NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 9, 2013

Forum may offer more from candidates on waterfront

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — A forum bringing together the three mayoral candidates is scheduled for Thursday at the Firehouse Center for the Arts, and the dialogue generated there might be of help to voters in the Sept. 17 primary.

Mayor Donna Holaday and City Councilors Greg Earls and Dick Sullivan Jr. are well known in the community, but their views on municipal issues haven’t been fully aired.

The issue of the central waterfront will likely come up, and this is one area where voters will likely benefit from more detail.

Earls, for instance, has recently stated that he will pursue a “non-privatized” Waterfront Park through use of a revenue bond paid by parking receipts. This is a proposal that would appear to merit further explanation.

Sullivan recently said he would “keep the waterfront open and expanded for future generations.” Would he oppose private development?

And Holaday said she would like to see “expansion of a magnificent park funded through limited development to connect our vibrant downtown to the waterfront.” What exactly does “limited” mean?

If the forum does elicit useful dialogue regarding the central waterfront, it raises the question of how the next mayor will respond to the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s initiative to seek private development to improve the parking lots and expand the park.

The five-member NRA for months has been moving toward a request for proposals under the assumption that it alone can decide the future of the 4.2 acres it owns.

But what if the next mayor does not agree with the NRA’s vision of a three-building, 70,000-square-foot development?

Would the city’s elected leader try to thwart the NRA?

If Holaday is re-elected, for instance, would her view of “limited development” result in a request for downsizing the project to perhaps two buildings with a total of 35,000 square feet?

Would Earls or Sullivan declare his outright opposition, which is always a red flag for developers and/or bankers?

The central waterfront is among the most significant issues of the day, yet top municipal leaders have in the past not provided the specifics of their views on this issue.

Thursday’s forum could provide the opportunity for candidates to “drill down” on the issue.

And speaking of drilling, NRA members are hoping to have results from the test borings on their land ready for release at its scheduled Sept. 18 meeting.

There’s a one-two punch if it happens: primary mayoral election on Tuesday and announcement of whether the earth will accommodate construction on Wednesday.

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These are the good old days for grass-roots action.

The Friends of Brown School recently generated close to 1,200 signatures in an effort to put a non-binding referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot regarding the retention of open space (and perhaps a park) when the Brown School is closed in June.

City officials will validate signatures, and report sometime this week.

Also, movie-lovers are rallying in support of the Screening Room, which needs to raise $60,000 in order to convert to digital projection equipment.

By Friday afternoon, close to $15,000 has been raised in the first few days through use of an online program called kickstarter.com. There are 209 backers thus far and 37 days left in the campaign.

And local residents, led by onetime city councilor Chip Wyser, gathered together to organize the aforementioned candidates’ forum.

When it appeared that no gathering of the trio of aspirants would take place, a group of residents “organized” the Committee for an Open Debate (COD).

In addition to Wyser, members of COD include the following: Deb Andrews, James Brugger, David Hall, Susan Hern, Bob Lynch, Jill Murphy, Karen Pollastrino, Doug Smith and Barbara Wyser.

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The following meetings are scheduled this week and are open to the public:

Tonight

General Government Committee and Committee of the Whole, 6:30 p.m., conference room, City Hall.

Rules Committee, 7 p.m., City Council chambers.

Newburyport Waterfront Trust, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

License and Permits Committee, 7 p.m., City Council chambers.

City Council meeting, 7 p.m., City Council chambers.

Tuesday

Zoning Board of Appeals, 7 p.m., City Council chambers.

River Valley Charter School Board of Trustees, City Council chambers.

Thursday

Parking Advisory Committee, 5:30 p.m., conference room, City Hall.

Disabilities Commission, 6 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

Harbor Commission, 7 p.m., City Council chambers

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Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be contacted at 978-462-6666, ext. 3226 or dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.