Providence > Downcity
Downcity District Design Review Committee
PURPOSE. The Downcity District is an overlay zoning district designed
to direct development in the downtown, to protect its historic architectural
character, to encourage round-the-clock pedestrian activity, to
promote the arts and entertainment, and to support residential uses.
The District was established in the Providence Zoning Ordinance
(Chapter 1994-24, No. 365, 6/27/94).
BOUNDARIES. The Downcity District encompasses the area bounded
by Smith Street on the north, I-95 on the west, I-195 on the south,
and the Moshassuck and Providence Rivers on the east. The legal
district boundaries are shown on the Official Zoning Maps of the
city, for assessor's plats 4, 19, 20, 24, 25, and 26.
THE DRC. The Downcity District Design Review Committee (DRC) was
appointed by the Mayor to administer the Downcity regulations. The
DRC consists of 5 members and 2 alternates, and is authorized to
conduct design review; to grant waivers for certain non-conforming
uses and dimensions, and for demolition; and to grant special incentives
for development that fulfills the purposes of the district. DRC
approval is required before a building permit may be issued or work
begun. The DRC's decision is binding on an applicant, but may be
appealed. The DRC is located within and staffed by the Department
of Planning and Development.
GENERAL REQUIREMENTS. Section 502.2 of the ordinance describes
the regulations to be followed by all Downcity properties, governing
permitted general uses; retail frontages; sign types, dimensions
and materials; landscaping for surface parking lots; parking; and
A and B STREET REQUIREMENTS. Certain streets within the District
have been designated as "A Streets" to preserve their
high architectural quality and to promote a positive pedestrian
experience. Any property with frontage on an A Street must receive
DRC approval for all proposed exterior repairs, alterations, new
construction, moving of structures, site and streetscape improvements,
and demolition. (The DRC has exempted some minor projects from review;
check with staff.) The remaining streets, known as "B Streets,"
are more service oriented and therefore less regulated; on B Street
properties, DRC approval is only required for the massing, height,
and siting of new construction, and for demolition. Some historically
significant properties located on B Streets are specifically designated
in the ordinance as subject to A Street regulations. A and B Street
properties are designated on the Official Zoning Maps. A and B Street
regulations are described in Sections 502.3 (Existing Buildings),
502.4 (New Construction), and 502.5 (Demolition) of the ordinance.
CAPITAL CENTER EXEMPTION. The area known as Capital Center (bounded
by Smith Street, Exchange Terrace/West Exchange Street, I-95 and
the Moshassuck River) is a Special Development District designated
by city ordinance 2-361 through 365. All Downcity District properties
within Capital Center are exempt from DRC review until the Special
Development District expires. The Capital Center Commission has
design review authority in this area (30 Exchange Terrace, Providence,
RI 02903; telephone (401) 274-8200).
I-3 ZONE EXEMPTIONS. Any Downcity District property owned
by an educational institution located within the Downtown Educational
Institution floating zone (I-3) will be exempt from DRC review provided
the institution has filed a master plan with the City in conformance
with Sections 502.6 and 503 of the ordinance. Institutional master
plans must be approved by the City Plan Commission before this exemption
RETAIL FRONTAGES. Retail frontages have been designated on some
streets to maintain continuous storefronts in both existing buildings
and new construction enhancing the commercial character of downtown.
Historic buildings not originally designed with storefronts may
be exempted from the retail frontage regulations. Retail frontages
are shown on the Official Zoning Maps and regulations are found
in Sections 502.2 and 502.4 of the ordinance.
WAIVERS. The DRC may grant waivers to certain provisions of Section
502 of the ordinance, for the following projects: construction of
parking garages on A Streets or B Street retail frontages; non-conforming
signs; elimination of landscaping for parking lot streetwalls; interior
off-street loading on an A Street; non-conforming height, setback
or frontage line relationships for new construction on an A Street;
and demolition of any property in the district. All waivers are
issued in writing after a public hearing before the DRC. Any other
exceptions to the ordinance must be sought from the Zoning Board
of Review (190 Dyer Street, Providence, RI 02903; telephone (401)
421-7740, extension 376).
SPECIAL DEVELOPMENT INCENTIVES. The DRC may, in accordance with
Section 502.7 of the ordinance, grant a bonus of increased height
or dwelling unit density for a project which provides retail or
cultural and entertainment uses; or allow the transfer of development
rights (TDR) from a property listed on the National Register of
Historic Places to another property in the Downcity District. The
purpose of these incentives is to promote historic preservation,
first floor retail activity, pedestrian access and convenience,
the arts, and housing.
HOW PROJECTS ARE REVIEWED. Projects may be reviewed by the DRC
itself, or by its staff, depending on the scope of work. Review
criteria are found within Section 502 of the ordinance. An application
for Certificate of Design Approval or Waiver must be filed, along
with documentation (photographs, drawings, specifications, etc.)
to illustrate the proposed work and its impact on the property.
See DRC Information Sheet #2 for a complete description of the review
DRC Review: new construction, major alterations and additions,
streetscape improvements, moving of structures, waivers (including
demolition) and incentives.
Staff Review: repairs/replacements not in kind, minor alterations
and additions, site improvements.
All projects to be reviewed by the DRC are scheduled for a public
hearing within 30 days of receipt of a completed application;
filing deadlines are 14 days in advance for design review, and
21 days in advance for waivers. Staff can provide actual filing
and hearing dates. Staff reviews are done without a public hearing,
and can generally be completed within 15 days of receipt of a
completed application. All DRC decisions are issued in writing.
All projects to be reviewed by the DRC are scheduled for a public
hearing within 30 days of receipt of a completed application; filing
deadlines are 14 days in advance for design review, and 21 days
in advance for waivers. Staff can provide actual filing and hearing
dates. Staff reviews are done without a public hearing, and can
generally be completed within 15 days of receipt of a completed
application. All DRC decisions are issued in writing.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT THE DRC
400 Westminster Street -Providence, Rhode Island 02903-3215
Phone: (401) 351-4300 FAX (401) 351-9533 - TDD (401) 751-0203