2014-05-22 / Front Page

Hourly Waiver Granted

By Barry Bridges

Neighbors objecting to noise emanating from summertime events at the Newport Yachting Center made some noise of their own during the City Council’s regular meeting on Wednesday, May 14. Several residents of Commercial Wharf appeared before the council to lodge their objections to the adjacent Yachting Center’s request for a one-time waiver of the hourly restrictions spelled out in its entertainment license.

Michael Martin, the center’s director of waterfront events, explained to the council that comedian Aziz Ansari had conditioned his appearance on a two-show double billing on the night of Friday, July 11, with the first starting at 7:45 p.m. and the second at 9:45 p.m. However, the ending time of the second act would run afoul of the Yachting Center’s required ending time of 10 p.m. Martin lobbied council members to grant a waiver of the requirement and to extend the evening’s revelry to 11:15 p.m.

In response to Martin’s proposal, surrounding residents presented their concerns with even this single exception, fearing a slippery slope. The objectors generally felt that the Yachting Center had morphed into a major entertainment destination that impacts the area’s livability.

Newporter Paul Callahan expressed his frustration to the council and said that the waiver would exceed the “liberal license” already enjoyed by the property. He described the profanity that drifts from the outdoor tent during some of the comedy routines, and was concerned for children and passers-by who are exposed to the “audible pornography.” He was also fearful that extending the hours on July 11 could establish precedent for future exceptions. “There is a time and place for everything,” he concluded, urging the council to deny the waiver.

Jim Head, a year-round resident of Commercial Wharf, addressed the council and said that it’s already difficult to get to bed at a reasonable time on event nights. “It’s already too much, too long, and too loud,” he said. Marge Head agreed, saying that “we know what we want [Newport] to be” and that the proposed waiver would be a “crack in the veneer.”

Attorney Dan Sumner, representing Harborview Condominiums, also opposed the license variance. He described the inconveniences being incurred by the residents, such as blocked driveways and public safety issues. “We don’t need 4,000 people in a five-hour period,” he said.

Federico Santi of nearby Historic Hill appeared and protested the waiver on behalf of those in his neighborhood who are impacted by noise from the Yachting Center.

Martin countered these arguments by describing the facility’s efforts to minimize the effect of performances on abutting property owners. “We have made a conscious decision not to invite certain acts, and we are also implementing sound attenuation devices. We’re investing $100,000 in the abatement program,” he said, noting that the measures would be in place by the first musical concert on May 31. On the outside of the tent, panels will be placed along the fence on America’s Cup Avenue, while velour floor-to-ceiling curtains will be hung along the back and sides of the tent. “The idea is to cut down on the reverberation within the tent, improve the sound quality, and maintain or lower the sound volume,” Martin maintained.

He also pointed out that the facility has never received a noise complaint during its many years of operation and stressed that the waiver request was for the hour limitation, not for decibel restrictions.

Sumner said that while sound attenuation projects may benefit town-side pedestrians and residents, no abatement measures are being implemented on the end of the tent facing the condominiums.

Councilor Justin McLaughlin acknowledged the neighbors’ concern that the Yachting Center was slowly expanding its reach. “There’s no doubt there has been ‘creep,’” he said. Referring to comedy that is often “edgy,” McLaughlin announced that “I will not vote for any exception until it is proven that the noise abatement works.”

Third Ward Councilor Kathryn Leonard mentioned that with conflicting viewpoints she tries to balance the needs of businesses and residents. However, since significant effort is expended with strategic plans and comprehensive land use policies, she felt that the entertainment should be limited to established time frames.

As the debate wrapped, Council Vice-Chair Naomi Neville proposed a compromise granting a 30-minute extension until 10:30 p.m. This recommendation was passed 3 to 2, with nay votes cast by McLaughlin and Leonard. Mayor Henry F. Winthrop and Councilor Marco Camacho did not figure into the equation, as they were traveling in Japan. In other matters:

* Council members directed the city staff to develop a multi-year facilities rehabilitation plan and an accompanying proposal for a bond referendum to pay for the upgrades. The bond question would need to be submitted to the Rhode Island General Assembly for placement on the Nov. 4 ballot. The resolution passed despite some members’ concern over the challenge of producing a comprehensive plan in the limited time remaining in the 2014 legislative session.

* The council instructed the city manager to revise the recommended fiscal year 2015 operating budget to assume a property tax levy of less than two percent.

* A resolution supporting legislation to eliminate straight-ticket master lever voting passed unanimously.

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