, Newburyport, MA

September 18, 2013

Retaining Port's special character

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Newburyport is a special place; it is open, accessible, and community-friendly — with a rich maritime history. To date, we have avoided most of the parking and traffic challenges of other cities, giving Newburyport the feel of a much smaller place and an earlier time. The current plans for the public waterfront threaten to ruin much of what is special about our city.

The NRA’s proposed plan of 70,000 square feet of private residences and commercial retail space is too large for the public waterfront. To put the size into perspective, think of a 3,000-square-foot house and then multiply that by 23 . That’s the scope of this proposed development.

This is not to say that development should not occur on the waterfront; it’s coming whether citizens want it or not because the adjacent parcels are privately owned and will eventually be developed. The NRA lots, however, are publicly owned and any development should be for the public benefit. Putting more than 30 private residences on the public waterfront is not in the public interest.

It is also highly questionable whether more commercial space is needed. The local business community is not exactly booming. Further, the estimated $20 million project cost will require expensive lease rates that local businesses won’t likely be able to pay. National retail chains can afford the higher rates, but adding more of them will further erode Newburyport’s unique character.

The proposed elimination of more than 150 parking spaces on the NRA parcels is also unwise given the likely development on the neighboring parcels, including the proposed 400-seat restaurant, the nearby hotel and Mr. Karp’s likely future development. Coupled with the 67-unit MINCO development and the potential 150-unit Woodman Parcel development, traffic and associated delays will increase. Is it really wise, then, to add over 30 private residences on public land given the plans for sizable development on private parcels throughout Newburyport?

In essence, the NRA plan involves adding some green space in exchange for a sizable condominium and commercial development and the elimination of 150 parking spaces. It is not by any means clear, however, that additional green space on the waterfront is needed at this time; it is rarely fully used now except during Yankee Homecoming.

We should allow the development of the public waterfront to evolve organically as the growth and needs of the city dictate. The current plan to expand the harbormaster center is a good example of that kind of development because it connects with our maritime history and serves a growing need. Better landscaped parking is another step that would allow the aesthetics to improve while giving the community the time needed to raise funds for development that meets the evolving needs.

I have talked with many residents and they are almost universally opposed to a condominium development on the public waterfront. Their view is not “get it done” but “get it right.” Building over 30 condominium units on the public waterfront is decidedly not getting it right.

Tom Farrell