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Woonasquatucket River group to hold last of three meetings gathering input from the public on developing the river corridor

BY KAREN A. DAVIS

Journal Staff Writer | September 30, 2004

EagleSquare.jpg

JOURNAL PHOTO / SANDOR BODO PROVIDENCE: A Shaw's supermarket anchors the complex of buildings at Eagle Square Plaza. Two bridges cross the Woonasquatucket River as it runs through the development.

PROVIDENCE -- Imagine an urban river that serves as the centerpiece of development, not only downtown, but in diverse neighborhoods.

Imagine a river corridor lined with parks, walking trails, playgrounds and other revitalizing development endorsed by residents.

The Woonasquatucket River could be such a place, if the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council has its way.

For more than a year, the council has been working with the state Department of Environmental Management, the city planning department and the ESS Group Inc. to look at current and future development along the river that flows through the Manton, Hartford, Olneyville Valley and Smith Hill neighborhoods into downtown.

On Monday, the agency, which developed a task force with representatives from government agencies and community groups, will hold the last of three public meetings to solicit ideas on how the river should be developed.

The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at the Nickerson Community Center, 133 Delaine St.

The purpose of the public sessions and task force, which are financed by a $50,000 federal Smart Growth Grant from the DEM, is to give residents an opportunity to "have a say in how and what happens along the river corridor," said Jenny Pereira, a spokeswoman for the watershed council.

After the meeting, the agency will present its recommendations to the city.

The protection-minded recommendations will touch upon such topics as building setbacks, parking lots, river access, vegetated buffers, drive-through establishments and density thresholds, Pereira said.

City officials have made comments or raised concerns about the feasibility of some of the ideas, which have included establishing overlay zones that would restrict certain types of development, or creating mandatory setbacks.

While city officials agree that some changes are needed in the zoning ordinance, along the river and citywide, deciding on those changes is "a balancing act," said Thomas Deller, director of the city's Department of Planning and Development.

In urban areas, city officials have noted, development is much closer to the river.

One idea raised by the task force called for a policy that would prohibit trash bins from being located next to the river, Deller said.

The problem is that in some cases, the only alternative would be for a trash bin to be placed in front of a building, near the street, Deller said.

City officials discovered that some people have liked the task force's recommendations and others have not.

"This is their plan and their process and we will listen to their ideas and review what they've done," Deller said.

Fred Pressley, of the state DEM, agreed that development will come to the riverfront "whether we want it to or not." The goal, he said, is to ensure that it is environmentally sensitive.

What the watershed council and its task force have set out to do is "make sure there's a vision [for development] and make sure that the regulations support that vision, rather than hinder it," Pressley said.

For example, he said, environmental groups have supported a recommendation that would prohibit a cluster of auto body shops to open along the river, to protect the water quality.

Pressley said a group representing auto shop owners has spoken against such a restriction.

ESS Group is a consultant that is developing the recommendations.

For a draft copy of task force recommendations, call the council at (401) 861-9046.

From The Providence Journal

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