Brown Dorms on Brook Street

**This item was on the 6/16/20 CPC agenda and the commission voted to approve.**

RE: Brown University Institutional Master Plan (IMP) Amendment #3 and New Dormitories on Brook Street

PPS’ Planning and Architectural Review Committee (PAR) has reviewed Brown University’s plan for two new dormitories on Brook Street. PPS offers the following comments regarding the proposed demolition and new construction.

We acknowledge that the two new dormitories planned for Brook Street between Charlesfield and Power Streets— along with the Health and Wellness dormitory (2021)— are intended, in part, to reduce housing pressures in a densely populated historic district. We commend that direction and goal. 

The challenge as we see it is whether Brown can successfully house more students “on campus” and introduce two large dormitory buildings into the College Hill National Historic Landmark District without compromising the neighborhood’s character. The university’s responsibility to mitigate its institutional impact on abutting historic districts is a perpetual concern of PPS.

The project site involves 11 parcels and the demolition of five buildings on Brook and Charlesfield Streets. Thus, we consider whether the loss of these structures and insertion of much larger buildings is warranted, and, if so, how that might best be achieved with the least impact to the surrounding historic district. 

The university is a key stakeholder and property owner in Providence, and we are grateful when the institution’s stewardship of, and financial investment in, its historic resources strengthens the city’s unique character. However, PPS’ concern is over the cumulative effect of generational erosion of historic building stock through demolition for Brown’s new construction projects. By our count, Brown University demolished 37 structures between 1995-2015.

Brown’s claim that the dwellings selected for demolition are in poor condition is never an acceptable reason to raze them. Condition is a maintenance responsibility of the property owner. If these buildings must be removed, we strongly urge Brown to relocate or donate at least one to mitigate the loss of the others. Given that Brown’s Institutional Zone designation permits intense development within its boundaries, PPS calls on Brown to offer the building at 245-247 Brook Street (c. 1895) for relocation.

As for the ongoing design development of the two new Brook Street dorm buildings, PPS respectfully welcomes an opportunity to review these plans at the earliest convenience. PPS would not object if either dorm on Brook Street were increased in height to house additional

students, furthering the aim of reducing pressure on the residential neighborhood. The inclusion of commercial and retail uses in the western dorm should ideally continue to serve the immediate community, and we encourage activation of the street façades of the buildings on Brook street as much as possible.


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