2014-08-07 / Front Page

Second Suit Tossed

By Barry Bridges

In the ongoing clash over a proposed welcome center at The Breakers, Superior Court Associate Justice Bennett R. Gallo issued another ruling on Wednesday, Aug. 6, that was heralded as good news by The Preservation Society of Newport County as it continues in its campaign to build the facility.

Gallo dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association (BOPNA) which argued that the Newport Zoning Board erroneously overturned a decision of the Historic District Commission that would have denied the construction of the welcome center.

The Preservation Society argued to the judge that BOPNA did not have the legal standing to appeal the zoning determination. Gallo agreed and tossed the matter without hearing its substantive merits.

This followed the dismissal of a separate proceeding on July 18.

In a press release, Preservation Society Board Chairman Donald O. Ross said, “We’re delighted that the court has once again ruled in our favor.” His statement continued, “We believe that our proposal for a small, elegant welcome center at The Breakers is architecturally appropriate. Providing amenities like restrooms and simple refreshment services at a site with 400,000 annual visitors is a matter of basic customer service and human courtesy. We believe it is time for this small group of opponents to put an end to unwarranted court challenges which are wasting valuable time and resources.”

In the July case, BOPNA put forth an alternative argument and asked the court to find that the proposed center was a nonconforming use which violated the zoning ordinance. The judge held then that the question had not gone through the proper channels and should have first been addressed through the Zoning Board, which should have had the “opportunity to consider the issues presented and to make its own determinations before the court intervenes,” Gallo wrote.

Jim Moore, president and cochairman of BOPNA, commented to Newport This Week on the most recent setback for his group.

“Judge Gallo dismissed the second case on a very narrow interpretation. He said that in an appeal of a Zoning Board decision with regard to a specific property, one needs to suffer economic harm and be a property owner. The fact that BOPNA represents a group of property owners was not enough; since the organization doesn’t own property, the case was dismissed. On the other hand, if individuals had brought the case and showed the potential for harm, it would have been accepted.”

In a similar vein, Moore said that standing would have been established if the lawsuit had questioned a broader issue of zoning law, as opposed to issues with one particular property.

As for possible next steps in BOPNA’s opposition to the welcome center, Moore said that the association will not appeal the Aug. 6 ruling.

Instead, they will focus on an appeal of the July dismissal.

“We have to pick our objectives here,” he said. “We will appeal Gallo’s July decision, as we believe that it raised the kind of broader issues to which he was referring. It concerns zoning laws that are more systemic to the city as a whole.”

Moore expects that the suit will begin to move forward within the next couple of weeks, after an appealable order from the July case is submitted to the court by the Preservation Society, as is required of the winning party.

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