NEWBURYPORT — The city will need to go back to the drawing board to find a long-term home for the Parks Department after the City Council voted down a proposal to enter a five-year lease for 50 Parker St.
The council voted 8-1 on Monday night against Order 256, which is a letter of intent from the mayor for the city to enter into a lease as a tenant of the Parker Street property owned by 230-232 East 49th St. Associates.
Ward 3 Councilor Heather Shand voted in favor of entering the lease. Councilors at large Afroz Khan and Joseph Devlin were absent for the meeting.
The space was initially touted as being able to fulfill department needs such as a break room and workspace for employees, storage space and a loading dock.
Following discussions by members of the Committee on Neighborhoods & City Services, several councilors, including Ward 5 Councilor James McCauley, found they had “more questions than answers,” particularly regarding costs.
The lease rate would have been $47,776 per year for the first three years, followed by $50,359 in the fourth year and $51,650 in the fifth year. But councilors worried about additional costs associated with the lease. Such costs include water and sewer, electricity and gas, and a fixed contribution of $15,495 for taxes and operating costs each year.
The city does not know the condition of equipment already on the premises and the lease dictates that the owner would not be responsible for its maintenance.
Shand asked the mayor for an update on 57 Low St., property the council voted against purchasing earlier this year. The Parks Department still houses equipment there as part of the city’s informal, lease-free, rent-free arrangement with the property’s owner, the National Guard.
Mayor Donna Holaday said the city is in discussions with the National Guard to possibly enter a formal lease. The city just entered into a contract with Credere Associates LLC to conduct soil borings and air quality tests at 57 Low St., which is next to the armory.
Depending on the results, the city may look at short- and long-term uses of this property once again. The city should have the test results in about four to six weeks, the mayor said.
In the meantime, Councilor at large Barry Connell said the city should look closer at alternatives for the Parks Department and come up with some “more concrete” ideas.
Also during the meeting, the council voted 9-0 with the two councilors absent to approve zoning amendments.
Shand, who chairs the Committee on Planning & Development, explained that the amendments were the first of a few rounds of efforts to clean up zoning ordinances. All changes involved input from the zoning administrator and the Planning Board.
Some of the minor updates include cleanups of definitions such as “building area” and “floor area,” while more substantial changes include clarifications to yard requirements, or setbacks.
Another change, which was amended during the meeting by Ward 2 Councilor Jared Eigerman, says, “Proposed replacement windows may be made to open and close (i.e. become operable windows), provided, however, that such means of opening and closing and replacement windows shall be approved by the SPGA under a DOD-SP, notwithstanding the condition(s) of the existing window(s) as outlined in Section XXVII-F(5)(e).”
Eigerman acknowledged there are restaurants that wish to have windows which open and close, most recently Brine, at the former Fowle’s News site on State Street.
When the Downtown Overlay District was established seven years ago, Eigerman, who was the principal author behind it, wanted to ensure that historic windows would be preserved. On Monday, he said the initial language, which prevented changes to a window’s mode of operation, sought to maintain the integrity of the window.
He recognized there are ways to make a window operable without changing the style.
For more on these changes, view Monday night’s council packet at www.cityofnewburyport.com/city-council/events/291766.
The city is moving to finalize a design for the West End fire station project. The council went into executive session Monday night to consider purchasing an adjacent parcel of land in connection with the reconstruction of the John F. Cutter Jr. Fire Station. More on the project is detailed in the council packet.
Also, the city could be moving to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day after an order sponsored by Shand was introduced to the council Monday.
The order was referred to the Committee on General Government for further discussion.
In October, second- and third-graders from River Valley Charter School presented the mayor with letters, asking the city to make the change.
A previous story on that can be read at www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/river-valley-students-call-for-indigenous-peoples-day-in-newburyport/article_aa1e8360-f6de-50d7-8f6c-60388a31d590.html.