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Preservation Society gets board’s approval

The Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association likely will appeal, its attorney says.

By Sean Flynn

NEWPORT — After an almost two-year approval process, two lawsuits and prolonged controversy in the community, the proposed Breakers visitors center received its final approval before the city’s Zoning Board of Review Monday night on a 4-1 vote.

Only a Superior Court or Supreme Court decision could stop the project now. The attorney for the Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association members who filed the two previous lawsuits said Monday night he believes his clients will file a new court appeal.

The Preservation Society of Newport County received a special-use permit to construct a $4.2 million welcome center that would replace the current tent, portable toilets, vending machine shed, old ticket booth and overgrowth in vegetation to the left of The Breakers entrance.

Zoning board member Donald Boucher said The Breakers mansion, designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and constructed between 1893 and 1895 as a summer home for Cornelius Vanderbilt and his family, is in conformance with its beautiful natural location overlooking the ocean, and is an example of architecture that shows “where the hand of man meets the hand of God.”

“The exception is the current visitors center (a tent), which is an eyesore and not in the spirit of the Vanderbilts,” Boucher said. “The new visitors’ center would cover less than 1 percent of the Breakers property, be hidden in vegetation, and replace a tent, shed and porta-potties. We are replacing something that is unattractive with something that is attractive.”

The food service component was the most controversial aspect of the proposal, Boucher and other board members said. The center would serve catered sandwiches, salads and refreshments only to ticketed guests and Preservation Society members. There will be no kitchen or food preparation on site.

“It is not a restaurant,” Boucher said. “People who own restaurants were in favor of allowing the selling of refreshments. They want to bring people into Newport and have a visitors center worthy of Newport.”

“I am incredibly humbled by the incredible thoughtfulness of this group,” said Trudy Coxe, the Preservation Society’s executive director, immediately after the board voted.

“The decision was made for all of us,” said Jody Sullivan, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, which supported the proposal. The Breakers attracts more than 400,000 visitors annually and is considered a driver for the local tourism economy.

“I’m enormously pleased with the work of the zoning board members,” said Donald O. Ross, chairman of the Preservation Society’s board of trustees. “They were very thorough and thoughtful. I’m very grateful for their hard work. A lot of people spent a lot of time and effort on this proposal. We have very good architects and very good advisers.”

More than 80 people attended the meeting in the conference room of the Newport Area Career and Technical Center. Many opponents of the welcome center plan left quickly after the board’s decision and could not be reached for comment.

The Preservation Society

APPROVAL A7 Staff writer

Above: Preservation Society of Newport County Executive Director Trudy Coxe, right, is congratulated by Newport County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jody Sullivan after the Zoning Board of Review voted 4-1 on Monday in favor of allowing a welcome center at The Breakers.

Left: Christopher Kirwin, right, acting chairman of the zoning board, announces the board’s decision on Monday night.

Dave Hansen | Staff photos

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