NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 8, 2013

Putting the seal on 'City of Amesbury'

Amesbury Town Notebook
Mac Cerullo

---- — When I first came to Amesbury last summer, I’ll be honest, I was really confused by the discrepancy between the city’s form of government and the way everyone referred to it as a town.

Think about it: Amesbury has a mayor, a City Council and is officially known in the city charter as the “City of Amesbury,” and yet every official city document contains a seal that says “Town of Amesbury.” Even the big sign on City Hall says “Amesbury Town Hall.”

It strikes me as a minor quirk that you get used to after a while, but you have to admit it is a little misleading, and evidently Mayor Thatcher Kezer thinks so too, because tonight the City Council will be presented with a new bill that proposes amending Amesbury’s official city seal so that it says “City of Amesbury” instead of “Town of Amesbury.”

The change is fairly insignificant. If passed, the bill would literally just change the word “Town” to “City,” but Kezer said he felt it was important that the seal be consistent with the city’s official name. He added that there are no plans to completely overhaul the city’s seal, but if there were enough desire to do so, he might consider it in the future.

There are some small costs associated with the change, but Kezer said he wants the change to be made before the John Greenleaf Whittier Bridge renovation project begins in order to avoid a much bigger cost in the future.

“At some point they’re going to have the seals made of the three communities to be embedded into the project, so it wouldn’t be good to change it after it’s been done,” Kezer said.

Amesbury first switched over from a town to a city form of government in 1996, but it was still called a town by many people afterward because they thought Amesbury was too small and quaint to be a city.

That changed in November of 2011, when Amesbury voters took to the polls and approved a change to the city charter that officially changed Amesbury’s name from “The City known as the Town of Amesbury” to “The City of Amesbury.”

Should this proposal pass, Amesbury’s seal would reflect that change. No word on whether the “Town Hall” sign will get repainted and updated anytime soon though.

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The first City Council meeting of 2013 promises to be an interesting one, because headlining tonight’s agenda is the public hearing regarding whether the city should adopt the Stretch Energy Code.

The Stretch Code is an amendment to the city’s building code that would tighten energy-efficiency requirements for newly constructed buildings. It is also one of the five requirements Amesbury must meet in order to become recognized as a Green Community by the state, which would make the city eligible for up to $10 million in grants for green-energy programs.

There has been a good amount of discussion regarding the Stretch Code over the past few months, and in November the council hosted an information session regarding the specifics of the code and what it would mean for Amesbury home and business owners.

If adopted, the Stretch Code would dictate that new homes be 15 to 20 percent more energy efficient than the normal building code requires. The new regulations would only apply to new construction and would not require homeowners to bring their entire house up to code.

In the case of a renovation or an addition, only the affected areas would have to be brought up to code, and the code doesn’t apply to registered historical sites, meaning a homeowner wouldn’t have to put in a special window that doesn’t look right if they decided to fix up the house.

Should the City Council vote to adopt the Stretch Code, it would clear the biggest hurdle toward Green Community designation. The five state requirements that Amesbury must meet are to provide zoning for renewable energy-generating research and development or manufacturing facilities, adopt an expedited application and permit process for those facilities, develop a plan to reduce energy use by 20 percent within five years, purchase only fuel-efficient vehicles and adopt the state’s Stretch Code.

Amesbury has already met the first requirement by providing zoning through a new solar overlay district, and according to Councilor Christian Scorzoni, the bill’s primary sponsor, the city is close to achieving the second requirement as well.

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After wrapping up the Stretch Code issue, the City Council will turn its attention to the Horace Mann School property, which is currently sitting dormant in the middle of its Congress Street neighborhood.

In order to put the school and its property to good use again, the City Council will be discussing a request from Kezer to rezone the property from an Open Space Conservancy into a residential zone, which would bring it in line with the residential district that surrounds it.

By rezoning the Horace Mann property parcels, the city will be able to redevelop the property. Kezer indicated that his hope is the building itself can remain intact and be turned into a multi-family housing unit of some kind, but there will be continued discussion regarding the fate of the original school building going forward.

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

Tonight

City Council Ordinance Committee Meeting, 6:15 p.m., City Hall Auditorium.

City Council Meeting, 7 p.m., City Hall Auditorium.

Thursday

AHS School Council Meeting, 6:30 p.m., Amesbury High School Principal’s Conference Room.

Monday

Planning Board Meeting, 7 p.m., City Hall Auditorium.

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Mac Cerullo covers Amesbury for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-462-6666, ext. 3238 or by email at mcerullo@newburyportnews.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.