The recent (Jan. 17) Editorial in The Providence Journal, "A proper welcome for Breakers visitors," contains several misleading statements and contrived arguments that deserve to be corrected.
Perhaps most egregious is the accusation that the Bellevue - Ochre Point Neighborhood Association is simply practicing "classic NIMBYism" by opposing the construction of a large new commercial building in the historic landscape of The Breakers estate.
This glib accusation betrays the Editorial writer's ignorance of both this Newport neighborhood and the fundamental issues presented by the Preservation Society's urge to go commercial.
The neighborhood around The Breakers, including Bellevue Avenue, was developed in the late 19th Century as an area of large houses on large lots. The grandest of these houses, such as Marble House and The Breakers, were worthy of being preserved as house museums.
This neighborhood has always been recognized on Newport's zoning map as Residential. And, like residential zones in every city and town, it needs to be protected against the continual threat of commercial intrusion.
In defending its residential quality, the Bellevue - Ochre Point Neighborhood Association is defending principles that are important in every Newport neighborhood - just the opposite of "NIMBYism."
The most significant aspect of the proposed Breakers Welcome Center is that half of it would be used for food service. Rhode Island law recognizes that the sale of food is not a casual thing, but requires a specific "victualing" license. Currently in Newport there are about 200 victualing licenses, and every one of them is either in a commercial zone or in a location specifically anticipated by the Newport zoning code (such as those allowed at schools to feed students).
Adding food service at a house museum such as The Breakers is a commercial encroachment in a residential neighborhood that ANY residential neighborhood would find threatening. Our neighborhood is especially sensitive to this threat since we have more than a few house museums that could opt for food service if the precedent is made at The Breakers.
Like all of Newport’s tax-payers, we residents believe that the many tax-paying restaurants, etc., of Newport deserve to have the opportunity to feed hungry tourists without competition from non-taxpaying house museums.
As to providing tourists with all-weather ticketing and restroom facilities, the Neighborhood Association has repeatedly expressed its support for those functions in a modest building located in the parking area across from The Breakers, providing conceptional designs for such a building to demonstrate how compatible it could be. BOPNA remains open and willing to work with the Preservation Society on a facility that meets the needs of guests while respecting the neighborhood and the City.
It is the Preservation Society, now the 4th most-visited museum in New England with 1 million-plus annual visitors that has been unyielding, determined that it must be allowed to go commercial on the unspoiled grounds of The Breakers estate, at the expense of Newport zoning protections and of the tax-paying businesses of our great City.
As William Bolger of the National Park Service stated in 2014 about the proposed Welcome Center: "Building a structure of this size in a virtually pristine historic property constitutes a significant and intrusive change." And he emphasized that The Breakers (a national Historic Landmark) is "an architectural and landscape sanctuary of the highest aesthetic order."
We believe The Breakers estate deserves to be protected and fully preserved, for the benefit of Newport and for tourists from everywhere, against the commercial urges of its current generation of custodians.
Linda Sawyer - President of BOPNA