NEWBURYPORT — City Councilor Tom Jones Monday night took the unusual step of speaking out against commercial development on the waterfront and urged municipal leaders to consider the Route 1 circle instead.
Jones made his comments at the regular meeting of the City Council during the “good of the order” segment of the meeting.
This is a moment near the end of the session where councilors can make comments on matters that are not on the agenda. Many meetings conclude with no councilors speaking during this period.
However, Jones took the unusual step of speaking for about five minutes about his concern should the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority decide to proceed with a tentative plan calling for commercial structures on the 4.2 acres it owns along the river.
“The City Council has a very limited say in what happens to land on the waterfront,” said Jones, a veteran councilor from Ward 4. “But I have spent my career in the construction business, and I notice that major developers like New England Development and First Republic are not building on waterfront property they own.
“These people are very shrewd. Yet, even with their deep pockets they are making a conscious decision not to build.
“If people with real skin in the game aren’t building, we shouldn’t be in a mad rush to build.”
Jones suggested that city officials consider encouraging construction near the Route 1 circle. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority is attempting to sell 11 acres it owns along the commuter rail line and very close to Route 1.
A long-scheduled meeting at MBTA offices in Boston is slated for tomorrow, at which time developers can learn more about the opportunity.
The NRA is solely responsible for the 4.2 acres along the riverfront, now used mostly for parking. NRA members have taken no action, but they have been considering a tentative vision created by Union Studio of Providence that calls for about 70,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, public space and about 30 to 35 condominium units.
NRA officials say it is “early in the process” and that no decisions have been made. They have not declared whether they plan to lease or sell the land.
Jones said that “open space is the best value” when it comes to developing, and he said that municipal leaders should be considering terrain near the Route 1 circle for commercial growth, including the 11 open acres owned by the MBTA.