2015-07-09 / Front Page

Broadway Continues to Evolve

By Barry Bridges

With the streetscape project well under way on lower Broadway, city leaders continue to refine their vision for the future look and feel of one of the main entrances into Newport.

At their meeting on Wednesday, July 8, Newport city councilors gave final approval to an ordinance change that now allows for sidewalk cafes on Broadway from Equality Park to Admiral Kalbfus Road. While sidewalk dining is predominately limited to the city’s business districts, the new measure means that restaurants and shops along the northern stretch of Broadway can also apply for a permit to give their patrons that option. Outdoor dining has not been previously permitted in the area since the corridor lies mostly within a residential zone.

Councilor Marco Camacho described both practical and equitable reasons for making the change. “A lot of people don’t realize that this section is residential, R-10. It is putting Broadway at a competitive disadvantage,” he told Newport This Week. He said that it was a “common sense” change, consistent with what people already assumed to be the case. “Folks love to be outside; it’s something that people wanted. Sidewalk cafes are popular on Broadway.”

But at the measure’s first reading on June 24, several councilors were concerned that the proposal seemed to directly benefit only one business: Parlor at 200 Broadway.

“There’s only one place on Broadway that I can identify that this change will benefit, and in some ways that strikes me as spot zoning… I think there should be a robust appeal to residents so that they know that we are about to introduce an aspect into their neighborhood that has not been there before,” Councilor Justin McLaughlin remarked at the time. He drew a distinction between Parlor and other restaurants further up Broadway at Bliss Road that actually sit in a small business zone.

Third Ward Councilor Kathryn Leonard was also hesitant and worried about setting a precedent. “By approving this change, would that open the door for any other business in a residential zone to be able to do this?”

“No,” said interim City Solicitor Christopher Behan. “The language is very specific… and just includes the one exception for Broadway. I think some people would be surprised that the affected section there is actually zoned residential. But this ordinance language will not open up a Pandora’s Box.”

Councilor Naomi Neville said, “It does read like spot zoning. It calls out a very specific location by street name in a residential district.”

She was concerned that additional restaurants in residential districts could pursue a similar avenue to bypass the zoning laws. Behan indicated that it’s not a matter of zoning, which regulates private property. He advised that public sidewalks fall under the auspices of the city.

Prior to the final vote on Wednesday, Camacho made the argument to Newport This Week that other businesses will see benefits. He described churches and law offices in the neighborhood whose patrons would enjoy the availability of sidewalk dining nearby. “Folks on Broadway want that type of mixed-use area, especially with the technological innovations coming to the former Sheffield School,” he said. “There are also some vacant corner stores that could see an advantage.”

The law continues to require that pedestrians have a six-foot passageway to pass between the cafĂ© and the curb. “Parlor has about 13 feet of sidewalk, more than enough space to actually put tables out during normal hours,” said Camacho.

Jack McVicker, president of the Off Broadway Neighborhood Association, said that members of his group supported the measure. “We’ve had a great relationship with the owner of Parlor, and we’d like to see them be able to offer an outdoor area,” he said in a telephone conversation. He agreed with Camacho that the sidewalk is wide enough to accommodate seating. “And it hardly seems fair that other businesses a few feet down the road are able to offer outdoor tables,” McVicker continued. He emphasized that OBNA wants to see Broadway as “the spot to go.”

“With people outside dining, walking, and biking, this could be a truly transformative space,” offered Camacho.

The amendment passed on a vote of 5-2, with McLaughlin and Neville unconvinced of the merits of the change.

Elsewhere, some Newporters, including McVicker, have expressed surprise that several trees have been downed on the west side of Broadway just south of Equality Park.

“We had several meetings at Equality with the tree warden, Scott Wheeler, and we understood that some trees would come down there to thin the canopy and make the park healthier. But we weren’t aware that additional trees would be coming down along the street,” McVicker said.

Responding to queries, Wheeler reported that some trees on upper Broadway were removed largely because the road is being narrowed and the curb will move closer to the center of the street. “There will be a new boulevard of trees closer to that curb line, making way for a wider plaza in front of the businesses,” he said.

Others were directly in the way of new infrastructure and the road alignment. “The staff has worked very hard to save trees when possible, but with this type of realignment, retaining some of the old locations was not feasible,” Wheeler added.

While the improvements at Equality Park are officially part of a separate project, the idea is to move the effort along concurrently with the streetscape initiative while involving neighborhood groups.

“Trees and gardens are an integral part of the Broadway plan,” Wheeler said. “The area has a very green future.”

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