Newport This Week

Mixed Feelings on Town’s Mixed-Use Hub Plan

A rendering for the proposed Middletown Commons.

A rendering for the proposed Middletown Commons.

A residential and commercial development project proposed for West Main Road was met with considerable opposition during a Middletown Planning Board hearing on April 21.

The project, which includes a 144-room hotel and 150 residential units of varying sizes, would be the largest new development taken on by the town in decades. The 15-acre site encompasses the Pottsy Field recreational complex, the Middletown Library, the former John F. Kennedy Elementary School and vacant land on the corner of West Main Road and Coddington Highway. It was purchased by the town from the federal government in 2018 for $1.3 million.

But many residents and business owners expressed concerns at the hearing, questioning the size of the development, its impact on traffic congestion and what they viewed as inadequate community space.

Instead, residents support a modern recreational facility open to the public year-round rather than a hotel on the vacant land, decrying the many former establishments that have closed over the years that have not been replaced.

“We don’t have anything for our kids and families to do,” said Karen Biastre, a Middletown resident and member of the Middletown Affordable Housing Committee. “There are 13 existing hotels and inns along the West Main Road corridor. That’s 13 in 3.7 miles. Do we really need a 14th?”

Linda Finn, former state representative for District 72, questioned the project being billed as a new town center, calling the proposed development “an island unto itself.”

“The talk of the bicycles and the pedestrian access and circulation is great,” she said. “But where I live, on Aquidneck Avenue, I’m not going to ride my bike over there . . . It is really not connecting to the rest of the community.”

At the close of over three hours of presentation and public testimony, the Planning Board voted affirmatively that the design is “generally consistent” with the town’s comprehensive community plan. The board will conduct one more meeting to identify aspects of the plan that might be amended, and to incorporate further suggestions for the developers before final approval by the Town Council.

The development team, led by Rocky Kempenaar, James Karam and Christopher Bicho, have promised the complex will bring in over $1 million in new tax revenue, as well as create a number of temporary and permanent jobs.

“Very few towns have this opportunity,” Bicho said. “Newport would never have this opportunity. Tiverton doesn’t have this opportunity. Portsmouth doesn’t have this opportunity. This is really the center of the island.”

The total cost of the project is estimated at $104.2 million, according to the development team’s planning documents. Under their proposal, the town would retain ownership of the land and enter into a long-term lease for up to 99 years.

The hotel would be built on the vacant land and include both traditional and extended-stay rooms under either the Marriott or Hilton hotel chains, they said. There would be a mix of residential and commercial buildings fronting West Main Road, with apartment buildings situated behind them. The proposal includes a 6,000-square-foot community center and calls for a common green space with an outdoor stage and a 10,000-square-foot library.

The history of what to do with the property has been a focal point of debate for 15 years, with mentions of the parcel referenced in town planning documents dating back to 2008.

The development team vowed to take public input into consideration as the plans evolve. However, they maintained the project was not financially feasible without the hotel, and said the current market conditions would support the added rooms.

“There were many good ideas [presented by the public]. And some of them will be incorporated and some of them won’t,” said Karam.

Board Chair Paul Croce asked the team’s attorney, Girard Galvin, if the elimination of the hotel was a “nonstarter.”

“My perception with working with my clients so far is that . . . this team and this project could not advance without that being part of this proposal,” he said. “It would simply not work.”

Galvin said they will digest the public input for consideration as the final plans are cemented.

“Ultimately, we hope you see this as a unique opportunity that we have to advance the town’s interest and do something meaningful with this property that is consistent with the comprehensive plan,” he said.

According to a 2021 report compiled by Discover Newport, there are currently 23 hotels, motels, inns, and other lodging establishments in Middletown, totaling 1,453 rooms.

The Planning Board recommendations now go to the Town Council for consideration before being kicked back to the board for a final review process. Interested residents may still submit comments on the town’s website.

3 responses to “Mixed Feelings on Town’s Mixed-Use Hub Plan”

  1. J Jones says:

    Affordable housing is needed affordable apartments is needed the whole Island is lacking in the area because everything else is s tourist rentals which has created a major housing problem on this Island that effects all three City s the Government in all three know it and Need to do something about it stop playing games

  2. Linda Finn says:

    Please note that the “community Center” is for residents only and would include a sales center for the project. It is not a public space. Below is my letter to the Planning Board and Town Council.

    April 30, 2022

    Dear Chairman Paul A. Croce and Planning Board members-

    After attending the meeting on the 21st and reviewing the proposed documents and previous planning documents here are my comments and concerns about this project moving forward.

    The premise for the project which was taken from the previous work of the Planning Department and the RFI for Town Center outlined is here:

    “While both previous studies concluded that some mixed-use development would be the preferred outcome of the site, community members continue to express various other ideas about the space, including — but not limited to — goals listed below.

    Vibrant Town/Community Center A Town Center that offers common space for community gatherings, strong urban design, a Town “gateway,” and improved pedestrian experiences.

    This Center might also retain some level of municipal-related use. Mixed-Use Development Provide office or residential uses above retail, creating density, encouraging investment, and promoting alternative forms of transportation. Affordable and Workforce Housing Multi-family housing units, available for rent or purchase at affordable prices.”

    Please refer to the report here: Matrix Final Report 2014 . Below are the two concepts that are the result of the work of the community group and in the Matrix report:

    Concept One:

    (a) Civic: 121,000 square feet

    (b) Town Hall with Council Chambers and Administrative Offices,

    (c) Public Library,

    (d) School District Administration Offices,

    (e) Community Theater/Cultural Center

    (f) Retail: 70,000 square feet

    Building configurations allow for small box anchors or restaurants and/or inline shops Office: 64,000 square feet, Space calculated as being one level above most retail uses.

    Concept Two:


    Civic: 100,000 square feet
    Town Hall with Council Chambers and Administrative Offices,
    Public Library,
    School District Administration Offices,
    Community Theater/Cultural Center, Outdoor Amphitheater
    Retail/Office: 230,000 square feet Includes space for Senior Center and Daycare Center.
    Building configurations allow for mostly small retail shops and restaurants, but not large anchor retail users. Office space calculated as being one level above most retail uses. Residential: 120 dwelling units (800 SF- 1200 SF) 200 parking spaces provided, some within first level of building included 121,000 s.f. of municipal space and 134,000 of retail/office space and 150 units of housing.

    The Landings proposal includes :

    88,000 s.f. of hotel space,

    25-30,000 of Retail

    only 10,000 for a new library (the current library is at 14,000 s.f.).

    150 units of housing.

    In the Landings Proposal, they offered to provide “integration of our community” but yet there is no connection of either Constellation Ave or Constitution Ave to the Town Center, The proposed plan does not appear to integrate at all into the Landings property.

    The developers mentioned “affordable units” and “workforce housing” interchangeably with “market rate” housing. The town is in dire need of truly affordable housing, the housing that was mentioned would be accessible only to those making over $22 an hour. As resident Jennifer Barrerra testified, a newly hired police officer, hotel workers, and others would not be able to afford to live in any of the housing being proposed. Clarifying the exact type of housing is important.

    It was brushed aside, but evidently there is a 4 acre requirement for open/green space on the property that the developers say will be moved somewhere else in town. That proposed area of the project is densely populated and recreational spaces such as a playground, pickle ball courts and other ideas would be more appropriate than just one acre of grass proposed. This section of Middletown is the most densely populated, and according to the Open Space Committee, the most underserved when it comes to Open Space and recreation. The proposal of a private pool and a “Community Room, which is really a sales office should be re-considered.

    Many of the residents who spoke at the meeting stressed the lack of community spaces for youth and adults town. The new library would be an ideal spot to add community rooms, broadband hotspots and possibly spaces for home based tele-workers to come for respite and sense of belonging. Reducing the size of the library and inferring that libraries may be outdated is inaccurate. Please read this recent article :

    With the past two years of being locked own with Covid, it has also reminded us of many of the things we find most valuable in our communities: walkability, parks, beautiful natural surroundings, historic buildings and neighborhoods and familiar local businesses. Many business have adapted creatively by offering more outdoor spaces for cafes and restaurants and increasing opportunities for walking, biking and outdoor commerce in business districts and on neighborhood streets. While this plan does connect to the bike path, on Coddington Avenue, having the bike lane cross the entrances to the property on West Main Road seem dangerous and will further slowing down traffic on that road. Including 2 drive through businesses and little outdoor business space will only add to car traffic

    It is obvious that to make the numbers wok for the these developers, they require a hotel on the property. With the Newport Grand Proposal including two six story hotels plus 2 six story apartment buildings: Should we be relying on the prospect of their revenue while not meeting the clear community and municipal needs of the town?

    Finally, I don’t believe that the proposal we saw addresses the needs of town, nor has it met the requirements of the RFI for Town Center:

    Obviously, the town needs revenue since they have woefully underfunded our schools for years and are being faced with a large deficit, but I do not believe this plan will be the panacea for revenue and we will be giving up (forever) the use of this property for Middletown residents.

    I urge the Planning Board ( and Town Council) to review what was being asked, what the residents of the town are clamoring for and not make a hasty decision.


    Linda Finn

    351 Comptonview Drive


    cc: Ron Wolanski

    Town Council Members

    • Thank you Linda. You clearly point out this proposal will not benefit the residents of Middletown as much as it would benefit visitors. If the project includes recreation space visitors could use it as well. Residents don’t need a hotel. Libraries are hubs of the community and offer flexible space. Middletown would be short changing themselves by decreasing the size of the library. This is not the location for a hotel. Maybe a suit needs to be filed to prevent the land swap from happening, an idea that sounds like it was conveniently made up.

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