2017-01-19 / Opinion


Keep Spruce Acres as Open Space

To the Editor:

The Aquidneck Land Trust is in the process of raising approximately $2.2 million to purchase Spruce Acres as open space. The Spruce Acres property is located on the Middletown-Portsmouth line just west of East Main Road.

Spruce Acres is a former 23-acre Christmas tree farm located in the St. Mary’s and Sisson Pond watersheds. The property is key open space protecting our water supply and is part of a natural connected habitat for wildlife. Spruce Acres is also part of the Center Island Greenway, protected farmland and open spaces on the west side of East Main Road, extending from Escobar’s Farm to Oliphant Lane.

If not protected by the Land Trust, Spruce Acres will likely become a 20-lot development. As has been shown in studies by the Portsmouth Planning Office, the University of New Hampshire, and other agencies, development of land into single family homes will generally cost municipalities about $1.15 in infrastructure, maintenance and school expenses for every dollar of new taxes.

For the taxpayers of Portsmouth and Middletown, this development is a losing proposition.

Additionally, development of Spruce Acres will inject approximately

180 vehicle-trips each day into the East Main-Bramans Lane- Mitchell’s Lane-Island Drive area, making an already congested part of East Main more dangerous and difficult to transit, enter and exit.

Spruce Acres is at the top of the watershed for Sisson and St. Mary ponds, both of which are part of the Newport Water reservoir system. Development of Spruce Acres will require installation of septic systems and stormwater control structures which could threaten our water supply.

So far, Island Farm residents, abutters and neighbors of Spruce Acres have donated over $10,000 to help the Aquidneck Land Trust make Spruce Acres permanent open space.

We ask the residents of Aquidneck Island to join in this effort by making individual donations to open space preservation at ailt.org/spruceacres.

We also ask that, if requested, the municipalities of Middletown and Portsmouth participate in this critical open space land acquisition. After all, we are all in this together.

Richard Adams, President
Arthur Weber, Vice President
Martha Ciummo, Secretary
Wayne Pembrook, Treasurer
Island Farm Homeowner's Assoc.

Prepare Kids for 21st-Century Jobs

To the Editor:

The good news is there are 1,100 cybersecurity job openings within 100 miles of Aquidneck Island. The bad news is your children are most likely not being properly educated to apply for them: today, tomorrow, or when they graduate from high school.

Why? Because the standard curriculum for middle and high school students locally is soft on science, weak on math, and invisible when it comes to technology. Yes, the CS- 4RI (Computer Science for Rhode Island) program is active in some schools. And yes, there are special computer courses for motivated students. But the average teenager would rather play with their cell phone, avoid “tough” courses, ignore homework, and engage in sports. Courses need to be available to all, and should be required.

Bottom line: Your kids pay the price by not getting an education which adequately prepares them for life in a society dominated by science and technology.

The toxic politics of school reform is making it exceedingly difficult to institute changes in school curricula. Too many teachers don’t want change; school administrators and school committees are more worried about the cost than the benefits; and the unions are terrified their influence will decline.

Most will agree we require change in our public school curricula. That has to happen locally: by local teachers, local school administrators, the local School Committee, and with or without the agreement of the local teacher’s union. As parents, you need to demand a better education for your children, or it will not happen. Lethargy and resistance to change by those “in charge” will win; your kids will lose. Count on it!

Newport’s fiscal 2017 education budget is $38.6 million, of which $25.3 million is appropriated from your real estate taxes. That’s $12,000 per pupil! Those are your tax dollars. Are you getting out what you pay in for the benefit of your children? If not, start screaming, because that’s the only thing that will motivate those “in charge” to listen and agree to make improvements.

Good luck!

Don Dery

Goodbye Hobby, Goodbye Airbnb

To the Editor:

We have been using Airbnb to rent two bedrooms in our five-bedroom house in the Kay-Catherine neighborhood of Newport, hosting people from all over the country and all over the world, including the dad from southern Georgia who accompanied his son as he entered the Naval War College, the couple from New York enjoying a relaxing weekend together, the Chinese ladies who were making their first visit to Newport, and the retired teacher from Copenhagen (who has since become a good friend). What a joy it was to meet people from all over the world and welcome them to our wonderful city!

That all stopped on Dec. 31, 2016 when we received the Tax Assessor of the State of Rhode Island’s “Annual Return” paperwork, required for Rhode Island businesses, which maintained that we needed to list all assets of our tangible property, including computer equipment, personal property, long life assets, and even disposed assets. This kind of paperwork just didn’t seem to make sense for our little hobby.

But in August of this past year, the town of Newport informed us that we needed to register our Airbnb as a guest house. We didn’t understand at the time that this would obligate us to complete an annual documentation of all our personal belongings.

We now have a new and personal understanding of the excessive regulation that the State of Rhode Island is so famous for. So effective Dec. 31, 2016 we are no longer a guest house. No more Airbnb guests for us. Excessive regulation placed on this activity has taken away our little summer hobby that gave us so much joy.

Randy and Renee Hobbs

Just Make It Work

To the Editor:

The latest island zoning news features not one, but two local businesses with an eye toward expansion: Both KJ’s in Middletown and The Pier in Newport want to build hotels.

In the case of KJ’s, the owner’s design by Herk Works needs not one, not two, not three, but six zoning variances, because their design plans do not conform to existing buffer, setback and square footage requirements. In addition, they need a special use permit because they are situated in a limited business zone.

The Pier wants two variances: one to the dimensional requirements because the hotel would exceed the 40 percent lot coverage by an additional 16 percent and one for parking requirements because they will not have the 21 off-street parking spots required.

Which should leave one wondering: Why can’t these architects design structures that conform to the existing written codes and restrictions, which were instituted for specific reasons, mostly to maintain and enhance the safety, character and infrastructure limits of a community?

The answer is quite simple: money. If an owner feels that he can, without much debate or expense, squeeze in one more room, one more table, or get the town to provide one more parking space, there is considerable additional profit to be had. And from my experience at zoning hearings, there are often very few impediments to getting the additional setbacks, lot coverage and parking exceptions. It takes a group of abutters with good, solid objections.

I think, before we are shoulder-to-shoulder with McMansions, hotels, restaurants and traffic jams while tourists search for non-existent parking, we need to ask our elected and appointed officials to enforce the determined guidelines that were designed with our community’s best interests in mind. Make your hotel smaller so that it conforms to the existing laws. Because if we lose the aesthetically proportioned open spaces between our establishments, we lose our appeal, and with it, the visitors we were hoping to attract.

Toni Wallace Ciany

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