Providence Officials Reject Gas Station and Self-Storage Project
November 18, 2020
PROVIDENCE — A large minimart and self-storage development was recently rejected by the City Plan Commission (CPC) for being at odds with plans to make the neighborhood more inviting to walking, bicycling, and outdoor enjoyment.
The proposal by Cranston-based Procaccianti Companies, under the name OGN LLC, included an eight-pump gas station, a 5-story self-storage facility, and a convenience store with a delicatessen and drive-thru service.
The project envisioned for a vacant 3.8-acre lot at the corner of Dean Street and Kinsley Avenue was repeatedly referred to by the CPC as a suburban, car-friendly center at odds with the urbanist pedestrian- and bike-friendly development that the city is trying to promote.
“I don’t think it’s in keeping with what the city wants to be,” City Plan Commission chair Christine West said at the Nov. 17 meeting.
The city’s Great Streets Initiative and Urban Trail Network and the long-established Woonasquatucket River Greenway Improvement Project intend to open up river habitat and advance bicycle- and pedestrian-focused infrastructure in the Valley neighborhood.
West noted that the city’s Department of Planning and Development made a rare recommendation to deny the proposal.
The developer hoped to win over the commission with its third version of the project. A Wendy’s restaurant was eliminated and additional landscaping, sidewalks, and electric-vehicle charging stations were added. A car wash was removed in a second draft of the project.
“This is the next generation of neighborhood marketplaces,” said Paul Bannon, engineer for Lincoln-based BETA.
Robert Azar, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Development, noted that the revisions didn’t change the fundamental elements of the plan that don’t comply with the city’s comprehensive plan. He said street access, particularly on Dean Street, was “problematic.”
“We feel that this could result in unsafe conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles,” Azar said.
The area along the Woonasquatucket River is slated for a greenway, two-way bike lanes, and added parks. To accommodate other modes of travel, Kinsley Avenue will be switched to a one-way street.
This portion of Dean Street has one of the highest accident rates in the city, according to CPC member Christian Potter. Commissioners and members of the public complained of the challenges of walking and biking amidst a steady flow of high-speed vehicles jockeying to access on-ramps to routes 6 and 10.
A proposed driveway to the project on Dean Street was considered dangerous for pedestrians and motorists looking to cross the four-lane road to enter the facility. Vehicles exiting the facility would also be thrust into a rush of traffic heading to the on-ramps.
“It doesn’t make things any safer,” Potter said.
Commissioner Nicole Verdi feared that the vehicles waiting in the drive-thru would back up onto Kinsley Avenue.
Bannon highlighted the amenities of the super-sized minimart, which he said are popping up across the region at mixed-use gas station/market facilities such as Seasons Corner Market and Cumberland Farms. The proposed Neon Marketplace store included modern lighting and decor, wide isles, a wall of glass reach-in refrigerators, and a deli with a full kitchen. Outdoor seating offered a view of the river.
But it wasn’t enough to change the perception that the proposal was catering to vehicles rather than the mix of transportation and natural space the city is promoting.
The commission rejected, 4-1, the preliminary plan approval, a drive-thru permit, and a dimensional variance for a wider driveway.
The project would have been built in two phases. Phase one included the gas pumps and retail store. The 850-unit self-storage facility and another structure would be built in a second phase.
The project was opposed by the Friends of the Moshassuck, The Foundry Associates, the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, the Providence Preservation Society, and the Providence Streets Coalition.
Procaccianti Companies has the right to appeal the CPC’s decision to the Zoning Board of Review and ultimately to state Superior Court. A different development may also be submitted to the CPC for review.
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