Neighbors concerned with Institution's expansion plans

An artist’s rendering shows the Institution for Savings’ proposed two story addition on Prospect Street and Otis Place, Newburyport. The first floor of the structure would be parking and the second floor offices.Courtesy photo

NEWBURYPORT — Some neighbors of the Institution for Savings say they’re concerned about the lack of warning they received and the scale of a two-story expansion plan the bank filed recently with the Planning Board.

The plans, filed Jan. 8 by bank attorney Lisa L. Mead, are for a two-story, 8,800-square-foot addition to the State Street bank’s rear structure, which was built in 1980. The original building was built in 1872. The addition – which would have parking on the first floor and offices above – would border Prospect Street and Otis Place.

The plans say the bank would increase the number of employees in the building from 23 to 30. The employees in a 1980 addition would relocate to the new office space and the first floor of the 1980 addition would become an archive area for the bank’s historic photos, documents and other materials from the past two centuries.

But, according to Colleen Turner Secino, a neighbor of the bank who lives on Otis Place, the news came as a shock to many nearby residents who had concerns both with the size of the plans and the fact that they were not consulted earlier on.

“Everyone is in shock and disappointment that the bank failed to reach out to three streets’ worth of good neighbors... How is this possible? As a group, we feel it’s very important that we get more information,” said Secino on Friday, describing her feeling that the plans were “filed in secrecy.”

“It is enormous, and it was inconsiderate for them not to talk to us about it,” she said.

On Wednesday, a group of about 30 people, including many neighbors of the bank and a few city councilors, met to discuss the plans. According to Secino, who was chosen as spokesperson for the group, everyone shared similar feelings about the situation.

City Council President Jared Eigerman was present at the meeting, where he said he “saw a lot of fear and concern” from neighbors. While he admitted he does not fully understand the project yet, he said he is troubled by the fact that neighbors weren’t notified before the plans were filed.

“I’m disappointed with the process, and that the bank did not reach out to the neighborhood before filing the application,” said Eigerman.

“I’m surprised; the bank has been a part of our community for 200 years, and now the neighborhood is playing catch-up. It shouldn’t be like that.”

Secino said the group of neighbors hopes to communicate with the Institution for Savings, and ultimately to vie for a slowing-down of the project.

Michael Jones, president and CEO for the Institution for Savings, said the planning process was conducted as the bank usually does with all of its projects, and that it usually addresses concerns from the community after plans are submitted.

“Typically, this is the process we’ve used. We design the plans, submit the applications, and from that point, it has to go through a pretty lengthy approval process, so that’s when we answer concerns,” said Jones.

He said the bank attempted to send a representative to the neighborhood’s meeting on Wednesday, but it was denied.

He said the bank will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the Newburyport Public Library, where it will listen to concerns from neighbors.

The Planning Board has a public hearing scheduled Feb. 5 for a site plan review and special permit for parking, but Jones said the bank will ask the board to reschedule the hearing to Feb. 19.

“We are willing to hear what the neighborhood’s concerns are, and hopefully we can work through the process,” said Jones.

“There’s plenty of time before now and when we break ground to discuss things. It’s sort of water under the dam at this point; we can’t change what’s occurred in the past week or so, but it’s not like the game’s over.”

Jones remarked on the bank’s long history within the city and expressed hope to work things out with residents.

“This building’s been here for 150 years, and I think we’ve more than shown what we typically do here,” said Jones. “In general, people can say that they’re happy with the Institution in terms of our buildings and grounds.”

To view the Institution for Savings’ expansion plans, visit https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/planning-board/agenda-items/93-state-street-1

Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.

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