2014-10-09 / Around Town

Planning Board Rebuffs Valet Parking Change

By Barry Bridges

Responding to a request from City Council, the Newport Planning Board has advised that a proposed amendment to local ordinances that would allow valet parking services to operate on church parking lots within residential zones is not consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

There are many goals set out by the comprehensive plan, such as the protection and enhancement of Newport’s neighborhoods, promoting business, enhancing public safety, providing for the safe movement of vehicles, and maintaining sufficient parking.

At the panel’s monthly meeting on Monday, Oct. 6, Interim City Planner Matthew Weintraub reported that the council was seeking the board’s input since the question pertained to land use.

The matter originated at the council’s May 28 meeting, when a permit application from Valet Connection, Inc., 174 Bellevue Ave., was on the agenda. Karen West spoke on behalf of the company, which hoped to valet cars from the Red Parrot “roundabout” at the intersection of Thames Street and Memorial Boulevard to the sizable parking lots of St. Mary’s Church, which had agreed to the arrangement.

However, a problem arose because St. Mary’s sits in a residential zone; under existing regulations, valet parking is only allowed within non-residential zones. Jody Sullivan, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, asked if the matter could be continued so that the valet parking ordinance could be amended to encompass church parking lots. The application was withdrawn, and on June 25 councilors referred the matter to the Planning Board for its input on the request.

Weintraub gave an overview for the board, noting that “the proposal has two interacting components: the need for parking and the compatibility of commercial uses in residential districts.”

Board members were reticent from the beginning. Chair James Dring commented that “this seems like it could be quite problematic, with cars going from the commercial district to residential streets.” Liam Barry and Melissa Pattavina questioned the scope of the change, wondering if valet parking would be limited to certain days of the weeks, to special events, or for a limited time period after which the program could be reviewed.

Kim Salerno remarked, “I’m concerned about increasing paved surfaces in residential neighborhoods. If an economic incentive is there, it could happen.”

Weintraub reminded the board that they could convey any limitations desired, as City Council would determine how the measure would ultimately read. In addition, he suggested that the proposal could be modified to specify that a special use permit is needed for any valet parking service in a residential zone.

After discussion, the board unanimously decided that the amendment as submitted was not consistent with the comprehensive plan. However, members were receptive to Weintraub’s recommendation and left the door open to reviewing a different ordinance that would allow for valet parking in residential zones if a special use permit from the Newport Zoning Board of Review was a prerequisite.

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