Opinion: Bishop’s 4th Street Diner and the North End Master Plan
There has been a lot of worry and sadness over the potential loss of locally owned and beloved Bishop’s 4.e Street dinner. To make matters worse, a convenience store chain would be built in its place. Since the announcement of this news, many citizens are wondering what role the City could have played to prevent this.
The City defines a vision for our neighborhoods and our community through the zoning code. This is how we determine which areas are residential, which are commercial and what type of development is allowed in those areas. Last year, the City worked with residents to create the North End master plan and associated zoning to guide development in the North End neighborhood. Hundreds of Newport residents have helped shape the vision for the types of buildings and their uses in the area. This North End Master Plan was adopted into the Comprehensive Land Use Plan last January, and the zoning ordinances have been sent to the Planning Council for review and finalization.
The planning council completed its work in September and presented the zoning ordinances to council, recommending specific changes intended to improve the ordinances and more strongly support the community’s vision. Councilor McCalla has worked extensively with businesses and neighbors affected by the North End Master Plan to make their voices heard; I have supported these improvements and expressed my support to Council on several occasions, as have many members of the public. Despite years of public comment, expert advice and community reviews, the other five members of Newport City Council have rejected the improved zoning changes for the North End.
The decision to end a relationship with a tenant is a business decision, but business decisions are not made in a vacuum. By voting against the interests of residents, some councilors have sent the message that building a chain of convenience stores may be more profitable than a beloved local commercial tenant. However, the North End zoning that is in place still includes restrictions on development – which is why Colbea is asking for a special use permit to further weaken the neighborhood’s zoning. Members of the Technical Review Board and Zoning Review Board need to carefully consider the matter and ensure the community’s vision for the North End is not undermined by a developer in Cranston. If Colbea wishes to develop his property, he must follow the North End master plan and zoning ordinances. If their development plans don’t match Newport’s plans, leasing to an established commercial tenant may make more business sense.
The conflict between Bishop’s 4e Street Diner and Colbea illustrates what can happen when “pro-business” politics allow big companies to get behind the wheel. By choosing to ignore the community’s vision for what is acceptable development in the North End, some city council members are sending the message that they are prepared to prioritize outside developers over our neighbors. I hope this situation serves as a wake-up call to my colleagues and that they join with Councilor McCalla and myself in ensuring that our residents are protected and businesses can grow in a way that benefits the whole city of Newport.
Newport At-Large City Councilor