Final say on Fane design?

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 11.33.06 PM.png

Garage podium of proposed Hope Point Tower. (

Fane tower supporters left Monday night’s meeting in full glum after the city’s design panel recommended against approving three of four Fane requests for exemptions from zoning that could kill the project. Opponents left in full euphoria, in the belief that a nail, possibly the final nail, had been hammered into the tower’s coffin. Jason Fane, who sat a row in front of me, bore the repulse without revealing any emotion on his stony, craggy face.

A rejection is a rejection, but if a recommendation is just a recommendation, then the Downtown Design Review Committee’s rejection may be far from fatal. This in spite of the fact that, unlike its queasy demurrals of last month, its rejection on Monday was emphatic, and included a thumbs-down on the tower’s conceptual design.

So that’s the big question. Does the DDRC or the I-195 commission have the final say over the tower’s design?

Sharon Steele, of the Jewelry District Association leading the opposition and the Building Bridges group that’s suing Fane, insisted at Monday’s public hearing that the DDRC, not the 195 commission, has that authority. Maybe she is correct, but Mayor Elorza’s veto of the bill to raise the height limit on the land (overridden by the city council) was based in part on Fane’s refusal to offer the city that authority – an authority that was not Fane’s to offer.

Some hope may reside in a statement by Fane’s lawyer, William Landry, regarding the requested waiver from the requirement in Section 606.A.2 of the zoning regulations that “building height and massing shall relate to adjacent structures.” It’s hard to believe, but he seemed to say that factors other than height and massing play a role in deciding whether the tower relates to the height and massing of its neighbors. Like what factors? He did not say. He said it could not be that you could never have a 550-foot-tall building, but that it was the DDRC’s responsibility to “determine whether the proponents have adequately made [the tower] relate to the surrounding buildings.”

Huh? The council did raise the height limit of Parcel 42 for the tower, but I do not recall that it also amended 606.A.2 to permit other factors to bear on whether the tower’s height and massing relate to the height and massing of adjacent structures.

I’m no lawyer, so maybe I’m overlooking some legal concept hiding in plain sight, but then logic has not been a keystone of support for the Fane tower thus far. For example, it has been asserted that zoning requirements take precedence over the requirements of the comprehensive plan. And yet the purpose of zoning is to fulfill the comprehensive plan. So shouldn’t the latter trump the former?

As for whether the DDRC trumps the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, we’ll have to wait and see.

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, 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.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Final say on Fane design?

  1. Kyle Agronick says:

    This apartment complex would mean a beautiful new building a thousands of people to spend their money in a revived downtown. The towers across from the mall looks great. I’m sure there were people against moving the rivers. Its like people would rather see 2 story office buildings on the 195 land.


  2. GM says:

    I love it as is. Let’s hope the right thing happens.


  3. Steve says:

    Now the facts:
    First, Steele and cronies are not suing Fane, they are suing the city for “spot zoning”. A case that has virtually no chance to succeed.
    Second, the I-195 Development District Commission has final authority over approval of projects in the parcels they control.
    Third, there is no nail in any coffin. Simply another Elorza crowd negative recommendation.
    Fourth, again, “the citizens of Providence” have expressed no objection to this project – a tiny percent has.

    This will proceed, will be approved by the Commission, and will be built…a great addition to downtown. Remember, the state legislature is watching this.


    • Peter Van Erp says:

      Steve, you keep repeating that a “tiny minority” oppose it. A far smaller group of Providence residents are in favor. Next time you go for a blood test, tell the technician you want all your blood tested, not just a tiny minority.


      • Steve says:

        Once again, emotion trumps facts for some. You have absolutely zero evidence of more than a few hundred folks. Even 2,000 would be a TINY percentage. Over 180,000 folks have not expressed an objection. Pure facts, pure math. And regardless, it is not an election…it is a regulatory decision. Next time you do math, use a calculator! 🤣


        • Steve, we know the opinion of only a small minority of the city’s population, but of those we know – who have expressed their opinion publicly – the great majority oppose the Fane tower. No, it is not an election, nor is it an exact science, but it is a democracy. The free discussion of issues does, however, require people to express themselves if they want their view to count.


          • Steve says:

            Free discussion – Oh, absolutely.

            I just have tired of all the obstruction, negative, and destructive opposition. To me it is both embarrassing and troubling.

            I just have reached the point where, while I share concerns about any building that is too far from our great architectural quality, I am in full and complete support of this major residential investment in our downtown…with some facade design changes, I hope.

            My vision is a taller, bigger, and denser downtown. I oppose the squatting 7-12 new developments and the grossly low zoning heights. So I sit squarely with the City Council, Providence Journal, PBN, and the I-195 Commission on this project. And, based on the abhorrent economic development attitude of Elorza, I support Senator Ruggiero’s legislation.

            You need to know I truly enjoy reading your pieces and to a lesser extent – the discussion of this topic. One thing unites us – we love our great city of Providence.😉


  4. Eric Daum says:

    David, should the first word of the second sentence be “opponents”?


  5. All I can think of is the PawSox saga – and their newfound home – Worcester. These sullen faces that tried to fit a new stadium debacle into RI and utterly ruined their brand – are now in a city with glowing faces and ‘how can we help you’ ways. There is a theory about going where you are wanted, and knowing when nothing you can do because you tortured people too long about it – will make your project wanted
    To say that it’s Fane’s way or the highway will forever mean 50% of the people will be opposed – or a whole lot more. You can change it, move it, spin it like a top – you will never have glowing faces of welcome – time to go elsewhere – Worcester?


    • It would be so easy for Fane to flip this debacle into a win/win. But to do so he must try to make his project into something the citizens of Providence will love. That would reduce its me! me! me! quality, however, which he adores, so it is unlikely to happen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.