'It's not 300-ft buildings, but we can get pretty tall.'
COURTESY CITY OF PROVIDENCE
ZONED IN: A rendering of the potential for the city's so-called Knowledge District. A recently approved zoning plan makes it easier to build larger institutional, research buildings.
Providence’s former Jewelry District was physically reconnected to downtown last year when work crews demolished the old Interstate 195 highway overpass, but on city maps it remained isolated in zoning rules from another generation.
That has changed under a recently approved downtown rezoning plan that ties the former highway lands back into the rest of the city and makes it easier to build new labs and large institutional, research buildings in the fledgling Knowledge District.
“What this does is apply to the entire Knowledge District an overall land-use plan that will allow us to reknit in the parcels,” said Colin Kane, chairman of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, the state body in charge of the former highway lands. “This simplifies and enhances the development standards.”
Central to the new plan is the elimination of the D-2 district that used to extend from the old highway south across the rest of the Jewelry District and harkened to the area’s days as a manufacturing hub.
The old district did not allow for research centers or academic institutions without a waiver. Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, molecular biology and continuing-education buildings all required special permission to get around the old zoning.
Not so under the new zoning, which extends research and academic use to all of downtown, while encouraging an active mix of storefronts and entertainment at street level below offices, apartments, classrooms and hotel rooms on upper floors.
The new zoning also boosts the height buildings can be built by-right (without any special permission) in the Knowledge District and other parts of downtown.
In most of the Knowledge District, by-right building heights were raised from 90 to 100 feet in the new zoning, with part of the former I-195 lands closest to Interstate 95 allowed up to 200 feet.
Areas around Weybosset Street, Dyer Street and lower Pine Street where height restrictions had been below 100 feet are now 100 feet to 150 feet. And for all areas covered by the new zoning code there are mechanisms to build higher still.
Allowing taller buildings by-right in the former I-195 parcels was something Kane and the I-195 Commission pushed for after finding the money to hire a consultant to weigh in on the plan in the later stages of its development. Planners were working with a June 30 deadline, after which the 195 Commission would have to work under city zoning that was in place at the time.