NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 28, 2013

Is there truly 'gold' in that 'triangle'?

Viewpoint
Ganson Purcell Jr.

---- — A recent Wednesday evening (Oct. 9) realized the much-anticipated debate between Amesbury’s incumbent mayor and his reasonably newly arrived challenger. No surprise, the city’s heavy (outrageous?) real estate tax burden was an early and paramount issue. The challenger averred that reduction of the burden was Job One. The incumbent countered that the tax rate was really not an outlier when compared to other municipalities across the state.

Indeed, when the issue is manipulated to comparative averages, means, medians and modal values, the figures can be made to appear leavened. Yet, the stark reality is that Amesbury’s real estate tax onus is a heavy impediment to buying and selling homes in the city. Briefly mentioned in the debate was the existence of a Golden Triangle (GT), an apparent “golden” opportunity to broaden the industrial tax base. The incumbent declared that the city (we’re still getting comfortable with that designation) had done what it could (e.g., amenable zoning changes) to facilitate development of the luscious parcel; and now it was time for the private sector to step up. A clear inference was that the challenger (touting his roots in the private sector) was perhaps the presence to catalyze development.

Some 11 years ago we moved across the river from Newburyport, speculating that the recently renewed rail head would spur (pun intended) population growth in capacious Amesbury because Port City was all filled up; hence, we would be part of a residential growth boom with all the attendant attractions of a town on the move. Early on, we heard mention of this mystical Golden Triangle. Investigation of this geometrical, geological phenom revealed a 100-plus-acre parcel anchored by its base formed by Route 110 and Elm Street and its two remaining sides bounded by I-495 north and I-95 south, respectively, affording superb exposure and proximity to major traffic lanes for industrial enterprise(s) seeking high profile and ready access to travel lanes.

Indeed, a visit to then-Mayor David Hildt revealed that representatives of a “top-10” development giant, headed up by erstwhile Dallas Cowboy quarterback (and football “Hall-of-Famer”) Roger Staubach had come to town on behalf of the enormous and gaudy recreational outfitter, Cabelas, to explore the possibility of a high-profile creation bounded by the two interstate highways. Typified by a couple of Cabela enterprises erected along-side the Pennsylvania and Maine turnpikes (the latter in Scarborough, Maine), one could readily envision the huge warehouse-like structure, surrounded by a vast “plaque” of asphalt parking and capped by a towering faux alpine peak complete with artificial mountain sheep and goats, along with an out-sized leiderhausen-clad yodeler, beckoning to the high-speed passing sportsman. Reacting to the developer’s claim that such a presence would put Amesbury on the map, Mayor Hildt uttered the delicious observation that “our respective visions are not congruent.” After a momentary pause, the developer quietly intoned that “we might be back with another proposal.” In fact, the Staubach enterprise has erected a very environmentally friendly industrial park on the southwest quadrant of the I-495 and Route 9 intersection in Westborough.

Importantly, the topography is a key variable in the Golden Triangle, for the tract is about 40 percent wetlands. This fact should not be a deterrent to development; rather, it provides an opportunity to creatively craft a show-piece industrial enterprise interwoven with an environmentally sensible and sensitive natural labyrinth, connected to the Riverwalk extension as it seeks to join the Salisbury trail system. Importantly, the GT is an optimal setting for an ultimate I-495 (north) to I-95 south causeway connector that would go a long way toward mitigating Amesbury’s ever-increasing commuter pass-through traffic burden. In 2009, this notion was passed on to then Sen. Steven Baddour and Rep. Michael Costello, who in turn contacted EOT Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky to explore the possibility of incorporating such a connector into the Whittier Bridge replacement project.

In a July 13, 2009, response to our two legislators (and specifically referencing the Golden Triangle), Ms. Paiewonsky responded that, while incorporation of the connector into the Whittier replacement project was not possible, “MassHighway recognizes that there is disconnect (sic) in the link between I-495 and I-95”; and, that a “completed ... traffic corridor study on I-495 ... combined with investigations being performed now in the Whittier Bridge Replacement Environmental Impact Report, will provide information required to pursue a future interchange feasibility study.”

In sum, there are quite obviously numerous “gold” deposits in the Triangle. What is needed is more than the occasional passing references and vague notions about possibilities in the GT. What is required is a municipal leadership team that will vision and commit resources to partnerships with public and private interests to achieve maximum return on investment from this local treasure.

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Ganson Purcell Jr. lives in Amesbury.