2018-07-12 / Opinion

New Development Review Process Possible

By James Merolla

The Newport Planning Board voted 6-0 on July 9 to further change a previous request to amend the city’s existing development plan review process.

Although planning officials were reminded that the original request from attorney Jay Lynch, representing Salve Regina University, is not specific to one plan in particular, any new review process would have ramifications for all new large plans because it would put the city’s zoning process in line with the state’s code of review.

On April 23, Lynch filed a letter notifying the board of the withdrawal of petitions that called for the demolition of five houses and the wing of an historic building in order to construct two 400-plus room dorms for college juniors. The plan met months of stiff opposition from abutters, who hired two lawyers to argue against it.

The action followed a withdrawal of the same plan from consideration by the Historic District Commission (HDC) at a special meeting on April 10.

In March, Lynch made the request to the City Council to amend Newport’s zoning ordinance so that it complies with the R.I. Enabling Act.

“The city’s current development plan review does not follow the requirement of the R.I. laws,” he said. “We are also correcting a few conflicting provisions in the Historic District Zoning exception section.”

A draft of that new Development Plan Review (DPR) ordinance came before the Planning Board on July 9.

“Note that attorney Lynch’s request has already been acted upon by the city,” City Planner Christine O’Grady said. “This review is not for any specific project like Salve, but rather to amend the existing development plan review process. Basically, the city has DPR, so the change will bring the existing process into compliance with the state.”

The ordinance would also establish a Technical Review Committee comprised of planners, zoning officials, engineers, fire marshals, city officials, and volunteers, additional to the current process of having site plans approved and in compliance with city planning, zoning ordinances and Historic District exceptions. O’Grady would serve as the administrative officer of the proposed committee.

Attorney Patrick Dougherty, who represents several opposing abutters to the plan, said in April that the zoning revision was just a temporary shift in Salve Regina’s strategy, that the new strategy is an attempt to circumvent existing review processes.

Several attorneys from both sides of the issue spoke at the July 9 meeting, but city solicitor Christopher Behan reminded board members that this change is not project specific and those speaking were addressing particular interests.

If passed, the Technical Review Committee will serve as the review agency for uses permitted by right, which are subject to development plan review, including the potential building of transient guest facilities; any multi-family dwelling of six units or greater; any commercial use of 10,000 gross square footage or greater; any restaurant with 4,000 gross square footage or greater; any professional or medical office or combination of same with 10,000 gross square footage or greater; hospitals, convalescent and rest homes; schools, colleges and universities, including dormitories, museums, libraries, churches, alcohol research and rehabilitation facilities; parking areas for more than 10 automobiles; vacation guest facilities and guest houses.

The Planning Board provided the City Council recommendations on the proposed amendments to the existing ordinance. The board agreed to provide a letter of recommendation suggesting revisions that ensure terms used throughout the chapter are consistent with the zoning code, application and Comprehensive Land Use Plan, along with adding a definitions section to the chapter and making sure that it adequately addresses the Technical Review Committee’s charge within the development plan review process for uses that are permitted by right that are subject to development plan review.

In other matters

. The application of Richard L. and Dianne Dallmeyer, applicant and owner, for a minor subdivision at 10 Shields St., was denied.

. The petition of Leslie Gillette and James Pallis for a special use permit and zoning variance for permission to convert a two-family residence to a “seasonal guest house,” at 11-13 Brewer St., was continued to the Aug. 6 meeting.

Return to top