At a Providence City Plan Commission (CPC) meeting in late April 2016, developers for a proposed Best Western Glo Hotel at 322 Washington Street came before the committee seeking Master Plan Approval as well as height, frontage and parking variances.
Having just become aware of the project through the CPC's published agenda, WBNA and representatives from nearby businesses – White Electric Coffee, Rocket to Mars and New Urban Arts – attended the CPC meeting to learn about the hotel developer's plan.
The project as proposed is a six story, 70 foot high hotel with 76 rooms and an attached parking garage with 60 parking spaces. The structure would be located on Washington Street across from the Fire/Police Station (Providence Public Safety Complex) and along Service Road 7. The back of the property and its parking garage would abut Lyman Street, a small street that is parallel to Westminster and runs behind the commercial storefronts on Westminster.
The developers requested several variances of zoning ordinances: a 20 foot variance for allowed building height above the 50 foot height restriction; a reduction in the required amount of building frontage to be occupied by a building facade from 60 percent to 30 percent; and a reduction in required parking spaces from 76 to 60.
Kari Lang of WBNA, Tom Toupin of White Electric Coffee and Dan Schleifer from New Urban Arts testified during the public comment period following the presentation.
White Electric and New Urban Arts expressed concern about a proposed entrance to the attached parking structure that would be located on the 15 foot long Lyman Street, citing that the street is narrow, short and already challenging. White Electric and New Urban Arts are both direct abutters to Lyman Street. The two businesses asked for a traffic study to be conducted.
WBNA, New Urban Arts and White Electric stated concerns about the current proposed design. None seemed to oppose a modern design, but all expressed that the current design is not suited to and not a good fit with the existing built environment of the neighborhood.
WBNA Executive Director Kari Lang referred to design standards laid out in the WBNA Blueprint for Responsible Development and Neighborhood Development Guidelines, the West Side Action Plan, and the City’s Federal Hill and West End Neighborhood Plans – guidelines that the WBNA's Community Development Committee uses when evaluating a project.
The standards set forth in these documents emphasize the importance of siting (i.e. how a building is positioned on a lot) and massing (a building's shape) in urban design, and include criteria such as building to the street on all floors to create a strong building presence along the entire streetscape of both the service road and Washington Street, and having strong massing at a street corner – in this case at the corner of Washington Street and Service Road 7 – so the corner is architecturally defined and anchored within the urban environment.
WBNA asked the CPC to wait on approving the Master Plan for the proposed hotel until developers engaged with the community and abutters in a meaningful way, and until a more appropriate urban design had been demonstrated for this site that would be a better fit for the neighborhood. WBNA understands that the CPC's role is not to regulate design; the preferred process was for the community to be involved and have a voice in advance of Master Plan Approval.
The CPC voted to approve the Master Plan for the proposed development of a Best Western Glo Hotel at 322 Washington Street, but has made its approval subject to a requirement that developers "engage with neighbors to discuss the project." WBNA appreciates the CPC's sensitivity to the concerns of neighbors and that it supplied this stipulation in its notice to developers.
The CPC's Notice of Master Plan Approval also requires a traffic study for the entrance and exit of vehicles on the site from all accessed streets, a depiction of the hotel's height as compared with other structures along the service road, and a revision of the Washington Street facade to conform to a window and transparency zoning ordinance requiring that ground floor facades maintain at least 50 percent transparency at street level.
The developer's next steps in its process with the City of Providence is to return to the CPC for Preliminary Plan Approval that includes approval of the traffic plan, drainage and maintenance plan, and detailed renderings of the proposed development.
WBNA has reached out to the developer of this proposed hotel project to request that its team meet with the WBNA Community Development Committee, and is awaiting a response.