I-195 commission focuses on the details

Posted 3/22/12

EAST GREENWICH - Faced with the seemingly daunting task of maximizing land use in the heart of Providence for the next generation, the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission finds itself immersed in details concerning every inch of the 40-plus acres of the old highway’s footprint.

The process could take years, according to John Kelly, vice chairperson of the commission. Kelly spoke before the Rhode Island Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council at the New England Institute of Technology on Wednesday, March 21.

Charged with developing the properties, the redevelopment commission plans to buy the I-195 land from the R.I. Department of Transportation.

Before the purchase is final, Kelly said the commission intends to know all of the potential problems associated with each parcel on highway land. “We want to be a knowing buyer,” he said.

The commission has yet to conduct environmental assessments and title searches.

“How does this work from a development standpoint and how do we maximize the return to the state,” Kelly said, explaining the commission’s thought process.

He said the commission recently approved turning Transit Street, near South Water Street, into a walkway to increase the development potential of parcels in the area. Nearby Dollar Street would be converted from a one-way to a two-way street to better accommodate traffic.

The commission has also made big changes to the parcels devoted as parks. “We are not anti-parks,” Kelly said. Federal Highway Administration requirements call for 14.5 acres of the development to be dedicated as greenspace.

The plan initially provided over 17 acres, but small changes were made. A 0.6 acre space off Traverse Street will be available for development as will portions of a 5.9 acre parcel at Eddy and Peck streets.

Areas near the Knowledge District have a different set of problems, according to the commission, including narrow streets and unfavorable utility locations.

“We have to plan for the long-term future of this site,” Kelly said. “If we don’t, we’re going to miss out on a golden opportunity.”

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