NEWBURYPORT — A group of local residents is organizing in opposition to any commercial development on the waterfront.
Leaders of the Committee for the Open Waterfront say they oppose the current initiative by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority to develop 4.2 acres of land it supervises on the waterfront.
The NRA has signed an agreement with MassDevelopment, a quasi-public state agency, to craft a request for proposals that could lead to some construction along the river.
The NRA and MassDevelopment are months away from producing a tangible plan, and what they would produce is an RFP, not a blueprint for development.
But on Monday, the two organizations had their first meeting with consultants and architects that represented their "getting to know each other" phase before their planning starts in earnest.
Until now, there has been little public opposition to the NRA's work. But the open waterfront committee, which includes veterans of past efforts to oppose commercial construction along the river, has begun meeting and outlining strategy.
The group, which has just begun recruiting supporters, has about three-dozen core members.
"Many of us worked to keep an open waterfront years ago," Elizabeth Heath of Newburyport said. "The land along the river might be dirt parking lots, but we still value the open space.
"That is not NRA land; it's public land and is better used as open space."
The city's riverfront has been the source of numerous legal battles for decades, with residents mounting an initiative to preserve "ways to the river" in the 1970s and to block a proposed hotel by developer Roger Foster in the 1980s.
The NRA, with the support of Mayor Donna Holaday, has been exploring ways to create an acceptable RFP that could be offered to developers and investors.
No formal plans have been created, but NRA Chairman James Shanley has said that an RFP could include structures.
Committee for the Open Waterfront members, who say the NRA has been operating with little public input, said their group aims to:
Assure the preservation of an open central waterfront, free from additional buildings.
Preserve public access to the open central waterfront.
Maintain unobstructed views of the river from Merrimac, Water and Green streets.
"We want to celebrate Newburyport's past, present and future, and reconnect the city to a usable, open waterfront," committee member Lon Hachmeister said. "It would be nice to have a grass park there, but for the time being, dirt lots guarantee an unobstructed view of our beautiful scenery all the way to the Atlantic.
"Until something better comes along, let's fight to keep open Newburyport's crown jewel."
Hachmeister and Joanie Purinton, also a member of the group, were part of a team that recently raised significant funds to preserve the Upper Green in Newbury.
Mayor Donna Holaday last night responded by saying, "Right now there is no initiative; we are looking at what can be done and what are the limitations.
"But there will be an open waterfront."
She said the city might consider selling parts of parcels near Water Street to ensure that there can be foot traffic and affordable park grounds.