NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Supreme Court has upheld a ruling saying a neighborhood association had no standing in trying to stop the Preservation Society of Newport County from building a “welcome center” on the grounds of The Breakers historic mansion built by the Vanderbilt family.
The Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Association (BOPNA) had appealed a Superior Court ruling that the owners of the mansion, the Preservation Society of Newport County, could abide by a city zoning board ruling allowing the Society to build the welcome center. Monday, the state Supreme Court upheld the Superior Court decision to dismiss a BOPNA complaint, and that it was within the zoning board’s authority to decide what could be constructed or operated in the city limits.
Critics say constructing the new building on the Breakers grounds would ruin the pristine historic image of the estate. The Preservation Society says it needs to add the building so the 400,000 annual visitors will have better bathrooms and ticket offices, as well as snacks available for purchase. Critics counter that the building should be built in a parking lot across the street; the society says it would be too far from the house and take up too many parking spaces.
The fight over the welcome center project has raged on for years, with Vanderbilt descendants openly imploring the Society to not disturb the composition of the estate. The conflict has become contentious in the city; since The Breakers is located in Newport’s Historic District, the society had to apply to the city’s Historic Development Commission to build the center, and the HDC ruled against the center, but the city zoning board overruled that decision.