sasaki a letter supporting the idea. The letter was signed by 18 community leaders, including the directors of Save the Bay, Community Boating Center and Fox Point Citizens Association.
“Fox Point has the best view in the city,” Riley said.
Sasaki will present a final draft next month. In the fall, the City Council will hold public hearings before voting on whether to adopt it as the city's comprehensive plan.
The city Department of Planning and Development will post a version of the plan on its Web site, www.providenceri.com/government/planning.
At least one member of last night's audience was more curious than critical.
“It's good that the city is thinking about what's going to happen in the future,” said Mike Lusi, who lives on Federal Hill. “That's the first step to making sure that it gets done right.”
Some selections from Sasaki Associates’ revised Vision for Providence 2020, a plan for development over the next 15 years:
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