2018-12-06 / Front Page

Moratorium Requested on District Development

By Christopher Allen

Former Middletown Town Council member Antone Viveiros, along with a number of Middletown residents, formally requested a six-month moratorium on development within the recently established Atlantic Beach District during the Dec. 3 meeting of the newly formulated council.

The moratorium would prevent new permits from being issued within the district by the Zoning Board. The town would be required to hold a public hearing within 60 days of adoption.

The council unanimously approved a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district on Nov. 8 for the beachside neighborhood on lower Aquidneck Avenue that would allow the town to capture a portion of additional tax revenue realized through recent commercial development. However, some year-round residents oppose any building and development permits without a more definitive plan on what it will mean to the district. Also at issue was the addition of hotels and restaurants in the area, and if they would be in keeping with the spirit of Middletown's Comprehensive Community Plan, which was adopted in 2015.

Supporters of the moratorium argued that any further short-term development in the beach district represents an immediate threat to the town’s well-being, and they therefore sought to utilize an emergency statute in the town code that allows for the council to unilaterally impose a moratorium before a public hearing.

“My concern is that there were no restrictions put on to what the council is looking for in the district,” Viveiros said. “Until the council has a plan, then I would propose a moratorium,” he added.

Quoting from the comprehensive plan, Viveiros said its purpose was “maintaining the views and vista of the water, [increasing] activities that will support local businesses [and] promote private development that will be consistent with the vision of the district, including the appropriate mix of uses.”

Assistant town solicitor Richard Sayerspoke to the legal ramifications of a moratorium. “Municipal moratoriums are very easy to mess up,” he said. “In general, an emergency has to [represent] an imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare in order for it to get off the ground.”

Sayer said that the proper process to define the guidelines for the district would be through amending the zoning ordinances to reflect the wishes of the town. An emergency moratorium would only be appropriate if there was an imminent danger, such as a lack of sewer capacity, he added.

There was also the matter of the rights of citizens to petition the town for legally allowable permits, which could be compromised with a unilateral moratorium, potentially exposing the town to courtroom challenges.

“The idea of prohibiting the Zoning Board from taking applications won’t work,” Sayer said. “That’s a ministerial act and you cannot legislate that a citizen can’t submit an application for relief under a zoning ordinance. It’s very difficult to do this without trampling on someone’s rights.”

Council President Robert Sylvia said the discussion needed to go through the proper legislative channels.

“I’m reluctant to implement something like this without it being properly vetted by the public,” he said. “I don’t see this as an emergency situation... We don’t want this to come back to bite us unintentionally.

“We just approved the TIF. Now, before the ink is dry on the paperwork we are saying, ‘Let’s stop moving forward,’” he added.

Although no council members supported the use of the emergency statute, some were open to further exploring how to bring the comprehensive plan in sync with the zoning code.

“I support trying to figure out what the capacity [is],” said council member Dennis Turano. “Our zoning does not reflect what our comprehensive plan says.”

Council Vice-President Paul Rodrigues supported taking a deeper look at the development capacity of the beach district. “I still think there is a lot of potential build-out down there. I totally agree with what you are trying to do. But I don’t think this is the avenue tonight to do it,” he said.

Moratoriums are not without precedent in Middletown’s recent history. There was a temporary ban on the building of wind turbines in 2011 and a moratorium on so-called “big box” stores in 2016.

Resident David Rushlow addressed the council during public comments in support of a moratorium, referencing the 2007 Atlantic Beach Master Plan, which spells out a desire for not only increased tourism but also to serve the surrounding residential neighborhoods and local small businesses.

“Adding more hotels does not meet the goals of the community,” he said.

The council will vote on the proposal at their next meeting on Dec. 17. Any resolution would be followed by advertisements for public hearings in the coming months. In other matters:

  • The council approved a Victualling House License for Middletown Pizza, LLC located at 1397 West Main Road.
  • The council approved an application for a Class BV Liquor License to Island Twins, LLC to be located at 58 Aquidneck Ave.
  • The council approved a Holiday Sales License for Cox Communications, 882 West Main Road.
  • The council authorized the purchase of seven sets of firefighter turnout gear in an amount not to exceed $20,552. The purchase will come from the Rescue Wagon Special Revenue Fund.

Return to top