, Newburyport, MA


May 1, 2013

Finding a compromise on the waterfront


The bottom line is, letting surveys dictate public policy is not a good way to make decisions.

The current pulse of public opinion has not been tested, though an argument can be made that the mayoral election of 2009 was an indicator of the public’s mindset. There were very few issues on which the two candidates, Donna Holaday and James Shanley, differed. The key split between them was the waterfront — Holaday favored an open waterfront, while Shanley favored limited development. Holaday won that election by a healthy margin, and certainly the open waterfront was a notable component in her win.

Holaday sees the NRA plan as fitting with her vision of an open waterfront, a position that COW and others sees as a change from her election platform. We agree -- we think the general public considers an “open waterfront” to be an NRA parcel that has no buildings on it.

Yet for practical purposes, it may not be possible to redevelop the NRA land and keep an open waterfront. And in the end, it is not the best use of the land.

Downtown Newburyport has become a tourist destination and a tourist/visitor economy. It requires the kind of infrastructure that tourists expect -- a central information center and public bathrooms for starters. A section of the NRA land would be a good spot for this.

Another practicality is how to pay for the new parks. COW’s arguments that there are grants available is thin. If anything, the flow of grants for large scale projects has become much weaker in the past several years, and it is hard to imagine that it would increase in the future.

A park will be an expensive proposition, and the NRA’s plan at least addresses that point in a reasonable manner. A limited retail/residential area, unobtrusively sited, would provide real money to fund it. It would also help provide some vibrancy and life between the water’s edge and the downtown.

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NRA Waterfront Plans