Government

Paving Company Seeks Permission to Store Asphalt, Other Materials Along Providence’s Waterfront

Variance for non-waterfront dependent use of port raises questions

The Narragansett Improvement Co. already stores asphalt and other paving-related materials along Allens Avenue. It would like to continue that practice. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — The Zoning Board of Review is scheduled to hear a variance request Wednesday, Oct. 13, for the non-waterfront dependent use of a property in the Port of Providence.

The Narragansett Improvement Co., a pavement manufacturing company on Allens Avenue that leases 338 Allens Ave. from Cumberland Farms Inc., applied for a variance permit Aug. 24 to continue to use the site for the storage and processing of concrete, stone, aggregate, and asphalt. The area is zoned as a maritime industrial waterfront district, which, according to the City Zoning Ordinance, should prioritize “the waterfront as a resource for water-dependent industrial uses, and facilitate the renewed use of a vital waterfront.”

The 17.64-acre site, which houses a 21,000-square-foot warehouse, is currently used by the Narragansett Improvement Co. for the storage and processing of materials related to asphalt production at its 223 Allens Ave. facility. The permit would not change the use of the site, according to the permit application, but allow for the “continued use of the property.”

“There will be no changes to the property in terms of structures, parking, etc.,” according to the nine-page application. “The only requested relief is to continue the use that is currently in operation for which violations have been issued.”

According to the permit application, the property holds an outstanding zoning ordinance violation for non-waterfront dependent use of the property.

Last year, the Providence City Council unanimously voted to amend the City Zoning Ordinance to prevent new incinerators and waste facilities from opening in Providence, including along the waterfront.

“To propose turning the site at 338 Allens Ave into a dump, which is what one must call a place to store old asphalt and concrete is probably the least beneficial use of the land possible and more than likely violates the new ordinance,” read a public statement provided to the Zoning Board of Review late last month by Providence resident Greg Gerritt. “To ask for a variance, in other words permission to violate the law to put in the least useful thing they could possibly do borders on the obscene. I implore you to turn this down, and to make them clean up the mess they have already created on the site.”

South Providence and Washington Park residents have spent the past several years speaking out against the industrial use of the city’s waterfront, calling out the harmful effects of fossil fuels, chemical storage, and other polluting industries on air quality and community health.

Air pollution can raise the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory disease, according to the World Health Organization, and causes about 4.2 million deaths annually worldwide.

Data released in 2019 listed Rhode Island with the ninth-highest asthma rates in the country. Respiratory issues were focused in neighborhoods closest to highways and industrial areas, including in the communities surrounding Providence’s working waterfront.

“If the economics and current business conditions do not create conditions to draw appropriate development that improves the health of the community, then at least do no harm,” Gerritt said. “Maybe it is time to turn the land into a public community asset and use it as a park to increase public access to the waterfront.”

The Zoning Board of Review will take public comment on the variance request at its meeting scheduled for Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m. Comments may also be submitted via email to athompson@providenceri.gov up to 24 hours before the meeting. The meeting can be virtually accessed using Zoom.

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