MIDDLETOWN – Fourteen years after the city developed an Atlantic Beach District Master Plan to revitalize the area around lower Aquidneck Avenue, City Council passed a new zoning ordinance that could implement its vision of a pedestrian friendly New England seaside village.
Here’s what you need to know:
Where is the Atlantic Beach district located?
The Atlantic Beach District in Middletown is the limited commercial area that surrounds the area of Lower Aquidneck Avenue from the Newport town border to where the road splits into Valley Road.
It includes several businesses in Middletown, from Flo’s Clam Shack to Aquidneck Pizzeria to Diego’s Bodega, Atlantic Grille and Rejects Brewing Company.
What is the Atlantic District Overlay?
The Atlantic Beach District Overlay is an ordinance passed by Middletown City Council at its September 20 meeting that sets out specific design and construction requirements for this area of town.
The plan hopes to “improve the region as a tourist destination and better serve local residents,” according to the draft ordinance. It also seeks to make the area resemble a traditional New England seaside village with aesthetic improvements and pedestrian accessibility.
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Plans for some sort of cohesive design for the lower area of Aquidneck Avenue have been in the works since the Atlantic Beach District Master Plan was written in 2007, but the recent move to establish a new zoning district for this area started at the end of 2018.
It was not until the city council meeting on September 20 that the ordinance was finally passed unanimously. Here are the changes the city plans to make to buildings in the area:
1. More aesthetically similar building designs
This is the most important goal of the Overlay plan. According to the draft design manual, developments are limited to “traditional architectural styles of the seaside villages of Aquidneck Island and New England,” such as Colonial, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Shingle-style designs. and Victorian.
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These design standards prohibit flat roofs and large box-shaped buildings with a design repeat. This means that companies with buildings in the area, such as Rejects Brewing Co. and Island Surf & Sport, with its flat roof and large undivided windows, would not meet the new design standards.
2. Stricter design standards for commercial signage
To make the area more pedestrian-oriented, commercial signs will be limited in size, scale and location. The signs should fit the general style of the neighborhood. Internally lit signs, modifiable copy / reading board signs and window signs advertising branded products are prohibited.
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Although the board amended the ordinance to remove the requirement for current businesses to comply within five years, this means that the current signs for businesses like Flo’s Clam Shack and Aquidneck Pizzaria and Beach Wine & Liquors do not would not comply.
3. Better sidewalks and pedestrian access
In addition to the construction of buildings, the ordinance also emphasizes the need for better public gateways and better pedestrian accessibility throughout the neighborhood. Site design requirements for buildings require clearly defined and contiguous pedestrian areas that contrast with vehicular areas to make pedestrian areas safer and more welcoming.
It also relegates on-site parking to the rear of the building and requires parking lots to include bike racks.
4. Limits on new hotels and accommodation developments
The ordinance limits hotel development in the area by limiting the number of temporary accommodation rooms in the district to a total of 260. Originally this requirement included short-term rentals within this limit, but the council has ultimately amended the ordinance to remove this requirement.
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The room limit is based on the current number of rooms and requests pending before the board. There are currently six lodging companies in the district: Newport Beach Hotel & Suites, Atlantic Beach Hospitality, Atlantic Beach Hotel Newport, Rhea’s Inn By The Sea, Sea Breeze Inn, and Sea Whale, which total 257 rooms including those in the application process. .
Additionally, hotels will need to include a business for commercial use, such as a retail space or restaurant, on the first floor that operates separately and independently from the accommodation business with a separate exterior entrance.
5. Limits on types of businesses in the region
Limitations on the use of buildings would continue to be “substantially consistent” with the current zoning of “limited activities”, with exceptions. The ordinance bans general and specialist contractors, auto repair shops, car washes, commercial catering operations, multi-family dwellings, wind turbines and businesses that house animals.
It also enables new uses, such as small-scale production of artisan products and breweries or distilleries with retail or tasting rooms.
What happens to today’s companies?
Since zoning codes are designed to regulate new development, existing buildings that do not comply with the new rules are considered “non-compliant legal structures”. Under article 8 of the city’s zoning code, these businesses are allowed to continue to exist as they are, but will be subject to redevelopment if they decide to modify or change the use of the building, and developers will need to obtain a special use permit. of the zoning review board.