• Newport's North End moratorium: How did we get here?

    By Derek Gomes
    Daily News staff writer
    Reposted from the Newport Daily News website:

    Newport’s North End has become the subject of debate over the future of how the area will be developed.

    What is Carpionato Group proposing and why does it need city relief to do so?
    The Newport Grand building would be demolished and in its place there would be two six-story hotels, two six-story apartment buildings and 164,000 square feet of office space, as well as medical, retail and restaurant space.
    The property and the surrounding area are zoned commercial-industrial. That means hotels, or offices, or retailers can be built there by right, but it does not allow for a mix of uses. Without amending the city’s zoning code, there is no path forward for a plan like Carpionato’s.

    How have residents reacted to the proposal?
    Criticism about any proposed development is almost inevitable, but especially for one as large as Carpionato Group’s.
    But some of the pushback, thus far, has focused more on the process than on the proposal itself. As the Planning Board scrutinized Carpionato Group’s amendment, Barbara van Beuren of the influential Aquidneck Island family and Ron Fleming, an urban planning professional, called on the Planning Board to hire a consultant to first draw up a master plan for the North End and then craft the zoning.
    John Hirschboeck, co-president of the Alliance for a Livable Newport, said the city’s Planning Department should have more time to develop the zoning that dovetails with the vision for the North End laid out in the comprehensive land use plan.

    How did Carpionato Group forge a path ahead?
    On the same day in July when company officials held a press conference in the foyer of the former casino to announce their plans, they also filed a zoning amendment that would make their project possible despite the absence of a mixed-use zone in the code.
    Their amendment would create a mixed-use planned district overlay, a vehicle that would be available to all properties in the commercial-industrial zone that measure at least 20 acres.
    “Permitted uses shall be all uses allowed by right or by special use permit at the time of application for re-zoning within the city, provided that the developer’s specific proposed mix and orientation of developments is approved by the subsequent recommendation by the city Planning Board,” says the ordinance filed by local attorney David Martland, who is representing the company.
    So, Carpionato Group first needs the City Council to approve its mixed-use zoning ordinance, at which point the company would apply to rezone the Newport Grand property under it. If the rezoning were approved, the company would have the local approval it needs.

    Was the city aware that its zoning code would prohibit such a development?
    Yes, the city was well aware of the inconsistency between the comprehensive land use plan that endorsed a mixed-use zone and the lack of such a provision in the zoning code.
    “One of the largest by-products of the comprehensive planning efforts is to conform our current zoning land-use regulations to the Comprehensive Plan to make it reflective of the goals and elements of that plan,” City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. wrote in a memo last year.
    Before Carpionato stepped in, the city was taking steps to bridge that gap.
    Last November, the City Council hired Matrix Design Group Inc. to draft an ordinance creating an “innovation district and innovation center overlay district” for the North End. That zoning would replace the existing commercial-industrial zoning in the area of the Pell Bridge.
    Nicholson recently said Matrix delivered its ordinance proposal to the city in March, but no action has been taken.

    What’s the status of the zoning amendment?
    The Planning Board agrees flexible zoning is needed for the North End.
    Yet, “significant omissions” in Carpionato Group’s amendment “prevent us from recommending this specific change to the code,” Planning Board Chairwoman Kim Salerno said during a meeting last month.
    Her motion, which was unanimously approved, recommended a concurrent review of the Matrix proposal and the underlying zoning in the North End. It also recommended that the City Council approve a moratorium on development plan reviews within the commercial-industrial zone until a master plan for that area is developed.
    The Planning Board was expected to vote Monday on a final form of its letter regarding the matter to the City Council. But the meeting was canceled because of a lack of a quorum, according to the Secretary of State’s website. The meeting will now be held Tuesday, Oct. 15.

    A moratorium is floated:
    In the midst of the Planning Board review, City Council members Justin McLaughlin and Susan Taylor proposed a six-month moratorium “on decisions relating to development activity in the Innovation District ... to allow for the crafting of a community vision for the Innovation District and revisions to the zoning code which are needed to achieve that vision and which will provide guidance to the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Review in dealing with proposed development in that district,” their resolution says.
    At a meeting late last month, the council voted 5-2 in favor of a six-month moratorium, with council members Jeanne-Marie Napolitano and Lynn Underwood Ceglie dissenting. A second vote that would impose the moratorium is expected to be taken Wednesday night.
    The moratorium would impact “decisions relating to development activity for uses requiring Development Plan Review,” the ordinance says. The uses include hotels, multifamily dwellings and most commercial uses, such as restaurants totaling at least 4,000 gross square feet and office space of at least 10,000 gross square feet.

    Pushback on the moratorium:
    At a City Council meeting, Martland said the city already had one year to address the inconsistency between the comprehensive land use plan and the zoning code.
    Now the council is proposing a moratorium “because of one property,” he said. “Now you will punish every other property in the area.“
    The Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors voted to oppose the moratorium.
    Erin Donovan-Boyle, the chamber’s executive director, told The Daily News on Monday that it signals an anti-development attitude when the “business community, all the municipalities in the Newport County area and past councils have been working so hard to implement strategies to enhance investment and growth. It seemingly cuts those efforts off at the knees.“
    She said there are 178 businesses in the commercial-industrial zone that will face uncertainty if the moratorium takes effect. She specifically mentioned the former Newport Daily News property that is for sale, as well as the Tradesmen Center on Connell Highway that houses 35 businesses. The center doesn’t “know what will come down the pike from the bridge ramp realignment,” Donovan-Boyle said, and is not contending with another unknown.
    “I hope the council reconsiders,” she added. “If they do go forward with the moratorium, I hope they make a commitment it won’t be extended beyond the six months. Move forward and continue with the development and vision that has been worked for so long.”

    What’s next?
    The city issued a request for proposals for a consultant to create a North End Urban Plan.
    “This will be for municipal planning purposes and will assist the City in developing appropriate land use regulations for the area,” says a memo from Patricia Reynolds, the director of planning and economic development. “The plan should be reflective of Newport’s impressive history, while proposing new building types, street layouts, urban and recreational spaces and architecture to reflect modern times and needs.“
    Submissions are due Oct. 16.
    The North End Urban Plan would delve into greater detail than the comprehensive land use plan and help the city craft a mixed-use ordinance, said Tom Shevlin, the city’s communications officer.


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