, Newburyport, MA


May 1, 2013

Finding a compromise on the waterfront

What should Newburyport’s central waterfront look like? And more importantly, what is it that the majority of Newburyporters want?

The first question may have as many answers as there are residents. But the second question has shown a trend of opinions that should be the guiding light.

This year could be a pivotal one for the 4.2 acre parcel on the city’s waterfront, owned by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority. The five-member public board has advanced a concept to build two large buildings on its property, while leaving the rest of the land for grassy parks and parking. It’s a major departure from plans the NRA has proposed in the past, plans that have focused on large-scale hotels, retail, residential, and even convention center-type development.

Last week, the NRA’s most vocal critic, the Committee for and Open Waterfront, or COW, presented its counter plan. It was what one might expect from COW -- no buildings at all, with the land turned over to a sizable public park and a parking lot.

These are dueling visions of the waterfront. They are not as far apart as they once were in the past, yet they do not gel together at all.

We think both sides have some practical foundations. In between these positions, a solution should be reached. In the end, the best outcome for Newburyport will be completing the redevelopment of the waterfront, a saga that has been in the works for 45 years.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of COW’s position is public opinion. It’s safe to say that the overall results from surveys taken in the past favor limited, or no, development on the waterfront. But unfortunately, surveys are not crystal clear indicators. Both the pro-development and pro-open sides can legitimately pick out strings of data that support their arguments.

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