Above: Rendering of proposed five story building at 1292 Westminster Street by ZDS Architects
At a Historic District Commission (HDC) meeting in late June 2017, developers for the property at 1292 Westminster Street came before the board seeking approval for demolition of the existing structures and for construction of a five story building in their place.
Eric Zuena from ZDS Architects presented plans for a fifty-five and a half foot high, block-shaped building with 36 market-rate one bedroom residential units, 20 parking spaces, ground floor retail and, following Department of Planning and Development guidelines, a corner entrance and taller ground floor level.
The meeting was well attended by west side neighbors, abutters, business owners and other local developers seeking to learn about owner Mike Lemoi's proposal and to give public testimony. Kari Lang, Executive Director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, also attended with Ned Connors, an historic preservation consultant and expert witness.
WHAT'S THE HDC & WHAT DOES IT DO?
The Providence Historic District Commission (HDC) is a design review body that "regulates development," approves or denies exterior work to buildings, and evaluates demolition requests "in designated Local Historic Districts." Its authority determines whether a building is "contributing" or "non-contributing" in historic value, which is one factor in the board's denial or approval of demolishing a property.
Connors began the public testimony portion of the hearing with a slide presentation highlighting Fontaine & Del Sesto, architects of the existing property and their body of work; the age and style of the building; and the inception of the Broadway Armory Historic District. He showed examples of similar buildings in Providence's Jewelry District that have been recognized and protected, noting that this style and era of building is starting to be appreciated as part of our city's heritage.
The current buildings contain four ground floor retail spaces that were built in 1960 as a radio, TV and sound store. When the Broadway Armory Historic District was established in 1974, this property was just 14 years old and so was not considered historic or "contributing." Now, forty-three years later, Connors continued, this building is worth saving as an historic property.
Lang's testimony followed and focused on WBNA's aim for the building to be saved for historic and environmental reasons and how it contributes to the neighborhood streetscape with its existing mid-century modern storefronts. She pointed out that the west side's historic properties are not just from the Victorian era but that, through the years, layers of history and architectural styles are formed and become significant in telling a neighborhood's story.
Lang also suggested that the HDC, while needing to determine contributing and non-contributing properties, might tweak its evaluative approach to consider a building to be more or less contributing, arguing that the current building is much more contributing than the one being currently proposed.
Lastly, Lang showed an earlier plan for 1292 Westminster that Zuena had referenced in his opening presentation. This version – designed by the same architect and developer – had been shared with WBNA months prior during a speculative meeting with developers, and featured reuse of the existing building and a more appropriate design on the proposed upper levels. Members of the HDC and the public whose testimony followed expressed strong preference for this version of the proposal.
While not all neighbors in attendance providing public testimony agreed about the significance of the existing building, all advocated for a proposal with a better design and/or a better fit with the existing streetscape.
At the end of a long evening, HDC members voted that 1292 Westminster Street was a non-contributing property. The only member opposing the motion was Clark Schoettle. However, the board stated that it would not approve the demolition until the building's design was improved in terms of its massing (a building's shape), its scale, and its articulation. Developers were asked to return to the HDC the following month at its regular July 24 meeting with revised plans.
- Development plans for 1292 Westminster submitted to HDC by ZDS/Lemoi (updated version submitted to HDC on June 23, 2017 for June 26 hearing)
- Development plans for 1292 Westminster shared with WBNA by ZDS/Lemoi in March 2017
- Slide presentation about 1292 Westminster by Ned Connors, historic preservation consultant