2017-01-05 / Opinion

Not on My Sidewalk


In light of the fact that we are running two stories this week about developers of boutique hotels requesting variances from city and town officials, we thought it might be worthwhile to encourage readers to be mindful of such proposals.

The New Oxford English Dictionary defines a boutique hotel as “a small stylish hotel, typically one situated in a fashionable urban location.” Already, the term appears to be getting broader than the distance between the on-off ramps of the Claiborne Pell Bridge.

The good news here is that, across town lines, tourism continues to be a strong economic engine on Aquidneck Island. Newport is obviously a desirable destination for boutique-level travelers eager to visit and spend their discretionary dollars. They are a welcome sight for retailers, restaurant owners, and those with a stake in marketing the Gilded Age social milieu for which Newport is so well-known.

While we may think that every guest wants a water view, and we know how proprietary island residents can be about the waterfront, one builder is erecting his boutique inn on the corner of Thames Street and Wellington Avenue, which will have only a few rooms with a water view – and then maybe only if you crane your neck.

A few blocks north, and overlooking the harbor, owners of The Pier restaurant are proposing a boutique hotel on Howard Wharf that would result in a 56 percent lot coverage, significantly more than the 40 percent permitted. The planned height is 45 feet, the maximum allowed.

Nearby, the Peregrine Group is hoping to erect a 70-room “micro hotel” at the Yachting Center site that the real estate development firm purchased in 2014.

And the owners of another stalwart eatery, KJ’s in Middletown, are hoping to replace their current business with an 18-room hotel and restaurant. Based on the proposed plans, exceptions to setback and lot coverage requirements will be needed, as well as relief from prescribed buffer zones.

If there is a real need for more hotel rooms, no harm no foul. And while we are confident that our local zoning and planning boards are making decisions consistent with relevant ordinances and other appropriate considerations, we nonetheless feel the need to ask that they be mindful of the mass of these new projects and consider the potential impact to island streetscapes.

One example is the recently expanded International Tennis Hall of Fame – a visual testament to what results when every inch of available space is used. The attractiveness of the complex notwithstanding, the sheer mass of the façade has completely altered the feng shui of that stretch of Memorial Boulevard leading up to Bellevue Avenue.

We encourage business owners, abutters, and indeed, all residents, to stay in tune with these projects and to contact board members or city officials with your thoughts. The KJ’s petition will be heard by the Middletown Zoning Board of Review on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. The Howard Wharf proposal will be heard by the Newport Planning Board on Thursday, Jan. 5, at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall’s Council Chambers, and will be on the docket for the Newport Zoning Board of Review’s meeting on Jan. 23, 7 p.m., also at City Hall.

If you don’t say anything now, you won’t be able to complain later.

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