On one side of the Providence River a fiery debate over the future of the waterfront along Allens Avenue has dragged on for years. On the other side, discussions over the waterfront’s future appear far more muted.
The official East Providence waterfront district encompasses more than 300 acres of land, most of it former industrial land bordering the Providence and Seekonk rivers. The city first adopted a long-range vision for the land in 2003, which calls primarily for a mix of commercial and real estate development along a new road to be built by the state, the very sort of developments many businesses on the other side of the river bitterly oppose.
The less raucous debate is the result, in part at least, of the East Providence waterfront containing far less industry than the Providence side. And the East Providence industry that does exist is geographically spread out, unlike Allens Avenue, where heavy industry is squeezed into a roughly 1 mile stretch. Business owners also say the city of East Providence has been more attuned to their needs than planners in the capital.
“It’s a totally different approach that East Providence has taken,” said Joel Cohen, who owns land on both sides of the river. “They’ve been supportive. They’ve been helpful. They’ve been non-threatening.”
Cohen and his brother, David, own Promet Marine Services Corp. along Allens Avenue in Providence and, on the other side of the river, an industrial warehouse and a commercial building.
East Providence City Planner Jeanne Boyle said officials took pains to involve existing property owners while drafting the 122-page plan that breaks the waterfront into sub-districts.
“It was a different situation,” she said comparing her city to Providence. “We had the buy-in of all the property owners, and we didn’t have the displacement.”
Boyle said most of the industry along the waterfront is long gone, except for two small industrial parks north of the Henderson Bridge. The plan calls for keeping one of those areas, along Dexter Road, for light-industrial facilities. The Phillipsdale area north of that would become a residential and commercial area, although plans for a project at the former Ocean State Steel complex are in legal limbo.
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