What Providence’s Proposed Zoning Changes Would Mean for Your Neighborhood

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Proposed Future Land Use Map for Providence Credit: City of Providence Planning Department

The City of Providence’s Planning Department has released a new map showing proposed changes in growth and density in the city under its draft comprehensive plan. According to the city’s Planning Department, the proposed changes are meant to accommodate more people. Over the last Census period, the city’s population increased by 7%, and the city wants to add more housing to mitigate higher costs due to increased competition.

One of the primary changes the city is suggesting is to overhaul its rule that allows houses up to three stories that accommodate only one or two units to be built in certain areas and begin allowing the construction of homes up to three stories in height with three units in those areas instead.

The map is part of the city’s “Land Use Chapter” of its comprehensive plan, a plan that sets the tone for development in Providence for the decade to come. The Land Use Chapter of the plan forms the basic rules around what can be built where, called zoning laws. The proposed rules cover only new constructions and additions to existing structures. Many neighborhoods already contain larger buildings constructed generations ago that wouldn’t be allowed if they were proposed under existing rules today. In some cases, the proposed zoning rules would bring neighborhoods into conformance with what is already there. Additionally, the city anticipates allowing some buildings and uses on a case-by-case basis when a new project does not conform to proposed rules for certain neighborhoods.

This guide is meant to show changes primarily in residential uses and is not an exhaustive list of all zoning laws current and future. For more details on what the city is proposing, you can view its plans here and here.

The Planning Department and Mayor Brett Smiley’s administration note the plan was not created on a ward-by-ward or neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, and is meant to guide broader changes across the city. However, The Public’s Radio has created a guide to view which changes may be coming to your area. We are using the city’s official names for these neighborhoods, which may not always align with what people call the areas where they live.

South Elmwood

  • The city presently allows duplexes in the area of this neighborhood between the Amtrak rail tracks and Route 1. Under the new proposed rules, the city would begin allowing three-family homes up to three stories in height here
  • Single family home construction would still be allowed in the area adjacent to and surrounding Roger Williams Park
  • A small section surrounding Hathaway Street near the truck depot would be rezoned to begin allowing residential buildings up to four stories in height

Washington Park

  • The city is set to continue to allow only new single family residences in the small section of Washington Park that’s roughly adjacent to Roger Williams Park.
  • The city wants to begin allowing three-family homes up to three stories tall in the southern part of Washington Park, loosely between Broad Street and Narragansett Boulevard, where rules allowing only two-family and single family residences are currently in place
  • The city also plans to begin allowing three-family homes up to three stories in height on the streets adjacent to Columbia Park. Currently that area allows only single family homes
  • Broad Street is set to remain the main commercial/mixed use corridor for the neighborhood
  • The industrial area near the Port of Providence will remain industrial and no new residential dwellings will be allowed there

Upper and Lower South Providence

  • One section in the northwestern part of this neighborhood is set to become denser, with the city proposing allowing apartment buildings up to four stories, up from their current designation of three-family homes that are three stories tall
  • A large swath of Lower South Providence is set to stay zoned for three-family homes up to three stories tall
  • A small area just west of Prairie Avenue will remain zoned for single family homes
  • A small square radius near Eddy Street and Thurbers Avenue will be upzoned into a larger commercial and residential mixed-use area
  • The area immediately adjacent to the Port of Providence will remain industrial and no new residential dwellings will be allowed there
  • The area just west of the port will be zoned as mixed-use residential and business

Reservoir

  • The area southwest of Mashapaug Pond will stay zoned as single family
  • The area to the east of the Mashapaug Pond and south of Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School that currently allows duplexes will be rezoned to allow three-family residences up to three stories in height
  • The industrial and business area northwest of Mashapaug Pond now allows for residential buildings to be built. In those areas, new residential buildings would no longer be allowed, only buildings with industrial and business purposes would be permitted

Elmwood

  • Most of Elmwood is currently zoned for two family residences. By and large, the whole neighborhood, save for a quadrant in the southwest corner, is set to be rezoned into a medium density residential area, meaning apartment buildings of up to three stories and three units will begin being allowed
  • One small area several blocks south of Atlantic Avenue is set to remain zoned as single family
  • There are several patches of Elmwood that currently allow residences of up to four stories to be built, including the area near Elmwood’s southernmost border, by Sackett Street Park and the Elmwood Armory Area. Those areas are set to remain the same
  • The streets surrounding Rhode Island Energy, the DMV, and the RIPTA building will be designated for business and industrial use, meaning no new housing would be built there

West End

  • Most of the neighborhood currently allows construction of homes up to three stories and three units. That is expected to stay the same
  • Areas of high density south and west of Rock Spot rock gym and the Pearl Street lofts are set to expand to encompass additional streets.

Silver Lake

  • The big picture in Silver Lake is that not too much is set to change. Most of the neighborhood is currently zoned to allow three-family buildings up to three stories tall, and the city would like to keep those rules in place
  • There is a small wedge between Plainfield Street and Silver Lake Avenue that is set to stay zoned as single family

Hartford

  • The single family area adjacent to the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy is set to stay zoned for single family use
  • The city is also proposing keeping the single family areas to the east of the SuperFresh International Market grocery store and to the south of Route 6.
  • The city currently allows duplexes in much of the rest of Hartford and wants to begin allowing new buildings of up to three units and three stories
The city is proposing replacing all areas zoned as R-2 with R-3. Credit: City of Providence Planning Department

Olneyville

Not too much is set to change in Olneyville. The area several blocks east of Bob’s Skate Park that currently allows only two family homes is, like every other neighborhood in Providence with these rules, set to be upzoned to allow for three family buildings up to three stories tall. Some buildings in the area already fit that definition

Federal Hill

The primary change that could be coming to Federal Hill is slightly taller buildings. The city is proposing allowing new building developments up to four stories in height in nearly the entire neighborhood

Smith Hill

Currently, in most of Smith Hill, the city allows three-family residences up to three stories tall to be built. The primary change the city is suggesting is to begin allowing apartment buildings up to four stories in height in many of these areas

Valley

Valley will remain mostly zoned as it is, as the city currently allows buildings up to three stories tall with up to three units. The neighborhood also contains several patches of business/industrial zoning where the city will stop allowing the construction of new residential buildings

Mount Pleasant

The city plans to continue to allow the new construction of only single family residences in most of the northern part of this neighborhood throughout the next 10 years. In the southern part of this neighborhood, which is currently zoned for duplexes, the city plans to begin allowing three-family homes up to three stories in height

Manton

Much of Manton now allows single family homes. One small section in northern Manton at the border with North Providence would remain zoned as single family under this new map, but the neighborhood will lose its single family residential area situated to the west of Triggs Memorial Golf Course. The new regulations in that area would make it legal for new constructions to be up to three stories

Elmhurst

Throughout the next decade the city anticipates keeping its current rules that allow only single family homes to be built in most of the neighborhood, except for a small area around Academy Avenue, where the city expects to begin allowing new construction up to three stories tall with up to three units

Downtown

The city does not anticipate changing any of the zoning rules in downtown

The city is proposing adding some high density zones, designated as R-4, where it will allow apartment buildings up to 4 stories. Credit: City of Providence Planning Department

Wanskuck

  • Much of Wanskuck now allows duplexes. Those areas would be re-zoned to begin allowing the new construction of three-family homes up to three stories in height
  • The city will continue to allow apartment buildings up to four stories tall in several pockets of the neighborhood, which are mainly along the West River

Charles

  • The central and north section of Charles that borders North Providence would remain zoned for single family homes
  • The city is set to begin allowing three family homes up to three stories tall in the Northeast and Northwest sections of the neighborhood that currently allow duplexes
  • The center and southern part of Charles allows for three family homes up to three stories tall. That will remain the same

Mount Hope

  • The western part of Mount Hope is currently zoned for three-family homes up to three stories and is expected to stay that way
  • The eastern part of Mount Hope, between Camp and Hope Streets, is zoned for two family homes. That section, like every other R-2 zoning district in the city, is set to be upzoned to allow construction of new three family homes up to three stories tall

Hope/Summit

  • The section of the neighborhood directly to the north and east of Miriam Hospital currently allows buildings with two units that are up to three stories tall. Those areas will begin allowing the new construction of homes accommodating three families that are up to three stories tall
  • Most of the rest of Hope is expected to remain zoned for single family homes
Some areas of the city are to remain zoned largely for single family homes. Credit: City of Providence Planning Department

Blackstone

  • Blackstone is largely not set to change much over the next 10 years. The city currently allows mainly single family homes to be built across most of the neighborhood. Those rules are set to remain the same under these proposed zoning rules. However, some areas near Hope Street are currently zoned for two family homes, and those areas would begin allowing three family, three story homes to be built
  • Additionally, a section bordering the Wayland neighborhood that currently allows two-family homes would begin allowing three-family homes

College Hill

  • Sections of the north and south of this neighborhood that are currently zoned to allow single family homes are set to stay that way
  • A small area in northern College Hill between Benefit and Pratt Streets currently allows two-family homes and is set begin allowing three-family homes under these new rules

Fox Point

  • Most of Fox Point currently allows only two family homes to be built, although many three family and greater homes were built long ago. Those areas would now allow for the new construction of homes up to three stories with three units
  • The exception to the three-family rule would be Gano Street, which has been designated as a “growth corridor,” and will begin allowing buildings up to four stories

Wayland

The neighborhood is not slated for much change beyond increasing density along Gano Street. The city now allows three-family homes up to three stories tall to be built on that street and is proposing allowing apartment buildings up to four stories tall

GET INVOLVED: These proposed zoning changes must pass through the City Plan Commission and the City Council before they can go into effect. The city will also release additional chapters of its comprehensive plan at upcoming City Plan Commission meetings. The next City Plan Commission meeting will be April 16th at 4:45PM.

The city will be taking feedback from the public on these proposed changes at upcoming meetings:

South: April 23, 4-7:30pm at Knight Memorial Library, 275 Elmwood Avenue

West: April 24,4-7:30pm at Olneyville Library, 1 Olneyville Square

East: April 29, 4-7:30pm at Rochambeau Library, 708 Hope Street

North: May 2, 4-7:30pm at Wanskuck Library, 233 Veazie Street

Central: May 4, 10am-2pm at Providence Public Library, 150 Empire Street

Read a draft of the Comp Plan’s chapter on Land Use
Read a draft of the Comp Plan’s chapter on Sustainability
> See the slides from the last CPC meeting to review the Growth Strategy Map
More background materials and updates will continue to be posted by Planning

Olivia Ebertz comes to The Public’s Radio from WNYC, where she was a producer for Morning Edition. Prior to that, she spent two years reporting for KYUK in Bethel, Alaska, where she wrote a lot about how the warming climate is forcing local Indigenous communities to change their traditional lifeways.

Prior to her career as a journalist, Olivia worked in film. Her documentaries have screened at festivals worldwide.

Olivia likes to pursue stories inspired by questions from community members.

Ella habla español, lei parla italiano, и она говорит порусски.