NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 9, 2014

After downturn, city's commercial climate is on upswing

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — Those wondering whether the city’s commercial appeal is returning following the recent economic downturn can look to several proposed construction projects to see that recovery appears to be here.

In 2007, developer Leonidas Theodorou developed a proposal for a small business complex at the Route 1 rotary. He called off plans the following year, in part because of the falling economy.

Last week, he was back before the Planning Board, and the panel approved his proposal for a 12,000-square-foot, two-story structure at 190 State St., on land formerly occupied by a supply shop for birders.

The structure will have about five stores on the ground floor, and perhaps as many business offices on the second level, when several minor conditions are met.

Spokesmen for the Topsfield developer suggested that the financial climate wasn’t right for investment here until now.

Not far from the rotary, a 67-unit apartment complex is being proposed.

This is a planner’s delight, in that the units will be adjacent to the MBTA station. City officials see “synergy” between a residential complex being placed in walking distance of a commuter rail line.

Final approvals have not been obtained, but the proposal appears to have support from City Hall, the real estate community and the affordable-housing leadership.

And the prospect of another residential development project surfaced last week: a subdivision at the corner of Low Street and Crow Lane.

Owners of the old Colby Farm have put the 12-acre parcel in play, and the Planning Board accepted the suggestion that eight residential lots be created. Some of this acreage is wetlands, and discussion will be forthcoming about exactly where units would be sited and how much open space can be retained.

Some City Hall skeptics have suggested that the corner of Low and Crow is not an idyllic site for home-buyers because scores of cars and trucks pass the area daily on their way to the recycling/compost center. Also, odors from the landfill on Crow Lane continue at times to plague the neighborhood during the capping process.

But real estate professionals remember when developers proposed two-dozen single-family residences off modest Russell Terrace Extension, an offshoot of Storey Avenue.

The project has been a big success.

Open space was carved out, houses built and marketing launched. All houses sold in the $485,000 to $515,000 range, suggesting that people really want to live in Newburyport.

One building proposal that appears to be facing opposition is a commercial project that is slated for the corner of Storey Avenue and Low Street.

Tropic Star Development is proposing a pharmacy, convenience store and revamped Shell gas station at the busy corner, but the Planning Board last week continued the matter yet again.

Members know the facts because Tropic Star was here two years ago, but the development company says it is working on its plans so they coincide with the city’s guidelines.

Almost two dozen residents appeared at the board’s meeting last week, and many said they wanted to protest the addition of more venues that will add to traffic congestion.

Many communities would welcome the arrival of a motivated developer who has the financing to put in three commercial structures.

But a vocal portion of residents of the Clipper Way-Woodman Way area don’t want more shops in their neighborhood and this one could be a battle — as it was two years ago.

And here is where the rubber could meet the road in terms of community dynamics — what if a well-financed project that meets all zoning standards is opposed by some of the local citizenry?

Does it win approval?

Public hearings will likely be held throughout the summer as a company that wants to make money in Newburyport is opposed by (some) residents who like the community just the way it is.

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

Tonight

New Bresnahan School Advisory Council, 4:45 p.m., 333 High St.

City Council hearing regarding Collins Street, 6:30 p.m., City Hall, Council Chambers

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

Tuesday

Bartlet Mall Commission, 6 p.m., public library

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

Wednesday

Molin School Council, 1:45 p.m., 70 Low St.

Master Plan community meeting, 6:30 p.m., City Hall

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, 7 p.m., City Hall, Council Chambers

Thursday

Disabilities Commission, 6 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

Harbor Commission, 7 p.m., City Hall

Friday

Master Plan Land Use and Development Subcommittee, 8:30 a.m., City Hall

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Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-961-3149 or dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.