2014-04-24 / Opinion

Preservation Society Obfuscates Facts

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to the letter from Don Ross with regard to the Preservation Society’s desire to obtain food service licenses for The Elms and Marble House. I am not interested in rumors, only facts. Mr. Ross, in an apparent attempt to cloud and confuse the issues, leaves out many of those facts.

All businesses which serve food in Newport must have this license, no matter their size or menus. There are no such businesses now allowed in residential zones. To issue such a license, the City Council will have to interpret the zoning ordinance in a way never before contemplated in its 37 years of existence. Museums would have the “right” to serve food; the Zoning Board would have nothing to say about it. All other mansion museums will be able to do so as well. This includes Belcourt, Beechwood, Rough Point and the American Museum of Illustration in our neighborhood and others throughout the city. The city would not be able to prevent this potential expansion of restaurants into the R-60 historic district.

He entirely leaves out the intention of the Preservation Society to serve food at The Breakers Welcome Center. This is critical because The Breakers has more than 450,000 visitors a year. According to Mr. Ross, any mansion with 100,000 visitors is a likely site for food service. The number of restaurants will only be limited by the Society’s ability to generate visitors. The total number of lunches served by the Society could easily exceed 150,000 a season, or less than 20% of its 900,000 annual visitors. He continually refers to serving snacks. Each such pre-packed sandwich or salad is a lunch eaten at the mansions rather than elsewhere in Newport. Calling it a snack does not make it so.

The Society’s chain of at least three restaurants and more over time is a key part of its marketing program aimed directly at bus and cruise ship tours. The package enables the visitor to visit multiple houses and have lunch while doing so. They never have to make another stop in Newport before returning home or to their ship. Newport’s other museums in our residential district will have to fight back. More restaurants are inevitable.

The impact on residential values in our neighborhood could be devastating as Bellevue Avenue changes from an exclusive residential zone to one with as many as half a dozen restaurants. Real estate values can only go down, not up. The appraised value of our district is $467 million; a 10 percent decline is nearly $50 million, resulting in a reduction in taxes of over $585,000. Home and business owners throughout the rest of our city will have to assume this tax burden.

At a meeting about one year ago, I pointed out to Mr. Ross the costs to our community of this zoning precedent being established. He said then that the impact on the community “was not his problem.” The consequences for the city, its taxpayers, and businesses were not relevant to the Society. They should be.

James Moore, President,

Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association

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