NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 10, 2012

Discussion of NRA proposals for waterfront development this week

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — The end of the year is approaching, but two municipal issues that have been active the entire year are still with us.

On Wednesday, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority is scheduled to discuss its Request for Proposals (RFP) that the organization will be extending to developers.

Its initiative calls for construction of two commercial buildings on the 4.2 acres it controls on the riverfront.

Members of the NRA have emerged, in movie terms, as “executive producers” of this proposed project. They are slated to chose a developer, approve the plans, supervise the sale or lease of the property and then behold the product.

The stakes here are high: This is city property and the board is made up five part-time board members without known construction-management experience.

Members of the NRA, which is being aided by MassDevelopment, are James Shanley, chairman, Patty Dorfman, Adam Guild, John Morris and Tom Salemi.

(An aside: It still isn’t clear whether the NRA will sell the land or lease it.)

Another key municipal issue, the proposed ordinance to create a Local Historic District, is scheduled to be voted on by the 11-member City Council tonight.

Last week’s joint committee meetings were unique because it was the first time the elected representatives (save Katy O’Connor Ives) had publicly declared their views.

Councilors against the LHD, as proposed by the LHD Study Committee, are Bob Cronin, Brian Derrivan, Tom Jones, Tom O’Brien and Dick Sullivan Jr.

Since it takes eight affirmative votes to pass the LHD, it appears the measure will fail.

Jones, a contractor, provided a telling anecdote as he expressed his opposition. At the recent session, he said, “(As a builder) I had an awful experience with (preservation) officials in Somerville. They were very hard to deal with.

“I did a lot of my work before anyone from the historic district knew about it.”

Newburyport is considered a city in transition, having gone from a distressed community in the ‘60s to a fashionable location in 2012 to which many potential home buyers want to move.

Indeed, houses on High Street and most residences with views on Water and Merrimac streets are worth at least $1 million (and they look darn good while doing so).

But when the matter of preserving residential neighborhoods reached the council committees last week, a blue collar-white collar divide emerged.

Councilors who ended up opposing it saw the ordinance as an impediment to commerce.

Jones suggested that people who work with their hands — carpenters and plumbers and contractors — must have a chance to make a living.

LHD opponents strongly objected to the creation of a commission that would supervise structures in the district, especially when it became known the panel could include architects, historians, lawyers and preservationists.

There is still a chance that part of the LHD will move forward; one area of agreement seems to be the need for a stronger demolition-delay measure.

And Cronin, who worked with the departing O’Connor Ives on a compromise, said he wants to continue to consider demolition delay, protection for the downtown and perhaps a volunteer historic sector on High Street loosely called “the ridge district.”

Still, the rejection of the proposed ordinance will be hurtful to residents who saw the LHD as a tool with which to maintain the past and enhance the future.

If proponents do continue their efforts, perhaps they will do so with an eye to a (last) line from Fitzgerald: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

The “new” future of preservation likely will begin tonight after the council votes.

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

Tonight

General Government committee, 6:30 p.m., City Hall.

License and Permits Committee, 6:30 p.m., City Hall.

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

Tomorrow

Selection Subcommittee of the School Building Committee, 4 p.m., Nock School, 70 Low St.

River Valley Charter School Board of Trustees, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way.

Zoning Board of Appeals, 7 p.m., City Hall.

Wednesday

Solarize Newburyport, 3 p.m., City Hall.

Licensing Commission, 4:30 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, 7 p.m., library, 94 State St.

Thursday

Bartlet Mall Commission, 6 p.m., library, 94 State St.

Disabilities Commission, 6 p.m., Nock School, 70 Low St.

Energy Advisory Commission, 7 p.m., City Hall.

Fruit Street Historical District, 7 p.m., City Hall.

Harbor Commission, 7 p.m., City Council Chambers.

Local Historic District Study Committee, 7:30 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

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