2014-08-21 / Front Page

Next Chapter for Breakers

By Barry Bridges

In continuing developments surrounding the much-debated welcome center, the owner of The Breakers has filed a petition with the Newport Zoning Board of Review to modify an existing special use permit to allow for the construction of the proposed 3,650-square-foot facility.

The application filed by the Preservation Society of Newport County has been placed on the agenda for the board’s Aug. 25 meeting, but solely for the purpose of scheduling a “special meeting” date for the matter to be fully heard.

The society was formerly granted a special use permit in 1997 for a shed to house vending machines for the convenience of guests. The current petition proposes to revise that permit “to consolidate several museum operations, including ticketing, informational and educational displays, and sales to museum guests at retail (including pre-packaged refreshments … to ticketed guests as part of museum operations, with no restaurant, kitchen, alcohol, or food preparation facilities) into a state-of-the-art welcome center.”

The application further states that “the welcome center will replace the existing ticket booth, seasonal tent, port-a-potties, and refreshment shed.”

The building proposal previously found itself as the subject of debate before the Zoning Board several months ago. In a 4-to-1 vote on Jan. 27 of this year, board members sided with the Preservation Society and reversed an earlier decision of the Historic District Commission that found the project to be incompatible with local historic standards.

However, the board’s deliberations in January were limited to the parameters of the HDC decision. The special use permit that is required to get the project off the ground was not on the table during those discussions.

The permitting process has a specific set of considerations, such as the size and shape of the proposed structure; the resulting traffic patterns; whether the use would be in harmony with the surrounding area; fire hazards; and consistency with the city’s comprehensive plan.

These elements may open the door for challengers to further protest the welcome center.

Adding to the complicated picture is the fact that court challenges have been mounted by the Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association (BOPNA), the organization leading the opposition to the welcome center. While a Superior Court judge sided with the Preservation Society in two separate suits filed by BOPNA, an appeal in at least one of those cases looks likely and could proceed simultaneously with the Zoning Board permitting process.

Jim Moore, president of BOPNA, told Newport This Week that even if the society is granted a special use permit, it would still need to pursue a victualing license through the City Council in order to operate refreshment sales.

That would follow on the heels of a decision by the council on May 28 to deny the society’s application to serve light sandwiches and snacks at Marble House and The Elms Carriage

House. The group had sought permission to continue with its past practices of selling prepackaged sandwiches, wraps, salads, and drinks to ticketed museum guests at those properties.

It remains to be seen whether or not a different set of considerations could win a victualing license for The Breakers’ welcome center, and the timing of a potential application remains unclear.

Moore noted that an informal tradition in Newport is to wait one year before reapplying for a victualing license after a denial. But perhaps a more significant consideration for the society is that the fall election may usher in a different group of city councilors more friendly to the issue.

What seems certain is that with the fate of the welcome center evidently dependent upon proper permitting, lawsuit resolutions, and a victualing license, the proposal will continue to be in the news as these components are addressed.

Return to top