, Newburyport, MA

September 14, 2013

3 vying for open Ward 2 council seat

Newburyport Daily News

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Three candidates are running in Tuesday’s preliminary election for Ward 2, and the two top votegetters will advance to the Nov. 5 election.

The Ward 2 council position is open, as incumbent Greg Earls is running for mayor. The ward is located in Newburyport’s downtown, its downtown waterfront and part of its South End, stretching from the Merrimack River to the Newbury town line. State Street runs through the heart of it.

Though the City Council holds no power whatsoever over the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority and its controversial plans for the waterfront, each of the three candidates said the topic is one of the most talked-about subjects in the ward and each had an opinion on what the NRA should do with its land.

As part of the The Daily News election coverage, we asked candidates to explain why they are running, what they think the biggest issue in the city is and what they would do to solve it.

Christopher Welch

57, 33 Federal St.

Wife, Barbara, three sons

Education: McGill University, McGill Law School

Vocation: lawyer.

Why are you running?

“I served four terms as Ward 2 Councilor when my kids were very young. I left when the time commitment made it impossible to fulfill my two primary responsibilities: being a dad and making a living.

“Now I have the time as well as the interest. Over the last year, I have become increasingly concerned with the reemergence of issues (particularly development of the central waterfront) in a way that was startlingly similar to what we faced when I first became involved in civic issues in 1983. That utter lack of progress spurred me to get involved again and try to help reach a resolution.

“The most important to Ward 2 residents right now is development of the central waterfront. I have knocked on almost every door in Ward 2 and it’s hard to get people to talk about anything else. The arguments about the public benefits of open space or the privatization of public property are important. It is telling that of all the people I spoke to knocking on doors, not one expressed support for the NRA plan or anything approaching its density or inclusion of private residences. People need to know that there are significant differences among the Ward 2 candidates on this issue.”

What would you do to solve this problem?

“First, we need to accept that the time for needing a redevelopment authority has passed. Newburyport is not ‘blighted’ and most importantly, we need to plan for growth and development in concert with all of the social and economic needs of the city. The NRA is correct when they state that the loss of 170 parking spaces is not their problem. But how does it make sense to develop a huge central parcel without considering the consequences it will have throughout the downtown and beyond.

“I believe that, once it is a community project, a consensus will coalesce around a mostly open waterfront with a modest building program (probably a single building) and uses that are entirely public.

“We desperately need a first class Visitors Center; a place that draws visitors to it and then directs them to resources. A modest-sized building could also accommodate, possibly as part of the Visitors Center, a small scale ‘mini’ museum with rotating exhibits provided by local resources such as the Historical Society, the Custom House Museum, the federal Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center and the Audubon Joppa Flats Center. We have no choice but to ‘bank’ sufficient land for parking at this time and when Waterfront West, the Ale House and the hotel come on line we’ll be glad we did. And there will be absolutely no private residences on the public’s waterfront.”

Paula Hudson Chambers

67, 31 Federal St.

Married, two daughters

Education: B.A. Barrington (R.I.) College

Vocation, business owner, sales and specialty advertising.

Why are you running?

“Last year was a wake-up call for many Newburyporters - it certainly was for me. The big issues hit us all at once: the LHD, the rebuilding of two schools with combined federal and local monies, the senior center, and the growing awareness of the central waterfront and the struggle for its future.

“In attending many city council and committee meetings, I became increasingly aware that a community relies on a small group of its citizens to decide the future of the city for all of us, and to see that it functions efficiently. We may live in the era of professional politicians nationally, but locally the committed private citizen is what’s called for. Further, 53 percent of the city’s population is women, and a more gender-balanced council should reflect that reality.

“Of course the biggest issue that looms large on everyone’s mind is the proposed NRA building project. As a community, we walk a fine line between appropriately up-grading and over-developing our waterfront. This could have the disastrous consequence of robbing future generations of the serene beauty, historic heritage, and home-town feel that has made us who we are. With potential development on both sides, open land will be even more treasured in the future than it is today.

“At every given opportunity the majority of city residents have confirmed that they want an open waterfront. I respect that wish and will represent Ward 2 by seeking every possible avenue to reach the goal of an open, up-graded waterfront park that does not include any residential or commercial buildings.”

“The park should be just that - a park, now and always, for everyone to enjoy, like NY’s Central Park, or the Boston Gardens, but with an amazing view! We never want to be guilty of “paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.”

Jared Eigerman

43, 83 High St.

Married to Andrea, two children

Education, Harvard College, M.S, University of California College of Environmental Planning; law degree, University of California, Hastings College of Law.

Vocation, city planner and land-use lawyer.

Why are you running?

“I am running now because, 20 years into my career, I can contribute my best skills, contacts, and energy to tackle problems. I can draw upon my experience with complex land use matters in the historic waterfront cities of Boston and San Francisco, and I have no clients in Newburyport to create conflicts of interest. I want to hammer out compromises and implement them. Inaction is failure.

What’s is the most important issue in the city?

Development. Newburyport succeeds because of its fine-grained scale, its proximity to the river, ocean, salt marshes, beaches and operating farms, its historic urban design and architecture, and its cultural wealth. With the Great Recession over, our hot property market has returned. We need new policies and laws in place. Otherwise, we will be mere spectators as lasting changes occur around us.

We must find consensus around and then implement a short-term plan to expand Waterfront Park and to build a shared parking garage upland. I oppose the NRA’s selling its land or developing condos, but we need implementation, not just a plan. I doubt public funds can do this alone, so we must be creative.

We should revise our antiquated zoning code. City planners strive to create walkable and memorable places emulating Newburyport. Yet, Newburyport neglects its own advantages. We have no law to protect even the historic downtown buildings saved from wholesale demolition 40 years ago. In our neighborhoods, we have no design guidelines.

Also, we must promote development at our Business Park and the Route 1 Traffic Circle. New development there allows us to broaden our tax base rather than increase tax rates. We need additional revenue to restore our wounded school curriculum, cover our pension obligations, fix our sidewalks, and much more.