Providence Business News: Apartments sprout in the city

By Mary MacDonald |

For all the attention on how downtown office buildings are being converted to apartments, or the potential addition of a residential skyscraper, the most significant apartment creation in Providence is happening in traditional neighborhoods.

Providence has 2,300 dwelling units in the pipeline, either in preapplication, under review or under construction, according to Robert Azar, the city's deputy director of planning and zoning. Fewer than half of these units are downtown, he said.

Neighborhoods are diverse as Federal Hill, the East Side, Elmwood and Smith Hill have significant apartment projects under city review.

The City Plan Commission - which reviews significant development outside downtown - this month considered four new apartment buildings.

In most cases, Azar said, the new building proposals do not need any modification of zoning requirements. And many are located on commercial corridors within neighborhoods that were intended to attract more density.

Over the past five years, interest in Providence has soared among young professionals who want to live near their jobs. This, combined with strong demand for residential units in Providence, is driving the construction interest, said planning officials.

Unlike most downtown projects, the neighborhood buildings will not necessarily qualify for a standard city tax-stabilization agreement. The neighborhood TSA is aimed at projects that top out at $3 million.

“My impression, in talking to developers, is they see there is a demand for housing,” Azar said. “They're building based on what they perceive the market to be. A lot of what they're building is smaller units, studios, and one-bedrooms.”

Five years ago, the city changed its zoning to attract more density to areas along commercial centers. The requirement for parking was reduced.

Architect Christine West, chairwoman of the City Plan Commission, sees the uptick in development interest in apartment construction as a direct result of the zoning.

One of the most significant changes prioritized density, relieving pressure on developers to limit the number of apartments per building, which had results in buildings with larger, more-expensive units.

And the absence of ore parking hasn't had much pushback, she said.

“It is basically what we would call a market-based approach,” West said. “these are areas with access to a bus line, or a walkable neighborhood.”

For affected neighborhoods, new building are mostly seen as a welcome development. But the details matter.

Kari Lang, director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, said the neighbors in the Broadway and Armory districts are concerned about context, scale, height and quality of building design. And increasingly, about the diversity and affordability of the units.

“There is plenty of room for infill,” she said. “But we want the infill to be sensitive.”

Courtesy of Providence Business News

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