All who oppose the Fane tower should attend Monday’s meeting of the Downtown Design Review Committee at 4:45 p.m. in the city’s planning department – the modernist brick building at Westminster and Empire streets. The size of the crowd mustered by opponents will have a powerful effect on the tall, ugly building’s future – which will have a powerful effect on the future of Providence.
This will be the applicant’s first appearance before one of the city’s design authorities. Previous appearances have been before the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, the City Plan Commission, the Ordinance Committee of the City Council and the council itself. The tower’s aggressive height, which violated the comprehensive plan until council gave it a pass, came closest to derailing it so far, but Monday’s meeting will be the first time other aspects of its design will be discussed. No action will be taken by the committee.
The major reason to oppose the building is not its height, the spot-zoning issue, or the lack of affordable housing. While each of those are valid reasons to object, it is the Fane tower’s rejection of the city’s historical character that will have the most dramatic and long-lasting negative effect on Providence.
Fortunately, Providence’s 2014 comprehensive plan mandates that its historical character be protected. Unfortunately, neither the city nor the opponents of the Fane tower appear to understand why it is so important to protect Providence’s historical character. Few have objected to other buildings planned, completed or under construction in the I-195 corridor, even though they are just as disrespectful to the city’s historical character as the Fane tower would be.
The comprehensive plan’s protections are honored by city officials and developers mainly in the breach, and the capital city of Rhode Island has grown uglier and uglier for half a century. Fortunately, the city is so rich in historical character that it still seems more beautiful than otherwise. But that will not last very long if the Fane tower is built. It will encourage even more ugliness. Eventually, Providence will be no more attractive than Worcester or Hartford. By the time enough people notice to call a halt, it will be too late.
Then we will see how big a factor beauty is in our economy and future.
Maybe tomorrow Fane will show up with yet another new design, something far less provocative than the original design, with its three sterile towers, the next with its single sterile tower, and now the latest with its squirmy-wormy look. Maybe a new design will fit in. Don’t hold your breath. The developer has heard little from its opponents to suggest they are serious about their objections to its design other than its height.
So, as they say, any port in a storm. Although protecting Providence’s beauty is the best reason to oppose the Fane tower, people whose opposition centers on other flaws in the proposal should gather at the meeting on Monday. This is not a public hearing, so no one except for the applicant, Fane, will get to speak. But the power of opposition to the Fane tower will be calculated by who shows up at this meeting, and that kind of power is influential at City Hall. So it is of vital importance to attend.