Demo Draw Dismay, Conversations About Preservation
As many Fox Point neighbors know, the 200 year-old Federal-style house located at 312 Wickenden Street, most recently the home of the Duck and Bunny snuggery, was demolished in early April. Several residents have expressed distress at the news, not only with regard to the demolition itself, but the lack of notice to neighbors. In fact, while the owner of the snuggery did not notify neighbors of the specific timing of the demo, he did share his intentions last year. Some neighbors may remember that FPNA held a public discussion on this issue in January 2020, and in consultation with members of the Providence Preservation Society, sent an urgent letter of concern to the owner to try to save the structure. FPNA learned during these communications that the maintenance and restoration of this building—a structure that FPNA President Nick Cicchitelli later described as containing “200 years of Band-Aids”—proved more logistically and financially challenging than the owner ever anticipated. “The situation is unfortunate,” Cicchitelli continued. “I am both sad and sympathetic that the building came down.”
It is true that owners of properties like the snuggery, which was located outside the local historic district, do not have a legal obligation to notify neighbors (or the community) of plans for demolition. But perhaps more important, these owners do not have legal obligation to preserve them. And while the demolition of the Duck and Bunny may be especially disheartening, it is only one of a spate of recent examples in Fox Point. As city officials have suggested to neighbors at FPNA meetings over last few years, if residents want to protect beloved old buildings, they may want to consider working with local legislators to enact meaningful changes to public policies. A new historic “overlay” district, the officials suggest, could encompass a different swath of Fox Point than the current historic district. Such a district might function as a “historic district lite” that protects historic buildings from demolition and other major modifications but does not require the same stringent expectations of homeowners as the current historic district.
To change zoning laws would require not only the development of new legislation but the sign-on of neighbors in what would amount to an enormous volunteer effort. But if residents are to protect the historic character they cherish, such a bold step may be necessary.
Image, Amy Mendillo