Op-Ed: Moratorium bad for business

open letter newport ri

Op-Ed by Erin Donovan Boyle, Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce executive director

Moratorium Bad for Business

This Wednesday, The Newport City Council will have the second reading of a proposed 6 month moratorium on economic development in the Innovation District, or the North End. As was stated before, the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors opposes the use of this blunt instrument because we believe it sends the wrong anti-business message to both existing and potential businesses in the region.

While we can be certain that this proposal halts progress in the area related to known projects, we cannot be certain of the long-term implications of such a moratorium, but there is cause for concern.

178 businesses currently operate within the geographic area, and the proposed ordinance is imposing a moratorium on decisions relating to development activity for uses requiring Development Plan Review. The purpose of the development plan review process is to ensure compliance with the comprehensive plan and protect the public health, safety, and general welfare of the community by providing a review of plans for uses which may have significant impact on traffic, municipal services and utilities, the environment, economic development or public health and safety. The Council adopted this plan review process in August of 2018, to ensure that new proposals had a process to follow.

The following is a list of the types of projects that require Development Plan Review:

A. Transient guest facilities.

B. Any multifamiiy dwelling use involving an increase of three or more dwelling units or when the total number of dwelling units is six or greater.

C. Any commercial use of ten thousand (10,000) gross square footage or greater.

D. Any individual restaurant of four thousand (4,000) gross square footage or greater.

E. Any professional or medical office of ten thousand (10,000) gross square footage or greater or combination of professional or medical office in conjunction with other commercial uses such that the total gross square footage is ten thousand (10,000) or greater.

F. Hospitals, convalescent and rest homes; schools, colleges and universities, including dormitories; museums; libraries; churches; alcohol research and rehabilitation facilities.

G. Parking areas for more than ten automobiles.

H. Vacation guest facilities.

I. Public utilities—Private electrical services.

That is an extensive list of potential projects that require development plan review. This process would prolong the review of larger scale projects, and enables the Council and City residents many opportunities to raise their concerns or negotiate project enhancements/ changes, etc.

I would like to commend the Council for enacting the Development Plan Review process, which ensures projects of that size do indeed trigger a more extensive review process to make sure the new projects are in line with what the community has envisioned for the area.

However, now the Council is proposing to undo the process that they endorsed just a year ago by imposing a moratorium. Why go a step further to halt what is a clear and fair process of oversight for new proposals? Why send a message that the City is ill prepared to manage large scale proposals in a timely fashion? Why change the rules of the game in the middle of it?

We are at an integral time in the City’s history, where we have the opportunity to shape the community for years to come. In order to do that successfully, we need to realize the vision of the North End, outlined in the 2015 North End Vision Plan, by truly creating an Innovation District that will diversify the local economy, create jobs and careers, and enhance the tax base. Now is the time for Newport to be utilizing tools like Tax Incremental Financing, the State Infrastructure Fund, and Opportunity Zone designations to attract investment and business development – not halting this momentum that we have all been working toward for over a decade.

It is difficult to anticipate how many of those 178 businesses in the Innovation District would have made investments over the course of the next 6 months that will now choose not to, or how many projects would even trigger a Development Plan Review. It is also impossible to know the full impact of implementation of this moratorium because we can’t measure how businesses could have grown or expanded, how many more jobs could have been created, how many tax dollars could have been contributing to the City’s tax base, or how many businesses and investors will be deterred from ever investing here now.

We also can’t know that this moratorium won’t be extended beyond the 6 months, or that it won’t be used again in the Innovation District when other land becomes available, or in other areas of the City where private landowners want to make an investment, for that matter.

With so many unanswered questions, why impose a moratorium at all? Let the Development Plan Review process move forward as designed so that the business community can rely on a predictable fair system of review. The process is long enough that it can occur concurrently as the City’s planning Division conforms its zoning ordinance with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

We urge the business community to make their voices heard at the next Council meeting on Wednesday, October 9, 2019 and we hope the City Council reconsiders the adoption of this moratorium.

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