, Newburyport, MA

March 18, 2013

Two surveys, two different responses

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

As chairman of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, I’d like to take a moment to clarify some statements made recently in a letter to the editor about the public opinion represented in a 2006 survey issued by the NRA (”Other voices on open waterfront,” March 8). The writer states that close to 80 percent of the 3,945 people responding to the 2006 survey suggested they wanted more green space.

Well, let’s assume the writer was suggesting that 80 percent of the people answering that survey wanted no development on the waterfront. (The current NRA plan after all does offer an acre of more green space.)

How would we know they didn’t want some development? The 2006 survey never gave residents the option. Park or parking, there are your choices. Given a choice between park and parking lot, I think most people would choose park.

However, a survey conducted in 2000 did. Guess what? Close to half of the 4,011 people responding to that survey said they wanted to see development. In fact, the results were split: 49 percent of respondents wanted a “park only” on the property, while 45 percent wanted to see development (37 percent wanted “park and commercial” use, and 8 percent said “commercial only.”). The public support for development was even more evident in a separate mailing to businesses. In that poll, 58 percent of the 162 respondents wanted development (43 percent “park and commercial” and 15 percent “commercial only”). Only 42 percent voted “park only” (”Third time not the charm for Newburyport Waterfront,” Sept. 3, 2007).

The 2006 survey also never mentioned a price tag for the park or even how the costs might be paid. The 2000 survey did. (For another interesting set of recent numbers, check the recent blog item published by Councilor At-Large Ed Cameron.)

I do understand numbers can illustrate a point effectively, so here goes.

To those who suggest the NRA is some occupying foreign force, let me point out that the five members of the NRA were picked by our past two mayors. Both mayors were elected twice by Newburyport voters. In those elections, these two mayors together collected a total of more than 12,000 votes from Newburyport residents

Each time an NRA member was appointed, those mayors asked the City Council to approve the selection. Five times the City Council — five at-large councilors, six ward councilors — said yes to the appointment. One of our members has been appointed and approved twice. Another nomination failed to make it through the council.

The implication that the NRA is some sort of distant, unresponsive force is untrue and unfair. I’m proud to serve on a board with four fellow Newburyport residents who, in addition to donating their time to the NRA, also are raising families, running businesses, sending kids to school, coaching soccer teams, working at not-for-profits and loving their lives in Newburyport.

We’re eager to finish the job two mayors, five city councils and Gov. Deval Patrick (who appoints one member) sent us to do.

Anyway, this issue won’t be settled on these pages and certainly not by citing near-decade-old data. The NRA and Mayor Donna Holaday will continue to pursue a plan that reflects the diverse desires of our great city.

Tom Salemi

Chairman, NRA, Newburyport