2017-05-04 / Front Page

Yachting Center Development Unveiled

Setting Precedence on the Waterfront
By Bob Rulli


The area in the center of this aerial photo from the early 1950’s is the location for the mixed-use project proposed by the Peregrine Group. To the left is the current location of The Mooring restaurant (A) and to the right is the former Newport Coal Co. (B). Across America's Cup Avenue is the post office (C). 
(Photo Courtesy of Providence Public Library) The area in the center of this aerial photo from the early 1950’s is the location for the mixed-use project proposed by the Peregrine Group. To the left is the current location of The Mooring restaurant (A) and to the right is the former Newport Coal Co. (B). Across America's Cup Avenue is the post office (C). (Photo Courtesy of Providence Public Library) After more than two years since acquiring the Newport Yachting Center in late 2014, the Peregrine Group has come forward with their proposal to develop a portion the property. At the May 1 meeting of the Newport Planning Board, Peregrine principal Colin Kane and other members of Peregrine’s development team presented a mixed-use plan with a three-story building that includes an 84-room boutique hotel, office and retail space, as well as a restaurant. In all, the building would be approximately 47,790 square feet in size. The plan also calls for the inclusion of a public patio and the relocation of the seasonal skating rink to the north of the proposed project, making it adjacent to The Smokehouse Restaurant.


The architectural rendering of the proposed multi-use project to be constructed on the site of the former Newport Yachting Center showcases a boutique hotel with retail and restaurant spaces on the first floor. A public patio in the middle is accessed through a large archway. The skating rink would be located in the upper left area adjacent to America’s Cup Avenue and near the Smoke House restaurant. 
(Renderings by Union Studio Architecture & Community Design,and Birchwood Design Group) The architectural rendering of the proposed multi-use project to be constructed on the site of the former Newport Yachting Center showcases a boutique hotel with retail and restaurant spaces on the first floor. A public patio in the middle is accessed through a large archway. The skating rink would be located in the upper left area adjacent to America’s Cup Avenue and near the Smoke House restaurant. (Renderings by Union Studio Architecture & Community Design,and Birchwood Design Group) The purpose of the presentation was to share the developer’s concept plan with the board and to solicit preliminary comments from members. The meeting had an unusually high number of people in attendance including abutters, other developers, attorneys, advocacy groups and interested residents; however, no public comments were allowed. Kane commented during his presentation that they were there to “listen to the board’s comments,” and that they would consider suggested changes.


A schematic elevation of the proposed Newport Yachting Center Hotel fronting America's Cup Avenue. (Renderings by Union Studio Architecture & Community Design, PARE Corp., and Birchwood Design Group) A schematic elevation of the proposed Newport Yachting Center Hotel fronting America's Cup Avenue. (Renderings by Union Studio Architecture & Community Design, PARE Corp., and Birchwood Design Group) There has been a great deal of speculation as to what the owners would develop on the site and the proposed development will be watched closely by other property owners in the Waterfront Business District, as well as those who discourage further development along the waterfront. At the planning board meeting, some members commented on the height of the building. Pursuant to the Newport Zoning Ordinances, a building height of 45 feet is allowed, but in this case, because the proposal includes a hotel, a building height of 48 feet is allowed. The difference in allowable height also highlights some conflicts within the existing ordinances. If a 45-foot-high building with no hotel is constructed, building height is calculated from “mean sea level”: in the case of a hotel, though, building height is calculated from “mean elevation,” which in the waterfront district can be a difference of up to nine feet.

The concept of a boutique hotel also elicited comments and questions from board members. Matthew Arrants, an executive working on the proposal with the hotel consulting firm Pinnacle Advisory Group, explained, “there is a trend now in the hospitality industry, even among the flagship hotels, to provide smaller rooms based on guests’ preferences.” The zoning ordinance requires hotel rooms to be at least 300 square feet, but the proposed project’s 84 rooms would each be 230 square feet. If the proposal formally moves forward, attorney Neil Galvin, who is representing the owners, advised the board that a special use permit would be required.

A project such as what is being proposed highlights the difficulty for both developers and for the public as to what can be developed when there is a lack of any overall plan for the waterfront district. While the City’s Comprehensive Plan addresses the types of business and activity required and preferred in a specific zoning district, it falls short of addressing things such as Design Guidelines to address things such as building massing and scale, preferred architectural style and features, as well as required public amenities and improvements.

Larry Silverstein, co-owner of the Midtown Oyster Bar and other restaurants in Newport and Baltimore, has developed similar scale projects as to what is being proposed by Peregrine. When contrasting the development environment between the two areas, he stated, “the lack of a Waterfront Master Plan makes it very difficult to conduct due diligence and for a developer to know exactly what to propose and what might get approved, because you just don’t know until you get into the process.” He acknowledged that it “would be expensive and possibly time consuming” to develop a master plan, but he also said, “it would be worth it in the end for everyone.”

The creation of such a plan is also an opportunity to address the public’s concerns on issues such as waterfront access. Friends of the Waterfront have been very active in their advocacy for greater public access to the waterfront and have voiced concern over the proposal. The development of a broader plan would give them and other groups a seat at the table. Kane discussed signage and other amenities that could be incorporated in the area to enhance the waterfront experience.

In his presentation he also indicated several times that one of his firm’s guiding principles is to have “a project that doesn’t create an adverse environment.” He pointed out that the location of the building was designed so as not to obstruct the views of their neighbors at the Harborview Condominium and to “preserve the visual vista” that currently exists as one looks west between the Perry Mill Wharf building and the Post Office when approaching from the east. A large, open archway in the center of the building, along America’s Cup Avenue, which opens access to the public patio were also features he suggested welcome public access.

As proposed, the project would have a state of the art storm water management system. Peregrine has already installed a similar system after working closely with the State’s Coastal Resource Management Commission on the marina portion of Peregrine’s property. Kane stated that not only would the system capture storm water from their site, but also from America’s Cup Avenue and the Historic Hill neighborhood.

If the proposed project is to move forward, it would require a formal development plan submission and will need to go before the Zoning Board of Review and the Planning Board. At the meeting Monday evening, the issue of parking was raised by some board members. As proposed, attorney Galvin said, “a variance would be required for the reduction in the number of required parking spaces.” Kane suggested that even with the reduction of parking spaces, there is still an “adequate supply” of available parking on the site. More detailed traffic and parking data would be analyzed as part of the formal approval process

No developer or owner would suggest that Newport is “anti-development,” but most agreed that the development environment is more reactive than proactive. Several developers attended the meeting seemingly to get an idea as to what lies ahead. With future potential development on sites such as the Perry Mill Wharf, The Pier and other rumored sites along the waterfront, this project will be the template for others, whether or not it moves forward.

Dan Paquette, Managing Partner of SCM, a Newport based Owner’s Representative firm, has overseen the expansion of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and IYRS’s new Composites Program building on lower Thames Street. Like Silverstein, he believes that, “everyone, developers, the City and the public would benefit by the adoption of design guidelines and a master plan.” With those in place, “you have everyone on the same page as to what is allowed and it lends itself to a more efficient and less costly and contentious approval process.”

To that point, he noted that at present, in order to obtain a demolition permit, one would need to have a fully developed storm water management plan before the project has been fully designed, vetted or approved. Typically, he said, “I would get a demolition permit from the Building Department and the storm water plan would be part of the overall project approval.”

If the Peregrine proposal comes to fruition, issues such as traffic, building height and setback, and public access will all be addressed. The potential for this to be a watershed period for development in the City is very real. As Kane pointed out, “for pedestrians walking America’s Cup, leaving Bowen’s and Bannister’s Wharf, they suddenly reach an asphalt desert until they get around to the Perry Mill Building. We want to fill in that gap.” The design of the proposed building led one board member to comment that it “appeared to be too urban,” while another noted that it “should be urban, we are a city.”

Neither Kane nor Galvin offered any timeline on moving forward. It is clear that there will be a great deal of scrutiny around the proposal. Whether the City uses this proposal as a catalyst to develop and adopt more defined development guidelines to the benefit of all stakeholders is an open question.

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