R.I. College officials pledge cooperation on parking expansion

R.I. College officials pledge cooperation on parking expansion

Neighbors worried about the future

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Officials from Rhode Island College last week put a temporary halt to plans for construction of another parking lot, and are pledging to work with local leaders and residents as expansion work starts back up this week.

Neighbors of the college remain skeptical about continued expansion at the college, saying they have “grave concerns” about the school’s ongoing plans. They told the North Providence Town Council last week that their quality of life is already suffering.

Kristy dosReis, associate director of communications for the office of the president at RIC, told The Breeze last Friday that the college “had put a temporary halt on enhancements to the parking lot” and were planning a meeting with interested parties.

Going forward, said dosReis, RIC officials will continue to keep neighbors and community leaders informed on all “necessary modernizations and upgrades to our campus.”

A news release from the Rhode Island Senate last Saturday afternoon indicated that the meeting dosReis mentioned had happened that morning. It stated that elected officials came to an agreement with the president of RIC on the parking lot expansion at the east edge of campus.

The meeting was convened to address concerns expressed by neighbors of the college. It was attended by state Sen. Frank Ciccone, Providence City Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, North Providence Town Council President Dino Autiello, North Providence Town Councilor Steven DiLorenzo, and Rhode Island College President Frank Sánchez.

Ciccone, in a news release last week, highlighted concerns of residents in calling for a halt to the latest expansion.

As part of the agreement reached last Saturday, RIC officials pledged to modify plans to add increased fencing and shrubbery in the buffer zone between the parking lot and abutting North Providence neighborhood. Construction was to resume on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.

Sánchez is now promising an open and transparent process that includes community involvement moving forward. Rhode Island College also agreed to keep Sheffield Avenue sealed off to traffic from the school, addressing a key concern from residents.

Sánchez has pledged to build a stronger relationship with the college’s neighbors. Ciccone and Ryan are in the process of scheduling a community meeting during which Sánchez will brief neighbors and listen to their concerns about the college’s short-term and long-term construction projects.

During a North Providence Town Council meeting last Tuesday, Autiello assured residents that the council is “on your side” in the battle with RIC. Chief of Staff Dick Fossa said Mayor Charles Lombardi is also backing the neighbors.

Autiello and the council voted for a resolution mirroring an earlier resolution from the Providence City Council calling on the school to halt plans for the expansion, which will result in148 parking spots instead of 37 spots off Sheffield Avenue, until after the college submits a new master plan. Autiello says he also wants the college to keep gates on Sheffield Avenue, Farnum Avenue, and Ferncrest Boulevard closed.

Sheffield Avenue resident Regina Bell, a key organizer of the opposition effort, thanked the council for backing residents’ concerns, saying she and others expected to have to ask the council for its support.

Bell said a petition against the opening of the gates gained some 92 signatures from residents in two days. She said she was confident that number would have doubled if it wasn’t the middle of summer.

Other residents expressed concerns about safety for pedestrians if the gates are allowed to be opened, increased vandalism, water runoff, and environmental concerns from more development, including an increase in rats locally. They said there are already plenty of existing issues with the school, including excessive noise and traffic.

Farnum Avenue resident Cindy Quartino said the possibility of opening gates to side streets “brings a lot of stress” to neighborhood residents. Quartino said she’s less trusting of RIC because of past incidents, including a previous project to turn a one-way campus street into a two-way street. Some 30 “beautiful trees” were taken down at the start of that project, only to have the school stop work a short time later when officials realized there wasn’t enough space for a two-way road, she said.

Council members said they were less than impressed with the school after hearing the story of the felled trees. Councilor Manny Giusti said he couldn’t believe the school tore down the trees without knowing there was enough land for the road.

“What the hell kind of planning is that?” he could be heard telling Councilor Alice Brady on the dais. “They should have known better,” Brady replied.

Farnum Avenue resident Heather Dolan said water runoff is becoming more of a concern all the time in this neighborhood. Six streets dead-end at Rhode Island College, she said, and all run downhill from Smith Street. Though water is currently absorbed in tree roots and grass, upsetting the natural flow further could send the water into basements, she said. Dolan said she’s “dubious” that RIC officials are concerned about the neighborhood.

“We’re all very, very nervous about this,” she said.