Fox Point residents concerned…
Fox Point residents concerned about infill construction displacing long-term renters
Providence, R.I.,After years of inactivity, new residential construction has made inroads into city neighborhoods in Providence. Lot by lot,
older houses or vacant parcels are being replaced with new apartment buildings or multifamily homes. Infill construction, as it’s called, is generally allowed by city zoning as long as the growth is in keeping with the surrounding neighborhood. According to the Planning Department, the desire is to add density to the city in ways that make sense, to accommodate demand for new housing and new residents.But in some neighborhoods, including Fox Point on the East Side, the new construction is causing concerns about displacement of long-term renters who are less-affluent than the new arrivals.
Many longtime residents and property owners say the new buildings are intended to accommodate as many young professionals and college students as possible in a space. The Fox Point Neighborhood Association has had several meetings on the tear-downs and infill construction that is starting to appear throughout the area. Its concern: The new buildings may take away from the historical charm of the area and are not addressing affordable housing concerns. One of the most prominent tear-downs came on Wickenden Street, the business corridor popular with neighborhood residents and students at local universities. At 298 Wickenden St., a two-story, faded-yellow, two-family was razed this past spring and the new construction taking its place will include four floors of apartments. The demolition came after the property owner initially tried to expand the original structure, and encountered opposition from neighbors, according to Nick Cicchitelli, a board member with the Fox Point Neighborhood Association.
His opinion is mixed. The house it replaced was probably the “ugliest” on the street, he said. But the new construction will add residents and noise, demand for parking and other stressors on a dense, older neighborhood. “Landlords in the market are buying property and trying to maximize the rooms and increase the density,” he said. “So, there are a lot of different stressors in and around that scene. People also are buying and gutting houses and creating units with more rooms in them.” The injection of more residents onto Wickenden won’t necessarily help the existing businesses. Gary D’Amario, owner of City Gardens Flower Shop, doesn’t expect to see much business from the students who he expects will move into the new building. “It does not make sense to me,” said D’Amario, who has had his business on Wickenden for 30 years. The new building is “basically a dormitory,” he said. “He’s going to pack it full of students. They’re good for a $10 sale now and then and a hundred questions.”The new construction on Wickenden meets the current zoning, as revised by the city several years ago. It is consistent with the goals of the comprehensive plan, said Bob Azar, the deputy director of planning for the city of Providence. In that commercial district, zoning allows up to four stories and up to 50 feet in height.
Also fitting in with city zoning is a new townhouse-style apartment building that was placed this year over a vacant lot at 178 Gano St. The new townhouse units are luxurious and come in configurations of four bedrooms each. The 12-month leases are $3,500 a month, according to online real estate posts. The online marketing is aimed at college students – emphasizing proximity to Brown University and stating that college students are welcome. The Gano Street construction is also consistent with the zoning, Azar said. The density is determined by the size of the lot. In general, across the city there is more activity in developing infill residential construction, he said. “We’re seeing people are interested in developing vacant lots, which is what we want to see. We recognize that when it comes to housing, that in certain areas prices are going up. One way to combat that is to increase the supply,” Azar said. Further north on Gano Street, at Pitman Street, a single-family home and barn on two lots were razed within the past month. New construction on those lots will install two two-family structures, Azar said. Many people in Fox Point feel the historic nature of the area is being threatened, Cicchitelli said. Beyond the visible – the new construction – a culture exists in Fox Point of illegal apartments, he said. And these are people who are not following the city’s rules. In these cases, an owner doesn’t seek city approval and converts a legal two-family to a three-family by creating an attic apartment. Or they expand a three-family into a four-family. All of this is creating more pressure on Fox Point than the zoning intended, he said. But there is a counter argument that the development is typically targeting the distressed housing. So, the new construction replaces what had been a blighted building. “A lot of the neighbors say there is a change of the character of the neighborhood. The pushback I would offer on that is the properties going down … are distressed already. They are not adding to the historic charm of the neighborhood. That’s the only reason why they’re being targeted by developers,” Cicchitelli said.