NEWBURYPORT — During a rare, local public appearance Tuesday, the CEO of New England Development discussed plans for Waterfront West, addressing residents’ and business owners’ concerns about the size, height and density of the residential/retail/hotel project.
Speaking during a Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Senior Community Center, Stephen Karp gave a room filled with at least 100 Chamber members and local officials an overview of Waterfront West, a large multiuse development proposed on a 5.7-acre plot it owns on the city’s waterfront between Michael’s Harborside and the former Black Cow restaurant.
The most recent plans call for seven buildings with up to 215 residential units — 12% of which would be affordable housing units — 10,000 square feet of retail space, and a hotel with 85 to 100 rooms. Earlier plans included as many as eight buildings and up to 230 residential units.
After presenting the plans Tuesday, Karp told the audience that New England Development is working with Newburyport officials to deal with concerns raised over the past two years by scores of residents, many of whom have complained that the project would be too large, too dense and too tall for the city.
“We’re working with the Planning Department and the City Council, and we’re trying to resolve some of those issues and people’s concerns,” Karp said, adding that while the project is set to include open space and other amenities, he thinks it needs to reach a certain level of density.
“The density of the development has given us the opportunity to create those spaces,” Karp said. “You have to have enough density to do these kinds of things.”
When pressed by an audience member about how the project’s retail space might lure business away from already established downtown shops, Karp said New England Development does not plan to “over-retail” the space.
“We cut back a lot of retail ... . Originally, there was a concern that there would be too much retail in this development, but it’s not going to be overwhelming,” Karp said. “We own a lot of retail downtown, so we don’t want to hurt retail.”
When asked about the timeline, Karp said he is eager to begin construction as soon as the plans are approved by the city and finalized.
“It’s kind of in the city’s hands at this point,” he said. “We’re anxious to get started as soon as we get the approval of the project. Obviously, we’re hopeful that a lot of people in this room will give us some support.”
The City Council has been discussing a zoning update for the property but has not come to an agreement on anything. In late September, Ward 2 Councilor Jared Eigerman said he hoped to soon have a new zoning amendment on the table.
An unidentified member of the audience expressed dissatisfaction with New England Development’s plans, saying Waterfront West as proposed is still too large and dense to be compatible with Newburyport’s downtown and that the developer has not listened to many of the residents who have expressed similar opinions at public hearings.
“I think we are listening,” Karp said in response. “As far as the hotel is concerned, we’re trying to listen to what the community is telling us with the hotel, and 80 to 100 keys, I don’t think that’s out of scale with what’s been talked about before.”
Karp also noted that some abutters — including residents of Horton’s Yard — have expressed concern about the height of the proposed buildings in some areas along Merrimac Street. He said New England Development is “taking a fresh look at that.”
When discussing Waterfront West’s parking plan, Karp said his company and other developers are being encouraged to scale down the amount of parking because driving services such as Uber and Lyft have brought a decline in vehicle use and parking space needs in recent years.
“There’s a whole change going on in the country with the idea of how much parking you need. Parking ratios are going way down ... 10 years out, you’re going to have way too many parking spaces,” Karp said. “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s the right amount.”
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.
REFER: Hearing on Waterfront West zoning Thursday, Page 3.