BY DYKE HENDRICKSON STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
---- — NEWBURYPORT — State and city officials convened yesterday to discuss access-to-the-water issues surrounding a proposed restaurant on Merrimac Street, which would be among the largest in the city if it materializes.
At issue is the plan to develop the Merrimac Ale House at 40 Merrimac St., the building that until recently housed Davis Auto Parts.
Joe Leone, who owns the nearby Black Cow restaurant (the business, not the building), is proposing to create a bar-restaurant with a maximum capacity of 431.
Leone proposes to construct the restaurant in the footprint of the current building, but plans do call for the creation of a second-floor deck that would have views of the river.
Numerous permits must be obtained before work can begin, and yesterday environmental officials toured the site and reviewed plans created by architects and engineers.
The provisions of at least one state statute must be fulfilled, a set of laws known as Chapter 91. This measure “regulates activities on both coastal and inland waterways, including construction, dredging and filling in tidelands, great ponds and certain rivers and streams.”
Buildings between Merrimac Street and the river generally fall under the purview of this law.
Bill Harris, an authority on historical riverfront activity who said he is representing the Chapter 91 Citizens’ Committee, said his organization is concerned that an adequate path be preserved for pedestrians to walk from Merrimac Street to the river.
Harris suggested that a 7-foot wide path be constructed on the east side of the building (adjacent to Riverside Park) and an access route about 5 feet wide be preserved for the west side.
The 7-foot path had been mentioned when Leone and his team presented plans to the Waterfront Trust, the committee that controls the land adjacent to the proposed building, but no action has been taken.
Deirdre Buckley, an environmental analyst with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, made note of the information. She said her organization, which acts as a fact-finding team, will get back to Leone and other interested parties in coming weeks.
Alex Strysky, an environmental analyst for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that at this point, he does not see problems in siting the restaurant at the address.
Municipal Planning Director Andy Port, who also attended yesterday, said that the city supports the project if all regulations can be fulfilled.
Developers of the Merrimac Ale House must make presentations before other municipal boards, including the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission and possibly the Zoning Board of Appeals. Architects say that the bar-restaurant will be about 6,400 square feet.
Leone’s team appears to recognize that much paperwork is involved, and yesterday’s session was one of numerous presentations that the Ale House will make as part of the approval process.