Preservation Society of Newport County Logo

January 2016 Update

January 2016

In response to inquiries from supporters about the status of the Welcome Center plans, The Preservation Society of Newport County has issued this update:

January 22, 2016

Dear Friends,

The beginning of the new year is a good time to update our many supporters on the status of The Breakers Welcome Center.

To provide some context for where we are now, you may recall that early in 2014 the Zoning Board overturned the Historic District Commission's decision to deny the Preservation Society a Certificate of Appropriateness to build the Welcome Center in the location and of the size and style that we proposed. The Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association (BOPNA) appealed that decision to the Superior Court that same year.  Judge Gallo dismissed that appeal, indicating that BOPNA lacked standing. BOPNA did not appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Along with the Certificate of Appropriateness, the Preservation Society has received all other approvals needed to construct the welcome center from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, the Newport Planning Board, and the Newport Zoning Board.  So, what steps remain?  Below you will find a brief summary which I hope will be helpful. 

We hope the Rhode Island Supreme Court will hear and decide two cases involving the Preservation Society before the Court recesses at the end of June. A third case, not yet filed, may be considered as well.

First Case:  In March of 2014,  BOPNA tried to preempt the normal zoning approval process by going directly to the Superior Court before a Zoning Board hearing in Newport on our application for a special use permit (for toilets, ticketing and refreshments) had been heard. Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo dismissed BOPNA's suit saying that this case was for the local zoning board's consideration, and BOPNA appealed his decision to the Supreme Court, which, under RI law, is required to hear it.

Second Case:  In the spring of 2014, the City Council, by a vote of 4 to 3, denied our request to sell sandwiches, salads and snacks at The Elms and Marble House.  The denial was based on their interpretation of the zoning ordinance. Our counsel maintains that state law limits City Council actions on food licenses to health and safety concerns, and that it is the Zoning Board's responsibility to interpret zoning ordinances. We appealed the City Council's denial to the Supreme Court.  Although we had no right to automatic appeal, the Court did accept our case and this case will be heard at the same time as the case mentioned above. This appeal is only concerned with food service at the Marble House Tea House and The Elms Carriage House.

Possible Third Case:  BOPNA has declared their intention to appeal Superior Court Judge Walter Stone's December 2015 decision to deny BOPNA standing to appeal the Zoning Board's decision to issue a special use permit allowing ticketing, refreshment service and restrooms in the welcome center.   BOPNA and two additional parties claimed to be abutters, giving them an automatic right to appeal the Zoning Board's decision to the Superior Court.  One of the parties said he never agreed to be a part of the appeal; another party lives too far from The Breakers to be a legal abutter; and Judge Stone ruled that BOPNA can't be an abutter because it doesn't own any property, much less property within the vicinity of The Breakers. IF BOPNA files and IF the Supreme Court accepts the case, it is possible that this third case would be heard with the other two.

Since there is no opportunity for a BOPNA appeal to the federal courts, the upcoming hearings are the last step in the legal process. Once this litigation is resolved, the Preservation Society will be ready to begin construction of the Welcome Center and again serve refreshments at The Elms and Marble House.

As you can see, Supreme Court review is complex and exhaustive and we hope this letter helps clarify any questions you might have.   Please check our website over the next few months to learn more about this process.  

Or, call me if you would like to discuss this issue further.

We appreciate your patience and we thank you for your support through this long painstaking process.   

Best wishes,


Donald O. Ross