City councilors were divided on the plan, often disagreeing on how more commercial/high-end residential space might affect the city.
“We are a destination city,” Councilor At-Large Bruce Vogel said. “More commercial development is not necessarily going to bring any more visitors to our community. What it will do is dilute whatever comes into town. We can only manage so much.”
Ward 1 Councilor Allison Heartquist agreed.
“The majority of people in Ward 1 do not want buildings,” Heartquist said. “Bottom line, they don’t want it. I have not heard from any retailers, I have not heard from any restaurants that are concerned with bringing in other commercial space downtown.”
Still others pointed to the fact that valuable waterfront land continues to be used as a space for storing cars.
Ward 4 Councilor Charles Tontar called the space “a monument to urban renewal...a means of making America convenient to the automobile,” rather than a space for community enrichment, while Councilor At-Large Barry Connell quipped that the city had devoted the space to allowing cars to enjoy themselves.
Connell argued that, as a destination city, Newburyport could “grow the pie” for all businesses by constructing a hotel.
Responding to questions over how the city could possibly still be undecided despite having conducted several surveys over the decades, one member of the NRA told councilors that none of the past surveys had been properly designed to determine the exact preferences of the people. Each, she said, suffered fundamental flaws that made it unclear how people would most prefer the space be used.