, Newburyport, MA

July 18, 2013

I ask myself: 'What is best for the public?'

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

I read David Strand’s Viewpoint column (July 13) in which he expresses, in great detail, his feelings of pride in the city and his personal preferences for improvements to the waterfront lots. My first response was: “Well, here’s a good example of the aphorism, “There’s no accounting for taste.”

Although I certainly share Mr. Strand’s appreciation for the natural beauty and history of the Newburyport area, and his impatience to see improvements to the waterfront lots, Mr. Strand’s vision of a retail and condo development is about as far removed from mine as can be imagined.

I believe that the right thing to do would be to keep the land in the public domain, improve and expand the park area and create landscaped and flexible parking space, with no permanent buildings, similar to the vision that has been articulated by Committee for an Open Waterfront, and also in the City of Newburyport’s 2003 long-term plan for the central waterfront.

But since this waterfront resource is publicly, not privately, held, differences in opinions can’t be easily dismissed with a casual “to each his own.” There’s a public debate that needs to be settled.

If the process had been different, this public conversation would have preceded the rollout of an NRA plan to sell and build.

In theory, Mr. Strand and I have equal rights to see our personal preferences and visions accommodated.

In practice, however, this is impossible because our visions are at physical odds. His vision — with the selling of a part of the public land for private development for shops and condos — excludes mine.

My right to open space and to a legacy of open space for the generations to follow is negated by his perceived right to sell and build. His vision takes more than it gives, because it transfers public land to private ownership forever.

Unless Mr. Strand is trying to tell us that he wants to see buildings more than he wants to see improvements, I would think that the law of “your rights end where they begin to impinge on mine” would apply.

If Mr. Strand indeed wants to see more brick walls between the Merrimack River and the downtown, he will have his wish fulfilled, at no cost to the taxpayer, when the many parcels of privately held waterfront land bookending the small NRA-held parcel are developed by their private owners. As a pro-NRA real estate professional commented to me recently as we discussed the issue while standing in the footprint of an NRA-proposed building next to the boardwalk, “Newburyport is hot!”

As for the question: “How are you going to pay for that?”

It is the responsibility of the five appointed members of the NRA to first arrive at a vision for the improvement to the NRA lots that reflects “the highest public good.” Once that is done, we can figure out how to pay for it.

Strand’s: Sell to a private developer willing to take on a $20 million project.

Mine: Find grants and use parking fees to fund an initial $2 million expense and support ongoing maintenance.

I believe that the (lower-cost, lower-impact) most conservative approach would be the most responsible.

Lois McNulty