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Aziz Ansari Can Perform Late after Council OK — Some Newporters Upset

Despite strong objections from several residents living near the venue, the Newport City Council this week approved a variance, lifting a restriction for shows past 9:30 p.m. to let Newport Yachting Center host one late-night performance.

Aziz Ansari (Photo: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)
Aziz Ansari (Photo: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)
Aziz Ansari has lots of fans, but you won't find many living near the Newport Yachting Center.

Despite strong objections from several residents living near the venue, in a 3-2 vote, the Newport City Council this week approved a variance and lifted a restriction for shows past 9:30 p.m. to let Newport Yachting Center host a late-night performance by the popular actor and comedian on July 11.

Ansari will appear for a double booking on that Friday night as part of the Newport Comedy Series, first performing at 7:45 p.m. with a second show at 9:45 p.m.

Michael Martin, director of waterfront events at Newport Yachting Center, explained that Ansari wouldn't book any performances unless he could have two shows and promised to bring upwards of 4,000 people to the venue.

At the same time, the center is in the process of installing a sound abatement system in the tent comprised of sound blocking panels and velour sound absorbing curtains, Martin said, describing it as a twofold approach with deadening applied to both the inside and outside of the facility.

Those measures were cold comfort for residents who spoke out against the variance and said Newport Yachting Center has steadily become a major performance venue in the city, bringing with it noise and disturbance. And with many comedy acts, residents and people walking down the street are often forced to listen to profanity-laced routines emanating from the tent, they said.

Jim Head, a resident in the Commercial Wharf, said in the beginning, it was a marina. Today, it's an event center.

"I can live with that," Head said. But what he can't live with is never "getting to bed at a reasonable time.

"They never [end] at nine o'clock," Head said. "They always push it to nine thirty, ten. We are looking to stop further expansion of the entertainment center. It's already too much, too long, too loud."

A lawyer representing Harborview Condominiums, Dan Sumner, also a resident, said along with the noise issues, there's a major safety concern with 4,000 people coming to the venue.

"We are surrounded by the yachting center," Sumner said. "Every time they have one of these major events, they put the ticket booth on the north side and the entrance is on the south side and people stand across the street. We can't get our cars in and out and if we can, we're subject to substantial delays."

People coming for shows are distracted, talking with friends, out for drinks and don't realize this is a residential area in addition to a performance venue, Sumner said. The festive atmosphere combined with pedestrians on a public street is a recipe for disaster.

"It takes one driver to hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and we'll be on the evening news," he said.

The original request from the yachting center was to run the show to 11:15 p.m., but the council amended the request to 10:30 p.m. in an apparent effort to respond to concerns from residents. City Council President Naomi Neville suggested the change, saying she knows it's a difficult situation for residents who call the area home but at the same time, "I understand the yachting center is a business."

Councilor Justin McLaughlin would not be swayed no matter the compromise and said he wouldn't support any exception until the previously-mentioned sound abatement measures were installed and they had a chance to prove themselves.

"The people on the hill, the people down the street don't have to listen to what goes on in that tent," McLaughlin said. "You have a first amendment right to say what you want in there, but they don't have to listen to it."

McLaughlin acknowledged that it would be unrealistic to expect the venue book only low-volume, inoffensive and family friendly acts. He did check out some of Ansari's material before the meeting and "he's cleaner that some others" but "you're not going to sell 4,000 tickets for people to come in and not have an edgy show."

"It was suggested that they might just knock off comedy, but comedy that appeals to the masses is edgy," he said.

Martin said the center was investing upwards of $100,000 on the sound abatement measures and noted there have been changes to operations in response to complaints.

One adjustment this year is not booking certain artists who push the boundaries a little too much for the neighborhood, he said, "making a conscious decision not to book certain acts that have played before based on some familiarity with the material."

They also hired a sound abatement expert and have asked some artists to start a little earlier to end earlier.

But there's a limit to asking performers to adapt their shows, Martin said, and with the audience drawing from across New England, shows need to start late enough in the evening for people to travel.

Councilor Kate Leonard said the lesson here is that the city might not have the "appropriate balance" in regards to the yachting center and neighboring properties. 

"We spend a lot of time working on the strategic plan here as a council to make Newport one of the best places to live," Leonard said. "This council has allowed you to go until 10 p.m. and I think part of the issue here is . . .it becomes a little more creep each time."
SHS May 16, 2014 at 01:07 PM
To Kahuna - I have been a homeowner in this city since 1986. I have no intention of bending to anyone's interest, business or otherwise. I do have an opinion, however, based on maturity and common sense. I believe that anyone who bought next to the yachting center should have understood that not only is it an urban area, the very nature of which comes with noise, but it is also an area zoned Waterfront Business. It is not a residential zone. This zone is a combination of business, commercial and residential buildings. The joy of living in an area like this is the fact that all this activity is at one's fingertips - noise and all. If it is such a burden, there are quieter areas in this city that are zoned exclusively residential, that perhaps would be a better fit for these folks.
Kahuna Hookele May 16, 2014 at 04:52 PM
Anyone a resident since 1986 will of course be familiar, then, with the Codified Ordinances, specifically 17.56.020 that address the Waterfront Business District. Of the uses permitted by right, one can find nothing remotely close to "entertainment". In other words, these residents (and I am not one) expected, among other uses next door: boatbuilding and repair, marinas, standard restaurants, and other functions none of which have the impact of a concert venue. Of the uses that require a special use permit from the zoning board of review, the closest would be "Commercial indoor/outdoor recreation facilities," and "Convention or Conference Centers." This particular board will approve anything put in front of it, mostly without having reviewed it, and often if not mostly against the wishes of abutters. The city councilors are no better. Maturity and common sense is in the eyes of the beholder, city ordinance is not, but this is beyond both SHS and the city administration's ken.
SHS May 16, 2014 at 06:37 PM
Actually, I've attended many a zoning board meeting, and I must say the board is extremely sensitive to abutters' complaints. They typically don't allow requests when there are issues voiced by abutters. And it just silly to suggest the board approves a thing without review. So tell me, Kahuna, have you ever attended a concert at the yachting center? (Don't forget, the complaint by neighbors noted in this article doesn't reference a musical event, but a comedian)
George Costanza May 16, 2014 at 08:57 PM
NIMBY is a common theme in these parts. Aziz Ansari feels comfortable coming to Newport because his agent told him that Louis CK came here two years ago, and that Dane Cook and Bob Saget have also appeared. The next Robin Williams or Richard Pryor will hopefully perform here because they saw that Aziz Ansari and JIM JEFFERIES!!!!!! performed here. As is how these things work. Hey people guess what??? The Newport Comedy series is a big F'ing success. It's becoming a place comedians flock too. We've seen it develop right before us in the past ten years. I personally am very proud of the comedy series, it puts Newport on the map. I mean what are these people really complaining about??? The comedy series is 4 hours once a week for 6 nights... How is your quality of life really effected?? Your quality of life is already a mess. Everything west of Thames Street is a ZOOO from Memorial Day to Labor day. Thousands of loud drunk people everywhere, terrible dave mathews cover bands playing at bars, a flock of drunk drivers. The bachelorette parties (much more offensive than any comedians crude joke). Its not like the comedy series substantially adds to the utter chaos that is thames street.

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