A plan to build a $4.2 million welcome center at The Breakers mansion was rejected last week by the Newport Historic District Commission in a 4-to-3 vote, citing concerns it was not historically appropriate for the grounds.
After a decade of planning, the Preservation Society first announced plans for the center in April. The group said it would appeal to the zoning board.
"We appreciate the complexity of the deliberations that reached this conclusion and we thank all of the commissioners for their hard work on this issue," said Donald O. Ross, Chairman of the Board of the Preservation Society in a statement. "The Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission approved this plan, and we believe there are errors in the findings of fact which have contributed to the HDC decision. We anticipate the Zoning Board will give our proposal an equally rigorous review and that it will affirm our position."
The society said the 3,750-square-foot, one-story building would give the mansion’s 400,000 annual visitors a place to learn about the Newport mansions, have a snack and use the restrooms.
Turner Scott, the representative for the Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association which opposed the plans, said the plans were "not good enough for the The Breakers.” He added for the past 118 years, no new structure has been built on the property.
Although HDC Chairman John Shehan referred to the request as “valid,” he said the proposed welcome center was not in alignment with the spirit of the original design.
Scott pointed out that economic considerations for the city or the Preservation Society should not be factored into the board’s decision, as outlined in the historic district ordinance. He said if an economic need was factored into past decisions, other Newport historic properties would be “filled with fiberglass doors, aluminum windows and conjecture.”
The Preservation Society Executive Director Trudy Coxe said the museums generate around $100 million in economic activity and provide 400 local jobs.