2018-04-26 / Front Page

Planning Board Hears Disputes in Dorm Process

By Andy Long

The Newport Planning Board reviewed a set of changes to the zoning code at its April 24 meeting in the case of Salve Regina University and its plan to build two new dormitories.

Jeremiah Lynch, representing the university, described his amendment as “a limited change to a glaring problem.” Part of what he offered received support from both the board and attorneys who represent opposing property owners.

Lynch believes that the city’s protocols for handling larger developments such as Salve’s planned new dormitories violates the state legislation that enables municipal zoning.

The state’s Enabling Act allows for a Development Plan Review Board, a body of experts on public safety, environmental impact and other like concerns. But if a community has such a board in place, its planning rather than its zoning board must by the state law first review any application for larger developments.

Patrick Dougherty, an attorney representing nearby homeowners agreed that Newport needs to align its development review practices with state law but cautioned against another element of Lynch’s suggestions, the moving of reviewing storm water runoff concerns from an early to later stage of the approval process.

He argued that this reform would be questionable, saying, “What Salve is doing is gutting the storm water review process, moving it from where the City Council saw fit to place it, with the Development Review Board… It’s taking some very timely, cogent and important storm water review from the Development review [board]. I advise you wholeheartedly not to do so.”

Karen Benson, who represents property owners on Webster Ave., objected to Lynch’s proposals as they would change city policy and practices based on one project without considering the impact throughout Newport, saying, “I would submit that to have this modification, it needs to apply to all kinds of commercial development… We need to take the 10,000-foot view. This is just taking a single project view, so Salve can get their project approved.”

The board had concerns with the fact that by ordinance they had only 45 days to make a recommendation to the City Council regarding Lynch’s amendment and had little input from city staff. They decided not to recommend approval, leaving the council to resolve the matter.

Salve has formally withdrawn their petition asking approval for the two new dorms but will reapply when the ordinances comply with state law.

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