, Newburyport, MA


September 4, 2013

Council can take steps to halt NRA project

To the editor:

It is time for the City Council to weigh in on the Newburyport Development Authority’s proposal to turn over a substantial portion of its 4.2 acres of public land to private developers. The fact that the NRA owns the property does not limit the council’s ability to frame the development of that property and the council should now end its silence regarding the development proposals, which have elicited widespread public opposition.

At its July meeting, the NRA heard the alternative vision of the Committee for an Open Waterfront (COW). COW’s presentation was made at the invitation of the NRA. At the close of the presentation, members of the NRA, instead of thanking COW, lashed out against the COW proposal, suggesting that COW didn’t have all the facts and didn’t understand the finances of the NRA development plan. There was no doubt that the five members of the NRA are dug in and nothing, not even a public outcry, will persuade them otherwise. And they are now planning to spend $4,500 of your parking fees to pay a public relations firm to sell their plan to you.

What can the City Council do? Plenty. First, and perhaps least effective, they can pass a resolution opposing private development of the waterfront. This will at least put the councilors on record as they run for re-election and may influence the mayor.

Second, the council can rezone the property to conform to the zoning of the Waterfront Trust’s park; rezoning in this case is not spot zoning and will simply extend the present zoning to adjacent properties. Any development of the NRA lots must conform to city zoning requirements before construction permits are issued.

Third, and most importantly, the council can pass a resolution ordering the mayor to take the property by eminent domain. The cost of condemning the property by eminent domain is minimal, only legal fees associated with the filing in land court. The city will not have to pay for the property, which the federal government paid for in the 1970s. Once the city owns the property, what is done with it will be the province of our elected councilors, not five appointees of the mayor, and the NRA will effectively be put out of business.

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