In the city of Cranston’s Comprehensive Plan, Pawtuxet Village, Rolfe Square and Knightsville are identified as commercial districts with potential for business growth. Through a KeepSpace grant awarded to the city in 2008 from Rhode Island Housing, the administration hopes to first focus on Knightsville and reinvigorate the area.
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, the city will host a workshop from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Sprague Mansion, soliciting feedback from residents and business owners in the area. The city will present its ideas, but more importantly, wants to hear from Cranston residents what they feel are Knightsville’s strengths and how they would like to see the area developed. Sixty-two property owners in the area have been notified of this workshop.
“Trying to get the neighborhood’s input is important,” Fung said. “
There will be two additional public meetings in the coming weeks, as well as a project website and other information-gathering mechanisms, such as a door-to-door survey. Fung believes the city can complete this portion of the project by the spring.
While all three of the city’s business districts present opportunities for economic growth, the mayor is particularly excited about the prospects for Knightsville. The area identified is the intersection of Park Avenue and Cranston Street, and roughly one-quarter mile in every direction from that point.
“It’s part of an exciting project where we have an opportunity to redevelop an area that’s beginning to get rundown. There is so much potential,” he said.
In terms of how the redeveloped area would look, specifics won’t be available until after the public hearings, when that feedback is incorporated into the plan. At the hearings, however, the Horsley Witten Group, the planning consultant brought in for the project, will discuss their initial findings. In their development scenarios, they hope to promote mixed-use development, create pedestrian-friendly areas and provide better access to the nearby bike path.
“One of the byproducts is a much better organization of pedestrian versus auto versus bicycle traffic. Right now you have a lot of ambiguity in this area,” said Nathan Kelly, AICP, senior planner for Horsley Witten.
In a perfect world, Fung wants to see that and more. He wants Knightsville to be a “sustainable, livable community,” that plays to the area’s strengths. He counts the neighborhood’s rich heritage as one of those strengths, and said he could see the business district mirroring some qualities found on Providence’s Federal Hill.
“I’d love to see … preserving a lot of the character you have with the Italian heritage and with the Itri heritage,” Fung said, referencing the community’s sister city in Italy, where many early residents immigrated from.
Kelly explained that they are using a form-based approach for the project, focusing less on digging into every potential use and taking a broader look at what the area should look like. Down the line, that would lead to specifics on the area’s aesthetic, from sidewalks to setbacks for businesses.
Examples of potential changes could be more shared parking among businesses, less setbacks from the road and more uniform landscaping and lighting.
“We think if we do that, businessmen will see the value in it,” said Planning Director Peter Lapolla.
That is not to say that the city would oversee all design aspects of the area. A place like Wickford village in North Kingstown, for example, is a preservation model. This kind of a redevelopment model is more about improving infrastructure for businesses, Kelly said.
“You’re trying to open the door for people to make an investment,” he said.
The form-based approach would change the way that Knightsville businesses tackle zoning issues. An individual zoning and development plan would be created for the square. That plan would require City Council approval, but if approved, Kelly says businesses would have a clearer picture of how they can develop their land.
“The goal of this project will be, to the greatest extent possible, creating a variance-free environment,” he said.
If this plan were enacted, the city would likely pull elements from it for the redevelopment of Rolfe and Pawtuxet villages.
“The model is then set for our other two squares. Everything in between would follow,” said Lapolla.
The original Rhode Island Housing grant award was for $137,000. The city used roughly $30,000 to study the Pocasset floodplain. The next $40,000 is going toward this stage of planning.
The city intends to use $40,000 of the remaining money to study the PrintWorks facility. The city will go out to bid for that planning sometime around the first of the year. As an anchor of the Knightsville area, the city would like to redevelop the PrintWorks mill space into a mixed-use facility with both residential and commercial elements, not unlike the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket.
If the planning portion of the project is successful, the city will attempt to identify additional funding sources for implementation. Fung said he thinks it is important to get the project started now.
“It’s something that needs to be done,” he said.
Ultimately, he is hopeful the plan could lead to significant economic development in the area, and eventually citywide.
“I think it certainly can send a message that Cranston is very serious about trying to help existing businesses by improving infrastructure,” he said. “If you’re helping build back up the infrastructure, it helps build traffic. It’s helping the business owners.”