, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 4, 2013

NRA waterfront plans face possible legal challenge

NEWBURYPORT — The Committee for an Open Waterfront has formally objected to the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s plan for mixed use development on the waterfront.

And the citizens group is developing its own plan for the 4.2 acres that will be ready within 45 days, organization leaders say.

Members of the NRA have produced preliminary plans to develop two commercial buildings on the riverfront land that members say will pay for creation and upkeep of a park on that property.

Chairman James Shanley says the NRA is developing a request for proposals that will be extended to developers and bankers. No date for the completion of the RFP has been finalized.

On Wednesday, a letter from the COW group was presented to Shanley at the NRA’s regular meeting.

Mark Peters, an attorney with the Boston firm of Rubin and Rudman LLP, said that COW was opposing the NRA plan, in part, because it says the NRA is violating the state’s Chapter 91 guidelines relating to tidelands.

“All of those tidelands (on the riverfront) are Commonwealth tidelands as a matter of law,” the letter said. “The Authority therefore holds those tidelands upon an indefensible trust for the benefit of the people.”

The letter added, “The Committee for an Open Waterfront would call it to your attention that the mixed use development the Authority proposes is not a water-dependent use within the meaning of Chapter 91.

“Nor, the Committee would assert to you, does the construction of residential and commercial buildings constitute a ‘proper public purpose’ when placed on Commonwealth tidelands that embrace an historic waterfront immediately contiguous with an historic district.”

On Wednesday night, Shanley declined to comment on the letter. He did not read it at the meeting and did not share it with the media. He said he wanted to wait until he had the opportunity to discuss it with the lawyer for the NRA, Carol Powers.

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