2018-02-22 / Opinion


Admin Approvals Appear Hapazard

To The Editor:

Congratulations to NTW reporter Joseph O’Connor for a great article appropriately titled, “Behind Closed Doors” in the Feb. 8 issue of NTW. It provided much-needed insight into the way our city government conducts its business.

There is a similar cloud of uncertainty surrounding the process of administrative approval for work being done on buildings in our historic districts. City ordinances provide for the Historic District Commission (HDC) to protect the buildings within these districts. If proposed work on an historic building meets the guidelines for historic preservation, the HDC grants a “certificate of appropriateness” (COA) and, pending approval by the Zoning Board, work can proceed.

The ordinances also provide that Planning Department staff may grant a COA under certain circumstances. The guidelines for this are vague and state that the only exception for a full application and a review by the HDC is for "ordinary maintenance and repair of any of the existing features of a structure or building that does not involve a change in design, materials or the outward appearance.”

In the Historic Hill neighborhood where I live and work, there have been a number of administrative approvals given out for work that changes the historic character of buildings in significant ways. These should have required a decision by the HDC as a whole if the guidelines had been followed.

The circumstances under which these administrative approvals are being issued need to be exposed to the same kind of scrutiny that you brought to the question of closed-door council meetings. If overused, and without stronger guidelines and a more transparent process, these administrative approvals will have a cumulative effect that will seriously erode the integrity of these internationally important buildings and districts and subvert the very good work being done by the HDC.

There are several questions that need answers. How many of these administratively approved COAs have been issued over the past several years? How many of them include work that “involve a change in design, materials or the outward appearance” of a historic building? Are these approvals reviewed by the HDC as a whole? Can they be overturned?

These policies and guidelines for administrative approval need to be more clearly defined, tightened up, and posted in a place where they are easy to find. As neighbors and abutters, we deserve to be notified about these approvals in a timely fashion so that an appeal can be made if necessary. Finally, all administrative approvals should be published every week. The City website is the ideal place for all this information to be posted.

More transparency around these issues will help owners, neighbors, and the city government alike work together to deal with the issues of historic preservation in a living, changing, dynamic city. It will help ensure that one of Newport’s most important resources, its world class historic architecture, is fully protected in a way that is above-board, predictable, and fair. We should be as proud of the way we manage these resources as we are of the historic architecture itself.

Daniel Snydacker

The World is Not Flat

To the Editor:

I have been reading comments on a sandwich shop at the Breakers and all the money spent for nothing, that better directed could have helped many Newporters in need.

I have read issues about a cell phone antenna that clearly must go somewhere if we all want to speak and text.

And, now the Armory for the Sailing Hall of Fame. It would be an honor to have that hall of fame here, just like the Tennis Hall of Fame and the Audrain Automobile Museum.

Must all people have an opinion just to have one?

This is a sailing city, once host to the America’s Cup now a host to the Volvo race, and look at the harbor it is full of boats. This city’s founding was boats: trading, sometimes in war and its racing pedigree.

What better place for the Sailing Hall of Fame but here?

The world is not flat my friends and don’t look a gift horse in the mouth just to have an opinion.

Brian Sullivan

A Multi-purpose Rogers

To the Editor:

The sign that I want to see in front of the new Rogers High School reads: “Rogers High School and Conference Center.” With Newport’s seasonal visitors, the school department should take advantage of our high season (which is the school's low season) and consider hosting large corporations that would need meeting spaces and the all important auditorium. Rogers can provide both with plenty of summertime and weekend parking. Newport is in the unique situation to support such a facility, which is not provided by our area hotels, and has the opportunity to create a marketable destination for major corporate functions. Kitchen facilities, bathrooms, parking, a large well-equipped auditorium, and multiple meeting rooms mean that Rogers could easily host events for a few hundred attendees at a time. Income from these venues would go along way to reducing the cost of school operations to Newport Taxpayers. Go Newport can promote Rogers High School and Conference Center to a national audience. So, yes build a new high school, but build a smart multi purpose school that could end up making money for the City and its taxpayers.

Federico Santi

The Armory as an Incubator

To the Editor:

As a local business owner who manufactures product for shops nationally, the Armory Antiques has been essential to our success. We use the Armory as a new product incubator for packaging improvements and to gain insight into merchandising and product display. For the past three years our company, Mapisart, has rented space in the Armory, and we’ve found the international exposure that the Armory uniquely offers has had a huge impact on the growth of our brand.

Despite its name, the Armory is far more than just antiques. Many area entrepreneurs have tried out product there to see if an idea works in "the real world.” Local business owners are able to test their mettle at the marketplace and gain valuable feedback for improvements all while helping to support our local economy.

After 23 years, the Armory has an established brand and visitors come year after year to see what’s new. Is another sailing museum going to bring people back more than once? And does our town really need another museum dedicated to dead white men? As a white man who has spent much of his life as part of the boating industry, I can say we have that category well covered.

The Armory should continue to thrive as it is: a low cost/low risk resource for local manufacturers that want to test product and gain exposure to an international audience. This is the best use of the space and will assist in diversifying our economy.

Trip Wolfskehl

Action Needed Now

To the Editor:

With the passing of 14 high school students and three staff members in Florida this week, it seems that we have heard a lot of hot air from politicians about more gun laws and mental health assistance, but nothing has ever been done to protect our students now. Our first priority should be to protect our students on school grounds while working on those other issues.

An Education Protection Force should be instituted right here, right now in Newport, Rhode Island. Just like our congresspersons have for themselves, known as the U.S. Capitol Police. This could consist of current and retired police, firefighters, EMT personnel, NRA instructors, and more. Let's combat the problem with trained individuals at every door of a school and work out the other details simultaneously.

Paul Bernier

Fostering Responsible Habits

To the Editor:

With the City Council’s passage of the “School Recycling and Waste Diversion Resolution,” the Newport Energy and Environment Commission (NEEC) is looking forward to continuing the conversation. The NEEC applauds this resolution as one of the many steps Newport has taken on its path to a greener future.

It is clear that we as a community must reduce our landfill contribution and work to instill the values of recycling and waste diversion in the youngest members of our community. The landfill is set to close in 2038 and as a community we must take steps now to impart responsible waste diversion practices in the schools to foster responsible habits. It is our goal that this resolution will drive the change needed to better educate our youth and afford them the opportunity to make better waste disposal decisions in the future.

We thank the Council for recognizing this opportunity in our community and appreciate the opportunity to continue to work toward accomplishing this resolution’s goals for the coming school year and going forward into the future to divert measurable resources from the landfill.

As always, we encourage interested community members to attend our meetings on the second Monday of the month at the Newport Public Library.

The Newport Energy & Environment Commission:

Elizabeth Blank, Kristie Gardener, Terry Mason, Ellen Nichols, Lola Herrera Ximenez, Melanie Saunders, and Sam Shuford

Editor's note: See newportnow.online for a video link of the student presentation at the Feb. 14 Newport City Council meeting.

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