A 16-acre parcel off Storey Avenue sold last week at auction for $125,000, and you've got to love the Plan A-Plan B response from buyer Jere Myette.

"I have no plans for the land," said Myette, a wealthy farmer and horseman from Stratham, N.H.

He paused, then added, "But I would be happy to talk to the city about whether they would like to buy it or trade property."

Almost by accident, close to 38 acres of open space is coming into play here.

There is this 16-acre parcel, plus about 22 acres — also off Storey Avenue — might be available for open space if a CVS-related rezoning measure passes.

Thirty-eight acres is not a lot in Caribou, Maine, but in this crowded burg, that is a hunk of open space These acres are near the Little River Nature Trail and several agricultural parcels owned by the Woodman family.

In addition, about 30 acres in that sector are being earmarked for open space by Green & Company, a developer creating a 24-house neighborhood at the end of Russell Terrace Extension.

Some folks in town who value conservation land are getting excited at the confluence of these possibilities.

But there has been no word from the city's open space committee. Mary Harbaugh, who heads that panel, is uncommunicative about just what her board wants to do.

When they discuss their thoughts, they call an executive session. Indeed, Your Scribe was tossed from one of their meetings early in the fall when they started to discuss purchase plans.

But Harbaugh has indicated that the committee is always looking for open-space possibilities.

Because her committee has about $600,000 under management, it's totally possible that the panel is putting together a coherent plan to take advantage of this Storey Avenue moment.

• • •

On the subject of open space, the planning and development committee of the City Council and the Planning Board will hold a public session Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall to discuss a possible rezoning of land off Storey Avenue. This is a change of date from an earlier announcement.

To recap, developer Scott Mitchell says he would cede about 22 acres of open space and wetlands to the city if the council rezones 4 acres on Storey Avenue, ostensibly to accommodate a CVS.

Council members had voted 6-5 to permit the change, but it failed because it needed a two-thirds majority.

Councilor Ari Herzog petitioned to have the matter "reconsidered," and, thus, it came up at last week's meeting of the council.

After the vote, it appears that councilors were barraged by calls and emails on this issue.

Some constituents complained about more traffic; others declared this was a chance to acquire open space.

Scores of residents in the Woodman Way-Clipper Way area oppose rezoning because they feel more commercial development will bring increased traffic congestion.

Those in the open space-wetlands crowd want to at least talk about a possible rezoning.

Curiously, a key player in this discussion has not been brought into the discussion: the state Department of Transportation.

This department controls the traffic light at the intersection of Storey Avenue and Low Street and is also responsible for this part of the thoroughfare.

If councilors get serious about finding a compromise between the anti-traffic crowd and the pro-open space group, it would appear the state DOT will have to become involved.

• • •

Today is the last day to pay overdue water and sewer bills. Tomorrow, when new software is installed, liens will be placed on the properties of those who are not paying.

Sewer commission officials say that documents explaining the liens will be hand-delivered.

About $379,000 is outstanding from about 120 accounts, it was said at a commission meeting last week.

If users have been trying to pay their bills, they will not be targeted. Only those who have made no effort — and have not talked with the city about their situations — will have a lien attached.

Managers of the Department of Public Services, meanwhile, are taking every precaution to make sure that the clearwell on Spring Lane makes it through one more winter.

The subterranean 470,000-gallon structure was built in 1932 and is the primary source of drinking water for the city.

A new facility is being built and should be nearing completion in July.

But the "roof" of the aging clearwell is vulnerable to collapse, and managers would be elated with a snowless winter — or something close to it.

• • •

City Councilor Tom Jones played a little catch-up with his institutional frustration at last week's council meeting when he voiced dissatisfaction with the fact that the city will be paying more than projected for the upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant.

It will cost about $6.2 million more than estimated, though councilors say the cost to the city will be only about $1.8 million because they will be using surplus funds to close that gap.

Jones implied that when the council approved the original figure of about $26.4, it was too good to be true.

He said that the former public works chief, Brendan O'Regan, talked the council into rushing into a contract without fully analyzing it.

Jones noted with satisfaction that O'Regan was canned by the Holaday administration, but he urged councilors to remember this example of hurried deliberation when dealing with complicated issues in the future.

• • •

Meetings this week


School Committee, City Council Joint Subcommittee, 5:30 p.m., room 118, Newburyport High School

School Committee, 6:30 p.m., room 118, NHS

Newburyport Waterfront Trust, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.


Commission on Diversity and Tolerance, 2:30 p.m., City Council Chambers

River Valley Charter School Finance Committee, 2:30 p.m., 2 Perry Way

Conservation Commission, 6:30 p.m., City Council Chambers

School Building Committee, 7 p.m., City Hall

River Valley Charter School Executive Committee, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way


Licensing Board, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

City Council's Planning and Development Committee and Planning Board, 6:30 p.m., City Council Chambers


Newburyport Retirement Board (election), 7 a.m., City Hall

Disabilities Commission, 6 p.m., Nock Middle School, 70 Low St.

Harbor Commission, 7 p.m., City Council Chambers

Street Committee. 7 p.m., library

Fruit Street Historic District Committee, 7 p.m., City Hall

Local Historic District Study Committee, 7:30 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

• • •

Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport City Hall.

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