By Joe Baker | The Newport Daily News Jan 11, 2016
The town of Portsmouth and the Aquidneck Land Trust have purchased a 1.5-acre piece of land along the shore that faces the Mount Hope Bridge and plan to turn it into a public park.
The town, which contributed $600,000 of the $900,000 purchase price, will own the property and the land trust will hold a conservation easement that will prohibit any future development. The property actually is about 4.9 acres, but all but 1.5 acres is underwater, Town Council President Keith E. Hamilton said in announcing the agreement during the council’s meeting Monday night.
“It’s a great deal and a beautiful piece of property,” Hamilton said. “A piece of Portsmouth history has been preserved.”
Located on a small peninsula sticking out into Mount Hope Bay, the property was used as the primary landing for the ferry between Portsmouth and Bristol from the late 1600s until 1929, when the Mount Hope Bridge opened.
Negotiations with primary landowner Joe Britto took more than a year, Hamilton said. The town is going to seek grants to help repair the sea wall, he said. The property will remain fenced off until those repairs are completed, he said.
“Portsmouth is lacking in waterfront public-access open space,” land trust Executive Director Chuck Allott said in a prepared statement. “The land trust is thrilled to work with the town to bring a waterfront park to Portsmouth with such high scenic and recreational conservation values.”
Hamilton said officials envision the site being used for passive recreation, with benches so people can watch the sunset. It also will be a popular fishing spot, said Hamilton, who said he is a fisherman himself. The Fire Department has expressed interest in putting a floating dock in at the shoreline where firefighters can bring people who are rescued in the nearby bay, Hamilton said.
Officials said they hope the park would be open to the public by the summer of 2017. A public park planning process funded through a private foundation grant will take place during the next year to determine the best design and recreational use for the park, according to the land trust.
At one time, owners of the property actively were seeking permission to build condominiums there, Councilman Kevin Aguiar said, but never got the necessary approvals.