Wickenden Street, #249–265

also known as Gregory’s Optical, Hairspray Salon, Z Nail and Spa

Two buildings on a prominent corner of Wickenden Street face demolition in favor of a five-story 62 unit apartment building

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

In May of 2023, Fox Point Capital proposed a five-story mixed-use building with basement parking spaces on the southeast corner of Wickenden and Brook Streets. The two buildings were constructed sometime between 1985 and 1989 according to our research (see History). The proposal included a design waiver request and a dimensional variance for 65 feet in a 50-feet, four-story zone. The two lots would be reconfigured as part of the plan. The building would house 62 apartments, 3 commercial spaces, and 20 parking spots in a basement garage.

It was first presented to the City Plan Commission (CPC) on April 18. Community concerns were shared almost immediately, centering around the out-of-scale massing and its lack of design sensitivity for its neighbors. The precedent this building would set for the future development of Wickenden Street was and continues to be concerning. A few residents made a parallel with the redevelopments around the Thayer Street commercial district in the past ten years, and we must say we agree.

While both of these buildings were constructed in the mid-to-late 1980s and therefore were not listed as non-contributing in the College Hill National Register District, they do lie within the bounds. Still, that did not require that their construction plans go before the Historic District Committee (HDC) for review.

The Preservation Society raised alarms and attended hearings in May, June, and August. From a statement on their website:

PPS does not oppose the demolition of those two buildings nor the construction of housing units on Wickenden Street. However, PPS does oppose the scale, massing, and design of the building, which does not remotely suit the character or architectural fabric of this unique and well-loved street. We also oppose the construction of market-rate units, which will not alleviate the housing crisis in Providence, but rather further aggravate rising rental costs.”1

The arguments for better design are one angle, but the affordability of housing under development is another potentially stronger case. Eleven of the units in this building are going to be under 305 square feet. There is a 270 sf unit that is one long galley kitchen with room for a bedroom and loveseat. That’s a 27’ by 10’ space! Another is a mere 215 sf. Still more are between 395 and 510 sf. And without any requirements to meet affordability standards, you can bet these tiny apartments will not be below inflated market prices.

A full meeting of neighbors was present at the August 15, 2023 City Plan Commission hearing. Neighbors testified in overwhelming opposition to the plans, even after adjustments had been made in response to comments from previous committee meetings. Fox Point Neighborhood Association President Lily Bogosian’s comments summed up neighbors concerns:

“Wickenden Street [has a] unique neighborhood character […] This complex is the antithesis of everything that represents Wickenden Street.”2

Despite the opposition, CPC claims it can not say no to a developer just because they do not like the project. They can object on the grounds of zoning requirements, but not much else — a stance we see as a giving in too quickly to what developers want to build cheaply and for maximum profit.

The approval was contingent on developers making design adjustments to the landscaping, drainage management, parking for deliveries, signage, and an adjustment to the fifth floor at the corner of Wickenden and Brook Streets, as it appears as a sixth floor.

Could this be the end of Wickenden Street as we know it? Will more proposals for demolitions be coming, and will Wickenden start to look more and more like Thayer Street?

Current Events

Since approval, we expect construction fencing to go up around the property. There has been no shared timeline for the start of the construction process, but we would not be surprised if it does not start before winter to begin foundation preparation. Then again, depending on financing, this could be one of those projects that starts with demolition but never actually constructs a new building.

History

The location originally contained two properties in a 1920 map; 247–251 was a three story building with a brick first floor; 257-261 was a three and a half story structure. Around 1933, the house on the corner of Brook and Wickenden was razed and an automobile service station was located here until about 1970. The land seemed vacant until 1985, when address matches reappear for two new buildings. Aerial maps are difficult to read but largely confirm these events.

There is no formal history. The RIHPHC did not survey this area in its reports. A portion of Fox Point is documented as part of the southern edge of the College Hill National Register district, but that survey was completed in 1970, around the time that this corner was vacant.

Review our Sources

Maps and Sources

Looking for business at the addresses of 247, 249, 251, 253, 255, 257, 259, and 261 Wickenden Street. Numbers 247, 253, 255, and 259 never produced a match.

In the News

Providence City Plan Commission to consider unpopular Fox Point development

by Olivia Ebertz
*The Public’s Radio** | August 14, 2023 (abridged)

Wickenden Street, a commercial area with the kind of cute coffee shops, restaurants and shops you’d expect of a college town, could soon get a big new building. The City Plan Commission is expected to vote Tuesday, Aug. 15, on whether to give crucial, first round approvals to a proposed five-story mixed-use building at the corner of Brook and Wickenden Streets.

The project is unpopular with local residents. During a walk through the neighborhood on Aug. 9, 17 of the 19 people The Public’s Radio spoke to were opposed to the building. Outside Coffee Exchange sat a group of five or six men. Some of them have been coming to the area from other cities for nearly four decades to meet up and chew the fat.

“We talk sports,” Chuck Cudworth says. “Broads, weather, music,” another man adds.

In part, it’s the vibe of the neighborhood that keeps them coming.

“What we’ve liked about the neighborhood is it’s been kind of homegrown. It’s individual businesses. It’s not like large corporate businesses,” Cudworth said.

Janet is also part of the group and is one of many people who are concerned the proposed building would bring a different kind of commercialism to the area.

“We wouldn’t want the street to become like Thayer Street, where they took away all the little organically grown businesses and just put these chain-y kinds of things up there,” she said.

What’s there right now are two two-story buildings. One is a long, dark blue building home to a few shops. The other is a brick house structure that contains some offices. The developer plans to knock them down and build a five-story mixed-use residential building with 62 apartments and three commercial retail spaces.

It would offer much-needed housing in an expensive neighborhood. So why are people so opposed? […]

“The proposal is definitely out of scale for the street,” he said. “It’s a six-story proposal. They claim it’s five, but if you look at the renderings and count the floors, there’s a slope, and the highest point on the corner is six stories,” he said.

Scorziello says he is all for development – just not at this level.

“I think that if they made it a four-story building and kept it within scale, that would be fine. And less people would be as opposed to it,” he said.

Most of the buildings on Wickenden Street are two stories. The area is zoned for four stories, but there are exceptions to that rule. That’s according to the Deputy Director for the Department of Planning and Development, Robert Azar.

“The city says: we find development and commercial areas to be desirable if it has ground-floor commercial and residential above. And we like it so much that we’re going to offer you additional height if you do this,” Azar said.

As long as the building fits with the city’s zoning rules and comprehensive plan, he says, it should be good to go.

“The commissioners cannot vote to deny a project simply because they don’t like it,” he added.

A new comprehensive plan, and along with it, new zoning rules, are up for debate this year.

As it stands, the City Plan Commission has three options before them with this building. Either they approve the plan as it is written, deny it, or approve it with conditions like one less story. That last option would likely appeal to some of the detractors.

There’s another thorn in the side of people who are opposed to the building – one that would not go away with fewer stories. Dustin Dezube, building’s developer and landlord, already has a somewhat contentious relationship with tenants in the city. After the Providence Journal printed two articles about poor conditions in buildings owned and co-owned by Dezube, some of his renters formed a tenants’ union.

Dezube didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, either by phone, email, text or when The Public’s Radio visited his office.

Dezube’s building is going to be nearly six stories, and some of the units are under 300 square feet. To put that into perspective, that’s an apartment that’s just a little bigger than a one-car garage.

But despite the apprehension about this building, Providence is in desperate need of housing, and Fox Point is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city for renters. It’s not clear how the proposed building might affect rent prices, especially without affordable housing requirements. But so far, locals aren’t convinced it’ll benefit the community. The Public’s Radio didn’t find any strong supporters among the 25 people it talked to for this story. Of the 31 public comments submitted to the City Plan Commission so far, only 4 are in favor of it.

Captured 18 September 2023 from https://thepublicsradio.org/article/providence-city-plan-commission-to-consider-unpopular-fox-point-development

  1. Captured 18 September 2023 from https://ppsri.org/advocacy/current-advocacy/269-wickenden/ 

  2. “Fox Point Residents Oppose Project, Councilor Refuses to Take Stand & Takes Thousands From Developer.” GoLocal Providence,16 August 2023. Captured 18 September 2023 from https://www.golocalprov.com/news/Fox-Point-Residents-Oppose-Project-Councilor-Refuses-to-Take-Stand-Takes