2014-01-17 / Opinion

Location – Location – Location

To the Editor:

As a long-time Newport resident I have been following the debate over the Preservation Society of Newport County's plan to build a visitor's center on the grounds of The Breakers. First and foremost, no one is disputing the PSNC’s call for a more comfortable visitor experience here in Newport, nor is anyone against the use of modern technology. The design and location of this proposed building is the issue here. In the Jan. 9 letter published in Newport This Week from Debbie Kammerer, she stated that this proposed structure will be hidden “from the street and from any part of the house and driveway.” This is simply not true. The PSNC plan calls for breaking through the historic stone wall facing Ochre Point Avenue and taking down 34 trees and plantings (including some original Vanderbilt trees), all to bring enormous equipment onto the property to build a structure that doesn’t belong there in the first place. Hidden? Not likely.

Despite what Ms. Kammerer claims, the HDC does not “make up” things. The commission abides by the guidelines set by the Secretary of the Interior and the City of Newport’s own ordinances. The historic preservation planner for the City of Newport also cited these standards in his written opinion. This decision was made after three lengthy meetings completely dedicated to this issue.

I attended an HDC meeting where Ronald Lee Fleming, a wellrespected architect, former board member of the PSNC, and author of several books on city planning, spoke regarding possible alternative solutions. He also penned a very thoughtful letter to the editor suggesting several specific options. Among his many suggestions was a venue located in the immediate vicinity that would not only serve PSNC ticketing needs, but also serve as an educational and exhibition venue.

The Ochre Point Neighborhood Association also pointed to other obvious solutions that would be far less destructive and intrusive, namely utilizing a small area of the parking lot for such a building. I find it very curious that the PSNC owned a property directly abutting the parking lot of The Breakers that they recently sold to Salve Regina University. Also worth noting is the fact that the descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt II are vehemently opposed to this plan. So I beg to differ with Ms. Kammerer, but it appears it is the PSNC that is not listening.

For a small nonprofit to push this ill-conceived multi-million dollar plan that assaults the property it has sworn to protect is irresponsible and a complete contradiction of its mission. What exactly has this extravagant expenditure accomplished other than to divide the community and prove that this organization has clearly lost its way? Current management has become too obsessed with this one project, a project so controversial that it has caused damage to the Society’s reputation. What kind of leadership is this? Good leadership does not conduct itself in this way. Cassandra Stone


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