PROVIDENCE — After a four-month public debate over a proposed development project at the foot of the Providence River pedestrian bridge began, Boston-based firm Urbanica has been given the green light to begin their project.
Urbanica originally proposed a plan that would include a 136,000-square foot building with 194 apartments and 90 parking spaces on a 1.1 acre-site that used to be the Route 195 highway land on the east bank of the river.
Two other Boston-based firms, Eden Properties and Parent and Diamond, were also in the running after they submitted plans in September.
The I-195 Redevelopment Commission, which is a state committee that controls the land, evaluated the three proposed plans and public comments before choosing Urbanica to develop apartments by the bridge in Parcel 2 during a meeting Wednesday night after a nearly hour-long executive session. Parcel 2 is a plot between South Water and South Main streets and is one of seven lots located on the former highway land on the East Side of Providence.
Urbanica and Eden Properties’ proposals included studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments; rental prices were not disclosed. Parent + Diamond Real Estate Development proposed a plan of 120 condo units that would be owned.
Low-income housing was not presented in most of the original plans, but Urbanica reportedly added 12 units to be reserved for affordable housing in their proposed plans. The firm also said it would include “live-work lofts” and “compact units.”
Each proposal showed a towering mixed-use building at five or six stories high, which caused pushback from current East Side neighbors.
The Commission received dozens of letters from nearby residents and stakeholders, including from Councilman John Goncalves of Ward 1. Some who lived near the parcel laid out their concerns regarding the height of the proposed building and called it an “atrocity.” Others called for additional parking spaces and said there was a loss of green space.
Members of the commission said they met with Goncalves to address his concerns and that their talks have been “positively received.” Goncalves issued a statement to the Globe Wednesday, in which he congratulated Urbanica and said their conditions to develop responded directly to public letters.
Letters of approval also came from the Providence chapter of the NAACP, which said the project offered opportunities for construction jobs to be given to women and people of color. Michael Sabitoni, the president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, which is comprised of 16 local trade unions, wrote in support of the project to create jobs. But he said in his letter that he favored the proposal from Eden Properties, saying it was “of the size and scope that is appropriate for this parcel.”
The Providence Preservation Society told the Commission that Urbanica’s design was most thoughtful, but suggested that the firm bring in more retail or gallery space to the ground level along South Main Street, where the artist studios are supposed to be located.
Urbanica proposed to purchase the plot for $2.04 million and did not request any state subsidy, according to Commission.
Urbanica also planned to include a ground-level covered passageway so the public could walk underneath to get from College Hill to the Pedestrian Bridge. Their proposal also included a multi-functional plaza, a café terrace to be used as active “shared” spaces with the public, and a large restaurant with an adjoining plaza for dining and outdoor performances, according to the plans.
Along South Water Street, the firm also proposed a riverwalk public market as a “cultural food emporium” designed to offer small, leasable spaces for local food artisans and small business entrepreneurs. At the intersection of James and South Water streets, there is a proposed coffee shop with other food and beverage programs, patio seating, and a digital screen for screenings or advertisements.
During the public comments period, Sharon Steele, the president of the Jewelry District Association, asked for the commission to begin both a parking and a traffic study of the proposed project.
Robert Davis, the chairman of the Commission, said this selection is only the “first step” in the redevelopment process of Parcel 2. He said during the meeting that there will be a preliminary and final review with two more opportunities for further public comment.
“This is the beginning stage of this process,” said Davis.
Correction: A previous version of this article said each of the proposed plans featured rental units. Parent + Diamond Real Estate Development proposed a plan of 120 condo units that would be owned instead of rented.