NEWBURYPORT — Three mayoral candidates aired their views in a wide-ranging forum last night and residents filled every seat of the Firehouse Center for the Arts to hear contrasting opinions prior to the preliminary election on Tuesday.
City Councilor Greg Earls took gentle swipes at the current administration. Councilor Dick Sullivan Jr. promised fiscal rectitude, while stressing that his family has spent at least three generations in local government.
And Mayor Donna Holaday defended her two terms in office, declaring that costly infrastructure projects undertaken had to be done — and state and federal money has paid much of the bill for water quality, wastewater treatment, a new jetty on the Atlantic and the commencement of two school projects.
One of the six areas of inquiry was the central waterfront, and stark disagreement surfaced here.
Earls and Sullivan said they were against private development on the 4.2 acres owned by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority.
Holaday said she supports limited commercial development in order to pay for an expanded park and to put an end to what she called dirt parking lots “where cars have the best views of the waterfront.”
Earls, a 12-year councilor from Ward 2, said, “I like the NRA members as human beings, but we really disagree on this issue.”
Earls, a builder and educator, said that the city could afford to craft a park through parking fees and a revenue bond without signing over land to private developers.
“We can start on a park in April — with the NRA plan it will take three to five years in permitting alone,” he said.
Sullivan also disagreed with the NRA vision of 70,000 square feet of shops, a restaurant and 30-35 condominium units.
The first-time councilor said that the future holds much development on the waterfront by New England Development, which owns numerous riverside parcels, and that someday residents will be happy they held on to the land.