There has been much concern and sadness over the potential loss of the locally owned and beloved Bishop’s 4th Street Diner. To make matters worse, a chain convenience store would be built in its place. Since this news came to light, many citizens have wondered what role the City could have played in preventing this.
The City sets a vision for our neighborhoods and community through the zoning code. It is how we determine which areas are residential, which are business, and the type of development allowed in those zones. Last year, the City worked with residents to create the North End Urban Plan and associated zoning to guide the development in the North End neighborhood. Hundreds of residents from across Newport provided input to shape the vision of the types of buildings and their uses in the area. This North End Urban Plan was adopted into the Comprehensive Land Use Plan last January, and the zoning ordinances were sent to the Planning Board for review and finalization.
The Planning Board completed their work in September and brought the zoning ordinances to the Council, recommending specific changes intended to improve the ordinances and more strongly support the community’s vision. Councilor McCalla worked extensively with the businesses and neighbors affected by the North End Urban Plan to get their voices heard; I supported these improvements and expressed my support multiple times to the Council, as did many members of the public. Despite years of public input, expert guidance, and community review, the five other members of the Newport City Council voted down the improved zoning amendments for the North End.
The decision to terminate a relationship with a tenant is a business decision, but business decisions are not made in a vacuum. By voting against the interests of the residents, some councilors sent the message that building a chain convenience store might be more profitable than a beloved local business tenant. However, the North End zoning that is in place still includes restrictions on the development – this is why Colbea is seeking a special use permit to further weaken the neighborhood’s zoning. The members of the Technical Review Committee and the Zoning Board of Review need to consider the matter carefully and ensure the community’s vision for the North End is not undermined by a developer from Cranston. If Colbea wants to develop their property, they should follow the North End Urban Plan and the zoning ordinances. If their development plans don’t align with Newport’s plans, perhaps leasing to an established business tenant makes better business sense.
The conflict between Bishop’s 4th Street Diner and Colbea illustrates what can happen when “pro-business” politics allows large corporations to take the wheel. By choosing to ignore the community’s vision for what is acceptable development in the North End, some members of the City Council are sending a message that they are willing to prioritize outside developers over our neighbors. I hope that this situation serves as a wake-up call to my colleagues and that they will join Councilor McCalla and me to ensure that our residents are protected and businesses are enabled to grow in a way that benefits the entire City of Newport.
Newport At-Large City Councilor
Update – On December 1, Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, Councilor Lynn Underwood Ceglie, and Councilor Kathryn Leonard shared an opinion piece in response to this – Opinion: Erroneous statements were made concerning the city’s role, responsibility concerning Bishop’s 4th Street Diner property