2018-04-05 / Around Town

New Docks on the Docket for Council

One Approved, One Continued
By Andy Long

Newport City Council considered two proposals for new docks along Washington Street at its March 28 meeting. The requests had been reviewed by the Planning Department, the Waterfront Commission and the harbormaster before being presented to the council for its endorsement.

Approving or disapproving any new dock is not within the city council’s authority. Final decisions are made by the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). The council makes only recommendations.

The proposal for a dock of 102 feet at 88 Washington St. was unanimously approved. The dock needs to be of that length to be clear of the eel grass at that location, as CRMC regulations prohibit structures impacting or damaging it. The applicants, Edward and Ellen Reynolds, who live on the harborside of the street, have committed to keeping the gate to the new pier unlocked from the water side to allow the fire department and harbormaster access in case of emergency.

The second proposal was not resolved as quickly. The applicant, Dr. Eric George of 117 Washington St., would like to build a 162-foot dock across the street from his home, again with the length of the pier dictated by the need to avoid damaging the eel grass growing on the site. He also agreed to allow emergency use of the dock.

The submission was approved by the Waterfront Commission and the harbormaster, but not by the Planning Board. The board ruled that the proposed pier failed to meet two goals of the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which are to “maintain views and access to the waterfront areas,” and to “protect the existing character of residential neighborhoods.”

Councilor Susan Taylor pointed to those two elements of the plan in her comments and, referring to the length of the proposed dock, said, “At 117 Washington St., this dock would jut out much further into the bay, and the waters there are much rougher than those at 88 Washington St.”

Taylor also objected to a gate that would be installed in the chain link fence running along the bulkhead, saying, “It’s just not a good look.”

In support of the proposed dock, Councilor Marco Camacho said that he was “surprised that the Waterfront Commission would vote unanimously for and that the Planning Board would vote unanimously against [the dock].”

He pointed to the $950,000 price paid for the house in 2016 and its current assessed value of $1.1 million. He said it would be unfair to an owner who had paid for a property, thinking he had riparian rights, to deny him a dock and, referring to the approval given to the Reynolds’ dock, added, “If it’s good for one owner, it should be good for both.”

City Planner Christine O’Grady and Melissa Pattavina, a member of the Planning Board, then spoke before the council. O’Grady supported George’s submission, pointing out that he owns lots on the land side of Washington Street, where his house is located, and on the water side of the street, which is partially submerged. She said that it’s unfair to tax the second lot if he can’t build a dock there.

Still, the board voted unanimously against the dock. Pattavina said it was “a particularly difficult decision,” but that they were concerned about the precedent of allowing a gate on the chain link fence running along the water’s edge. Pattavina also spoke to the volatility of the water at that location and said that the board was concerned that the dock would become a storm hazard if not properly maintained.

The final two presenters both represented George. Providence attorney Brian LaPlante asked that the council take into consideration that the harbormaster and the Waterfront Commission, experts in these matters, supported the proposal.

Ron Blanchard, an engineer from Bristol and the designer of the dock, said that the 162-foot length reflected the need to go further than the eel grass and to allow enough of a draw for George’s boat. He said that in CRMC regulations, docks of up to 200 feet are allowed if circumstances warrant it.

The council then voted on two motions. The first was to recommend to the CRMC that the city had no objections to the proposed dock and that the City recommended that it be approved. It was defeated by a 4-3 vote.

Mayor Harry Winthrop, who supported approval of George’s dock, spoke before the vote was taken on the second motion. Raising his objection to sending the city solicitor to a CRMC hearing to oppose a measure supported by the harbormaster, the Waterfront Commission and the City Planner, and opposed only by the Planning Board, he said, “We have three out of four entities, and two of them, the Harbormaster and the Waterfront Commission are the experts, as far as I’m concerned, on water use, who do not have objections. We’re going to send the city solicitor to argue this with an empty quiver.”

The Mayor continued, “Every time we go against our staff we get ourselves in trouble.” He then referenced an earlier effort by the Council to deny a Victualing License for the Breakers, despite city staff advising otherwise, “It ended up in the Supreme Court and we came away with egg on our face.”

The second motion was then made, asking the CRMC to hold a hearing on the dock, but that the City had objections. It passed, 4-3.

The council will meet next on April 11.

In other matters:

. Two members of the city’s Department of Finance, Director Laura Sitrin and Elizabeth Sceppa, a budget and finance analyst, along with the department, have been awarded Certificates of Recognition for Distinguished Budget Presentation by the Government Finance Officers Association, a trade association for state and local government financial officials.

. The resignation of Sam Shuford from the Energy and Environment Commission was received with regret.

. A victualing license was approved at Empire Tea & Coffee.

. A resolution concerning RIPTA’s “talking buses” was continued.

. A contract of $35,320 was approved with Utilitronics of Plainville, Massachusetts to install their Correlux C-3 ProPlus System, which monitors leaks in the city’s water lines.

. A three-year contract of $90,000 was approved with Earthworks Landscaping, LLC of Middletown to mow the lawns at three city cemeteries: North Common Burial Ground, Common Burial Ground and Braman Cemetery.

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