2017-03-30 / Front Page

Town Mulls New Tax Program for Easton’s

By Olga Enger

The long discussed idea to give Middletown’s Easton’s Point neighborhood a facelift is gaining traction at Town Hall. A recent surge in development may present an opportunity to dedicate the new tax revenue back into the area.

Town Administrator Shawn Brown recommended that the town dedicate the growing tax revenues into a tax incremental funding (TIF) program. “Under TIF, the increased tax revenues generated by development are dedicated to a project in a designated improvement district, and not the general fund,” Brown wrote in a memo that appeared on the March 20 Town Council docket. The TIF program is only appropriate for areas that expect future development, he added.

In 2007, after surveying businesses and residents, consultants published the “Atlantic Beach District Master Plan,” which detailed recommendations for the area, including landscaping, upgrades to sidewalks, and lighting. Although streetscaping projects have been mentioned enthusiastically over the years, projects have failed to gain traction.

TIFs are restricted by state statute and can be complex, said Brown. Councilors supported engaging consultants MuniCap, Inc. to provide a preliminary financial feasibility analysis, to determine if TIF would be an appropriate funding source for the Atlantic Beach District Master Plan. The initial study would cost up to $4,000.

The idea was first proposed by the Middletown Economic Development Advisory committee (MEDAC) after reviewing potential funding options to get the project off the ground.

“The Atlantic Beach District started 10 years ago. Do we actually have an Atlantic Beach District? Or do we just base that on a future plan?” asked Councilor Paul Rodrigues.

“It’s a loosely defined district,” Brown answered, adding that there is no formal definition or zoning for the area.

Rodrigues urged the town to outline a detailed vision to encourage development that would preserve the personality of the beach neighborhood and encourage tourism.

“I agree with you Paul, we have to do it smart,” Councilor Henry Lombardi said. “The balance between open space and development is a delicate one.”

Councilor Antone Viveros asked to stop all development for six months, while the town rethinks the zoning restrictions.

“'I’d like to see us take a breather of further development and expansion of that area,” said Viveros.

His motion was not supported by the other councilors, after Town Solicitor Peter Regan said he had a “lot of serious concerns” about a moratorium violating state law.

Last year, brothers Peter and Harry Kyriakides sold their beachfront restaurant, the Atlantic Beach Club, for $12 million to Longwood Venues of Boston. The new owners converted the building into a luxury wedding venue, Newport Beach House, which has been called a “local economic engine” by officials. Once the Kyriakides brothers sold the Atlantic Beach Club, they demolished their nearby economy hotel, Seaview Inn, located at 240 Aquidneck Ave., to build a midrange hotel, restaurant, and event venue. Construction is still underway at what is now called the Atlantic Beach Resort.

Since then, a handful of nearby properties have undergone redevelopment, the most recent being an expansion of Cumberland Farms at 94 Aquidneck Ave., which broke ground this week. Earlier this year, the owners of KJ’s Restaurant submitted plans to construct a four-story, 18-room hotel and restaurant that included six zoning variances.

Last year, to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety at lower Aquidneck Ave., the Town Council approved a Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) project to build a landscaped roundabout at the intersection of Aquidneck Ave. and Valley Road. At that same meeting, council approved removing the slip lane from the intersection in front of the Newport Beach House and replacing it with a bump-out for pedestrians.

The town will partner with RIDOT to accelerate these projects that align with the Atlantic Beach Master plan, said Brown.

“The town has promoted the Atlantic Beach Master plan to RIDOT. The town is currently identifying the cost to complete the plans necessary to make road and streetscape improvements,” Brown wrote in the memo.

“I would like us to encourage community-friendly and inviting businesses,” said Rodrigues. “I look at the North End of Newport, and what they have done down off Broadway. They seem to be doing O.K. The infrastructure improvements are attractive, with the improved parking.”

Brown is part of the TIF Task Force, which is reviewing and making recommendations to improve the current status in the General Assembly.

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