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Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association v. Preservation Society of Newport County

Superior Court of Rhode Island

July 18, 2014

BELLEVUE-OCHRE POINT NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION
v.
PRESERVATION SOCIETY OF NEWPORT COUNTY

Newport County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: R. Daniel, Prentiss, Esq.

For Defendant: William R. Landry, Esq. Matthew H. Leys, Esq

DECISION

GALLO, J.

Before the Court is Defendant Preservation Society of Newport County's (the Society) motion to dismiss Plaintiff Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association's (BOPNA) declaratory judgment action. Therein, BOPNA seeks judicial interpretation of the City of Newport's Zoning Ordinance. The Society moves to dismiss this action pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6) and G.L. 1956 § 9-30-6.

I

Facts and Travel

At the center of this litigation is the well-known Newport mansion, the Breakers. Constructed between 1893 and 1895, the lavish, seventy-room Breakers served as a single-family summer cottage to the wealthy Vanderbilt family. The Breakers remained a private residence until 1942, when the youngest Vanderbilt child opened it to the public as a museum in an effort to help raise funds for the Society. In 1972, the Society purchased the mansion from the remaining Vanderbilt heirs and continued to operate it as a museum. [1]

In 1977, the City of Newport Zoning Ordinance (Zoning Ordinance or Ordinance) was amended; as a result of the amendment, the Breakers was located in an R-60 zone. The Ordinance provided that, in R-60 zones, museum uses were permitted by special use permit obtained from the Newport Zoning Board (the Zoning Board); the current Zoning Ordinance provides the same. (Zoning Ordinance § 17.40.020 (B)(4)). The current Zoning Ordinance defines a "museum" as

"a building having public significance by reason of its architecture or former use or occupancy or a building serving as a repository for natural, scientific, historical or literary collections or objects of interest, or works of art, and arranged, intended and designed to be used by members of the public for viewing, with or without an admission charge, and which may include as an accessory use the sale of goods to the public as gifts or for their own use." (Zoning Ordinance § 17.08.010)

The current Zoning Ordinance also provides that the use of museum premises shall be limited to, inter alia, "[d]isplay, information and sales areas for its museum operations including a gift shop and show room for reproduction items." Id. at § 17.100.220(B)(3).

In 1997, the Society appeared before the Zoning Board requesting a special use permit to erect a shed on the museum premises; the purpose of the twelve-by-twelve shed was to house vending machines to provide refreshments for patrons while they waited in line to visit the museum. The Zoning Board issued a written decision on September 16, 1997 granting the applicant's request. That refreshment shed has been continuously operating on the premises since.

The Society now proposes to replace the shed and construct a "Welcome Center." The Welcome Center would be approximately 3650 square feet and would consolidate the refreshment shed with other visitor facilities currently on the premises, such as restrooms and a ticket booth, into one single building. BOPNA, an incorporated neighborhood association comprised of individuals who own or reside on parcels of real property located in the same "Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood" as the Breakers, was founded to help preserve the character of the neighborhood and is opposed to the creation of the Welcome Center. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 5)

The Society has already initiated the administrative process. In May 2013, it filed with the Newport Historic District Commission (HDC) an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness; that application was denied. The Society then appealed the HDC's decision to the Zoning Board, pursuant to Zoning Ordinance ยง 17.80.110. The Zoning Board reversed the HDC's denial of the application. BOPNA then ...


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