My office is on the Merrimack riverbank a bit southwest of the Route 1 bridge. It is a remarkable privilege to work on the waterfront. I enjoy the beauty and refreshment of the views and the activity that I see on the river, in the park and on the boardwalk.
Each day a parade of Newburyporters walks (starting at dawn), meanders, jogs, sails, boats and otherwise traverses the waterfront. This is testament to the value the river has for all of us. It is a natural resource and it is in constant use: ice floes, eagles, Coast Guard, you name it.
While there is a real need to raise money to refurbish our boardwalk, there is also a need to protect and maintain the invaluable open space of our waterfront. Between all concerned citizens, the NRA, COW, developers, shop owners and everyone in between, I believe we can come up with a good plan if we look at the bigger picture.
Instead of accepting various zoning changes for a smattering of developers, each with their own intentions for a piece of our Waterfront Park, let’s ask how we want the entire city to grow and develop
for future commerce while preserving the quality of life citizens enjoy here.
I would encourage the NRA to prioritize marine and pedestrian activity near our riverfront, bringing maritime value into the city rather than bringing the city onto our riverbank. Let’s service the spring, summer and fall crowd that comes by boat to Newburyport; be sure the ways to the river are accessible and that there are boating facilities available to those who use them; encourage their use.
We already have a boat yard, a canvas shop, whale watches, kayak rentals, fishing vessels and dock space available on our riverfront. Is it realistic to encourage store owners to provide tackle, rods, navigational charts, etc., for fishermen and certain services, or actual parts, for their boats; foul weather gear, anyone?
Could we collaborate with the Coast Guard and give them a more visible presence, i.e., a Coast Guard weekend with their boats on display? There are many ideas to brainstorm opportunities on the waterfront that do not include erecting condos and more shops, but encourage alternate uses in the ones we already have.
For example, the building I work in is portable, set up with the intention of being moved away from flooding tidewaters or storms. This might be a useful strategy for our potential new harbormaster’s quarters, a movable building suited to its ever-changing, tidal water site and adaptable to winter and summer activities.
As for commercial buildings, can we think outside the Waterfront Park? Could there be an empty building in the industrial park or land available there, near the train station? Yes, there is land available; five buildable acres. High-end shops and commuter services could be developed right there, condos, too, perhaps a boardwalk through the other six acres of marshland, extending the rail trail. And all would be perfectly accessible to a multitude of shoppers, walkers and commuters via Route 1, the rail trail and the train station.
It makes sense, and this kind of overarching look at development keeps private enterprise off our priceless open waterfront. Perhaps there is a building in the industrial park ready to be converted into a shopping mall? Isn’t the industrial park the best option for a big box store or a mall to settle in and pay taxes in Newburyport?
I work on the riverbank, in a portable building, on Karp-owned property that most likely cannot be built on because it is landfill, in a flood zone and on a tidal plain. Are we to give Karp and Joe Leone and the NRA our open space on the waterfront, including parking spaces and our public access ways to the river, to profit from? I do not believe that is a fair trade. Let’s think outside the park.
Dave Henwood lives in Newburyport.