PROVIDENCE — Neighbors and business owners on Wickenden Street are speaking out against a proposed five-story apartment building with 62 residential units and little parking, arguing that the plans do not fit the area’s “quaint and historic” character, and that the neighborhood does not have the infrastructure to take on more residents.
“We’re not anti-development. We’re not trying to protect what is currently there, which we agree needs to be redeveloped,” said Lily Bogosian, the interim president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association. “But this project... is not a project for Wickenden.”
Fox Point Capital LLC, a subsidiary of a company better known as Providence Living and owned by Dustin Dezube, plans to knock down two buildings — currently located at 251 and 269 Wickenden — and first submitted plans for the project in April.
The building, if it’s approved by the city planning commission on Tuesday, will be one of the tallest on the street that is peppered with historic properties and quaint coffee shops, restaurants, and antique stores. The area’s most vocal neighbors, which are largely active members of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association and the Wickenden Area Merchants Association, are planning to submit petitions against the project and to speak out at the meeting.
Neighbors say a project of this size does not fit the “character” of the neighborhood that they describe as “low-density.” The five-story apartment complex proposal, which will require a discretionary dimensional adjustment (the property is zoned for four stories), is “too high” and will “obstruct the views” of the street.
Dezube said he “has heard the feedback,” and will be presenting changes to his proposal on Tuesday, which were exclusively shared with The Boston Globe. He is lowering the roof height by “three feet” and what he described as a “large mass” previously proposed has been altered so it appears as if the building is “three separate buildings” with recessed connectors.
“Neighbors were concerned about the massing, the height. Those are some of the things we’ve been able to address,” said Dezube. “It reads less massive... I personally prefer this design more.”
The majority of the specifications, such as the number of units, will largely remain the same, he said. But told the Globe it was “still really early” in the design process.
The associations also argue that there’s “too many” construction projects underway, with an inadequate amount of parking.
The Fox Point neighborhood — which includes Wickenden Street, the former I-195 land, and parts of Brown University’s campus — has more than 1,400 residential units that are currently being constructed and were recently approved for construction. That includes Brown’s 360 dorm rooms on Brook Street that will open this fall.
“For a neighborhood that’s only about a half-mile large, we don’t have the infrastructure to support that many residents,” said Bogosian. She said she did not want to get “hung up on parking,” but pointed to the lack of parking spaces for residents at most of these projects, including this new proposal. “With the amount of units we currently have coming online soon, something has got to give.”
Dezube previously said he plans to create 20 internal parking spots in the cellar. A later phase of the development process will include 12 bicycle spaces. Providing parking is not required for this site under the city’s zoning rules, but Bogosian said that because of the lack of public transportation, having a car in Providence is “a necessity.”
“When I lived in Boston, I took a bus to the train, and then took the red line into the financial district. I enjoyed it, and wish the city would look into investing in infrastructure to boost public transportation here,” said Bogosian.
While having more permanent residents live in the area could provide local businesses a boost, owners told the Globe that parking is already a challenge for their customers.
“If people have to circle the block three or four times to find a place to park, then they leave and find another place to go,” said Vincent Scorziello, who owns Campus Fine Wines.
Charlie Fishbien, who owns the Coffee Exchange, said he receives four to five calls per year from college students and their parents, asking if they can rent a parking space at the coffee shop. But he doesn’t own the lot himself — he rents spaces from the neighboring church.
“In a perfect world, we would be biking and walking everywhere, but that’s not a reality here right now,” said Fishbien. “How do we expect more than 40 people that could move in [to the 269 Wickenden St. project] to not have a car? We can’t.”
Dezube said Wickenden Street is “incredibly walkable,” and through his own internal research, said about one-third of the prospective tenants will not have a car. “It’s interesting that some people are saying they want more parking. I’m hearing from folks that we should eliminate parking altogether,” he said.
Critiques of the proposal related to density, the height of the building, and lack of parking are examples of “NIMBY-ism,” or “not in my backyard” sentiments, some critics of the area’s advocates say.
“The hysteria,” Providence resident Liza Birch wrote on X, previously known as Twitter. “More housing is necessary.”
The development comes as Rhode Island is in the middle of a housing crisis, and the state faces a shortage of more than 24,000 rental units for extremely low-income households. But L Villegas, who recently purchased Four Buds Floral Studio about a month ago and transformed it into a co-op, said when they heard about the proposal, they first asked if it was affordable housing.
“New units sound great,” said Villegas. “But if no one around here can afford them, what good is this?”
Of the 62 rental units, Dezube’s plans include a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments. Dezube said the apartments will be priced “at market.”
A poster by the neighborhood association began circulating around Wickenden and social media that categorized the project as a “massive high rise” that does “not reflect our ‘hood.”
“Don’t let Wickenden Street become Thayer [Street]!!!!” the poster reads. Thayer Street, which Bogosian later explained, used to be “more like Wickenden” with locally-owned businesses, but has been transformed in the last two decades, now featuring national chain stores and restaurants like Shake Shack and Urban Outfitters. The five-story apartment complex will have “no trees, no sunlight, no side yards, no backyard,” the poster also reads.
“People call me and my neighbors NIMBYs,” said Bogosian. “I’ve told them, ‘Own it.’ We care about what’s going on in our backyard.”
The brick building at 251 Wickenden is home to offices while Providence Living has its headquarters based at 269 Wickenden, along with a massage parlor, nail salon, and Gregory’s Optical, which opened in 1989. Michael Sirota, the owner of Gregory’s, said the business is currently renovating a new building on Hope Street to move into “in about three months.” The massage parlor and Providence Living will relocate to downtown.
Dezube also said he planned on attracting “Wickenden-appropriate” local businesses into the three proposed commercial spaces, such as Bagel Gourmet (which was displaced in 2021 when Brown demolished shopping plaza on Brook Street to make way for new dorms).
“I think whenever a new building goes up, there’s going to be some critic of it — from its form and its density,” said Dezube. “All I can say is, we’re listening and we’re trying to be responsive.”
But some long-time business owners remain skeptical.
“This used to be a quiet, ethnic neighborhood,” said Steve Kotler, who opened his shop Round Again Records in 1979. It’s directly across the street from the project’s proposed site.
While speaking to a Globe reporter inside his shop Monday, he name-dropped former businesses that once existed on the street, such as Manny Almeida’s Ringside Lounge, which opened in 1964 and became a social mecca for the Cape Verdean community that once predominantly lived there.
“We used to have these quirky, lively shops. But, like everything, it’s changed,” said Kotler. “I just don’t think the changes are for the better.”