, Newburyport, MA

November 26, 2012

LHD may be decided tonight


---- — NEWBURYPORT — Two major issues — a vote on the LHD and the plans of the NRA — are expected to be discussed at municipal meetings this week, and city councilors know their ABCs when it comes to these two much-debated issues.

The LHD refers to the proposed Local Historic District, and councilors say a vote could take place at its regular meeting tonight at 7:30 in council chambers of City Hall.

The NRA stands for the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, which is creating a request for proposals (RFP) to circulate among developers for a new park and two commercial buildings on the waterfront. The NRA is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The proposed LHD has been one of the most contentious issues in the city in years. If it passes, it would create a Local Historic District Commission that would have authority over major changes to structures on High Street, the central neighborhoods and the downtown business district.

The LHD Study Committee has been working on creating an ordinance since 2007, and City Hall observers say that councilors might vote on the issue tonight.

“An up-and-down vote could be taken at the meeting,” said City Councilor Bob Cronin. “There has been much discussion, and councilors have had time to think about it.”

Numerous City Hall observers say the proposed ordinance, as it stands, will not generate the required super-majority of eight votes for passage.

“It might not pass,” said Cronin. “But a couple ideas will stay on my radar, including looking closely at our demolition delay guidelines, and also about attention to the downtown business district.”

Councilor Allison Heartquist said, “I don’t think the LHD is going to pass in its current state, but I think that we should focus on the downtown. I think we need a measure with some bite.

“I don’t think some councilors want another commission.”

A variable attached to the LHD discussion is a possible compromise. City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives has reportedly been working on a compromise measure, and such a proposal could influence the course of the discussion.

On Wednesday, the NRA is scheduled to discuss its approach to the RFP. The NRA’s consultant, Barry Abramson of Abramson Associates, has been creating a draft proposal for an RFP.

This is the document that interested developers will use as a guideline for any submission.

The NRA controls 4.2 acres of land on the waterfront, serving now as parking lots, and is moving forward with plans to create a park and two commercial structures.

These buildings would house about 30 to 35 condominium units, several shops and restaurants, public restrooms and perhaps offices for the tourist services and the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The NRA received guidance on its plans from Union Studio of Providence, R.I., which produced a detailed proposal as a model for development.

Abramson will ostensibly integrate Union’s plan into an outline that developers and bankers can review before they decide whether to bid the project.