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Downcity District Design Review Committee
Source: http://www.providenceri.com/government/planning/historic/drc1.html

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 loading.

 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 takes effect.

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 process.

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