Neighbors, Preservationists Oppose Demolition of Aqua-Life Building and Emphasize Historic Character

As Fox Point neighbors may know, local developer and landlord Bahman Jalili appeared before the Providence City Plan Commission in late October to request approvals for a new development project on Wickenden Street. Jalili has since demolished the century-old, muraled apartment building on the corner of Wickenden and Hope streets, site of the former Aqua-Life Aquarium, and plans to replace it with a modern, 15-unit structure with a flat roof and a commercial space on the first floor.

Several Fox Point neighbors testified at the hearing, both to oppose the demolition of the structure and to stress the importance of preserving the historic character of Wickenden Street. FPNA president Nick Cicchitelli expressed concerns about population density on that street, possible troubles with parking, and most emphatically, the visual appeal of a proposed new structure. “This is one of the most prominent and iconic corners in Fox Point,” he said. While Cicchitelli acknowledged that the existing building is not protected by historic preservation laws, he expressed reluctance about demolishing it. “It is of paramount importance,” he continued, “that a replacement structure respect the historic charm of the neighborhood.” Neighbor Dennis Wood, echoing these sentiments, evoked the words of local architect Dave Brussat, saying, “In saving the past, you are investing in the future.” Rachel Robinson, of the Providence Preservation Society, expressed misgivings about “the gradual erosion” of the historic character of Wickenden Street. Likewise, Fox Point neighbor Candace Powning extolled the appeal of this commercial-residential strip. “If we demolish the old buildings,” she stated, “we lose this interesting neighborhood.”

After some deliberation, the Commission voted to grant approvals to the developer—thereby allowing the team to proceed to the next phase—explaining to attendees that he had met all of the requirements laid out in the city’s zoning ordinance. The Commission also recommended that the developer meet with neighbors in order to hear our concerns and begin a dialogue.

While FPNA recognizes that this building proposal meets the requirements of our current zoning ordinance—which does not prohibit demolition of old buildings —we cherish the character of our neighborhood. We were pleased to meet with Mr. Jalili and his principal architect at our FPNA Fall Meeting in mid-November and we hope the group will incorporate some feedback in terms of design.

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