After hearing the pros and cons of the move, the Town Council approves a 260-room cap on hotels in the lower Aquidneck Avenue area. Council members agree they don't want to see too much development spoil the unique character of the beachfront area.
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HOTEL ROOM LIMIT APPROVED FOR LOWER AQUIDNECK AREA
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (September 20, 2021) – There’s a new cap on the number of hotel rooms allowed in lower Aquidneck Avenue neighborhood.
Concerned about the potential overdevelopment of the beachfront area near the Newport city line, the Town Council okayed new language at a meeting Monday night in Town Hall that restricted the number of rooms to 260.
The limit was based on the number of rooms currently in the area as well as those part of pending applications before Town boards and committees. Previously, Town ordinances did not specify the number of hotel rooms allowed in the district. Nineteen short-term rental rooms in the area were removed from the equation by the council because they are permitted and overseen through a separate process.
The item was included as part of new overlay ordinances unanimously approved by the council to provide a uniform set of standards for development in the lower Aquidneck Avenue area.
“I personally don’t want to see hotel after hotel after hotel,” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “That’s not what we want to see. This is made to help enhance the businesses and help bring people down there. It’s unique because it’s near the beaches.”
The future of the area – also known as the Atlantic Beach District – has been a subject of frequent discussion for close to 20 years.
That interest spiked with the redevelopment of several properties in the zone, which had been home to beach cottages and “Mom & Pop” businesses and transformed into hotels and similar large-scale hospitality businesses.
Those moves have been applauded by some who say Middletown should do everything it reasonably can to capitalize on the area without over commercializing it. Others respond the Town is giving the green light to too much growth in too small of an area, costing the community some of its charm.
Connected to this conversation is talk about burying the utility lines to improve the look and feel of the neighborhood as well as other upgrades. Those haven’t gotten off the ground to date because of the cost of that work, most recently projected to cost about $17 million to $20 million.
On Monday night, Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said local resident Melissa Welch briefed the Middletown Economic Development Advisory Committee about an alternative option available to the community. Instead of spending $20 million or doing nothing with utilities, Welch said there were quality options available to the Town that could improve the safety, look and feel of the area without having to spend so much.
Brown said representatives with MEDAC were slated to meet this week with National Grid about the utilities issue. He expected to report back to the council on that item at the group’s next meeting on Oct. 4.
The discussion about the future of the lower Aquidneck Avenue area was on full display Monday night. Some approached the council, saying more needed to be done to limit overdevelopment of the neighborhood. Others countered what the council was pushing forward could hurt their property rights and might restrict what they could do with their land in the future.
After a lengthy discussion, the council said it was clear something needed to happen and they believed the Planning Board’s recommendations were the best fit. They also pledged to work on repairing the sidewalks, which were a frequent cause for concern Monday night.
Brown said the Town had about $480,000 in money set aside to do improvements to the lower Aquidneck Avenue area. In coming weeks, he said the Town would also be seeking funding through the state Department of Transportation and other sources.
Councilwoman Terri Flynn recused herself from discussion about the new ordinances because she is an abutter.