Proposal for building visitors center at landmarked Rhode Island seaside mansion wins approval

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NEWPORT, Rhode Island — A divisive proposal to build a welcome center on the grounds of a national historic landmark that's been called America's Downton Abbey has been given the go-ahead.

Newport's Zoning Board of Review on Monday released its decision 4-1 in favor of the project at The Breakers, a seaside mansion built in the Gilded Age by the Vanderbilts, then one of the nation's wealthiest families.

The plan has been strenuously opposed by neighbors, some preservationists and descendants of the Vanderbilts, including designer Gloria Vanderbilt.

The Preservation Society of Newport County, a nonprofit group that owns The Breakers and several other mansions in Newport, wants to build the center to provide better restrooms and sell food on the mansion's grounds.

Neighbor Rob Beaver, who has fought the proposal, said on Monday that the zoning officials who supported it found it was appropriate for the neighborhood and would provide reasonable amenities to tourists.

Opponents have said the center will detract from the historic nature of the estate and have suggested it be built across the street in an existing parking lot.

The Zoning Board of Review's decision can be appealed, but it was unclear Monday whether neighbors planned to do so.

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