By JAMES KENNEDY/ecoRI News contributor
PROVIDENCE — There was a lot of disagreement on Broadway and Courtland on Sunday morning, but one thing that had consensus was that car traffic was a problem for the neighborhood.
In response to a recent Superior Court decision to overturn a zoning variance for Drake Patten to open Cluck!, some 100 supporters, mostly West Side residents, rallied at the store’s proposed location, 399 Broadway.
The lawsuit claims neighbors weren't notified, as required by law, about the Zoning Board of Review’s hearings; the type of store isn’t in keeping with the city’s vision for the neighborhood; and the additional traffic and parking congestion the store may bring will hurt established businesses.
Patten said she chose this location for her urban farm-supply store because of its access to bus routes and bike lanes. She said she added the city-required three parking spots, but no more, because she didn’t envision the business as a car-oriented one. She also countered claims that Cluck! would be a site for large-scale animal agriculture, saying that there would be three laying hens in a backyard coop, but that there would be no other livestock, including roosters, on the property.
Neighbors didn’t attend the rally alone. Mayor Angel Taveras and City Council member Bryan Principe came out to listen to the supporters and opponents and to be part of a community discussion.
“More than anything I’m here to listen,” Taveras said. “When a neighborhood comes together like this, it obviously means something.”
When asked to comment on the point of view of Cluck! opponents, Taveras said he thinks many times people find change to be a challenging thing, but noted that the city has to find new ways to reinvent itself for progress.
Principe, an enthusiastic Cluck! supporter, said that businesses like Patten’s are perfectly designed for future streetcars. He said that as a father, having a vacant gas station — the current use of 399 Broadway — makes him uncomfortable having his children walk on Broadway. An urban farming and gardening supply store, he said, offers the neighborhood more.
Jason Simonian, spokesman for Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church, 402 Broadway, said that contrary to what has been reported in the Providence Journal, the church — a plaintiff in the lawsuit — is supportive of urban farming and would like to be a good neighbor if Cluck! should open.
“We like Drake Patten, and when she got her first victory, we told her we would use our constitutional rights to appeal the decision, but that if we lost, we would welcome her as a neighbor,” Simonian said, noting that the church has more than 600 members, many of whom are seniors, and said that the parish has difficulty imagining how to get those seniors to worship without cars.
“We can see that there is support for this business, but what will that mean for traffic on this street?” he asked. “Cluck! will substantially harm our church by taking away parking. Other than that we have no problem with the business.”
Looking at Broadway, a thoroughfare for bikes, buses and pedestrians, it’s not difficult to understand the church’s concern. Even with three police cars parked at the crosswalk on Courtland and Broadway, it was difficult to get cars to stop for pedestrians.
“The road is too fast, with cars going 40 mph in a 25-mph zone,” Principe said. “But you should have seen this before. The road didn’t used to be striped at all, and people would almost do highway sprints in their cars.”
He said the new bike lanes are the key design improvement that have made speed reduction possible, but he added there is still a long way to go. Principe said he has spoken with the church, and that he considers the goal of senior access to be a key one for the neighborhood.
One of the contentions of the parish, expressed by Simonian, was that Cluck! couldn’t possibly be a bike- and bus-oriented business, because of the bulkiness of what people would buy from a farm-supply store.
“There are three spots there, and they’re wide spots. You don’t put wide spots unless you expect trucks,” he said. “You can’t pick up farm supplies on a bike, and you can’t pick them up in a Prius, you do it in a pickup truck.”
West Side resident Noah Rosenberg, who attended the rally with his daughter Lea, said he definitely would walk or bike to the store, noting that most of the things that people would buy would be small, such as seeds, pots and various tools. He called for the city to add raised crosswalks to Broadway to make motorists yield to pedestrians, an important step for him as a parent.
Alex Taylor of the city's East Side said he currently takes his bike trailer to Home Depot to do supply pickups, but said that he’s excited to come to Cluck! instead. He noted that as an experienced cyclist he feels somewhat comfortable on Charles Street, where Home Depot is, but that riding on Broadway would be much more accessible to novice cyclists.