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Opposition to East Side Hotel Plan

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Hotel proposal gets hostile reception

Some East Side residents fear the plan -- which calls for the demolition of seven multifamily houses -- would sully the character of the neighborhood.

BY MICHAEL CORKERY

Journal Staff Writer | Friday, August 13, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- In the heart of College Hill, next to the Brown University campus and Wheeler School, businessman Ed Bishop wants to knock down seven houses he owns along Brook Street and build an upscale inn with underground parking.

Bishop says this development would transform the area, raising the caliber of nearby Thayer Street, which he says has been taken over by cheap food joints, bars and loitering teens.

Many neighbors fear Bishop's plan would have the opposite effect, creating more traffic, sullying the character of nearby homes, and displacing Brown students who live in the apartments slated for demolition.

It's the latest battle in the age-old struggle among residents, schools and businesses on the city's East Side.

Bishop says he would model his hotel after the Hanover Inn at Dartmouth College, creating a place where families of Brown students and other visitors to the campus would stay.

He has asked the City Council for a zoning change for the block along Brook Street between Meeting and Cushing streets, from a residential to a commercial zone. That would allow him to build the four-story inn.

Bishop owns seven multifamily houses on that block and rents them to about 50 college students.

Under his proposal, those houses would be demolished to make way for the 120-125 room hotel, that he's calling the Brook Street Inn.

On the first floor of the inn, there would be retail space and possibly a cafe. The guest rooms would be on the top floors. A parking garage for about 124 cars would be constructed beneath the building. Bishop estimated the cost would be $20 million to $25 million.

The City Plan Commission tabled Bishop's request for a zoning change last month in order to solicit neighborhood input. Such a change would also require a public hearing before the City Council.

Last night, the Planning Department held a meeting on the Brown campus, where Bishop presented his plans to residents. He found few supporters among the 50 to 60 people packing the room.

"This is not Hanover," said Antoinette Breed, an East Side resident. "This belongs downtown. It's what they are trying to accomplish downtown. We don't want this neighborhood to be a destination for everyone in this state or the surrounding states to come do their hot shopping and then return to the suburbs."

Breed and others asked where the service vehicles or the hotel staff would park. Bishop and the project architect, William Kite, said they were still studying those issues.

Others worried that displacing the 50 college students would force them to rent houses in other neighborhoods. They questioned why Bishop wanted to tear down these apartments instead of improving them.

"All this is a back-door expansion of the institutional zone," said Christopher Tompkins, a Hope Street resident. "The reality is it's just a Brown-sponsored project."

Bishop said Brown has no role in financing the project, an assertion confirmed by a university officials in the audience.

Last night's meeting was rife with rumors, heated exchanges and insults. At least two people stood up and scolded their neighbors for being uncivil.

The hotel proposal comes as Brown dramatically expands its nearby science facilities, amid strident neighborhood opposition. Meanwhile, many residents complain that Thayer Street has sunk to new lows; the closing of the College Hill Bookstore earlier this summer was a major setback to their vision of a civilized street.

Bishop said he promises to restore that quality of living with his Brook Street Inn.

"The people living in the $700,000 houses on Lloyd, Bowen and Keene streets, would agree with me that Thayer Street is no longer a community street," Bishop said in an interview.

In recent days, Bishop has been going door-to-door asking residents for support; he said the response has been "50-50."

Some opponents questioned in letters to city officials and in the East Side Monthly why Bishop submitted his proposal during the summer when many residents were away on vacation.

Wrote publisher Barry Fain in the East Side Monthly: "While many of you probably are on vacations or spending time down at those wonderful beach houses, your dedicated College Hill Neighborhood Association board members continue to battle issues of neighborhood concern.

"The problem is that institutions, developers and businesses have discovered that if you want to slip something past the neighborhood it's best to do it during the summer."

Bishop is considering another project on Brook Street. However, he did not go into detail last night about his idea to build a second parking garage a block from the hotel.

In an interview, Bishop talked about constructing the garage on an adjoining block, along Brook between Meeting Street and Euclid Avenue, where much of the property is owned by David Schwaery -- who also owns Squire's Hair Salon.

Bishop said that he has proposed leasing the land for the parking garage from Schwaery. Martin Temkin, Schwaery's lawyer, said yesterday that his client has talked to Bishop about the properties, but there is no agreement.

Bishop said that the garage could hold up to 340 cars. It would be used by Wheeler School, day visitors to Brown and shoppers on Thayer Street. It could require taking down an additional seven or eight buildings, he said.

Bishop has not yet submitted a formal proposal to the city for the garage. The idea is mentioned vaguely and described as "speculative only" in a packet that Bishop presented to the city Planning Department.

After last night's meeting, Bishop distanced himself from the garage idea, saying it was merely "a concept"

Thomas Deller, city director of planning and development, said his staff is analyzing Bishop's zoning change request for the Brook Street Inn. He said his staff could recommend granting the change, granting it with conditions or rejecting the request outright.

"We've started our analysis," Deller told the crowd last night. "We don't know what we are going to do at this point."

From The Providence Journal

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