By KEVIN PROFT/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — If the developer has his way, two historic buildings on Dean Street, between Federal Street and Broadway, will be knocked down and replaced with a 53-space parking lot. The multi-family homes, built in the mid-19th century, aren't protected by a local or national historic district. The parking lot would be part of a larger project, which would demolish two other structures on the same block and replace them with a mixed-use retail and apartment building.
The plan would create 13,300 square feet of retail space on the first floor of a three-story structure. No tenant has committed to using the space, but possible tenants include a pharmacy, coffee shop or bank, according to the developer. The second and third stories would be reserved for about two dozen, one- and two-bedroom apartments.
The parking lot, which would accommodate residents and retail customers, would include a drive-thru accessible from Bradford Street. The parking lot would exit to Bradford Street and Dean Street. Parking would be masked by a combination of walls and vegetative screens on Dean and Federal streets.
The building itself would be modern in design. The first floor would be built to the sidewalk at the corner of Dean Street and Broadway, but the second and third story would be stepped back to accommodate a roof deck accessible from the second floor. The facade would include a combination of clapboard, wood and brick.
Aerial and street-level designs have been made public.
The plan was presented by the developer’s lawyer, Zachary Darrow of DarrowEverett LLP, at a March 30 public meeting organized by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA) and the Providence Preservation Society (PPS). While neither organization has supported or opposed the project, each expressed concerns about the initial design to the developer by letter following the meeting.
Both committees recommended avoiding the demolition of the two historic homes on Dean Street to accommodate parking.
“The preservation of these houses should be considered, as they help to hold the streetscape and create context with the rest of the neighborhood,” according to the PPS letter.
The WBNA went further, recommending that the developer also maintain the existing large building at the corner of Dean Street and Broadway — the former Empire Beauty School. The developer’s purpose could be achieved by renovating and adding onto the structure rather than demolishing it and building anew, according to the association's letter.
At the meeting, the developer’s representative said the existing structure doesn't meet the demands for retail tenants.
The WBNA called for all three stories of the building to be built to the street, instead of only the first floor, “to hold the corner strongly rather than recede from it.” The PPS agreed. The WBNA also urged the developer to place entrances to the retail space on Dean Street and Broadway, instead of locating the doors near the rear of the building and parking lot.
The parking lot and drive-thru didn't impress either organization. The parking lot’s exit onto Dean Street, near a busy six-way intersection, was discouraged in favor of an exit onto Federal Street. The WBNA called for an independent study of traffic and parking impacts.
A drive-thru in the dense, urban neighborhood was opposed by both groups. “It would not be in keeping with urban design, would likely cause traffic backups, queuing on Bradford Street and up to Federal Street, and would have no logical exit that wouldn’t cause greater traffic congestion,” according to the WBNA.
Providence’s zoning ordinance requires the developer to secure a special-use permit from the zoning board for the drive-thru. The permitting process would include a public hearing. The ordinance also requires that the drive-thru lane include waiting space for three cars behind the car using the window. Each “stacking space” must be 18 feet in length. The developer's plan doesn't appear to meet this requirement.
Each organization has noted that the size of the parking lot as presented would be excessive. “A suburban design that uses over half of the project site for parking and a drive through does not fit the eclectic urban character that constitutes this portion of Broadway,” according to the PPS. “We understand that the project must be financially viable, and there are plenty of national retailers who succeed in urban environments by utilizing urban designs.”
CVS — noted as a possible tenant for the proposed project — operates without a parking lot at its Thayer Street and Westminster Street locations. Its Wayland Square location operates with 20 spaces.
The WBNA recommended shrinking the parking and increasing the footprint of the building. It also suggested decking over some parking and building above it, or having shared parking between retail and residences.
The number of spaces in the proposed parking lot is designed to meet the zoning ordinance’s current parking minimum requirements of one space per residential unit and one space per 500 square feet of retail space.
Concerning tenants, the WBNA recommended reserving some second- or third-floor space for offices based on the almost full occupancy of such units in the existing building. It also recommended reserving a percentage of the apartments as affordable housing units, because local residents fear being priced out of their neighborhood by new development.
Since sending its letter April 21, the WBNA hasn't heard back from the developer regarding its recommendations or its request for a future meeting. DarrowEverett LLP didn't respond to multiple ecoRI News requests for an interview.