NEWBURYPORT — City Council President Jared Eigerman submitted a letter to the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance insisting that a parcel at 57 Low St. must undergo the required environmental analysis before it is sold to the city.
The 2.17-acre property, which includes a seldom-used National Guard maintenance garage, has been eyed by the mayor and other city officials as a possible permanent home for Newburyport Youth Services, which operates out of the first floor of the otherwise-empty former Brown School.
More recently, the state has offered the property to the city for $222,000, which Mayor Donna Holaday said was more affordable than she expected.
But in discussions over the past several months, Eigerman has expressed concern about complications and a potentially high cost of relocating Youth Services to the site.
In his Jan. 22 letter to the state, Eigerman elaborated on testimony he gave during a public hearing on the land conveyance last month at City Hall, saying the transfer has ignored potential environmental impacts and a review process required by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office.
"In an era when our natural environment, worldwide, is in dire crisis, the proposed transfer of 2.17 acres by the Commonwealth to the city of Newburyport has so far neglected to analyze such impacts, contrary to MEPA's command, and denying meaningful public review," Eigerman said in the letter.
He pointed out that there is a mandatory requirement to prepare and file an environmental notification form and an environmental impact report.
In the letter, Eigerman highlighted that the "vast majority" of the land being transferred is considered a wetland or an "unbuildable" buffer zone under the Wetlands Protection Act.
The letter includes a map of the site on which Eigerman illustrated the wetland and surrounding buffer zone.
He also noted that the same wetland is behind the National Guard facility. The MEPA would require a public review of any wetland altercation for the building, which is listed on the state Historical Commission's Inventory of Historical and Archeological Assets, Eigerman said.
On Wednesday, Eigerman emphasized the importance of the environmental review as part of determining the future of Youth Services.
"If we're going to do an apples-to-apples comparison of where to put Youth Services, we need to do it right," he said. "It's not so easy. You've got a site that's mostly wetland, so you've got to fill it in by variance and then file an environmental impact report."
When discussing the options for relocating Youth Services, Eigerman raised concerns about congestion on Low Street and a lack of sidewalks. In comparison, he also highlighted the merits of the Brown School.
"One advantage of the Brown School is that it's in a real neighborhood," Eigerman said of the South End building. "On Low Street, you'd have to build a brand new parking lot, plus a new building, plus a gymnasium."
Eigerman noted projects the city also needs to deal with, including road repairs, fixing drainage problems on Philips Drive, and replacing the Cutter Fire Station in the West End.
"We can't look at any of these projects in isolation — the responsible thing is priorities," Eigerman said. "There is only so much we can do ... . The Brown School might not be the ideal solution, but it needs a fair evaluation. Building a sprawling NYS (facility) is not something we should be jumping to."
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.