| Newport Daily News
NEWPORT – The hearings for the proposed demolition of buildings on Waites Wharf to make way for a 150-room waterfront hotel are having a hard time getting off the dime.
A Planning Board special meeting on Monday to begin hearing arguments on the matter lasted about six minutes and was only called into session to refer the matter to a Jan. 11, 2021, regular meeting of the board.
At the Jan. 11 meeting the board members will schedule special hearings to take up the demolition permit approval process, which is expected to be lengthy because of strong opposition from neighbors who live close to Waites Wharf.
Planning Board Chairwoman Kim Salerno said Monday the decision to continue was made by herself and the Planning Board staff, with the mutual understanding of the applicant.
Since multiple hearings are expected, Salerno was concerned about keeping a quorum of members for each of the hearings.
“Last week, one of our board members resigned abruptly and another board member is expected to leave in the near future,” she told the board.
Board member Steven Berlucci resigned because he is moving away from Newport and Elizabeth Fuerte, who was elected to the City Council, will be sworn in as a councilor on Dec. 1 and leave the board.
In addition, board member Melissa Pattavina is abstaining from Waites Wharf deliberations because she has a conflict of interest in the area. Board member Liam Barry was absent on Monday.
Since board members who vote on the Waites Wharf demolition permit are expected to attend all hearings on the matter, the board would have been down four members for future meetings that must have a necessary quorum at each meeting.
The owners of Waites Wharf properties want to take down all the existing structures on the wharf, like the @The Deck Restaurant, Riptides bar and the Dockside nightclub.
This has been a drawn out process of just getting a special hearing scheduled.
The demolition permit application was on the Planning Board agenda back in early November 2019, when attorney J. Russell Jackson, who represents Thomas Abruzese of Yonkers, New York, the main owner of the western end of Waites Wharf, requested a special meeting. Abruzese and his partners own a total of six adjacent parcels on Waites Wharf, West Extension Street and Coddington Wharf.
There were other reasons for the delay, according to Salerno.
“Late last week staff received reports from the applicant and they have not had enough time to review the new material and develop recommendations to the board,” she said.
In addition, the board is waiting for an updated report from the city historic preservation planner, Salerno said.
The state’s Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Land Revitalization and Sustainable Materials Management will be recommending a remediation plan for the Waites Wharf site, where contaminants including toxic chemicals have been found.
Attorney J. Russell Jackson, representing the owners, has argued the process that will result in a DEM remediation plan is separate from the demolition permit process. But neighbors have disagreed.
“At the last meeting we requested further information regarding environmental contaminants and unfortunately this information has not been submitted,” Salerno said at Monday’s abbreviated meeting. “However, the state is the body that oversees environmental hazards. We can certainly question the rigor of state oversight, but we cannot supplant their expertise, nor their authority.”
Patricia Reynolds, the city’s director of planning and economic development, has reminded people that the Planning Board will not approve or deny a special use permit for the proposed hotel. That will be the role of the city’s Zoning Board of Review.
If the Planning Board were to eventually issue a demolition permit, it would be contingent on the overall project receiving final approval from the Zoning Board, she has said.