2017-09-21 / Around Town

Decision on Yachting Center Hotel to Come Next Week

By Bob Rulli

A planned hotel and mixed-use development at the location of the former Yachting Center entertainment complex came before the Newport Zoning Board of Appeals on September 18 for a special meeting. The developers, the Peregrine Group, had called for the Special Meeting in order that they might make a comprehensive and uninterrupted presentation of the project and to articulate the relief they are seeking from the City. The proposed project includes an 84-room boutique hotel, a 5000-square foot restaurant, office space and an outdoor patio.

Attorney Neil Galvin, who represents the developers, started the three and half hour-long meeting by telling board members, "you have a unique opportunity to give the City of Newport a unique economic development opportunity." The project needs to receive zoning relief in the form of a variance in order to meet the parking requirements and also a special use permit, as the project’s hotel rooms are less than 300 square feet each, which is the square footage required by ordinance.

Galvin told the board his clients are prepared to include two additional parcels they own, to the north of the hotel, in order to reduce the parking burden. He suggested that by including those two parcels, his clients would not need relief from the parking requirement. That would be true if the board decides to allow two non-contiguous or off-site parcels to contribute to the parking requirement.

Galvin also addressed the request from Friends of the Waterfront that there be deeded public access to the waterfront. He said, "the owners are prepared to create a permanent access agreement that could be recorded in the Land Evidence Records but in the form of a license agreement and not a deed." While showing the board a map of the area that would include public access, Peregrine partner Sam Bradner said, "we are prepared to extend that access to the south, should the opportunity to connect with that property which is currently for sale ever come about." In reference the property to the south, Bradner was referring to the Perry Mill wharf.

Several members of the board were under the impression that when the Planning Board gave their conceptual approval of the project in July, they did so with the understanding that there would be deeded access. Zoning Officer Guy Weston explained to the board, "it was discussed but it was never formerly included in the motion to approve."

Galvin then explained to the Board that there were practical and legal reasons why a license agreement was the only alternative his clients had, suggesting that any potential lender would have difficulty with the deeded rights.

Friends of the Waterfront, a non-profit citizen group that has long advocated for the preservation and enhancement of public access to Newport's waterfront, went on record as being opposed to the project and objecting to the license agreement as the means to preserve access. In a written statement read to the board by Attorney Marissa Desautel of Providence, on behalf the group, it was argued that if the City was being asked to grant variances and a special use permit, "from the applicable zoning requirements, then the community should receive something of value in exchange. We believe this should be in the form of a recorded easement that would secure the public's right of access to the waterfront, and enable the City of Newport to eventually construct the harbor walk it has long desired."

Zoning Board Chair Rebecca McSweeney questioned Desautel: “What standing does Friends of the Waterfront have? They are not abutters. How are they harmed?” Desautel responded by saying that there are several state Supreme Court decisions that offer broad scope as to the definition of who can be harmed. She suggested that as a civic organization working to protect waterfront access, they did have standing.

Much of the testimony throughout the evening was offered by the developer's subject matter experts on hotel use, architecture, landscape design and traffic. There were many questions from the board on the need for 84 rooms.

Peregrine partner Colin Kane told the board, "84 rooms is the minimum of what is economically feasible."

McSweeney then asked what is economic feasibility, and questioning if it was profit. The question of economic feasibility came up several times, both from board members and from the development group.

Kane told the board, "the project needs to make sense in order for it to be financed."

In addressing the same point in his closing summation, Galvin said, "The owners are entitled to some positive economic return, a reasonable return." He went on to reiterate to the board the concessions that are being made by the owners to benefit the public, including the public access walkways and access to the patio overlooking the water.

No vote was taken at the meeting. A decision will be made public at the next meeting of the board on Monday, Sept. 25.

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