Monday, August 31, 2009

Conley abandoning condo plan in PVD

From the Providence Business News - August 31, 2009
Conley abandoning waterfront hotel and condo plan
By Chris Barrett
PBN Staff Writer

The owner of Providence Piers has “informally” placed the waterfront property on the market, he told Providence Business News last week.

Patrick Conley had proposed a hotel and condominium complex for the property on Allens Avenue, in the middle of an industrial area. The plan had been met with stiff opposition from surrounding businesses, which feared that the development and its new residents would push them out of the area. The city also has been slow to rezone the industrial corridor as mixed use, a step necessary for Conley’s project to proceed.

Saying the opposition became too much, Conley said he has approached the city about it buying the property, has spoken with a physician group about building a medical office building and has approached a short-sea shipping company.

“I think that maybe in the hands of someone else the zoning would move,” Conley said. “I think the zoning is held up in part because of maybe some animus against me.”

After Conley proposed his project, a group of businesses formed the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance to oppose the city’s move to rezone the area. Led by Promet Marine Service, the group said that condo residents and hotel guests would object to the nearby heavy industry and ultimately force out industry businesses. With the industry, the association said, would go good-paying jobs and an economic base for the city.

“There’s a reason why there’s something called zoning,” Promet Marine Service co-owner Joel Cohen said. “Zoning is not to have a condominium and an asphalt plant and a hotel and a shipyard. It’s to have [similar] businesses located within a zone that tolerates that kind of use.”

Cohen said the association saw the potential sale of the property as a positive step, but that it would fight any effort by a new owner to develop a similar project like the one proposed by Conley.

“I think it’s premature to call [the proposed sale] a win,” Cohen said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction, a small step in the right direction.”

Cohen added the alliance is also studying purchasing the land itself.

Conley declined to name his asking price, other than to say he has spent $7 million planning the project and he would like to recoup at least that.

Any project is also complicated by environmental contamination. The R.I. Department of Environmental Management has refused to order the previous property owner to clean up the parcel, much to Conley’s dismay.

“I’m already 71 years old,” he said. “I can’t wait until I’m 90 for it to be redeveloped.”

Conley also rejected implications that he always dreamt of building high-end condos. He said he included that piece at the urging of city officials, who are undertaking a review of the city’s comprehensive plan.

The minutes from a July 16 meeting of the Providence Redevelopment Agency suggest the city may have interest in purchasing the property.

“An analysis of the property and its value is ongoing and dependent upon the outcome of the analysis, the property acquisition may be included in the proposed redevelopment plan for Allens Avenue,” the minutes read.

City Director of Planning Thom Deller did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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