City Council Examines Assault Weapons Ban and More


National politics waded into the Newport City Council’s chambers on Feb. 22, with the council unanimously supporting state legislation that would prohibit the sale of assault weapons in Rhode Island.

If approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor, Rhode Island would join Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia in passing such a law.

“I’m tired of kids being killed,” said councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. “I’m tired of thoughts and prayers. It’s time for action by councils, state legislators and our Congress in Washington to adopt common-sense gun laws.”

Napolitano listed a number of venues where mass shootings have recently taken place, including supermarkets, arenas, movie theaters, schools and churches.

“There’s nowhere we feel safe,” she said.

Napolitano testified at the State House for similar legislation in the wake of Sandy Hook in 2012, calling it the “most intimidating” thing she’s ever done because of activists from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups.

Throughout the discussion, councilors agreed that Congress has failed to address the issue. Councilor David Carlin asked if such legislation was constitutional and whether the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on the matter. City solicitor Christopher Behan said it would depend specifically on what the Rhode Island bill prohibits.

Ultimately, the council was in agreement, with all voting in favor of a resolution that supports the bill, which was introduced in the Rhode Island House of Representatives this session and awaits public hearings. Short-term Rentals

City manager Joe Nicholson provided an update on the city’s short-term rental registration and stated the city would be stepping up enforcement against properties not found to be found in compliance with Newport’s ordinances.

Last year, the City Council banned new short-term rentals in residential zones. By law, legal short-term rental properties are required to register with both the city and state and pay a registration fee to each.

“We know there’s a lot of other places that are not in compliance with our ordinances, and we’re pursuing them and we’re locating them,” Nicholson said.

According to Nicholson, there are 319 properties registered with the city as short-term rentals, compared to 311 Newport properties that are registered with the state. Of those 311 properties, 111 are not registered with the city.

“We’re going to be pursuing those 111 to try to conform them to our own municipal registration requirements,” Nicholson said. “We’re strategizing further on enforcement.”

Councilor Mark Aramli asked if the city looks at third-party hosting platforms, such as Airbnb and Vrbo, when trying to determine if properties are in violation. Nicholson said the city contracts a company, Host Compliance, to specifically engage with such apps and report back to the city.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 24, the city published a map to its website and social media detailing all registered short-term rentals in the city, calling for anyone who suspects an unlisted property being rented out short-term to report it.

“We do plan on bringing those who aren’t registering into court in a little more aggressive manner,” Nicholson said.

From 2021 to 2022, enforcement actions were brought against 211 properties for violations of the city’s short-term rental laws. Residential Tax Applications Due March 15

The city has received 2,300 applications for the city’s new owner occupied tax rate, and Nicholson urged residents not to wait until the last minute to apply. The deadline for applications is March 15.

“We’re certainly not hoping that 3,000 [people] walk in the door during the last week of the program,” he said. “That’s probably our biggest concern. We’re trying to urge people to get in here.”

On a second reading of a vote to expand the city’s owner-occupied tax rate, Carlin asked if three-family homes that are entirely owner-occupied should also be considered for eligibility.

“There’s all kinds of exceptions that can occur with this, or all kinds of scenarios or situations which you might want to extend this to,” Behan said. “But at some point, you have to draw the line. It may be true that it may be unfair to the people you speak of, but I don’t know how many there are. And if you take care of them, you may open up [the program] to all kinds of abuses from a lot of other people.”

The second reading passed, with Carlin opposed.

Traffic Safety

The council also unanimously passed a resolution from Aramli that calls for “comprehensive efforts” to improve public safety on streets through community policing and enforcement, for the Police Department to publish annual reports, and for the city administration to develop a plan to increase enforcement and present it to the council by May 1. Aramli’s resolution specifically mentions studying measures such as dynamic speedwarning signs, bicycle-based law enforcement, street-based walking police patrols and speed cameras. By state law, speed cameras can be installed only in school zones and are limited in the times of the day and seasons they can be used.

Councilor Angela McCalla said she was supporting the resolution for the purpose of studying the issues further, but requested a public workshop on speed cameras and said the city should first try other means of enforcement, such as signage and speed bumps.

“We need to understand if our residents are O.K. with it in certain areas,” she said. “I also want to make sure, in terms of equity, that we’re not trying to catch certain people, or certain groups of people, in their own neighborhoods living their everyday lives.”

Nicholson said the city has previously vetted speed camera companies and is ready to bring the information to the council.


Finally, the AARP of Rhode Island congratulated the council and city on the creation of Newport for All Ages, an age-friendly action plan that provides access to research, models and ways to implement better housing, transportation, street safety and services for the elderly.

Catherine Taylor, AARP of Rhode Island state director, called Newport’s plan a “national model.”

“We had multiple meetings over several years to get the data and create this action plan,” said council Vice Chair Lynn Ceglie. “I’m very proud of it and there was a lot of work that went into it. What’s good for seniors is good for everyone.”

In other matters:

v The council unanimously approved changes to the ordinances dictating the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Review, reducing the number of required members to form a quorum for both bodies. v The council unanimously reappointed Samuel Goldblatt as chair of the Zoning Board of Review. Aramli recused himself from the reappointment because of a pending appeal he has as a citizen with the board.

It also heard from the chairs of the Waterfront, Bicycle and Pedestrian, and Energy and Environment commissions about their activities in 2022 and their plans for this year. v The council unanimously approved a mobile food cart license renewal for Newport Lobster Shack after owners said they would make sure the cart is stored away after hours of operation each day. The council had previously continued the renewal upon complaints from residents.

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