Meetings of council committees rarely draw crowds, but tomorrow’s session of the Planning and Development Committee will likely bring out residents who want to talk about the future of the central waterfront.
A robust attendance is expected because Ed Cameron, chairman of that committee, has said that the panel will convene for the purpose of hearing citizens’ views and visions for the area.
The session is slated for 7 p.m. in City Hall auditorium.
Cameron arranged the session after learning that Mayor Donna Holaday will host a forum Wednesday, Feb. 5, on the waterfront; but input at that session will be limited to councilors, city staff and members of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority.
The mayor has said that meetings to elicit citizen comment will be held in coming months.
Still, the future of the riverfront is such a paramount issue that Cameron took it upon himself to encourage a dialogue now.
“The discussion has been a 40-year process resulting yet again in stalemate,” Cameron said. “To move forward, stopping to listen makes sense to me.”
Cameron, an at-large councilor serving his fourth term, said he and others who campaigned last fall heard that residents want to “greatly expand the park and also reduce parking on the waterfront.”
He said members of his committee will likely hear residents’ views on how much building, if any, should be done on the waterfront.
Another major issue is that if park space is enlarged, how will such expansion be financed.
“The council simply wanted a forum that is open for citizens to speak their minds,” Cameron said. “I hope participants can also listen to other points of view.”
Other members of the Planning and Development Committee are Barry Connell and Jared Eigerman. Also invited to the session is the council’s Committee of the Whole, or any councilors who want to attend.
Cameron, 51, is associate executive director for housing and homeless services, Community Team, in Lowell. He is chair of the Democratic City Committee.
Cameron recalled that he had not aspired to a role in municipal government when growing up, but he said one of the reasons he got involved in city government was the waterfront itself.
“I never considered running for anything until I had been in Newburyport for five years,” said the councilor, a Clark University graduate, married and the father of two. “The waterfront was actually one of the big issues in 2007 that inspired me to run.”
Cameron’s half-dozen years on the council have been a time of increased discussion of the waterfront.
The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, which owns 4.2 acres on the river, has been developing tentative plans for the land, which is mostly used now as parking lots.
But the five-member NRA until recently has not been wont to include elected officials in the planning.
Late last year, though, the NRA reached out to City Hall, and it appears the voices of city councilors and the mayor will be more influential as the debate continues.
During his re-election campaign last fall, Cameron was quoted as saying, “I want more park and less parking, and would like to see it with no additional debt for taxpayers.
“I can tolerate limited commercial development because it would limit the burden on property owners.”
The upcoming year promises to be one of vigorous discussion as it relates to waterfront planning: The NRA land is in play, city officials want to create a new harbormaster/transient boating facility, a 442-seat restaurant has been proposed and a parking garage is being planned on Merrimac Street.
The following meetings are scheduled for this week and open to the public:
Budget and Finance Committee, 6:45 p.m., City Hall
License and Permits Committee, 7 p.m., City Hall
Public Safety Committee, 7:15 p.m., City Hall
City Council meeting, 7:30 p.m., City Council Chambers, City Hall
Planning and Development Committee, 8:30 p.m., City Hall
River Valley Charter School Accountability Committee, 6:30 p.m., 2 Perry Way
Zoning Board of Appeals, 7 p.m., City Council Chambers, City Hall
Community Preservation meeting, 7 p.m., 4 Green St.
Planning and Development Committee and Committee of the Whole, 7 p.m., City Hall auditorium
Finance Subcommittee of the Whole School Committee, 5:30 p.m., administrative offices, 70 Low St.
Energy Advisory Committee, 7 p.m., City Hall, second floor
Harbormaster Facility Project, 7 p.m., City Hall auditorium
Affordable Housing Trust meeting, 8:30 a.m., City Hall
Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-961-3149 or firstname.lastname@example.org.