Letter To The Editor: Moratorium would put major economic opportunities at risk for the residents of Newport

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The Newport City Council has perhaps one of the most life changing decisions to make for the future of Newport residents.  At our next meeting on Wednesday, Oct 9 at 6:30, we will discuss the possibility of a moratorium on an area located in the north end of the city.  A large empty dilapidated shell now occupies the space surrounded by acres of asphalt. Several years ago, voters decided Newport should head in a different direction from the casino and the property was put up for sale for over four years. 

The majority of Newport is built-out in terms of largescale real estate projects and the North End is the “last frontier” that offers acreage for economic development and opportunities. Since 2008, discussions have taken place with the State for a re-alignment of the Pell Bridge ramps which could free up to thirty acres for economic development, diversified job opportunities, new taxes, and a new life to a blighted part of the city.   The goal of the City is to bring jobs and opportunities to Newport. With a dwindling middle class and a decline in families able to locate here because of a lack of jobs and high housing prices, the North End development is critical in helping our young people live and work in Newport.

The State of Rhode Island allows municipalities to approve zoning overlays for mixed use plans where large plots of land are ripe for economic development.  The process for decision making on the creation of overlay plans are specified in the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Public input is important in all of these steps of approval and developers would meet with Newport residents to explain their plans and listen to concerns.  Throughout the process, the projects must be in compliance with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan which also received two years of public input. 

Understandably, the community has concerns about development and future land use.  Infrastructure and traffic demands are ever present. The Department of Utilities is confident that water and sewer capacity is currently are under-utilized, and largescale developments could even stabilize our current rates.  Traffic in the North End is generally controlled by the State. The City and public will be part of the process to improve entrances and egresses.

Now, the Newport City Council is considering a 6-month moratorium – ONLY on a part of the North End – which stops development conversations so important to all Newport residents and our City’s economic future.  This moratorium could have a chilling effect on potential investors that have shown interest in creating jobs and bringing vitality to a blighted area. Legally, a moratorium cannot target one property; therefore, other businesses in the area that have plans for construction and improvements could be impacted during the cold weather season when improvements are most viable.

Opportunity Zones, created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, are designed to spur economic development in distressed communities.  Of the 25 designated areas in Rhode Island, the North End was chosen by the Governor. In order for investors to see the full potential of this program, the deadline for getting maximum benefit is Dec 31, 2019.  A moratorium could have a chilling effect on prospective as well as current investors who spoke to us at our last meeting.

Proponents of a moratorium want a 6-month time-frame to update zoning codes to accurately reflect the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  It is our firm belief that these codes can be updated with proper public input without putting major economic opportunities at risk for the residents of Newport.

Jeanne Marie Napolitano

Lynn Underwood Ceglie

Newport City Council

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