After almost two hours of passionate testimony from Newport residents, both for and against an amendment that would allow the St. Clare Home senior housing facility the Newport City Council voted 6-1 to approve the amendment. Councilor Charles Y. Duncan was the lone opposing vote.
The packed chamber at City Hall exploded with cheers and celebratory hugs and handshakes at the council’s decision to pass the amendment.
Earlier in July, the City Council voted to send the amendment request to the Newport Planning Board, which later voted 5-0 that the amendment was consistent with Newport’s Comprehensive Plan.
The proposed expansion will include 40 assisted living units, which several residents who spoke at the meeting said Newport desperately needs.
A physical therapist from Rhode Island Hospital addressed the city council, stating that discharged patients from Newport who are recommended to stay in assisted living often choose to return home, rather than living in a facility off-island.
“The town is missing an enormous facility,” she said, saying that an assisted living facility is what most elderly discharged patients need.
During his testimony to the city council, Chris Boyle, chairman of the St. Clare Advisory Board, asked all present in the chambers to raise their hands in support of the expansion. Nearly all raised their hands in support.
“[The St. Clare Home] exists for one purpose: to provide passionate, professional care,” Boyle said. “[It] makes no profit, and accepts all individuals who come to the home.”
Mayor Stephen Waluk fully endorsed the amendment, encouraging the public to focus on the positive opportunities in revitalizing the facility rather than the negative consequences of inaction.
“It’s a night like tonight that makes me excited to serve,” Waluk said.
Councilor Duncan reasoned against the amendment in the name of due process and in fear of setting an unjust precedent. One abutter equated approving the amendment as “opening Pandora’s box” and a possible show of favoritism toward the facility.
“For us to change the zoning ordinance to favor public opinion after they made the decision flies in the face of the country,” Duncan said.
Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano expressed her support of the expansion and countered that approving the amendment would, in fact, not be the first time the city council has gone against a zoning board decision.
Waluk agreed, saying the zoning board is not an “infallible” entity. What the zoning board decided on, he clarified, was which stood on its own merits.
“This is not precedent-setting,” Napolitano said. “It has happened before. This needs to happen.”
Councilor Kate Leonard admitted to being torn over the decision and struggling between balancing the moral and legal aspects of supporting the expansion. Leonard said it took “a lot of sorting through” to come to her final decision to support the amendment.