Transit center seen as urban hub

Posted 10/27/11

Warwick could end up with something it doesn’t have – a center combining modes of transportation with retail, office and residential uses – under the master plan envisioned by City Planner …

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Transit center seen as urban hub


Warwick could end up with something it doesn’t have – a center combining modes of transportation with retail, office and residential uses – under the master plan envisioned by City Planner William DePasquale and to soon be considered by the City Council.

“What we’re doing is creating a new city center,” DePasquale said earlier this week.

On Tuesday he and other members of the planning department outlined the concept for the Economic Development Corporation. And in August of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Warwick’s proposal for a transit oriented development, or TOD, was awarded an $847,860 grant. It is to be matched with $211,965 from the state. About $100,000 will be used to advance the master plan with the balance going into infrastructure improvements.

DePasquale was encouraged by the Tuesday meeting with EDC that included representatives from the governor’s office and Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce President Lauren Slocum.

“We’re on the same page,” DePasquale said of the effort to coordinate different levels of state and local government, agencies like the chamber and property owners.

“This is really the way it should be done,” he said.

“I think it is exciting,” said Slocum. She liked the proposed mixed use for the area and the possibilities to “create opportunities.”

DePasquale is seeking an additional $100,000 Statewide Planning Challenge Grant to draft management tools to guide development.

This new center has actually been talked about for years. It is located between Green Airport to the east and Jefferson Boulevard to the west.

In contrast to prior concepts of a transportation hub, which this would be, this would create an environment that, because of its diversity and amenities, would become a destination and a place to live.

“What we’re not good at is separating people from their dollars,” DePasquale said of the existing setup where generally people fly into Warwick and maybe even spend a night in a hotel but leave the city to spend their money.

A combination of location and transportation services makes the district unique to Rhode Island, says DePasquale. It is centrally located and easily accessible to Routes 95 and 295. It has a rail connect with the Interlink and it is the site of the state’s major airport.

When it comes to a transit oriented development, DePasquale sees incorporating pedestrian traffic and bicycles. A goal of the project, as described in a scope of work prepared last month, is to integrate the Interlink connecting the airport and Amtrak with mixed-income residential, office, hotel, retail and other uses. An objective is to “encourage and attract complimentary public and private investment” that is “supportive of livability and walkability at major transportation facilities.”

DePasquale sees the center as a “gateway for the region” and a destination where people would want to come, rather than just pass through on their way to someplace else. The core to this center, which is about 35 acres on both sides of the Interlink skywalk, is where attention is being focused.

It is within this core that planners look to create an environment that will set the tone for the adjoining areas. As the effort is to mix forms of transportation with greater emphasis on pedestrian traffic, DePasquale and senior planner Dan Geagan walked the streets.

Given the level of vehicular traffic and layout, they didn’t feel safe. To address that, DePasquale is looking at reducing the width of some roadways, making them one-ways, and widening sidewalks, enabling existing and future businesses outside activity such as café tables.

“You have to be able to walk the core without feeling danger,” he said.

Nor does the plan mean current businesses that don’t fit the long-term vision would be forced out.

“This is not about kicking the existing businesses out. We can do both and build the framework for future development,” he said.

The potential for development around the airport, especially in that corridor between the airport and the railroad, was recognized years ago and led to rezoning of the area and the creation of the Warwick Station Redevelopment Agency. The agency signed a contract with the Bullfinch Companies of Needham, Mass., to amass land within the district and market it to developers.

“We tried the master development concept and it wasn’t successful,” DePasquale said of the experience. Bullfinch didn’t buy any properties and ironically redevelopment outside the district was more active than in it. Joseph Piscopio bought the former Malleable Iron Works property transforming it into the Hilton Gardens Inn and the Iron Works Tavern. Further south, Michael D’Ambra of D’Ambra Construction developed plans for an office development offering 500,000 square feet of space, retail outlets and a hotel tied into the Interlink. D’Ambra has gained city approval of the project and when last contacted, plans to move ahead when he has lined up tenants. The asphalt plant on the property is to be relocated to Johnston.

As D’Ambra is prepared to benefit when economic times improve, by adopting a master plan and putting the infrastructure in place now, “the city is setting the table so when this economy changes we’ll be ready. We want it in place so we’ll be the first to capitalize on the opportunity.”

DePasquale said with the rail connection, Warwick with its competitive housing costs compared to Boston and “some of the best waterfront in the area” make it an attractive city to live. In addition to being a bedroom community, he sees this new center and the jobs it would offer as reason for young people to stay here.

He doesn’t see the new center city as competing with Providence, but rather “complementing it.”

As proposed in the master plan, district zoning would be designed to give developers a clear picture of what they can do, so as to streamline projects and build a “holistic work/live environment.” DePasquale drew a parallel to the village zoning the council recently approved for Apponaug where parking requirements have been relaxed and multiple uses, such as retail, office and residential are permitted under one roof.

Under the master plan phase of work to be done with the TOD grant, the city would draft standards to encourage “well-scaled, pedestrian-friendly streets with active ground-floor uses, wide sidewalks, signage, landscaping and other appropriate streetscape furnishings.”

Infrastructure changes would include the conceptual and final design of drawings for improvements, study of proposed one-way streets in the district, parking plans, lighting and roadway changes resulting from airport developments.

The council will consider the Warwick Station Development District Master Plan in December. The council will also look at some minor changes in the existing Intermodal zoning and the elimination of the Warwick Station Redevelopment Agency.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • DanMurphy

    A word to the wise...when you have an urban center as a major part of a suburban city, the city's days as suburban are numbered.

    Friday, October 28, 2011 Report this

  • patientman

    DePasquale doesn't think Warwick is good at separating people from their money? I guess he doesn't consider taxpayers people. The mayor has gone on record already saying he's going to raise taxes the maximum. I'll be shocked if the mayor and council don't raise the car tax rate. Yes, the city may not set the car value, but they do set the rate. So if the state says no to going above 4.25% on property tax, the mayor will get our money with the cart tax.

    That said, I like the project. I usually go out in EG. Hopefully I'll have a nice place to go in Warwick.

    Friday, October 28, 2011 Report this