This has been a difficult year for Plum Island residents, especially those living on Annapolis Way and Fordham Way. Still reeling from the impact of Superstorm Sandy and another surprisingly powerful storm late in 2012, Plum Island came into the year already struggling with severe beach erosion that threatened many of the homes resting on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
Several of those homes were then pushed to the brink in early February, when a blizzard swept through the area and washed what was left of the beach out to sea. The storm left a handful of Plum Island homes literally teetering on the edge, wrecking their porches and exposing their foundations to the sea, and the widely held fear was that if one more big storm hit, several homes would be washed out to sea.
That fear proved to be well founded, as another nor’easter battered the coast in early March and proved to be a knockout blow for six houses, and left several others in peril. Two homes on Annapolis Way collapsed over the dune, a third was condemned after its foundation was compromised, and about a week later, three more homes on Fordham Way were torn down after it was determined they were damaged beyond repair. In the weeks and months following, homeowners met with elected officials and members of the state’s DEP to discuss ways to protect their properties and preserve the dunes on PI, including elevating their houses, sand mining, and biomimicry or placing thin wooden shakes into the earth in an attempt to stabilize the sand.
Several of the property owners whose homes were destroyed are considering selling their properties to the government rather than rebuilding.
In Newburyport, this year was marked by political strife, opposing views — and a desire to do something about those dirt parking lots.
A heated debate over the future of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s 4.2 acres on the waterfront dominated much of the discourse this year, as the panel of NRA members pushed forward with long-stalled plans for the land.
For the past two years, the independent NRA has been working with MassDevelopment and Union Studio, a Providence consulting firm, to create a commercial project near the river. Its most recent plan called for three, three-story buildings offering 70,000 square feet that would be populated by shops, a restaurant, residential condominiums and public facilities such as restrooms. It would have required an underground garage.
That plan drew sharp criticism and rebuke from citizens, among them a group called Committee for an Open Waterfront (COW), who want to see the land remain open as a park. The suggestion that the NRA might sell the land to private condo developers generated heated objection.The NRA vision was also not fully supported by any of the mayoral candidates in the fall election. All three candidates opposed condos, underground parking and the prospect that the city would sell municipal property to commercial developers.
Realizing their vision couldn’t be built without community support, and support from the top elected official, the NRA pledged to cooperate with the mayor and new City Council, and agreed to hold off on any plans until the new year.
Looking back years from now, Amesbury residents will likely remember 2013 as a watershed year in the city’s political history, one that was defined by a long and bitter election campaign that culminated in a most unexpected manner.
With frustrations over the city’s rising tax rate coming to a head, candidates opposing the policies of Mayor Thatcher Kezer began preparing an organized effort to oust the four-term incumbent and his supporters on the City Council as early as January, and by the time summer rolled around, an entire slate of like-minded candidates had emerged to actively campaign against the status quo.
Led by mayoral candidate Ken Gray, the insurgent candidates preached a message of lower tax rates, controlling spending and implementing greater government efficiency while canvassing the entire city with political signs. Though initially dismissed as a vocal minority, people began taking the new candidates much more seriously after Gray defeated Kezer convincingly in the Sept. 17 preliminary.
Kezer kicked his own campaign efforts into high gear, and supporters of his administration organized the “I Am Pro Amesbury” group. The final weeks of the campaign were marked by increasingly divisive rhetoric, with supporters of each side trading barbs daily, particularly on social media forums.
Ultimately, only three of the new candidates won election to the City Council, but Gray emerged victorious in the mayoral election by the slimmest possible margin to become the fourth mayor of Amesbury.
On election night, Gray was declared to have beaten Kezer by only two votes, winning 2,092 to 2,090. Kezer sought a recount, but the results held up. Kezer conceded a day later, opting to step aside rather than challenge the results in court and potentially drag the process out into 2014.
Casino gambling, a new library and the razing of a beach eyesore were just a few of the stories that topped Salisbury headlines in 2013.
The state’s legalization of casino gambling brought a Maryland developer to town asking for permission to put a slots-only casino on Route 110. When selectmen nixed the deal because of its last-minute nature, the angry and public response of the then chairman of the Salisbury Liquor Commission so offended the board, they removed him from office after weeks of drama.
The approval of a new library at May Town Meeting by a nearly unanimous vote will bring residents a $7 million facility, complete with numerous public computers, community meeting rooms and lots more books for children, teens and adults. And, with more than 60 percent of the cost paid by a state grant and generous donations by local foundations and businesses, the new facility should be paid off in only five years.
Town officials and local residents got a long-held wish this year when the state Department of Conservation and Recreation finally tore down the former Sidewalk Cafe on Ocean Front South. A popular venue over the decades, the building had become not only an eyesore but a safety hazard. After DCR purchased the property late last year, it came down with a cheer from onlookers.
With the Thompson Design Group’s proposal to remake the beach center now accepted as a thing of the past and the dilapidated Sidewalk Cafe gone, beach property owners are once again revisiting their former plan to redevelop Salisbury Beach, filled with condos and retail.
The year 2013 in some ways was a year of lost and found for Seabrook.
After winning the election for selectman handily in March, Eric Small had to give up the job before he was even sworn in due to a health issue. But residents found a new selectmen in the runner-up, Ray Smith, a retired teacher in town who may have drawn hundreds of his former students to the polls to vote.
And after parting ways with its town manager last year, the town found a new chief administrator in Bill Manzi, who came on board in July. Manzi, who beat out 30 other candidates, spent 12 years as a city councilor in Methuen, then six years as its mayor, retiring because of the term limit on the job. He’s settled in so well that selectmen recently extended his two-year contract to three, by unanimous vote.
In September, many in town joined with law enforcement launching a campaign to prevent the local sale of synthetic cannabinoids, or fake marijuana, sold legally as chemically-treated herbs that when smoked produces a high that critics call addictive and dangerous. With synthetic cannabinoids legal in the state, selectmen had to find a unique way to curb use in town. They enacted a new local ordinance making it unlawful to transport, use or possess synthetic cannabinoids or their derivatives on Seabrook roads, sidewalks or any town property. The jury’s still out on if that approach is working.
The town thought it found an answer for the empty Poland Spring warehouse on Ledge Road, when national food distribution giant US Foods said it wanted to take it over, bringing hundreds of employees with them, and promising to hire about 100 more. But after US Foods was purchased by its main competitor Sysco, many fear the deal’s been lost.
And after reviewing yet another large shopping center hoping to build 169,000 square feet of retail space at the Route 1/107 intersection, the Planning Board believes it’s found a way to put a halt to more “big box” commercial outlets and the influx of traffic they bring. A new zoning proposal for the area north of that intersection could be on the warrant for voters deal with in March. If approved, the area north of Route 107 will allow a commercial/residential mix in smaller commercial buildings from 7,500 to 20,000 square feet in size, considerably less substantial than the nearly 200,000 square foot Walmart under construction at DDR’s half-million-square-foot-shopping center, set to open in 2014.