Newport’s civic groups seeking a larger role
Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 12:08 am | Updated: 1:56 pm, Wed May 8, 2013.
Leaders of seven active neighborhood associations in Newport said Tuesday night they feel ignored by city and elected officials and will be seeking acknowledgement that they represent the interests of local residents.
“My big goal is building cooperation and a sense of trust with the city,” said Beth Cullen, president of the Point Association.
Besides the Point Association, representatives of the Off-Broadway, the Historic Hill, the Bellevue Avenue-Ochre Point, the Castle Hill and the Top of the Hill neighborhood associations, as well as the new North End Neighborhood Association, met at the St. John the Evangelist Parish House on Poplar Street.
Representatives of the citywide Alliance for a Livable Newport, which has had more success getting attention from city officials, also were present.
Almost everyone among the two dozen people at the meeting has been active in community affairs in one role or another. When asked who had served on one or more city boards or commissions, they all raised a hand. They said the city administration and the City Council largely ignore the work, reports and recommendations of those boards and commissions.
Lauren Carson, who represents the Point on the Alliance for a Livable Newport’s board of directors, moderated the meeting.
“The city has no mechanism for dealing with us; they don’t know us,” said Jack McVicker, president of the Off-Broadway Neighborhood Association. “They denied us a meeting with the city manager, mayor and police chief.”
The neighborhood west of Broadway is roughly bounded on the south by Marlborough Street, on the west by Farewell Street, on the north by Van Zandt Avenue and Malbone Road, and on the east by Broadway. Within this area have been multiple assaults and a murder within the last year, and public safety and nuisance houses are major concerns of neighbors, McVicker said.
Organized as an association about 10 years ago, the group has been unsuccessful in getting responsive action from the city, he said.
“After 10 years of never having had a victory with the city, we want at least one,” McVicker said.
The association asked the City Council 16 months ago to pass an ordinance regulating how to deal with nuisance houses. But, he said, “nothing has happened. We’d like to change the way the city deals with us.”
Cullen said the Point Association, founded in 1955 and currently with 450 members, is the “grandmother of neighborhood associations.” She asked the city to interact with the neighbors in order to protect and preserve the historic character of the neighborhood.
When the city repaired the Van Zandt Bridge not long ago, it put up Jersey barriers along one side of the bridge, where they remain, she said. Recently, the city ripped up a bluestone and cobblestone crosswalk, likely from the Colonial era, at the top of the Willow Street driftway and replaced it with black asphalt, she said.
“We are not going to take that anymore,” Cullen said. “It’s all about communication. I would love the city to acknowledge neighborhood associations more. If we could realize that goal, Newport would be a healthier, safer and more attractive place.”
Federico Santi, representing the Historic Hill Association, agreed. “Our city fails to understand the importance of historic streetscapes,” he said.
In the past, the city paid Brian Pelletier to maintain the gas lamps on Historic Hill, but he was let go, Santi said.
“Now the gas lamps are deteriorating because of a lack of maintenance,” he said. “They are letting the gaslights fail to justify removing them.”
Santi said the encroachment of bar patrons into the Historic Hill neighborhood still is a major problem for residents, especially when bars in the Thames Street area close at 1 a.m.
Jim Moore, co-chairman of the Bellevue Avenue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association with Robert Beaver, said his group is different from other associations.
“We arose out of war,” Moore said.
The group organized years ago in response to a plan by Salve Regina University to build an athletic facility “roughly the size of Fenway Park,” Moore said. That plan was successfully blocked, he said.
The association continues to deal with plans by Salve and the Preservation Society of Newport County, he said. Currently, members are concerned about plans by the Preservation Society to construct a welcome center on the grounds of The Breakers, he said, although the board has not taken a formal stand.
Members also are concerned that planned repairs by the state to the Cliff Walk have been held up and will not be undertaken until the fall at the earliest, Moore said. Surfers and environmentalists objected to the original plan to address the damage caused by superstorm Sandy.
“We now will wait for repairs through another hurricane season,” he said.
Glenn Whisler, representing the Castle Hill Association, said his group was formed 38 years ago. Members were concerned two years ago about increasing activities at Brenton Point State Park, but meetings with state Department of Environmental Management officials apparently have resolved that, at least for now, he said. DEM patrols picked up, and last summer was quiet, he said.
John Hirschboeck, representing the Top of Hill Neighborhood Association, said members are concerned about the reduction of Memorial Boulevard westbound from two lanes to one lane from the Middletown line to about Red Cross Avenue in the upcoming summer months.
He said the change so far has been benign, but that could change when there is heavier traffic around Easton’s Beach. Bellevue Avenue and Kay Street roughly bound the Top of the Hill neighborhood on the west and north, Eustis Avenue on the east, and Memorial Boulevard on the south.
Chip Leakas, representing the North End Neighborhood Association, talked about drawing membership from the approximately 2,200 households in the wide area north of Van Zandt Avenue to the Middletown border, from the bay on the west to Kay Street on the east.
McVicker said he is seeking outside help to help kickstart initiatives in Newport. He met recently with staff at the Providence office of the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a national organization founded in 1980 with help from the Ford Foundation and other major sponsors.
“Out of frustration, we’ve asked them to get involved with us,” McVicker said.
Members of the different neighborhood associations said they want their new cooperative effort to continue. They scheduled the next meeting for Tuesday, July 16, beginning at 7 p.m. at Café 200 on Broadway.