NEWBURYPORT — The future of the city’s central waterfront has been debated, sometimes angrily, for close to four decades. But last night it appeared that a new era might have been broached — one of compromise.
The scene was an open meeting of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority at the public library, and the program room there drew an overflow crowd of close to 100.
Mayor Donna Holaday set the tone by opening the meeting with a call for compromise, “a common ground so we can improve the riverfront and get rid of the dirt lots.”
Holaday said she had met earlier yesterday with members of the Committee for an Open Waterfront, which ardently opposes any commercial development on the riverfront. The mayor said she is open to more dialogue so that residents can come to some kind of consensus.
The meeting ended after 1 hour and 45 minutes without a compromise. But many residents seemed relieved that their ideas were being aired.
“Whatever we do, let’s try to find an 85 percent buy-in,” veteran waterfront-watcher Tom Gould said. “Let’s compromise because we don’t want the community divided if plans move forward.”
The NRA has been working with MassDevelopment, a quasi-public state institution interested in generating commerce, and Union Studio, a Providence urban-planning consultancy, to create a vision for the 4.2 acres it, not the city, owns along the riverfront.
Though the NRA conducts regularly posted meetings and manages its own website, last night’s session was one of the first designed to elicit reaction from residents. Other public sessions have featured planning professionals discussing the potential of the park.
There was still a wide gap in how citizens view the NRA’s tentative vision of developing two commercial buildings with condominiums in order to generate funds to expand the park.