Letter To The Editor: Newport needs this moratorium

September 30, 2019

At the September 25 meeting of the Newport City Council, an ordinance was approved on first reading for a six-month moratorium on development in the north end of the City.  Alliance for A Livable Newport (ALN) highly commends the Council’s action. 

As many pointed out, there is need for coordination of the multitude of building projects, infrastructure projects, traffic/transportation plans and projects, either in process or being considered for the future.  

Without a “pause,” decisions would be made in a silo, with consideration only for the immediate project.  There is a desperate need for oversight to assure that decisions made regarding one project do not adversely impact other anticipated projects, the City as a whole and, most important, the quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding the project.  While the moratorium applies specifically to the north end of Newport, the same considerations apply to development throughout the City. Development decision making and changes to ordinances in Newport should be made to benefit the entire city.- Advertisement –

Examples abound.  The decisions regarding the Pell Bridge offramps will not only impact the traffic flow in and through the immediate area but also will impact future development in the surrounding Innovation District, critical access to and from Newport’s downtown area and the quality of life in our North End and The Point neighborhoods.  Decisions regarding the building of additional hotels, stores, restaurants and residential housing will impact traffic flow, parking, energy, water and sewage usage, aesthetics (a harmonious streetscape, harbor views), waterfront access and the environment. Name any major project and it does not take much thought to realize the off-site impacts of that project. Our City planners need to view future development holistically, rather than fragmented.

The City now has a new City Planner and a new Director of Planning and Economic Development.  The talented individuals filling those positions need time to become familiar with the intricate interconnected considerations affecting development and improvement projects in Newport.  Numerous past studies, including the Open Space Plan, will help guide their effort. They need to develop procedures to assure ALL the impacts of projects are taken into consideration. They need to work with City’s staff, elected and appointed officials and board and commission members to assure that the City’s planning and zoning ordinances are up to date, provide the tools needed to properly monitor and control development, and are formulated to encourage future development in Newport by reducing the need of developers to seek variances.

Importantly, the moratorium is not offered to discourage development in Newport.  Rather it is offered to maximize the value of current and future development, benefiting both developers and also Newport’s current residents and businesses. The results of proper, visionary planning, in harmony with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, will make Newport a more attractive City for residents and businesses alike.    

ALN sincerely hopes the moratorium is used effectively to lead to a more prosperous future and an improved quality of life for Newport.

ALN Co-Presidents
  Ron Becker
  Isabel Griffith
  John Hirschboeck

Read More Here: https://whatsupnewp.com/2019/09/letter-to-the-editor-newport-needs-this-moratorium/

7/29/19 | The Future of our Newport Public Schools (update)

The Newport City Council has called for a workshop with the School Committee and School Administration to explore the issues regarding new school design, composition, construction, and location. We will alert you to time and location when officially announced.
 
(For more on the result of last week’s discussions, read the 7/25 article from Newport This Week – below).   

Recommendation
 
Prior to and during that workshop, the ALN Executive Committee asks that the following issues be examined and addressed before proceeding with the Stage One submission to the RI Department of Education:
 
1. Secure a more definitive cost for renovating Coggeshall to accommodate PreK-1st (the early learning center) and explore other north side options for a new ELC, including adjacencies to the current Pell school or CCRI. Bussing/driving PreK children, the majority who live north of Memorial, all the way south to the current Rogers site seems imprudent.
 
2. Determine what a minimal “band-aid solution” for current Rogers would cost, one that would take the school through the next 5-8 years until north end land is freed up. This also allows the door to possible Middletown unification be left open for the next few years.
 
3. Determine exactly why a new HS (or ELC) couldn’t be located on CCRI adjacent, city-owned land. What commitments does the City have that would preclude this opportunity?
 
4. Determine what the fall-back position is should a $100 million + bond not be approved. This would include addressing what would happen to Newport’s HS students should that be the case.
 
5. Explore the possibility of bonding and proceeding with construction of the ELC (site other than at Wickham Rd.) and budgeting for remedial efforts only at Thompson, Pell and Rogers.
 
Unlike current plans, such a bond:
– Falls within the “tolerance” level of Newport voters (est.+/- $40MM rather than $100MM plus)
– Postpones the building of a costly all-new Newport only H.S. until absolutely necessary
– Leaves open the possibility of future HS unification with Middletown
– Allows the City to consider the use of available land, freed-up by RIDOT’s bridge realignment project.
– Locates future school construction projects where the majority of students live.


Respectfully, ALN


7/25/19  Newport This Week
Decision Time for Newport Schools | By Andy Long

While public attention has been focused on Newport’s efforts to build a regional high school, the process of planning and designing a new Rogers High School, along with space for pre-k and kindergarten classes, continues.
The School Building Committee met on July 16 to discuss two significant decisions that were ultimately made at the July 23 meeting.

First, the committee needed to recommend which grades will be at which schools. Secondly, it had to settle upon a construction format for a new high school, whether to build an entirely new high school or blend existing elements with new construction.

The School Building Committee should not be confused with the School Committee’s Ad Hoc Facilities Subcommittee, which has been discussing issues beyond building new facilities for over a year.

The creation of this new committee was mandated by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and is part of the process when any community applies to the state for financial assistance in the building of new schools. It is composed of city officials, school administrators and members of the community.

The School Building Committee only recommends to the School Committee and the City Council possible solutions to Newport’s need for a new high school, as well as an answer to the problem of finding places for pre-k and kindergarten classes.

“We need to know what we’re building. It’s a very difficult decision, but it’s one you need to make [soon],” said Kate Jessup, a consultant with StudioJAED, which is assisting Newport in its efforts to create new educational facilities.

The members met for the first time on July 16 and afterward elected School Committee members Louisa Boatwright and Rebecca Bolan co-chairs. At that meeting, the committee first discussed grade configuration, the term for which classes should be placed where. Currently, Newport has pre-k classes in leased space in Middletown; Pell Elementary School has kindergarten through fourth grade; Thompson Middle School houses grades five through eight; and Rogers has nine to 12.

Jessup presented three options, all constrained by the fact that Thompson will have space for only three grades by the mid-2020s, according to a demographer hired by the district.

Two plans had pre-k and kindergarten together, with one in a separate facility and the other housing both on a new Rogers campus.

One proposal for a new Early Learning Center (ELC), heard publicly for the first time at the July 16 meeting, is to build a facility at the site of the vacant Coggeshall School at an estimated cost of $20 million, with the attraction of it being close to the North End, where many students live.

“Some educators love the idea of the pre-k [at the new high school] so you could facilitate Early Childhood Education, which is an always growing field,” Jessup said.

School Committee members proposed another configuration, which would house first grade in the same building as pre-k and kindergarten, allowing Pell to hold grades two through five only, freeing up space for music and art classrooms. Also, Thompson would have to house only grades six through eight. Adding first grade to an ELC will add $10 million to $20 million to the cost of construction.

It was this option that the building committee voted to recommend while making no decision on where to place the ELC.

The second decision regarded the manner of building a new high school. The options discussed by the committee were building an entirely new facility on the sports fields at Rogers at a cost of $153 million. The other was to build in stages, moving classes as each part of the facility is finished. However, proceeding this way would cost $168 million, as part of this approach would include some renovation work, which is more expensive than new construction. The committee voted to recommend building a new high school, for cost reasons.

There has been pushback from City Council members and city administrators on the cost of a new high school. At the July 23 meeting, City Manager Joe Nicholson said, “Those figures [for a new high school] are not even in the ballpark.”

At a February 2019 workshop, Laura Sitrin, director of finance, pointed out that Newport can have, by state law, no more than $205 million in bonded indebtedness, with about $35 million of bonds already outstanding.

At least two council members have also expressed reservations with the $153 million figure. At a liaison meeting of the City Council and the School Committee on July 18, Councilor Justin McLaughlin cautioned, “It’s not what Newport needs or wants, it’s what Newport will tolerate.”

His colleague Kate Leonard said, at the meeting on July 24, “Everyone I’m talking to is asking me, ’Where is Plan B? What is Plan B?’ The amount requested is so huge.”

Nicholson said that with the city needing to replace its North Halsey Street facilities at a cost of at least $20 million, it will be impossible to borrow enough to build $170 million of new school facilities.

Jessup responded that the new high school costing $153 million, with 250,000 square feet of space, is only a proposal, and it includes all the educational amenities that Newport’s teachers and administrators have asked for. It wouldn’t be a final plan; it would be a starting point for discussion with the community, to decide what is necessary and what can be cut, she said.

Mayor Jamie Bova proposed, first at the July 23 School Building Committee and then at the City Council meeting on the 24th, that a joint workshop of the School Committee and the council be held to determine an upper limit on what could, realistically, be asked of the city’s taxpayers in funding a new high school. “What are the fiscal restraints on this project?” she asked.

The City Council voted unanimously to hold the workshop and City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. said it would be scheduled as soon as possible.

https://mailchi.mp/0cae81c20707/the-future-of-our-newport-public-schools-update-july-29_2019?e=395177c496

Legislators Talk Bills With ALN – April 8th, 2019

April 8_2019 ALN Annual Meeting Newport This Week

The Alliance for a Livable Newport (ALN) held its annual meeting on April 8, with the emphasis on “livable.”

By ohtadmin | on April 11, 2019By James Merolla

Mayor Jamie Bova, City Councilors Justin McLaughlin and Angela McCalla, School Committee member Louisa Boatwright, Sen. Dawn Euer (D-District 13 Jamestown/ Newport), Rep. Lauren Carlson (D-District 75/Newport) and Rep. Marvin Abney (D-District 73) spoke of their priorities and what they might mean for the city.

Topics ranged from short-term rentals to long-term economic school solutions. Although there were few real answers, some bills are coming to the fore on Smith Hill that may make a difference locally.

Carlson said she was introducing a bill on April 9 to regulate Airbnb, the site that lists short-term rentals nationally.

“The first step in requiring registration of Airbnb municipalities is recognizing them,” she said. “Then, once they are delineated, you can regulate them, tackling issues like parking, zoning, legality, and then taxing them appropriately.”

Of the other major issues facing Newport, she mentioned bridge realignment and Rogers High.

Euer said she is working on legislation that would create regional school districts. “How do we bring Middletown to the table?” she asked.

Her bill would essentially create a county-based school district, but it needs to be fully worked out, citing difficulties that faced Chariho and Bristol-Warren.

She is revisiting the funding formula for schools and how to make sure it is equitable, “across the state.” She is also championing a student loan regulation bill, rolled out two weeks ago.

“It’s a huge financial crisis in our country,” she said. “Students are left with a bill that they have no hope in paying off. This is an effort to allow us to really regulate this at a state level.”

She is also investigating the possible remapping of state flood zones, affected by climate change.

“There’s only one bill that I would be concerned with and that’s the state budget,” Abney said. “If a bill is passed, and there’s a cost tied to it, it is my responsibility to make sure it fits into the tax breakdown of this [budget].

“Right now, we are trying to work our way out of a $150 million-plus deficit,” he said. “We can’t continue to borrow money into the future. I have to take a keen interest in what the taxpayers have to say. What do Rhode Islanders really want? What will you tolerate?”

Boatwright asked how the legislature can help raise money for school bonds with limited Newport options like property tax revenue.

Carlson said she once introduced legislation “to raise our hotel and our meal tax.”

“The City Council did this, I introduced it, but it never happened,” she said. “They don’t want to see a higher meal tax in Newport, as they do in Middletown. They want a steady meal tax. This is basically where our money is coming from. People who are paying the meals tax are probably not from Newport. We should pursue that aggressively. Let them pay $1 on a $100 meal. I don’t see a big problem with that.”

Euer said Jamestown considers its schools, “a community project, [but] in Newport not so much.” She added, “I do see our schools as a community project.”

“It’s all about leadership,” said Abney. “At the state level, all the way down to the superintendent. If you don’t have good leadership, every other year, someone new is going to change the direction of the education system. Massachusetts chose their direction years ago and stuck to it. You have to have a plan and follow it through for a number of years. You can’t turn it around in a year.”

Carlson is introducing a bill to expand training for planning and zoning boards. She said she had HDCS in the original draft of the bill, but took it out, calling it too much at this time.

“We need to standardize how Historic District Commissions operate so they can understand the consequences of their decisions,” she said.

https://www.newportthisweek.com/articles/legislators-talk-bills-with-aln/

State of the City: Officials discuss upcoming projects

By Sean Flynn  Newport Daily News staff writer | Posted Mar 30, 2019 at 6:19 PM > Updated Mar 30, 2019 at 6:19 PM (Link to story)

Left to Right - City Manager Joe Nicholson, Mayor Jamie Bova, and Council Vice President Susan Taylor - March 28, 2019 - Photo Credit - Chip Leakas
Left to Right – City Manager Joe Nicholson, Mayor Jamie Bova, and Council Vice President Susan Taylor – March 28, 2019 – Photo Credit – Chip Leakas

At an event held at City Hall, topics covered included the Pell Bridge ramps redesign, the former Newport Grand property and the Naval Hospital land.

NEWPORT — Major projects pending in the city’s near future — from the redesign of the Pell Bridge ramps to free up land for an Innovation District, to the redevelopment of Newport Grand, to the creation of a new use at the Naval Hospital property and a new waterfront park there — were the focus of the State of the City discussion this past week.

Mayor Jamie Bova and City Council Vice Chairwoman Susan Taylor, assisted by City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr., led the presentations at the event sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, a neighborhood advocacy group, at City Hall Thursday night.

The state Department of Transportation has completed an environmental assessment that details the purposes of the Pell Bridge ramp project, the alternatives analyzed and the project’s impacts.

Taylor said she was in contact with Jody Richards, the state Department of Transportation’s project manager, as recently as Thursday afternoon. Richards told Taylor that the Federal Highway Administration is reviewing the assessment and seven alternative design plans.

“RIDOT has a favorite plan, but they are keeping it close to the vest,” Taylor said.

Of the total budget for the project, 80 percent will be funded by the federal government and 20 percent by the state, so the federal agency has a lot of say in the matter. Once the Federal Highway Administration approves the assessment and a plan, there will be another public process and review of the targeted plan before RIDOT engineers begin the final design, Taylor said.

“They are planning to go out for bids in the fall of 2020,” she said.

“When it’s done, we will have space to continue building a new economy and make it so that it is good for our residents in the neighborhood,” Bova said.

Taylor pointed out the city is within an arc formed by marine science research centers at the University of Rhode Island and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Rising seas and other effects of climate change will be at the forefront of research at these and other institutions, and marine-related technologies and necessary changes in infrastructure will be developed by commercial firms as a result of this research. City officials want Newport to be able to tap into this.

“We have incredible resources in this region,” Taylor said.

Nicholson has been calling it the “blue economy,” she said, and the city will be exploring possibilities that could be developed in the freed-up acreage near the bridge.

Bova said Innovate Newport, the new technology center in the reconstructed Sheffield School, “will be a beacon for the North End Innovation District.” The center, after some delays, is scheduled for a public opening in May, she said.

Before the Pell Bridge project begins, though, the state is planning to do some reconstruction and repaving of Connell Highway, the city officials said.

“I think anyone who has driven down the highway in the past few months knows it is in serious need of work,” Nicholson said.

RIDOT will go out for bids on that work this fall and begin construction in 2020, the officials said.

Plans for the Newport Grand property will be coming soon, Kelly MacArthur Coates, president and chief operating officer of the Carpionato Group of Johnston, told The Daily News in a telephone call on Saturday.

During the State of the City discussion, Nicholson noted the “For Lease” sign out front of the property and the apparent test pits.

“I would think the residents of Newport should be concerned if we did not have a ‘For Lease’ sign out front,” Coates said. “We are, of course, looking for tenants unless Amazon were moving there and that is not happening.”

He said both test pits and test borings have been made on the 23-acre property.

“We want to know the geological makeup of the site, the capacity of the soil for bearing loads and everything else,” Coates said. “We are doing traffic studies, engineering studies, drainage studies, marketing studies and whatever other investigative work is required. Any project requires a lot of advance work.”

He was asked if the former Newport Grand building would be coming down.

“I think that is the right thing for the site,” Coates said. “But this project will require multiple permits and approvals, so we will be working with the city.”

Asked about the plans for site, Coates said, “Look at our portfolio, what we have done in the past.”

The company has specialized in retail complexes, hotels, offices and mixed-use developments. “That’s a good description of it,” Coates said.

Adjacent to the Newport Grand property is the city’s waste transfer station and public works yard and offices, along Halsey Street. That is a challenge for development, Coates said.

The city has talked about using future bond money to relocate the public services yard, which will be difficult. “Nobody wants it next to them,” Coates said.

The city’s planned purchase of the abandoned Navy Hospital on Third Street continues to be on hold but remains a city priority, said Nicholson.

“Here’s the deal,” Nicholson said early on when the topic came up. “Lead testing will begin in late March, weather permitting, BRAC told me. It has not begun yet.”

BRAC stands for Base Realignment and Closure and is the congressionally authorized process for disposing of surplus military properties.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency informed the Navy in late 2017 that it could not sell the hospital property to the city until it cleaned up the lead contamination on the site, Nicholson said. That could be a two- to three-year process, he was told.

That caught city officials by surprise because the city believed the Navy’s final environmental impact statement was completed and hired an appraisal firm earlier in 2017 to set a value on the hospital property.

Since the Navy declared the hospital site surplus property in February 2010, the city has eyed the parcel for economic development purposes, but it looks like the wait will continue for awhile.

Nicholson said he walked the Navy Hospital land last week and he talked about the beauty of the waterfront section as a future park.

“It will be magnificent when we get our hands on the property,” he said.

Read More Here:
https://www.newportri.com/news/20190330/state-of-city-officials-discuss-upcoming-projects

2019 Upcoming Events

1) ALN Forum, State of the City of Newport

Date: Thursday, March 28th –
Time: 6 – 8PM,
Location: City Council Chambers
Mayor Jamie Bova, City Manager Joe Nicholson, Council Vice Chair Susan Taylor will present comments about how our city is doing, followed by a Q & A session.

2) ALN Annual Membership meeting

Date: Monday, April 8th –
Time: 5:30 – 7:30pm,
Location: Upstairs at the Salvation Cafe.
Rhode Island State Legislators, Lauren Carson, Dawn Euer and Marvin Abney will present comments and answer questions.
Refreshments from 5:30; Panel discussion begins at 6:00.

Newport City Council – Ward 1 and Ward 2 Candidates Engage in Final Forum

Credits | 2018-10-25 | Front Page | Newport This Week |By James Merolla http://www.newportthisweek.com/news/2018-10 25/Front_Page/Candidates_Engage_in_Final_Forum.html

The last of three public candidate forums was held in the City Council chambers on Oct. 23, where one incumbent and three newcomers explained their positions on key issues to an audience of about 70 people.

James Dring and Angela McCalla are vying for one position in the Ward 1 race, as incumbent Susan Taylor is running as an At-Large candidate. In Ward 2, Valerie Larkin is squaring off against incumbent Lynn Ceglie.

The forum was sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport (ALN). It came on the heels of forums involving At-Large candidates on Oct. 18 and School Committee candidates on Oct. 16.

Ron Becker of ALN hosted, with Jill Kassis of the League of Women’s Voters of Newport County serving as moderator.

The forum opened with candidates being asked if they would pledge to oppose any Pell Bridge realignment detrimental to the well-being of the abutting neighborhood.

“Absolutely. Frankly, I’d rather have traffic back up on the bridge than in our neighborhoods,” Dring said.

McCalla said that the community should have a say in how the ramps are realigned.

The candidates were then asked about balancing the Pell Bridge realignment, the advent of the city’s prospective Innovation Hub, the expanded Naval hospital, the empty casino property and a satellite parking center, which are all considered potential threats that could have a negative impact on their respective neighborhoods.

“We need more transparency on what kinds of plans are coming through on development,” McCalla said.

Dring labeled the downtown redevelopment a “disaster,” saying, “I don’t want to see that happen again. I want to see that all these new developments are done right.”

Ward 2 candidates were asked how they would respond to planning and zoning considerations, the growth and development of businesses catering to tourism north to Broadway, and to sur- rounding neighborhoods voicing concerns over traffic, noise and the potential increase in crime.

“We need to look at all of these development projects, and take a holistic approach in how we develop our downtown, with minimal detrimental effect in our neighborhoods,” Larkin said.

Ceglie, who called Broadway “Sort of the shining light in our city now,” said, “Development on Broadway was actually a very positive thing for the city.”

On a question concerning handling safety and other liabilities on a limited annual budget, Dring said the city needed to invest in infrastructure because “Our schools are falling down,” while McCalla prioritized housing affordability.

Ceglie cited a survey two years ago, where roads, sidewalks and schools were marked as high priority.

Said Larkin, “Our sidewalks, streets really need to be improved. We need to look at everything together.”

Newport’s aging population was cited by several candidates.

“We can keep our tax rates low so we don’t tax people out of their houses, [and] make facilities ADA compliant,” Dring said.

McCalla supported maintaining a balance between summer rentals and year-round residency. “We need to make more room for working families,” she said.

Larkin said, “Our population is both aging and decreasing and that is a concern. We have to do two things at once, address issues of aging population, and we need to make the city more accessible to them.”

Ceglie agreed that the decrease in the younger population is a concern. “That is the reason why the Sheffield property is so important to the city,” she said. “Cranston

Calvert might possibly be workforce housing, housing that would be appealing to young people. We are trying to change that demographic.”

The rising costs of housing was addressed by all the candidates.

“The council cannot control the housing market,” Ceglie said. “Housing prices have skyrocketed. But what we can control are the short-term rentals, which are affecting housing prices.”

“One thing that we can control… taxes,” Dring said.

McCalla said the city needed to reach out to state and federal officials to bring resources to address housing.

“I don’t think any of us want to see people priced out of Newport,” Larkin said. “We need to do everything we can to make sure they can afford to remain.”

In a series of “yes” and “no” questions, Larkin and McCalla were in favor of term limits on the council, with Dring and Ceglie opposed. Larkin, Dring and Ceglie said they would support a Homestead Tax Exemption. All four were opposed to having the mayor chosen by voters, rather than by the board. Mc- Calla and Dring were opposed to building a new Rogers High in the North End, while Larkin was undecided and Ceglie did not vote.

“I would be in favor if there was a place to put it,” Dring said.

At the Oct. 18 At-Large Candidate Forum, candidates were asked a series of questions about the city’s Strategic Plan, Open Space Plan, summer traffic woes, parking problems, school financial difficulties, transfer taxes assessed on purchased property, recent hotel projects, the city’s rapid growth, short-term rentals and aging population. The answers can be heard on the ALN website.

City Council ward candidates face off


By Sean Flynn |Daily News staff writer |  The Newport Daily News | Page A01 | Thursday, 25 October 2018 

NEWPORT – The two candidates for the Ward 1 seat and the two candidates for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council discussed local issues Tuesday night in a candidates forum at City Hall before an audience of about 75 people.

James Dring, a local Realtor, and Angela McCalla, a foster care recruiter and trainer for Child & Family, are running for the Ward 1 seat, while Valerie Larkin, a technology transfer manager at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, is challenging incumbent Ward 2 Councilwoman LynnUnderwood Ceglie, who has held the seat since 2014.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Kathryn Leonard is unchallenged in her run for re-election. The other four members on the City Council hold at-large seats. The seven candidates for those four seats were featured in a forum last Thursday.

Tuesday night’s forum was the third and final organized by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, a neighborhood advocacy group. Questions were posed by Jill Kassis, first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island.

Among the issues Ward 1 candidates talked about was the state project to redesign the Pell Bridge approach and exit ramps. The project, now in its design phase, is expected to free up close to 40 acres of land in the North End of the city, within Ward 1, for economic development.

“The state says they are doing it because the traffic backs up on the Pell Bridge,” said Dring, a former chairman of the city Planning Board. “I’d rather have it back up on the bridge than have an adverse impact on our neighborhoods. I’m in favor of the proposal that is the least disruptive.”

The state Department of  Transportation has developed four major alternatives for the new bridge ramp design. One of those alternatives has three variations and another alternative has two variations, so the process of coming up with a final design is still very much in flux. 

The Alliance for a Livable Newport sponsored a public forum Tuesday night at City Hall for Newport Ward 1 and Ward 2 City Council candidates. From left are Ward 1 candidates James Dring and Angela McCalla, and Ward 2 candidates Valerie Larkin and Lynn Underwood Ceglie. [PETER SILVIA PHOTO]


“There has to be more transparency in the plans and we need to hear from our constituents about what they want,” McCalla said. “The community needs to come together to make a decision. It is the community that should have the final say.”

Dring called the Pell ramp project “the biggest redevelopment project in the city since the late 1960s and 1970s,” when many buildings were torn down to make way for America’s Cup Avenue, Brick Market Place and Long Wharf Mall.

“That in my opinion was a disaster, putting a fourlane highway through the downtown and cutting off sections of the city from each other,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen again.”

“We are a city of neighborhoods,” McCalla said. “We must stay that way.”

On making streets safer

The Ward 2 candidates addressed the pending pedestrian and other safety improvements the state is planning for Memorial Boulevard, since much of the thoroughfare is within their ward.

“The addition of bicycle lanes along part of Memorial Boulevard was a positive step, but we do have a traffic problem that is dangerous for people crossing the street,” Larkin said. “We are a colonial city with narrow streets. We need to find ways to keep traffic out of the city.”

Ceglie said she has been working with the DOT and residents on the plans to make Memorial Boulevard safer.

“I am particularly concerned about the crossing used by many elderly residents of Chapel Terrace and Donovan Manor,” she said.

The Ward 2 candidates also were asked about commercial development of Broadway, which seems to be expanding north.

“When you have a vibrant downtown business zone, that is one of the consequences,” Larkin said. “We need to look at the Cranston-Calvert [former school] development. We need a holistic approach and we need more engagement by the community.”

“I see the development of Broadway as a positive,” Ceglie said. “While on the council, I have addressed problems of parking, speeding and not stopping at stop signs, which we see in many of our neighborhoods. But Broadway is a shining light in our city now. We see that in the annual Broadway Street Fair.”

“The younger population count in the city is going down, which is why the Cranston-Calvert project is so important,” Ceglie said. “It would become workforce housing that is not subsidized, but is appealing to younger people.”

Moderator Kassis asked five questions with the request that the candidates answer with a “yes” or “no.” The candidates were given a chance at the end of the series to briefly explain their answers.

On term limits, Rogers High School

The two candidates who would be new to city government – McCalla and Larkin – said they would favor term limits for city councilors. That would ensure fresh faces periodically join the council, they said.

The two candidates with experience in city government – Ceglie, who has also served on the city’s Zoning Board of Review, and Dring – opposed term limits. They said the position already has a two-year term limit, when the voters decide whether incumbents should be returned to the council. Veteran council members with experience and institutional knowledge are important contributors to council deliberations, Ceglie said.

McCalla was the only candidate to answer “yes” when asked whether she “would support moving Rogers High School to the North End, closer to where two-thirds of the students reside.”

It is an important goal to explore, McCalla said.

Dring, Ceglie and Larkin all abstained from the Rogers vote. They said afterward that they would support having a high school in the North End if possible, but they believe there is no available large parcel of land in that section of the city where a high school could be built. If that changed, they would be on board with a North End high school, they said.

When asked whether they would support a citywide survey of residents’ concerns and priorities, such as took place in 2005 and 2015, Ceglie and Dring answered “no.” They said such surveys are expensive. If a third-party organization or individuals were willing to carry those costs, they would support the survey, they said.

McCalla and Larkin said they would support such a survey, but Larkin qualified her answer afterward by saying a high-cost survey could be a deterrent.

Dring, Ceglie and Larkin said they would support a homestead property-tax exemption for permanent residents of Newport, while McCalla abstained. She said she would like to research the impact of such an exemption before committing to it. The candidates were unanimous on only one of the five questions. They all rejected the idea of having the voters of the city popularly elect a mayor. They all supported the current City Council-city manager form of government that has council members choose a mayor, who also serves as council chairperson, and a city manager who serves as the city’s chief administrative officer.

sflynn@newportri.com

The audience listens during Tuesday night’s forum for Newport Ward 1 and Ward 2 City Council candidates, sponsored by Alliance for a Livable Newport at City Hall. The red flag indicates the allotted time is up for responding to a question. [PETER SILVIA PHOTO]

ALN is All-In to Improve Life in Newport

By James Merolla  | 2018-10-18 / Around Town http://www.newportthisweek.com/news/2018-10-18/Around_Town/ALN_is_AllIn_to_Improve_Life_in_Newport.html

The Alliance for a Livable Newport (ALN)’s mission statement is “improving the quality of life in Newport by being an unbiased resource for information on the issues of importance to the community.”

ALN monitors the pulse of the city, its officials and candidates, seeking to improve school education, infrastructure, public health and safety, the environment and government accountability.

To that end, the organization is hosting three School Committee and City Council candidate forums in October to educate prospective voters. Their website provides detailed answers from candidates to dozens of important issues.

ALN has two co-presidents, John Hirschboeck and Ron Becker. Hirschboeck, who moved to Newport from California in 2009, joined ALN in 2011, taking on a leadership role in 2013. Becker, a part-time resident for 17 years before moving here full time in 2005, joined in 2006, taking on a leadership role in 2008.

Why is ALN important to you?

Hirschboeck: Having moved from Orange County, California, where the population was comparable to all of Rhode Island, I loved the fact that residents could be so close to and familiar with their city government, and have a real impact in helping to improve quality of life.

Becker: It gives me a sense of using my skills to help improve the community in which I live.

Why is ALN important to the community?

Hirschboeck: First-person interchanges with our forum speakers allows residents to make informed decisions and to hold local government accountable. ALN is the only non-partisan, unbiased grassroots organization representing our various neighborhoods that serves this purpose. [It’s] a useful conduit of information to and from elected city officials and staff and our community.

Becker: Communities can only progress and improve if they have the information needed to make educated decisions regarding key issues.

For this upcoming series of forums, how many questions were submitted for each forum?

Becker: Questions from members/ subscribers totaled approximately 70 to 80 for both City Council and School Committee. These were used to draft questions for the three forums and the two online questionnaires.

What do you think is the most important question being asked of the School Committeecandidates?

Hirschboeck: Will you address the importance of early childhood education?

Becker: What is their vision of the future of Newport’s schools and how might that vision be realized?

What other important questions did the candidates answer online at newportalliance.org?

What efforts will you initiate and support to make the School’s Strategic Plan, One Newport, a true working document? Upon which of the strategic initiatives in particular will you focus your efforts and what will those efforts include?

Within the next two years, Newport residents will have an opportunity to vote on a local bond issue to fund school construction as a proposed remedy for overcrowding at the Pell School and unacceptable structural conditions at Rogers High School. What basic solutions to both problems will you support? Once the School Committee has approved plans for Pell and Rogers, what will you do to assure voters are well acquainted with the facts of the bond issue?

What do you think is the most important question being asked of the City Council candidates?

Hirschboeck: What steps will you take to ensure the Open Space Plan, Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Council’s Strategic Plan become more than words, but actionable items against which major decisions are measured?

Becker: What is their vision of the future of Newport and how might that vision be realized?

In addition to community forums, what other initiatives would you like ALN to accomplish?

Becker: We have evolved into a source of unbiased information on local issues through our forums. That is all the activity our limited manpower allows.

Hirschboeck: I can’t leave without commenting on how ALN and its board have been such tremendous supporters of beautifying Newport with daffodils, serving as the non-profit, fiscal agent for Daffodillion. This fall we’ll finally reach our goal, planting the one millionth daffodil in Newport.

The At Large city council candidate forum will be Oct. 18, and the 1st and 2nd Ward forum will be Oct. 23. Both will be held at City Hall from 6 to 7:30.

Founded: 2004

Founding members: George “Herk” Herchenroether, Jack McVicker, Mike Cullen, Dave Wixted, Burt Hoffman, Mark Colburn and Coles Mallory

Members: 60

Website subscribers: 600

Dues: $25

newportalliance.org

At-large candidates face off – Seven City Council hopefuls share views on new hotels, short-term rentals

By Sean Flynn | Daily News staff writer | The Newport Daily News | Page A01 | Saturday, 20 October 2018

The seven candidates for the four at-large seats on the City Council faced off Thursday night in a candidates’ forum in the council chamber of City Hall before an audience of more than 60 people.

Of the seven candidates, only Richard “Wick” Rudd, a member of the city Zoning Board of Review for the past year and former member of the Planning Board for five years, is making his first run for elected office.

Hugo J. DeAscentis, a former member of the School Committee for 15 years, is making his first run for the council, while Justin McLaughlin is seeking to return to the council. He served on the council for 10 years, from 2006 to 2016, when he lost his bid for a sixth term.

Current Ward 1 Councilwoman Susan Taylor, first elected in 2016, is running for an at-large in this election. Current at-large council members Jamie Bova, Marco Camacho and Jeanne-Marie Napolitano are running for re-election to the council. The fourth current at-large council member, Mayor Harry Winthrop, is not running for re-election.

The forum was the second of three organized by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, a neighborhood advocacy group. Questions were posed by Kristine Hendrickson, associate vice president for Salve Regina University relations and Salve’s chief communications officer.

See ELECTION, A10

At-large candidates for Newport City Council, from left, Susan Taylor, Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, Marco Camacho, Hugo DeAscentis, Justin McLaughlin, Jamie Bova and Richard “Wick” Rudd take part in a forum Thursday night at City Hall. The forum was sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport. [PETER SILVIA PHOTO]


ELECTION

From Page A1

There were no striking differences between the candidates on policy issues, and they all seemed to agree that short-term rentals through hosting platforms such as Airbnb represent a growing challenge for the city.

Even when questions focused on matters such as the three new hotels approved for upcoming construction in the city, the increasing cost of home purchases or apartment rentals, or the changing demographics of the city, the discussion seemed to come back to the disruptive effects of the online hosting platforms.

Napolitano said properties that are being used for profitable short-term rentals should perhaps be taxed at the commercial tax rate of $14.98 per $1,000 valuation instead of the lower residential tax rate of $9.99 per $1,000 valuation.

She and other candidates argued the use of properties for short-term rentals is forcing up the values of all properties and leading to higher rents for people who live in the city year-round.

“Our property values and rents are way too high for young people and young families,” Napolitano said.

Camacho said there are currently about 500 homes and apartments in Newport listed on the Airbnb website.

“They make tens of thousands of dollars for the owners and are not vetted like hotels and inns,” he said. He agreed these properties should be taxed at the commercial rate. Both Camacho and Napolitano pointed out that Airbnb provides the city with checks to cover room and sales taxes, but offers no breakdown on which properties had paid and how much.

“We don’t have a spreadsheet,” Camacho said.

Rudd pointed out that the Planning Board now has a task force subcommittee looking into short-term rentals and how to regulate them.

“It got way ahead of the city,” he said. “Owners of short-term rentals are getting $300 to $400 a night. It needs to be regulated.”

McLaughlin called for ordinances regulating shortterm rentals to be reviewed, changed where needed, and enforced.

“We need to change ordinances to protect the neighborhoods we have,” Bova said. “We want people who live here year-round to be in vibrant neighborhoods, not surrounded by nonowner occupied homes.”

Rudd welcomed the upcoming construction of new hotels on Hammetts Wharf where the yachting center was formerly located, at Long Wharf and America’s Cup Avenue, and on Broadway at the Fifth Element.

“We need about 1,000 new hotel rooms in the city or Airbnbs will explode,” he said.

Bova and Taylor expressed concerns though that new hotels cut city residents off from the waterfront, both physically and visually. They called for a review of city ordinances to make sure they are in compliance with the city’s land-use plan.

Taylor pointed out the planned Long Wharf hotel will be raised, with parking on the ground level.

“That affects the streetscape,” she said.

Rudd pointed out that the population of the city is expected to decline by 25 percent by the year 2036.

One of the questions noted was that by the end of the upcoming decade, in 2030, 50 percent of Newport’s population is expected to be over the age of 60.

“We need young families to move into the city,” DeAscentis said.

During the baby-boom years after World War II, the city was building and opening new schools, he said. In more recent years, as the population has decreased and aged, the city has been closing and consolidating schools, he said.

DeAscentis said it was possible to turn around that cycle.

He and other candidates said the schools have to be high-quality and high-performing in order to attract new families.

Bova noted, though, that the city needs “aging in place” policies to allow older residents to stay in their homes and get around when they can no longer drive.

The candidates were asked what they would do to address traffic problems, especially in the summer season, a question that often comes up during election season.

Rudd, with a bow to Mark Twain, said: “Everybody in Newport likes to talk about the traffic, but no one does anything about it.”

He said he would like to return to the possibility of constructing a parking garage where the Mary Street parking lot is now, and long-term possibly moving the Gateway visitors center to a new satellite parking lot that could be created on land freed up by a redesign of the Pell Bridge ramps.

Taylor said she would favor a parking facility on that freed-up land in the north end of the city that would be larger than is now being talked about. She said the parking facility should hold more than 600 vehicles and later perhaps up to 1,000.

She said people would be able to go into the city on a rail shuttle or shuttle trolleys.

None of the other candidates disagreed with that vision, and some had similar ideas.

The ongoing disagreements that the City Council and School Committee have when it comes to setting a budget for the School Department also was discussed.

Bova said the full City Council and full School Committee come together only once a year to discuss the school budget.

“We should meet more often,” she said. “Our goals intersect. When the schools benefit, the city benefits.”

Napolitano focused on the current school budget deficit, for which the council will take up a financing plan next week.

“We need more checks and balances,” she said. “I have been very supportive of the schools, but if we continue to have overspending of the school budget, it could affect the bond rating of the city.”

“There is a lack of transparency in school accounting,” McLaughlin said. “We need to have the city keep track of school finances.”

The third and final ALN forum, for the two candidates running for the Ward 1 seat and the two candidates running for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council, takes place Tuesday beginning at 6 p.m. in the council chamber of City Hall. The Ward 3 seat is uncontested.

sflynn@newportri.com

Audience members listen as Newport City Council at-large candidates take part in a forum Thursday at City Hall sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport.

[PETER SILVIA PHOTO]

Newport School Committee candidates face off

By Sean Flynn 
Daily News staff writer 
Posted at 6:56 PM Updated at 7:00 PM

NEWPORT — Eight of the 10 candidates for the Newport School Committee faced off Tuesday evening during a forum held in the Pell Elementary School cafeteria and attended by more than 100 people.

The forum was the first of three candidates forums organized by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, a neighborhood advocacy group. Questions were posed by Jane Koster, president of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island.

The forum was the first of three candidates forums organized by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, a neighborhood advocacy group. Questions were posed by Jane Koster, president of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island.

Participating in the forum were three challengers: Louisa Boatwright, Aida Neary and Robert Leary, a former member of the School Committee. Two of the challengers on the Nov. 6 ballot were absent: Karlie Cesarini and Kelly Anne Lohrum, who both notified the debate organizers that they had family emergencies.

All five incumbents running for re-election were present: Rebecca Bolan, David Carlin III, Sandra Flowers, Raymond Gomes and Kathleen Silvia.

Two of the incumbents on the seven-member School Committee are not running for re-election: longtime member Jo Eva Gaines and David Hanos, who resigned from the committee in early August and had his name removed from the ballot for the Nov. 6 election.

At one point in the forum, there were a series of questions in which the candidates answered “yes” or “no,” and then had up to 30 seconds to explain their positions.

When the candidates were asked whether a new high school should be located in the North End of the city, only Boatwright voted in the affirmative. She argued most Newport public school students live in the North End and having a high school there would help address the absenteeism and tardiness problems among students.

Gomes did not vote, saying he would await the recommendation of a School Committee facility subcommittee now studying possible locations for a new school.

Other candidates said the North End simply does not have available land.

“If someone could find land in the North End, I’d support it,” Silvia said.

“I’d like to see a high school in the North End,” Bolan agreed.

A study by the state Department of Education released last year said Rogers High School has the direst repair needs of any public high school in the state and is a prime candidate for replacement, since renovation costs would be so high.

On the question of whether the City Council adequately funds the schools, Carlin, Gomes and Leary were in the affirmative.

“We do not have a funding problem; we have a spending problem,” Carlin said more than once during the forum.

Boatwright pointed out that the council’s 1.5 percent increase in its allocation for schools forced layoffs this year. Silvia said Newport devotes a smaller percentage of its municipal budget to schools than most other communities in the state.

When asked whether the School Department has the programs and achievement results to attract families and students to the schools, the candidates split down the middle.

Bolan, Flowers, Gomes and Silvia thought the schools’ offerings are attractive to new families, while Boatwright, Carlin, Neary and Leary were in the negative.

During the forum, Carlin and Leary pointed out multiple times that there was a deficit of about $1.8 million in the 2017-2018 budget that closed on June 30 this year.

Leary called it a “financial crisis.”

“Fiscal responsibility has to be priority No. 1,” Carlin said.

Gomes, who is the School Committee chairman, said the overspending on budget items was partially offset by revenue reserves and savings within that school budget, so the actual deficit amounted to about $750,000. He said the City Council and the city’s Finance Department are working on a repayment plan for that amount.

The current school budget totals $40.49 million and includes all local, state and federal revenues. Of that total, the City Council approved a $25.97 million appropriation, which was a 1.5 percent increase over last year’s city appropriation. Bu it was $638,072 less than the School Department was counting on for the current school year.

The shortfall of $750,000 in the past budget represents 1.85 percent of the total. Boatwright argued there should not be an exaggerated focus on the shortfall while ignoring all that is being accomplished in the school system.

“Creating a 21st-century learning environment for our students has to be the focus of our efforts,” Boatwright said.

Neary called for a better relationship between the School Committee and the Teachers Association of Newport union when trying to come to terms on issues such as when during the day parent-teachers conferences should be held.

“Negotiations should not bleed into the lives of our students,” she said. “We are all in this for the children. They are our constituency.”

Relations between School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain and members of the School Committee also were a focus of the forum.

“Some members of the School Committee believe when the school superintendent says to jump, your job is to ask, ‘How high,’ ” Carlin said. There is not enough communication between the superintendent and committee members, he said.

“I don’t see respect from all members of the School Committee toward the school superintendent,” Boatwright said.

“It’s a personal issue for some School Committee members,” Flowers said.

“Our job is not to direct the superintendent,” Silvia said. “She makes recommendations and we either accept them or reject them. The superintendent and the teachers are the professionals.”

“The children are the people we are supposed to be serving,” Neary said.

When the School Committee and superintendent take actions, they should be asking this, Neary said: “How is this working for the children?”

“Everyone has to work together,” Bolan agreed.

The second ALN forum, set up to hear from the seven candidates for the four at-large seats on the City Council, takes place Thursday beginning at 6 p.m. in the council chamber of City Hall.

The third and final ALN forum, for the two candidates running for the Ward 1 seat and the two candidates running for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council, takes place Tuesday, Oct. 23, beginning at 6 p.m. in the council chamber of City Hall.

sflynn@newportri.com

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