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November 25, 2012

Wondering about the elephant in the room as important decisions are made

Two municipal meetings relating to the waterfront are scheduled this week, and both are important to the future of the city.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss tonight the proposed Local Historic District, and an LHD commission that would administer new regulations relating to historic preservation.

On Wednesday evening, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority is expected to review a request for proposals (RFP) as they relate to the NRA’s goal of utilizing 4.2 acres on the riverfront for a park and two commercial buildings.

Relating to the City Council and the LHD, it appears that the proposal will not earn the required eight votes the way it stands and that guidelines for residential sectors such as High Street will be deleted.

LHD opponents made their point about their insistence on the property rights of homeowners and their aversion to “another” commission to oversee preservation.

Given this change of landscape, key city leaders — including Mayor Donna Holaday and City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives — are repositioning in favor an LHD to encompass the downtown commercial district.

According to planning leaders, including Bonnie Sontag, a member of the Planning Board, and Andy Port, city planning director, the city currently has very weak regulations to govern commercial developers in the downtown.

Yet almost all of the dialogue about the LHD has focused on residential concerns. Now, in what appears the 11th hour, city officials are ready to consider guidelines for commercial land.

As the clock ticks, Your Scribe forwards this question: Have officials adequately considered the elephant in the room — New England Development, headed by business mogul Stephen Karp?

New England Development, operating here as Newburyport Development, owns close to 50 parcels in the downtown. This organization has enormous power over the future of the city, but the company has barely been referenced in the discussion of the LHD.

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