, Newburyport, MA

February 8, 2013

Lower Millyard request stalled over land issues

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — The $1.57 million Lower Millyard appropriation request will not be presented to the City Council at its next meeting after Mayor Thatcher Kezer decided to hold off for a month in order to resolve some outstanding land ownership issues.

Kezer had intended to ask the council to support the Lower Millyard project on Feb. 12 so state and federal funds that have already been designated for the project could be utilized. The $1.57 million would cover the entire cost of the project, but not the Water Street realignment or parking garage expansion.

So far $1 million in external funds have already been promised to support the project, but in order to move forward, the city needs to actually own all the land, Kezer said.

“There were a couple of pieces of the Lower Millyard that we don’t own the land and we needed to get two pieces in place before I do the bonding,” Kezer said. “So we made the decision on Friday, that was the filing deadline, to hold off and wait until we get those squared away.”

The parcels in question are the Carriage Museum and a portion of land currently owned by Dan Healey, who owns Carriage Mills on Water Street.

Kezer said the plan is for Healey to donate the parcel of land to the city, but that would be contingent of the rest of the project going forward. He said an agreement would be drawn up reflecting those conditions in the coming weeks.

As for the Carriage Museum, the process is a little more complicated. The existing building is going to be physically picked up and moved slightly to the east to its new location, and when that’s done, it will be situated on higher ground so that it is less susceptible to flooding.

In order to do that, the city will first need to navigate a complex series of state real estate laws that allow it to obtain the land the museum currently sits on and dispense of the land that the museum will be moving to.

“We have to figure out the mechanics of how we’re going to take up ownership of one piece and give up ownership of another,” Kezer said.

Kezer said there would just have to be agreements in place for the transactions to occur, and the city wouldn’t have to actually obtain and dispense of the land in either case before the March council meeting.

“I want to make sure those pieces are nailed down,” Kezer said. “We want to do this once and we want to do it right.”

In the meantime, Kezer and other city officials will continue meeting with the members of the state Brownfield Support Team that is working with Amesbury to get the Lower Millyard project done. The group is composed of high-level members of key state and federal departments that work together to overcome the various complexities that sites like the Lower Millyard present.

City Council President Anne Ferguson said she had asked councilors Christian Scorzoni and Donna McClure to be a part of those meetings so that they would be up to speed with the project and could help the council make informed decisions when the time comes.

The issue is expected to come before the City Council on March 12.