The Fane tower: It’s baaack!

Forty-six-story Fane tower, first proposed in 2016, moves forward after court ruling. (WPRI.com)

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled that the Fane tower – a proposed 500-foot, 46-story luxury highrise in the Jewelry District of Providence – can go forward toward construction. The tower’s proposed height of five times the limit in the comprehensive plan is not inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. That is what the judge has ruled.

Now Jason Fane is free to buy the land and build his monstrosity.

As for the ruling itself, its attitude was: when it comes to the comprehensive plan setting parameters for zoning laws to carry out the comprehensive plan, “Never mind!” The high court’s Justice William Robinson upheld Superior Court Judge Brian Stern and his December 2020 ruling, reported in GoLocalProv.com, that:

[A]s evidenced by the conflicting recommendations … as to consistency with the Comprehensive Plan, this issue is not entirely clear cut. But our Supreme Court has “recognize[d] that a municipality has discretion in choosing options for conforming its ordinances or land use decisions to its comprehensive plan.”

Maybe under the law a city does have discretion, but if such “discretion” allows a tower five times the height permitted in the city’s comprehensive plan, then the comprehensive plan is not truly a functioning part of the city’s government.

Furthermore, based on the judge’s obviously inappropriate substitution of cockamamie word play for judicious discernment, it seems just as valid to say that Rhode Island has no more of a functioning judiciary than its capital, Providence, has a functioning comprehensive plan.

This sounds outrageous but in fact, reality dysphoria has overtaken great swaths of American society. So yes, it is outrageous: fantasy has taken over for reason in our public and private lives, whether it is what children are taught in schools, or the assault on election integrity, or the invasion of our southern border, or the replacement of merit with racism in rules at work, or the junking of U.S. energy independence in the quixotic quest for renewable power, or the rise of cancel culture and the decline of free speech.

Or the mismatch of Providence’s zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan to enrich an outsider who thumbs his nose at the city’s “cutesy” historical character.

Yes, this national rejection of common sense is on display here in Rhode Island and its capital city.

If anyone has noticed, policymakers in Providence have invited unscrupulous developers to build crap here for decades. The governor or mayor could rescue us from the erosion of our historical character by merely choosing to encourage traditional design over modernist experimentation and megalomania: demand development that strengthens rather than weakens our commercial brand, which depends on our beautiful heritage.

Unlike so many problems facing our communities, there are no complexities to be hashed out. Policymakers must decide that they want to preserve Providence. Once such a decision is made – which would be supported by a very large majority of voters – implementation would be easy and inexpensive.

Step 1 might be to recognize that a 100-foot height limit on Parcel 42 means a 100-foot height limit on Parcel 42. Period.

Just do it.

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, 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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5 Responses to The Fane tower: It’s baaack!

  1. Your observation that this transgression in Providence is just another symptom of “reality dysphoria” eating away at our nation brings a line from Shakespeare to mind: “When troubles come, they come not as solitary spies, but in legions.”

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  2. Is the height limit just a policy stated in the comprehensive plan, or is it in the zoning laws?

    In the past, I have run into the fact that plans that cities adopt have little legal force.

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    • The height limit on that Parcel of 100 feet, Charles, was set in the comprehensive plan during a process that involved citizen input, and then at the developer’s (and I-195 commission’s) request the zoning was changed by council from 100 feet to 600 feet. I cannot say for certain what authority council had to override the comprehensive plan, but they did it and the high court confirmed that authority, or at least believes that it did. That it would do so only confirms its own uselessness. I suppose you may now add Providence to your list of cities whose plans have little legal force.

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  3. Stephen O'Rourke says:

    You would think that is pretty clear. I could see them arguing about -say-ten-twenty feet, but five times the allowable size! Crazy. I’m not worried. He won’t buld it. Providence is overbuilt now. The market won’t support it. Have him look at his neighbor’s project. Still vacancies after several years. The only one leasing and buying up space is Brown U. Unless someone comes into office and unleashes the police, no one will want to come to Providence anyway.

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    • By its neighbor, Steve, do you mean Brown’s River House project? I didn’t realize but I’m not surprised that it is not fully rented. I thought Fane tower was quietly slipping away for a similar reason of doubt about the market. I agree that Fane probably won’t build it, especially with a recession (or worse) coming on.

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