The Granoff showdown

Stone walls and elegant gate at Granoff estate. (providencejournal.com)

Stone walls and elegant gate at Granoff estate. (providencejournal.com)

At Wednesday evening’s meeting of the Blackstone Neighborhood Organization, at the Central Congregational Church, some attendees reported they’d seen surveyors at the Granoff estate. This suggests that Paula and Leonard Granoff may attempt to complete their supposedly incomplete application for a property subdivision. Their neighbors’ lawyer, Bill Landry, was at the BNO meeting and emphasized that even if the Granoffs are unable to fully complete it, the City Plan Commission might vote next Tuesday to respect their attempt and approve the application anyway.

Landry added that the commissioners would be less likely to do so in the face of a crowd of neighbors from the wards that put the next mayor, Jorge Elorza, in office.

The commission will meet at 4:45 p.m. at 444 Westminster St. The Granoff application, which was “continued” from the Nov. 18 CPC meeting, is the first item on the agenda.

Both the commission chairwoman and the commission’s legal counsel seem more eager to approve the proposed subdivision than strict propriety would dictate. They should be objective tribunes of the public interest under the law. By public I don’t mean the BNO, which is an interested party in its own right, like the Granoffs. I mean the general good as articulated by the law enacted by the general public’s elected leaders for the city as a whole.

But the BNO and its supporters in the Blackstone neighborhood are citizens, too, no less so than the Granoffs. Issues of property development are where the city politics hits the road. Because of the apparent intensity of feeling on the commission, emotions may be running higher than normal on Tuesday, especially since Lawyer Landry seems to have the goods on the legal issues involved. So there may well be fireworks.

If the Granoffs’ big-foot lawyer, Tom Moses, is unable to convince the commission to ink the subdivision application, the Granoffs will have to re-apply or try again to sell the land undivided, possibly to a developer who might want to go through all this again under new zoning that allows a subdivision into fewer parcels (presumably but not necessarily less profitable). If the commission does approve the subdivision application at this meeting, it is likely that an appeal of its decision will be made to the Zoning Board of Review. Its ruling would be based solely on the existing record – no further testimony on any issue from either side. That means a heavy turnout on Tuesday can affect the evening’s result, but also help fortify the neighbors’ ability to win an appeal, if necessary.

I will be at Tuesday’s Plan Commission meeting as much for its possible entertainment value as for my concern that a poorly conceived subdivision could destroy one of the most charming blocks on one of the city’s most elegant boulevards.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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