2014-08-21 / Opinion

Explore Welcome Center Alternatives

To the Editor:

We are writing to respond to the “Open Letter” that the Preservation Society published in Newport This Week. The Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association (BOPNA) is pleased that the society confirms that they are committed to a policy of protecting Newport’s unique residential areas and suggesting that we all come together in compromise. We have previously offered several compromises to the society without response. Unfortunately, other than limiting restaurants to their most successful properties, their letter contains no hint of actual compromise on any substantive issue.

The fundamental issues between us include (1) the design that was rejected by the HDC; (2) the location of the center on the grounds of The Breakers; and (3) the right to serve food to the public in all their properties. That this food service right would extend to all other non-society museums in our city is also a central issue. The society’s proposed welcome center on the grounds of The Breakers is two-thirds devoted to food service and capable (according to the society’s own testimony) of serving more than 10 percent of The Breakers’ visitors, or as many as 50,000 lunches per season. To do this, the society needs a food service license and a fundamental modification of the understanding of Newport’s zoning ordinance. This reinterpretation of zoning would apply broadly across all residential neighborhoods of Newport. They offer no indication of compromise here.

Recently the society’s legal team was able to convince the Superior Court that our association did not have the standing to contest the Zoning Board’s overthrow of the HDC’s rejection of the design and location of the center. Thus was lost the last chance to debate these issues in an open public forum; lost due to a legal technicality, not on its merits. No hint of compromise here either.

There is a compromise that has been available for months. Its most recent iteration was outlined in Ron Fleming and Mohamad Farzan’s June 26, 2014 advertisement in Newport This Week. It does not require that the city’s neighborhoods expose themselves to a flood of so-called museum welcome center restaurants. It addresses successfully the society’s need to sell tickets at The Breakers location, provide modern toilets and meet the design requirements of the HDC. It would save millions in construction costs and we believe millions in lost donations to the society. We would be pleased to participate in a public process exploring this and other alternatives that would be committed to maintaining the society’s ability to fulfill its mission of preservation and the integrity of Rhode Island’s iconic landmarks and the value of Newport’s residential neighborhoods.

As the society has said, “That is the future we are all hoping for.”

Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association

Return to top