Innovation Hub rezoning plan gets first nod from Newport City Council

THE NEWPORT CITY COUNCIL gave initial approval to the rezoning of an area in the city's North End area to create an Innovation Hub, as denoted as the purple area circled above. / COURTESY CITY OF NEWPORT

NEWPORT The Newport City Council on Wednesday night took a step towards adopting zoning amendments that pave the way for an Innovation Hub in Newport’s North End neighborhood, giving the rezoning an initial approval.

The zone change must pass two readings before the council, the first of which occurred at Wednesday night’s special meeting.  

The Innovation Hub zoning plan arose from the city’s 2017 comprehensive plan, which sets a 20-year vision for Newport’s future, and is intended to create job opportunities in the resilience, ocean and defense-related industries. 

To allow the development, the city must shift the area’s commercial industrial zoning to innovation hub mixed-use across 77 lots. The hub would consist of three sections, if approved: Urban village, maker, and maker-tech zoning. 

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Some residents fear that the new zoning will drive up housing costs in what is currently one of the city’s more affordable areas.  

Phyllis Mulligan, a resident who spoke during the public hearing, said that these changes are already occurring throughout Newport. 

“I have lived here for over 50 years, and I have seen the effects of gentrification,” Mulligan said. “I’ve seen families get pushed out, businesses get pushed out of there,” particularly near the downtown area. 

“I’m afraid this is going to happen in the North End,” Mulligan added. 

Innovation hub mixed-use zoning would allow for additional housing development in the area, targeted towards households making 80% to 120% of the area median income. Below 80% of this threshold is considered low income, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Julie Maraziti, who identified herself as a member of the North End Local Advisory Group, said that the group agrees that the updated ordinances provide better framework for development in the North End, but is seeking to secure housing affordability, accessibility to green spaces and “a meaningful voice” for residents of the North End in the neighborhood’s developments. 

The proposed ordinance’s second reading, which the council must pass in order for the city to adopt the zoning change, is scheduled for Sept. 8. 

The council also accepted amendments for consideration from the public, including Marazati’s proposal for measures addressing housing affordability, green space, and negotiation power for North End residents; as well as an amendment that would protect existing businesses from expansion constraints under the new zoning. Those amendments are set to be reviewed by the city’s planning board.

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.

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