2018-04-05 / Front Page

Planning Board Approves 'Tea' for Tea House

By Andy Long

The Newport Planning Board considered at length two petitions, one for a tea house and another for a guest house, at its April 2 meeting.

The Preservation Society of Newport County asked for a special use permit to allow snacks and non-alcoholic drinks to be served in the historic Chinese Tea House, which is on the grounds of Marble House, only to Society members and ticketed guests.

William Landry, a Providence attorney who represented the Society at the hearing, called the potential victuals “benign refreshment,” stating that only two types of sandwiches and one salad would be served each day. Other items would include pre-packaged items such as cookies, as well as soft drinks, coffee, and of course tea.

Further, all food preparation would be done elsewhere, with the sandwiches and salads wrapped up before being brought to the site.

Members of the board expressed concerns about the trash that would be generated. Landry answered by pointing out that the Society had a record of taking great care in maintaining the grounds of its properties.

Landry went on to say, “There is a need for the elderly and for the schoolchildren who frequent these buildings to purchase refreshments without going into the heart of the city,” mentioning how hot some summer days are and how large Marble House is. He said that the Society pledged to serve food and drinks only where the site was large enough and the volume of visitors high enough that it necessitated an area where guests might sit down and have a break.

Preservation Society properties meeting those stipulations are the Breakers Welcome Center, Marble House with the Chinese Tea House, Rosecliff, and the Elms. Food and drink service, Landry said, would not be appropriate for smaller sites such as Chepstow and Chateausur Mer.

Landry pointed out that, “rarely has a project conformed more thoroughly to the comprehensive plan,” stating that serving refreshments at the Chinese Tea House is congruent with its aim of promoting cultural tourism, and going on to say that, “Throughout the comp plan there is an aspiration to this type of enhancement of the cultural tourism experience.”

Landry also stressed that the facility, with its restricted offerings, would not compete with local restaurants.

The motion to recommend approval to the Zoning Review Board passed, 6-2.

The other petition considered at length was from Christopher Hosking and Janet Stevenson, owners of a home at 211 Eustis Ave. It has an attached garage, with a second floor apartment. The petitioners have requested approval for a special use permit to convert the garage apartment into a guest house.

In their application, the owners cited several elements in Newport’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan to support their petition, stating that taxes generated by guest houses, along with the activities of the guests, such as dining out, are important sources of revenue and economic activity for the City.

The owners had been renting out that space through services such as AirBnB, but discontinued doing so when they received a letter from the City informing them that they were not in compliance with regulations governing short-term rentals.

Thomas Orr represented the owners and he agreed to two conditions. First was that at least one of the owners would be on site when the garage apartment is rented. The owners have a yachting business and travel often. If neither is present to monitor guests, it would not be rented.

The other restriction is that no more than two guests could stay at any one time. Orr pointed out that the apartment has only a fold-out queen sized bed, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for more than two. He further agreed that guests would not be allowed to bring a small child to make a third. Additionally, the site’s parking area has space for five cars, so there would be no issue of on-street parking.

Attorney Turner Scott spoke when Orr finished, saying that he represented two neighbors who have objections, but that he would take up their issues with the Zoning Review Board, the next step in the City’s approval process.

Scott then went on to speak about the growth of short-term rentals in Newport and how in his opinion the City had yet to properly address the regulatory issues raised by this phenomenon, saying that, “The City is not talking to each other”: different departments have differing regulations and procedures.

He added, “It’s not an economic development issue,” going further to say, “In my mind it’s more of how these Bed and Breakfasts and guest houses are, even as small as this one, how are they melding into neighborhoods and how should they meld into neighborhoods.”

He suggested that the Planning Board should be cautious in recommending approval of units such as the one at 211 Eustis Ave. before the city has established firm policies regarding short-term rentals.

The Board recommended approval, with the conditions that the owners’ representative had accepted.

The next meeting of the Planning Board will be April 24.

In other matters:

.A petition by JCF, LLC for a special use permit to convert a dwelling unit into a four-bedroom guesthouse was withdrawn.

.A petition by Paul McBride for a special use permit to convert a single-family house into an owner occupied four-bedroom guesthouse was continued to May.

.A petition by Kenneth L. Blane and Kathleen and David Staab for a special use permit to convert an art gallery into a fast food restaurant serving shaved ice cones was approved.

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