, Newburyport, MA

January 15, 2014

Use COW plan as start for talks

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

I’d like to submit a comment to the article on Jan. 11 by Dyke Hendrickson entitled “Mayor sets councilor riverfront discussion.” At first glance I was encouraged to see that the continuation of the discussion surrounding the next phase of the central waterfront; however, upon reading further into the article, I was somewhat discouraged by the suggestion to use the Union Studio plan as the starting point for this discussion. I think it became apparent during the fall elections that most, if not all, candidates had distanced themselves from the residential buildings as proposed in that proposal.

I have spent some time during this “quiet period” since the election in reviewing the proposals that have been submitted to the NRA during the past 2-plus years. (Yeah, I’m that passionate about it.) These proposals include not only the architectural proposals, but also the geotechnical, financial, regulatory and legal opinions. I’d like to suggest that the mayor and council begin their discussions using the proposal as submitted by the Committee for Open Waterfront (COW).

The COW plan, in my opinion, is a better starting point as it meets both short- and long-term desires of the citizens plus offers flexibility in the future. The plan expands the footprint of the park starting at the boardwalk inward. This would complement the proposed work with the harbormaster expansion. The plan reorganizes parking lots into modular sections to allow for multi-use areas that can be used for parking and/or expanded events on the water (no more dirt lots). The plan is self-funding. (COW’s proposal included pricing estimates from real price quotes from qualified contractors.) Revenues from parking today are sufficient to support a bond for immediate commencement of expanding the footprint (it could all be done by June 1).

Additionally, this plan addresses the environmental issues, Chapter 91 compliance and is consistent with environmental land use requirements placed on the land.

Moving forward, this plan creates a flexible baseline for future discussions. For example, once a parking garage is completed, future discussions can be had about how to move more parking off the waterfront and replace it with expanded parkland.

The one weakness in the original COW plan was its over-reliance on grant money. I think what has become obvious as a result of the NRA-Abramson financial proposal is that no one single revenue stream will keep this project self-funding. Discussions should be on how we, as a community, rally behind an “all of the above” strategy of grants/donations/parking revenue/user fees, etc. in order to fund the next stage of the waterfront (and keep it off of taxpayers).

I urge the mayor (and NRA) to put aside prior prejudices about the COW plan and take the step forward in helping to mend fences and keep the focus on an open central waterfront for all.

Jim McCauley