Stop Fane tower on Monday

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Short anti-Fane video by Providence Preservation Society. (GoLocalProv.com)

The good guys will have another opportunity to denounce the bad guys on Monday at a 5:30 p.m. public hearing of the ordinance committee of the Providence City Council.

I refer, naturally, to the proposed 600-foot Hope Point Tower by The Fane Organization. Its height would approach six times that allowed by zoning regulations, so obviously it is out of scale, and that’s without considering its style, which departs bigly from the city’s historic character. This may not be a problem for some people, only for those who understand what is good for Providence and what is bad for Providence.

After a public hearing, the Ordinance Committee recommended in July against lifting the current height limit on what is built on Parcel 42. On Sept. 6, the council, which was expected to vote on the ceiling one way or the other, instead sent the proposal back to the same committee for another hearing because – it was explained – Jason Fane was not able to testify on behalf of his own project. Yeah, right. And could not afford to send one of his employees, or hire a consultant to make the presentation? Give us a break!

Well, what has happened has happened. Why it happened may help predict what will happen in the future. If the council voted to send the proposal back to ordinance so its members would not have to vote on it one way or the other a week before September’s primary election, the fix is probably in and whatever is said at Monday’s hearing won’t matter. But we don’t know that to be the case. It may genuinely be up in the air.

So, going into the hearing, most people opposed to the proposed design and its height should feel confident that a recommendation against lifting the height limit is in the best interests of the city. Those who are squeamish about being seen as “opposing development” should rest easy, as should those worried that others might think they are “against” creating jobs and raising tax revenue for the city. How silly.

Squeamishness might have been reasonable two years ago, when there were no cranes on the Providence skyline. But now there are plenty. If the Fane tower is blocked, other developers will still want to build in Providence. And if they have better designs, more jobs and more tax revenue can be expected, because a lovelier Providence will generate more of both than an uglier Providence. A building that strengthen’s the city’s brand is better than one that contradicts the city’s brand. Anyhow, if the Fane tower is built, it might dry up the market for upscale tenants, and might also make the Route 195 corridor less attractive to developers whose buildings and tenants would be blocked by the Fane tower.

So feel easy speaking out against Fane on Monday. And lawmakers should feel easy urging the council to vote against raising the height limit – which would undermine the very idea of zoning. When even a major change in what the voters decided on a few years ago can be easily rammed through by a developer, zoning as a functional tool of urban planning ceases to exist.

The hearing at City Hall is expected to begin at 5:30. Providence is not against development, it is for better development.

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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3 Responses to Stop Fane tower on Monday

  1. Steve says:

    No sir, I did not. Frankly, I think the Fane presentation and then power brokering will determine the day….one way or the other. But I assure you that if it moves forward, I am with you on pushing for appropriate design.

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  2. Boy, Steve, this was just published – you are really fast! I’m always happy to have those who disagree make their case right here on my blog, rather than just grinding their teeth in silence. Good for you! By the way, did you end up speaking, as you’d threatened, at the last hearing in July?

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  3. Steve says:

    Oh, come on, David. More of the too much, too tall, too big, blocks this, on and on.

    “…make the Route 195 corridor less attractive to developers…” The exact opposite will be true.
    “…whose buildings and tenants would be blocked…”
    Here we go, blocked from what? The city’s 116th park is on one side, streets on the others.

    “So feel easy speaking out against Fane on Monday.” I say — speak strongly FOR it!!

    Raising the height limit – which would “undermine the very idea of zoning…can be easily overturned by a developer”. The developer isn’t overturning anything. The Council can AND SHOULD correct the GROSS error of that parcel and all of them in the district!!

    The zoning in the entire Innovation District is DEEPLY flawed. 100 feet in DOWNTOWN Providence?! You have got to be kidding me. What small town mentality! Sick of it.

    The only thing I agree with you on is design. But that is different issue – after the ridiculous height limit is raised.

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