Throop Alley & other tidbits

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Throop Alley, to be abandoned for a building on Canal Street. (

An agenda item for an upcoming meeting brought home to me the sadness and even the anger attending some of the more pernicious projects being sold around here as “economic development.”

The agenda for the Tuesday, Feb. 20 meeting of the City Plan Commission notes that the city has been asked to abandon Throop Alley, between Canal Street and North Main Street. In recent years, the alley had been the front door to loud music blasting from local clubs. It was not my kind of place, really, but it was one of those little urban nooks that might be described as “authentic.” (Who was Throop, anyway?)

The other day I mentioned that a major proposed development on the east side of the Providence River would preserve Dollar Street. Development news now puts two other gangways at risk. Gangways are narrow old streets that once linked to wharfage along the river in many old waterfront cities. The hotel proposed for Parcel 1A of the Route 195 corridor along Water would eliminate Doubloon and Patriot streets. Regulations require that Doubloon and Patriot be preserved, but the real sticking point for the hotel developer is the land between the hotel and the water’s edge. Seems under the current hotel configuration there would not be enough of it.

A ruling of the Coastal Resources Development Council against the hotel on those grounds would probably doom it. That’s what Olin Thompson told attendees at the Jewelry District Association meeting last night. Just when that decision will be made is unclear.

Far clearer is a ruling that could doom an even more damnable project, the Fane tower, whose proposed 46 stories is about 36 stories higher than zoning allows. That is too much for an exemption from the rules: a change in the rules is required. It can be made only by the city council, which must act within 90 days of the 195 commission’s decision, on Feb. 1, to give the project a Level II approval. So the clock is ticking, Mr. Fane.

Providence now has a zoning ordinance that to some extent reflects the will of its citizens. If Jason Fane is able to convince council to change the height requirement to permit a building almost four times the currently allowable height, then for all intents and purposes no zoning ordinance exists. Anyone will be able to change any rule. All rules will beg to be ignored. That is why people must monitor the meeting schedule of the council and attend that meeting to oppose that change.

The JDA and other neighborhood groups will play a major role in marshaling a big thumbs down on this sore thumb in the Jewelry District.

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The footprint of the proposed hotel on 195 land east of the Providence River. (195district.com)

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Gangways between South Main and the river, including Doubloon and Patriot. (Brussat archives)

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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6 Responses to Throop Alley & other tidbits

  1. Glenn Turner says:

    David, surely you have been in enough of these meetings to understand that zoning ordinances are merely vehicles for graft. One can always get a variance if enough politicians see things your way.

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    • I don’t doubt you are largely right, Glenn. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in between, but in this blog, which adheres so strictly to pure factuality, I try to base my opinions on things I can see with my eyes or read on paper (or digitally). Without harder evidence than is usually available for outright corruption, I prefer to spread the benefit of the doubt as widely as I can.

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  2. Meet Dr. Amos Throop! The first president of the RI Medical Society – 2 streets named after him – Throop Alley and Amos Street. – he also served in the general assembly and his house was on North Main Street, right at that “alley” corner…
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:EA6r-QkzvCoJ:www.rimedicalsociety.org/about-our-first-president.html+&cd=9&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-b-1-ab

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    • Thanks so much, Nancy. It makes me even sadder that North Main, the city’s oldest street, has suffered so many insults over the past decade or so, with so many more on track to kick its pride in the shins – the two latest being Edge College Hill and ECH2 (the one that is seeking to close Throop).

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  3. Steve says:

    Only one comment…the Fane tower you cite as “…almost four times the currently allowable height…” is true. But the problem is that the zoning is four times too low!!

    It is truely idiotic that the area from the Textron tower to the three Point Street 250 foot smokestacks is not zoned in the range of 250-400 feet. This small town mentality is a disgrace and damages the city’s growth for the sake of a scale appropriate for a suburb- not a major city’s downtown.

    And we complain of lack of strong economic health?

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    • Steve, developers must try to build no more than what the market will permit. A lower height limit theoretically ensures that the Jewelry District will host more new buildings at feasible heights, rather than one very tall building that sucks all the market air out of the room. Maybe someday if the city and state completely reform their business climate, it will become reasonable to expect developers to build more tall buildings here, and a zoning ordinance that reflects that.

      Fane is having a hard time making his numbers work just for that one tall building, which suggests that if he builds it, all other things being equal, there may be far fewer new buildings in the district of any height, leaving the Fane tower to stick out like even more of a sore thumb. The public pressure that limited the heights in the zoning reflects, I think, a sensibility that understands, intuitively, the complex relationship between buildings, markets and the economy.

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