2015-05-28 / Opinion

Pay Attention to Development

To the Editor:

I am writing this letter to express my concerns about the notification neighborhood residents received from the City of Newport’s Office of Planning and Zoning regarding petitions for variances for the property located at 25 Dearborn St., plat/lot:32-209, filed 4/13/2015. I have issues with the way the notice presents the variance requests and with the plans themselves.

The petition states the owners' request for a variance to the dimensional requirements for permission to renovate the existing dwelling. The notice inadequately describes the extent of the plans for the property, leaving out very important pieces of information, i.e. the removal of, demolition of, or the reduction to studs and one wall of the exiting structure and then the construction of a massive brand new three-unit dwelling that will replace the exiting, moderate sized two-story one. But there is no mention that the building will be demolished. How could that be omitted?

Incidentally, 25 Dearborn is the oldest dwelling on the street, the Patrick Murphy House, dated c.1740, listed in "The Southern Thames Street Neighborhood in Newport," Statewide Historical Preservation Report N-N-3, February 1980, p.36. The street is not registered as part of a historic district, but I believe it should be.

The letter we received does describe a plan that would bring the footprint to within 1.2 feet of the property line instead of the required 10 feet, add a third floor making the structure three feet higher, with full length dormers on the north and south sides, add rear deck additions, and three stories of staircases. No added square footage of living space was listed, but some of us concerned neighbors guess it at 65 percent greater than the current space. Now, instead of four bedrooms, there will be nine and that creates an overpopulation of that once moderate-sized dwelling.

Demolition of the garage will reduce lot coverage, but remember, the plan is to mass the structure and pile it up high. And guess what! They need to park six cars somewhere for all those people. But the notice does not state that there could be a parking lot nestled into four abutting back yards. Go out to see how your privacy will be affected. Will those three staircases be opposite your bedroom windows? Will there be a wall outside your window where once there was light, a view and a breeze? Or will there be someone looking in?

I urge all residents who receive letters from the City of Newport and the Office of Planning and Zoning to open them immediately and to read and process the proposal that may affect your property and your entire neighborhood. Get someone to help you understand the notice and then call City Hall and have them email you the plans. Figure out if you need to take any more action.

We need to pay attention to what is happening to our historic city as developers and new owners come in and try to conquer and remove our ancestors’ histories, footprints and the “historic fabric of our neighborhoods.” To get a better sense of this, I suggest going to City Hall and viewing the urban paintings of the historic streets of Newport, painted by Helena Sturtevant, that capture the sunlit and snowy rooflines and chimneys of our early houses.

Jeannine Bestoso

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