By Lynne Tungett
Many conversations have taken place over the past six months that have resulted in a revised design for Queen Anne Square by renowned landscape architect Maya Lin.
Beloved by many, the park elicits strong opinions for and against the changes proposed for it by the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF).
Newport This Week spoke with many of the key players in the debate, asking the questions that our readers wanted answered.
What is going to happen to the trees?
Scott Wheeler, Newport’s Tree Warden and Supervisor of Buildings & Grounds, said: “Members of the Tree Society, the Open Space Commission, and I met with Pieter Roos (executive director of NRF) and also had an on-site walk through the square.
In early May, I compiled two pages of notes regarding maintainability, and also offered quite a few suggestions about lighting, irrigation and handicap access. I gave the input to Ed Lavallee, the city manager, and Pieter. A key piece of feedback was to keep an unobstructed view corridor from the park looking up to Trinity Church. Initially, 23 trees were to be removed, but now because of our input, only nine trees will be relocated or cut down.
Basically, those that are out of character are going, and there will be a more naturalized landscape. I have been involved in many controversial projects, like the one at the Newport Library. My job is to look at the project, and not be in favor or object, but evaluate the implications. For example, will stone dust be too near a drinking fountain?”
What has been your biggest concern with the project?
Kate Leonard, council member for the ward which contains the park, said: “The park belongs to the public, and that means, to me, total transparency. The public and the council need to know exactly what the result will be.
The maintenance agreement is also a major concern of mine, and what the associated costs will be. All of those things need to be looked at, not in a vacuum, but with public input. We need to look at it with open eyes and not with conjecture.”
Will there be any seating with backs?
Pieter Roos, Executive Director of Newport Restoration Foundation, said: “At first, seating with backs was not in the plan, but as time went on, and we received feedback, we need to have some more traditional seating with backs, and that is now a firm part of the plan.
Maya Lin will include the style and location of the additional seating in her final plans that will be submitted to the city before the proposal is placed on the council docket.”
What about public safety?
Lt. William Fitzgerald of the Newport Police Dept. said: “Capt. Gary Silva, Community Policing Officer (CPO), Jonathan Cortes and I reviewed the drawings about a month ago. We made suggestions and recommendations regarding security issues. The dark areas, rocks and bushes make it difficult for routine patrols to monitor the park.
The installation of surveillance cameras, wired to the police department, would be very helpful. Of all the parks, we receive the most calls for service for Queen Anne Square. The redesign, with more lighting and less hiding spaces, will make less opportunity for criminal activity.”
How different will the park look after the redesign is implemented?
Pieter Roos, said: “As we have said throughout the process, this project is an enhancement to improve the park, not a radical redesign. It has always been our intention in this design to retain the important elements that the community enjoys: an abundance of grass, an inviting place to enjoy the sun or the shade, and the view of Trinity Church.
The improvements, such as the foundations for seating, the movement of trees to provide shade and allow sun and the revised pathways for easy access, are meant to enhance what is already there. We are confident that if you enjoy and use the park, now, you will enjoy it more, once the improvements are complete.”
How has the city been involved in the process?
Newport City Manager, Ed Lavallee said: “I first saw the site plan at the Newport Art Museum (with then Mayor Jean Marie Napolitano, and about 30 people in July 2010). From a public safety standpoint, I was most concerned with a chimney and fireplace element. I don’t think those will remain in the final design. The 18-inch high seating walls, I feel, are not as much of a hazard, actually, as the six-inch elevated curbing along Thames Street.
The maintenance issues and operating costs all have to be worked out. It is important to determine who will administer the project and manage the money. Joe Nicholson, the city solicitor, received a draft of that agreement within the past two weeks and is reviewing it, now.
At the May 25 (2011) council meeting, the council passed the park resolution.* And, I was also at the public workshop held at city hall on Aug. 17. The next formal step is to have the agreement placed on the docket of an upcoming city council meeting.
How does the redesign affect Trinity Church?
Roos commented: “The design has always been intended to enhance the view of Trinity Church. With two exceptions, all of the changes are aimed at the city portion of the park. The first exception is that we would like to remove the brick path leading from the Mary Street Parking alley to the church and replace it with one that better aligns with the alley and would be made of bluestone.
The second is that the garden shed, currently used by the garden guild, is in dilapidated condition and sits on city land. We need a space for the mechanicals for the park, primarily electrical panels and irrigation control. We are proposing to the church to build a new shed in a more attractive clapboard version which matches other architecture on the Trinity campus and that is slightly larger. (6-8’ longer).
Trinity would retain their current space with a separate entrance for the mechanical end. Furthermore, we anticipate creating an arrangement that formalizes Trinity’s ability to keep the shed on the city’s land. As with the entire project, these things will be done without cost to Trinity Church and will only happen after a formal negotiation and approval by the vestry.
A 3D model is expected to be complete by Oct. 28 and will be on display at the Newport Public Library. The final renderings will be available before the project is placed on the City Council docket in November.