NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 25, 2013

Chances of compromise looking more hopeful in NRA talks

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — Gallivanting, here are some thoughts from 35,000 feet:

The ascension of Tom Salemi to the chairmanship of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority might enable the words of “compromise” and “cooperation” to actually become part of the discussion.

Mayor Donna Holaday inserted herself in the debate about use of the NRA’s 4.2 riverfront acres recently by calling for the two sides in the development debate to try to find a workable solution.

A week later Salemi was elected by his peers to serve as chair, replacing James Shanley, the former councilor who served as NRA chief for four years.

Salemi is a former newspaperman, so ostensibly he appreciates that there are two sides to every story. He supports the NRA’s position on commercial development to pay for a park but appears to be willing to listen.

Though the NRA and the Committee for an Open Waterfront are far from agreement, there might be a time when they will have to work together.

Government permits for two aspects of any plan, soil quality and FEMA elevation requirements, will not be easily obtained.

It might take cooperation just to develop a park there.

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On the subject of land use, the Planning Board did some effective negotiating in the development of Oleo Woods, the 26-unit subdivision off Storey Avenue.

The board was able to convince the developer to bunch the houses, thus creating open space near the Little River.

The handsome, one-family houses are listed at close to $500,000 and almost all have been sold, or are under contract.

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And back to the waterfront: Brad Duffin, chair of the Harbor Commission, is moving forward with plans to expand the harbormaster’s office on the boardwalk behind the Custom House Maritime Museum. He has sketches from three architects.

The commission wants to double the size of the structure, and this is new to Your Scribe, add a story — possibly a glassed-in second floor.

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Joe Leone, who is working with architects and lawyers to squeeze through hoops of the local oversight boards, has one query working for his proposed Newburyport Ale House: Do you want a handsome restaurant or an empty auto-parts warehouse?

The red brick building, at the intersection of Green and Merrimac streets, serves as the “entry point” for most visitors to the city.

One might argue that there are enough empty and ignored buildings owned by Newburyport Development (Stephen Karp’s company) without another being added to the eyesore ratio.

And here’s one: Will Leone continue to operate the Black Cow if he owns the nearby competitor, the Ale House?

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Odd moment at the mayor’s recent meeting to discuss problems with the water system on Plum Island:

Newbury businessman Dan Mahoney wanted to know what a yellow municipal truck was doing often at the utility building near the bridge to Plum Island.

A municipal engineer said that it couldn’t be a city truck, “Because our yellow truck is in Chicago.”

“Chicago?” the mayor asked in a this-is-the-first-I’ve-heard-of-it tone.

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The destination I traveled to last week was New Smyrna Beach, Fla., south of Daytona.

It is much like Plum Island — a barrier island, with the north section filled with houses and condos, and the southern portion serving as a wildlife preserve run by federal authorities.

The junction of the harbor and the ocean even has a north and south jetty.

At the very tip of the island is a sanctuary for tortoises. Observing the tortoise might never be included at the X-Games, but Your Scribe was intrigued.

The island does not appear to be troubled by erosion issues at this time. The shoreline of much of the residential area has 6-foot-high cement walls between private property and public beach.

On other parts of the island, the dunes appear high enough to hold back the sea and the setbacks are deep enough for houses to stay dry — for the moment, anyway.

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

Tonight

License and Permits Committee, 6:15 p.m., City Council Chambers

Budget and Finance and Committee of the Whole, 6:30 p.m., City Council Chambers

Public Safety Committee, 7:20 p.m., City Council Chambers

City Council, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday

Communications Subcommittee of the Whole, School Committee, 5:30 p.m., high school

River Valley Charter School, 6 p.m., 2 Perry Way

School Committee, 6:30 p.m., Room 118, high school

Community Preservation Committee, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

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

Wednesday

Newburyport Retirement Board, 10 a.m., City Hall

Sewer Commission, 5 p.m., 115 Water St.

Licensing Commission, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, 7 p.m., public library

Thursday

Affordable Housing Trust, 7 p.m., public library

Energy Advisory Committee, City Hall, 7 p.m., mayor’s conference room, City Hall

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