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Newport Is Front and Center at National Planning Conferences

May 1, 2012

Carts of flowers bring a breath of spring to the sidewalk outside of Newport Natural Foods. Photo by Christopher Roy

NEWPORT CITY – This small border community has been in the spotlight at national conferences over the past few months.
Zoning Administrator Paul Dreher attended the New Partners for Smart Growth in San Diego, the National Main Street Conference in Baltimore, MD, and American Planners Association Conference in Los Angeles.
Trish Sears, executive director for the Newport City Renaissance Corporation (NCRC), also attended the New Partners for Smart Growth and the National Main Street Conference.
Mayor Paul Monette attended the National Main Street Conference. Each conference focused on vibrant downtowns, smart growth initiatives and innovative city policies.
“Newport was showcased in each one for a number of things,” said Dreher. Some items of particular interest included the form based zoning code, Land Use Tax, Complete Street Polices the city is working on and the foreign trade zone. The Restaurant, Baan Thai Cuisine, was the topic of discussion at Baltimore.
“It’s a really innovative financing system, with the community investment that brought it into being,” Dreher said.
Having Newport showcased means a lot, said Dreher. Newport is a buzzword for city planners nationwide, something that was unheard of a decade ago. Everyone at the American Planners Association Conference on Los Angeles knew Newport, VT, had representation even though Newport Beach California was nearby, Dreher said.
“People come up to us and ask, 'What’s in the water up there, because you’re doing so many good things?'" said Dreher. “People know Trish’s name, people know the mayor’s name. Paul Monette is known for being a really progressive mayor.”
Church Street in Burlington is losing businesses and Newport is gaining businesses, said Dreher, who is getting 10 calls a week about the form based code.
Newport has a bright future as people are starting to invest in the city, Dreher said. This includes buying homes and fixing them up instead of just turning them into apartments. Dreher believes the biotech center and downtown and waterfront hotels will cause the real-estate market to become more valuable.
National leaders on growth say that Newport is the place to be as far as city services, infrastructure and city government, Dreher said, who added that the growth is going to be centered on the downtown area.
Newport recently hosted St. Albans' officials who wanted to see how things are done here. Dreher said Newport officials take the attitude that the community is the expert. 
“With the community gardens, for example, we went out and knocked on doors and asked people what they wanted,” Dreher said. “We didn’t say, 'Here is what you’re going to get.'"
Officials did the same thing when they were talking about the form based code, which according to Dreher is unusual.
Dreher thinks big things are coming to Newport in the next two or three years. “I’m investing here,” he said.

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