NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 31, 2012

Looking ahead to 2013

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — The new year will soon be upon us, and numerous municipal issues will be addressed in 2013, including the following:

NRA acreage on the waterfront: The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority is scheduled to move forward on its plan to create more park space on the river while developing two commercial buildings to pay for the park and its upkeep.

An outline of a plan was presented in September at the Firehouse and the majority of the earnest audience expressed satisfaction with the proposal.

The NRA is in the process of creating a Request for Proposals that will go out to developers.

No date for the extension of the RFP has been finalized, and the five-member NRA board has not decided whether to sell or lease its 4.2 acres.

James Shanley, head of the NRA, said his team wants to hear from developers on how they view the matter of sale versus lease.

The Local Historic District: A recent City Council vote on the first reading of an LHD ordinance revealed scant support for a residential LHD. However, councilors in coming weeks are scheduled to consider protections for the commercial downtown and a demolition-delay measure.

City officials say that planning and zoning regulations here provide little protection for architectural guidelines should property owners in the downtown wish to make changes or initiate new construction.

Still, close to a half-dozen (of 11) councilors seem inimical to more regulation, so it is unknown whether new measures will be approved in 2013.

Sewer and water systems on Plum Island: This matter did not receive much attention in 2012, but the potential toppling of several houses on the beachfront in Newbury propelled it back into the governmental conversation in recent weeks.

The city of Newburyport is actually the supervising agency for both Newburyport and Newbury when it comes to making sure sewer and water systems are functioning.

It is a vacuum-based system, suggesting that the entire line must be in good health to ensure that pressure is maintained.

Mayor Donna Holaday has said city engineers are monitoring the situation, but mishaps could be costly. Municipal leaders note that houses under duress can be disconnected so the rest of the system is not threatened.

Your Scribe is a giddy optimist, though, and notes the city dodged a bullet in 2012 when its crumbling clearwell (municipal water source) was replaced without incident. Perhaps the challenges on the island can be avoided as well.)

Municipal elections: Election for city office in 2013 will likely bring out more candidates than did the local election of 2011.

In that ballot, all six ward councilors ran unopposed, as did Holaday.

But recent political battles, including the divisive fight over the LHD, will likely prompt more citizens to run for office.

Some City Hall insiders say if the LHD had been decided by the voters rather than the City Council, it would have passed.

Could aspirants run as “pro-LHD” candidates and attempt to mold building regulations in the future?

Construction on Storey Avenue: Tropic Star LLC, a New Hampshire development company, in 2012 made an effort to have land on Storey Avenue rezoned so it could accommodate a possible CVS store and a bank branch.

The rezoning request did not pass, and city officials say the idea can be revisited if the proposal is different. It’s possible that Tropic Star will come back with a new version of its original plan.

Parking: Strategy to improve parking opportunities in the downtown has been debated here since the advent of the Edsel.

But with major new projects slated for the intersection of Green and Merrimac streets, the subject will likely be brought up again.

The NRA is considering shops and restaurants on its nearby property, in addition to condominium units. The owner of the building that houses the departed Davis Auto Parts is planning a restaurant with more than 400 seats.

It would appear that parking, and an oft-proposed parking garage, will be in the political conversation again in 2013.

---

The following meetings are scheduled this week and are open to the public:

Wednesday

Senior Center Building Committee, 5 p.m., second-floor conference room, City Hall.

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, 7 p.m., municipal library.

Thursday

Commission for Diversity and Tolerance, 4 p.m., City Hall.

River Valley Charter School Executive Committee, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way.

Historical Commission, City Council Chambers, 7:30 p.m., City Council Chambers.

---

Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be contacted at 978-462-6666, ext. 3226 or dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.