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To the Editor:

Close observers of council business will have noted that at the 9/26 Council meeting I voted to approve the Condominium Declaration, representing the next step inviting the Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF) to jointly occupy the Armory building.  

Previously I was a consistent vote “against” the sale of the Armory and now, with this vote, I voted “for” the sale.  I write now to explain this shift.

The process for negotiating the sale of the upper floors wasn’t well managed, in my opinion.  The antiques dealers felt blindsided by the announcement in the paper over a year ago, and, even on the council, many of us were unaware of ongoing talks between city representatives and those representing the NSHOF.  At that time I encouraged the antiques dealers to come up with an alternate proposal which would provide for the necessary repairs and maintenance for the Armory building, essential to the prudent operation of a city owned building open to the public  

I believe in small business, I believe in women owned business, and I appreciate the antiques market in a historic building.  As a councilor, I am tasked with facilitating the City’s stewardship of our assets, and I’m troubled by our poor record with the maintenance of some of our aging buildings.  The business model whereby the city charged a reduced rent to the antiques dealers, fully justified because of the condition of the Armory, does not represent a long-term solution.  The status quo was not a prudent use of city property.

My early votes against the sale were in objection to the process.  I cannot however oppose a solution which promises the necessary repairs and maintenance to the building.  In July, the council was asked to approve a resolution which would authorize the sale to the NSHOF. At that time the Condominium Declaration hadn’t been drafted in final form.  I proposed an amendment, approved unanimously, that the sale couldn’t proceed without Council first approving the Condominium Declaration. Even though that amendment passed I still voted against the resolution because there were many unknowns.  When we received the Condominium Declaration before the most recent council meeting I studied the 92-page document and consulted with experts.

One of my top concerns was public access to the waterfront in front of the Maritime Center.  I was troubled by the language “may” – the city “may” encumber the so-called beach area with a public use and access easement.  I wanted to guarantee public access, and proposed an amendment changing “may” to “shall.” I am pleased the City Manager is in talks with Aquidneck Land Trust on an arrangement to effect this provision.  I also included a mediation clause in the dispute resolution section, to avoid more costly arbitration. I wanted to be sure the antiques dealers would have time to find a new home and I understand they will be able to occupy the space through the 2019 summer season. Finally, the zoning change to allow the Sailing Hall of Fame to operate a museum onsite will come before the council, at which time we can address remaining concerns about special events.  With these assurances, I believe it is in the best interests of Newport to complete this sale and turn our attention to our school buildings.

 

Susan Taylor

Currently Ward 1 Councilor on Newport City Council. Candidate for Councilor At-Large on Newport City Council.

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