The Rhode Island Supreme Court today rejected an appeal by a neighborhood association, bringing closer the Newport Preservation Society’s plans to build a $5.2 million visitor center at the Breakers, a 70 – room mansion that has been called the “crown jewel” of Newport’s summer cottages.
In a 15-page decision the Supreme Court saw no reason to overturn the Superior Court’s previous ruling that said the city’s Zoning Board of Review was the appropriate board to determine whether or not the welcome city should be built. The Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association had attempted to block the Zoning Board from hearing the proposal. The Superior Court rejected the neighborhood group’s claim, which the group then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Zoning Board approved the request from the Newport Preservation Society to build the welcome center in January 2015. The neighborhood group has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. Bill Landry, lawyer for the Preservation Society, said the Supreme Court has yet to make that ruling, but said he expects a decision favorable to the Preservation Society shortly.
The Preservation Society of Newport County called today’s decision. “a very important step on the road to construction of a welcome center at The Breakers. We are pleased that the Court agreed with the Superior Court that the Newport Zoning Board was the appropriate body to rule on the Preservation Society’s application for the welcome center, which the Board approved by a 4-1 vote.
“As the Supreme Court noted in its decision, ‘after conducting evidentiary hearings and considering extensive testimony, exhibits, arguments and written submissions,’ the Zoning Board decided on January 5, 2015 that the welcome center was ‘in accord with the public convenience and welfare.’”
The Preservation Society declined further comment, referring other questions to its lawyer, Landry. We were unable to reach lawyers for the Neighborhood Association as of late this afternoon.
Landry said the Preservation Society is ready to begin construction later this year, if the Supreme Court rules in its favor. He said they have already begun preliminary design work.
A press conference has also been scheduled by the state’s Tourism Division for tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 10 at the Breakers. Preservation Society officials said the subject was not connected to today’s Supreme Court ruling, but would not disclose the purpose of the press conference.
The Preservation Society owns the Breakers, a late 19th century mansion that the Society says attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year. They believe the welcome center will enhance the experience for visitors, providing packaged sandwiches and snacks, handicap accessible bathrooms, a ticketing pavilion, and plasma screens, where visitors can explore the history of the Breakers and other attractions.
In the past, the neighborhood association and others had maintained that a welcome center would detract from the Breakers’ historic character and divert tourist dollars away from other attractions.
Preservation Society officials have said the welcome center would be built about 120 yards from the house, near a caretaker’s cottage and not visible from off the premises, and not easily seen from the house.
The property, which was owned by the Vanderbilt family, was open to the public in 1948, and leased to the Preservation Society for $1 a year. In 1972, the Preservation Society purchased the property from the heirs of the last private owner, Gladys Vanderbilt Szechenyi, for $366,000.