NEWBURYPORT — Ward 1 City Councilor Sharif Zeid filed amendments to his Brown School overlay district proposal that include scenarios with different numbers of apartments, while leaving an option to make every unit affordable under state income guidelines.
The 1920s-era school closed in 2014. Since then, Newburyport Youth Services has occupied the first floor and uses the gymnasium, but the rest of the building is vacant.
Zeid, whose ward includes the school, filed his proposal to establish the overlay district last month. That plan would have set a maximum of 15 housing units for developments on the property. It would have preserved the gymnasium and left future use of the site by Youth Services open ended.
While some residents and city officials praised Zeid for putting the former Brown School building back into the spotlight, his original overlay district proposal was met with criticism from many neighbors and abutters.
During a public meeting, the abutters and other neighbors said the plan would be too limiting and not sufficiently fulfill the city's affordable housing needs. Others raised concerns about the potential impact on parking and traffic in the dense neighborhood. The Planning Board unanimously voted not to recommend the City Council adopt the ordinance.
In response to those critiques, Zeid returned with an amended proposal that includes three zoning options. The amended version was presented to the City Council's Committee on Planning and Development on Tuesday.
The first option would keep Newburyport Youth Services on-site and retain the gymnasium. It would set a maximum of 15 apartments, a minimum of 20% of which would be affordable housing units for seniors. The maximum percentage of affordable units for seniors would be 50%, or 100% if the building were managed by the Newburyport Housing Authority.
The proposal defines senior affordable housing as intended for people age 65 and older.
The second option in Zeid's new proposal would take Newburyport Youth Services off the property and retain the gymnasium. The plan would put 18 apartments in the building, with a senior affordable housing requirement of between 20 and 50%, or 20 and 100% if the building were operated by the Housing Authority.
The third option also includes relocating Youth Services, and would raze the gymnasium while setting a maximum residential density of 20 dwelling units. It would require between 20 and 100% of the units be affordable for seniors.
Zeid noted that the "driving factor" in determining the number of units would be parking and that a developer might not end up reaching the maximum number of allowable units if parking requirements are not met first.
Under the updated proposal, two parking spaces would be required for the first two units, with 1.5 spaces required for each additional unit. It also requires 1.5 spaces for the first two affordable senior units, and one space for each additional unit.
If Newburyport Youth Services were to remain, the proposal would require one parking space per peak-shift employee, plus one space "per every 50 people of permitted NYS occupancy, including the gymnasium."
In the scenario that Youth Services is moved elsewhere and the gym is retained, the plan would require three spaces for gymnasium use.
The amended proposal also would add a historical preservation provision to protect the brick building.
On Thursday, Zeid said he hoped the amendments would address concerns voiced by neighbors and officials. He underscored the need to make progress in determining the building's future.
"We're not talking about a theoretical concept here," Zeid said. "The Brown School is a real building, sitting on real dirt in the middle of a real neighborhood where real people live with real cars. Zoning is the only way to answer what could happen at the site for the benefit of all stakeholders. We've gone in circles for long enough, it's time to start answering some of the questions. We owe that to residents."
Zeid said while there is still "plenty of tough work to do" in committee to refine the proposal, he hopes to bring it before the full City Council at its meeting Sept. 30.To read Zeid's updated proposal, visit: http://www.reachsharif.com/Brown%20School%20Overlay%20Zoning%20District_v2.pdf.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.