Lawyers Brawl Over Plan to Demo Historic Mansion on Blackstone Boulevard

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


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The battle of the Nicholson estate -- and its demolition and proposed subdivision into 10 lots -- will continue into 2019. Photo: GoLocalProv

The proposal to demolish one of Providence’s most historic estates — the Beresford-Nicholson House at 288 Blackstone Boulevard — saw a pitted legal battle on Tuesday night at the Providence City Plan Commission (CPC) that will continue into 2019.


On one side, there are the lawyers representing the applicant, The Bilotti Group, who claim they have full legal authority to move forward with subdividing the property into ten lots for single-family developments. 

On the other side are neighbors -- and lawyers -- who assert the plan does not fit in the historic residential neighborhood — and moreover does not adhere to the city’s comprehensive plan. 

“For the past forty years, I’ve been active in neighborhood issues in the [Blackstone Boulevard] area with the goal of preserving, maintaining, and improving one of the great historic neighborhoods in Providence and the state,” said lawyer Deming Sherman, who serves as UHIP special master -- but testified Tuesday night in his capacity as a resident of the neighborhood and as past President of the Providence Preservation Society

“I’m a believer in development as long as its appropriate  — but development should be compatible with the neighborhood in which it is proposed.  Several years ago, the city adopted a comprehensive plan, that among other things stipulates that new development be consistent with that plan,” said Sherman.  “My judgment is that the proposal is not appropriate as it’s not consistent with the comprehensive plan.”


The presentation of the proposed subdivision of three lots into ten was introduced by Bob Azar with the City of Providence before being presented by applicant The Bilotti Group’s legal counsel, Zach Darrow. 

“The proposal is to subdivide into ten lots — the property has two zones, R1A on Blackstone Boulevard and R1 on Slater Avenue. The lots are all compliant with the zoning ordinance, which in R1 requires at least 5,000 square feet of land and 50 feet of frontage and in R1A requires 7,500 square feet of land and 75 feet of frontage,” said Azar. 

Azar went on to show a map of the trees on the property, explaining which ones are “considered significant by the zoning ordinance and therefore will have special protection,” said Azar. “There is a plan that’s showing which are significant and of those which one the applicants will be removed and sought permission.”

Darrow spoke to the issue of keeping — and getting rid of— certain trees for the proposed development, and how the application, he said,  is in accordance with the city’s zoning ordinance. 

“When we went through the process with the city forester, not only did we show the significant trees, the ones we received approval to remove,” said Darrow. “As mentioned by Mr. Azar, this application was submitted to meet all of the requirements the property consists of three lots and the subdivision is proposed to be ten lots. The ten lots end up being significantly larger than many of the surrounding lots.”

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Photo: GoLocalProv

“The three lots combined is an anomaly for the neighborhood. We’re not asking for any variances, any zoning relief, or any waivers — the lots meet or exceed the requirements under the current zoning ordinance,” said Darrow.

Commission members — and neighbors who came to testify — questioned however not the proposal’s adherence to the zoning ordinance but the city’s comprehensive plan. 

“This would be in violation of the comprehensive plan,” said CPC board member Harry Bilodeau at the outset of Tuesday's meeting.  “This is the most uninspired use of a fabulous beautiful chunk of land. I think it’s our job as a committee, unfortunately, to shine the light on grey areas in development and forestry. [And] I don’t think it complies with the comprehensive plan.”

Providence attorney Timothy More questioned why the proposal to build ten new houses wasn't considered as a de facto land development project, when ten single-family homes are intended to be constructed on the lots -- which Azar, in support of the applicants, strongly refuted and defended its designation as simply as a demolition and subdivision at this point. 

More, however, said that certain areas listed as necessary criteria on the city's comprehensive plan -- including traffic studies and drainage plans that aren't just required for land development projects, but rather subdivisions themselves -- should be taking into consideration. 

Next Steps

The CPC voted to to postpone the vote until the next meeting in January, and will schedule a "walk-through" of the property prior to go over issues raised on Tuesday. 


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