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September 16, 2013

Election brings officials' voices to waterfront discussion

Two events this week should jolt the worlds of the municipally apathetic: a preliminary mayoral election tomorrow and a borings report from the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday.

Residents filled the Firehouse Center for the Arts at a mayoral forum Thursday to hear three candidates discuss their visions for the city.

Your Scribe was pleasantly surprised to see the performances of Councilors Greg Earls and Dick Sullivan Jr. — not because of low expectations but because they rarely talk in public, and both were articulate before a crowd that overflowed the 192-seat venue.

The job of the city councilor here is one that stresses committee work and offers few opportunities to pontificate.

Earls and Sullivan were well-spoken in giving their reasons for opposing commercial development on the waterfront. Mayor Donna Holaday said that “limited” commercial construction will help link the downtown with the river and park.

Hearing discourse about the central waterfront from elected representatives was refreshing.

For the past year, the most prominent voices have been those of the five-member NRA, which favors commercial development, and its opponents, the Committee for an Open Waterfront.

Both the NRA and COW are composed of members who are not elected by voters. So to hear two councilors and a sitting mayor provide their visions of the waterfront’s future suggested that the waterfront debate is getting serious.

Earls remarked that if the city utilizes parking receipts and a revenue bond, “We could start a new park in April.” He estimated that an expanded park would cost about $2 million.

Sullivan said that with New England Development destined to create commercial buildings near the river, “Someday we’ll be happy we kept this space open.”

Holaday did not define what she means by “limited” development. Earlier in the week, she had written that she did not want condos to be part of construction there.

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