Council receives overview of East Providence Waterfront Commission activities

Chairman Fazioli, Director Merrill share wide-ranging insights

By Mike Rego
Posted 5/8/19

EAST PROVIDENCE — Chairman Bill Fazioli and Executive Director Pam Sherrill presented an update on the activities of the East Providence Waterfront Commission to the City Council at its May 7 …

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Council receives overview of East Providence Waterfront Commission activities

Chairman Fazioli, Director Merrill share wide-ranging insights

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Chairman Bill Fazioli and Executive Director Pam Sherrill presented an update on the activities of the East Providence Waterfront Commission to the City Council at its May 7 meeting, the first such reflection provided to the body since it was seated for the current term earlier this year.
Mr. Fazioli gave a broad overview of what has and is happening at the shoreline, which he noted stretches from Phillipsdale Landing to the Squatum Woods/Kettle Point area.
Past and present
On the landing specifically, Mr. Fazioli said the parcel’s “unique building structures” have afforded the owner to draw an “interesting array of tenants” to the locals, from fine artists to blacksmiths, to furniture makers to Rhode Island School of Design students seeking creatives spaces.
Mr. Fazioli said the commission has worked with the property owner to help with making zoning amendments that will be provided to the council for its consideration at its May 21 meeting. The chairman said, in part, the changes will make the zoning structure “smooter…streamline the process…make it less burdensome.”
In close proximity to the landing in Rumford, Mr. Fazioli said Colonial Mills, a nationally known carpet manufacturer, will soon relocation from Pawtucket into one of the renovated buildings on the former Fram campus off Pawtucket Avenue. He said expectations are for up to 100 jobs moving into the city with the transition.
Turning his attention to Bold Point area at the foot of Warren Avenue, Mr. Fazioli said an investor from Connecticut has committed to transforming the former used car dealership “Hot Rods” into a residential structure. The idea is to create smaller more affordable living spaces for a “younger audience.”
The developer is specifically interested in marketing the units to professionals in Providence due to its proximity to the capital city, the waterfront and the East Bay Bike Path.
At Kettle Point, Mr. Fazioli spotlighted the residential development, saying sales of the townhouses there have gone well and rentals of the three apartment buildings has been very strong with plans to build Nos. four and five already in the works. He noted, despite previous concerns, there has been “limited impact” on schools with the influx of new tenants.
Of the University Orthopedics structure, which anchors the Kettle Point development, Mr. Fazioli called it the “signature building” and the proprietors “a strong community partner” in the same vain as Eaton Aerospace, Aspen Aerogels, Tockwotton on the Waterfront and Ross Commons.
The concert venue at Bold Point begins its third season soon, Mr. Fazioli saying the commission and the city are working with the operators to extend their stay in East Providence beyond the end of the lease agreement at the conclusion of the season.
“We’re very excited about the future,” Mr. Fazioli said of the concert venue. “We hope they look to East Providence as their permanent home.”
Future
An offshoot of the concert venue is occurring, he said, at the Chevron property off Veterans Memorial Parkway where one of the considerations being discussed is building a hotel to lure concertgoers. The owners of the parcels, which Mr. Fazioli noted have both been remediated and permitted for developments, last year revised their initial plans from ones focused on residential to commercial. Mr. Fazioli said the adjacent South Key parcel, owned separately, is also on the market.
Another of the future projects discussed last week was the reconstruction of the Henderson Bridge, which will begin sometime this year.
Mr. Fazioli said the commission is giving its input to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, stressing the need to create in the design direct access to Waterfront Drive. The chairman said both private and public parcels, owned by the state, that are unable to be developed at the moment would become “very attractive” with the addition of specific Waterfront Drive on and off ramps.
Similarly, Mr. Fazioli talked about a plan that has been discussed intermittently over the years, that of constructing new ingress and egress points from Interstate 195, He said the proposal could still be viable because of some leftover federal funding and a willingness on the part of the state to potentially contribute. He added the commission has also approached developers to contribute to a public-private financing plan to possibly assist with the financing.
“We all know getting people in and out of East Providence is critical to the development of the waterfront,” Mr. Fazioli said.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Fazioli said the prospects for the waterfront district are bright because of the city’s strong fiscal footing. He reminded the audience of the commission’s mandate, which was and is to help “expedite” the permitting process, make it “flexible” and “responsive.”
“We’re not a rubber stamp,” he continued. “We hold developers to a very high standard,..We’re looking out for the best interest of the city.”
While noting the waterfront property is “mostly privately owned,” it’s incumbent on the commission “to work very closely with develop what propose is what in line what we want to see there.”
Mr. Fazioli gave much of the credit for the commission’s ongoing activity to Ms. Sherrill, highlighting her efforts and the very intimate relationship she fosters with the administration of Mayor Bob DaSilva and the Planning Department, currently directed by Diane Feather.
“Even though we’re a separate agency from the city we work very closely with the city staff,” Mr. Fazioli said. “And now with the mayor’s office, we certainly keep the lines of communication open as well with him.”
“There’s more work to be done,” Mr. Fazioli added. “We’re trying to make sure the opportunity before us is realized and that the city can take advantage of the waterfront.”
Other issues
Mr. Fazioli and Ms. Sherrill were questioned by both the public and the council about a few other matters, those of financing, affordable housing and commission’s transparency.
In response to a question from Ward 3 Councilor Nate Cahoon, Mr. Fazioli said no past or current development is being subsidized through tax credits, adding it’s beyond the commission’s scope and authority to do so in any case. He did note Tax Incremental Financing was utilized by the city to pay bonds for infrastructure improvements at Kettle Point, but said it is “not a tax break” and that they land is “fully assessed” and the taxes are being paid “in full.” Through the TIF, the city is using a portion of the taxes it receives to redress its bond obligations.
On affordable housing, Ms. Sherrill said after close examination, commission’s guidelines on the subject needed to changed to “be consistent” with the city’s zoning regulations. She noted the package of revisions to be presented to the council later this month will include those specific to affordable housing.
Mr. Fazioli interjected, one of the key revisions is to make sure the developments are “owner occupied” so it creates “equity” for the resident and not the landlord.
And on the topic of communication, all agreed last week attempts to better inform the public in general about the activities of the commission should be undertaken.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.