Newburyport City Council

STAFF PHOTO. The Newburyport City Council, shown during the online meeting Thursday night at which a majority voted against buying 57 Low St. Shown, top row from left, President Jared Eigerman, City Clerk Richard Jones, Afroz Khan, Charles Tontar, Heather Shand, Sharif Zeid, Joe Devlin, Jim McCarthy, Barry Connell, Christine Wallace and Bruce Vogel. Byron Lane was participating by audio so he didn't appear onscreen.

NEWBURYPORT — The city will not purchase surplus state property at 57 Low St. after the City Council voted 6-5 not to do so during a special meeting Thursday night.

The purchase of property requires a two-thirds vote but the measure failed with a simple majority. Councilors Christine Wallace, Sharif Zeid, Joe Devlin, Byron Lane, Jim McCauley and Jared Eigerman voted against the purchase while Afroz Khan, Barry Connell, Bruce Vogel, Heather Shand and Charlie Tontar voted to buy the building.

Councilors have spent roughly five months deliberating whether to purchase the surplus National Guard building and property for general municipal purposes using $220,000 from the city's free cash account.

Tontar told the council a brief story about running into a neighbor over the past week who told him, "You would be crazy not to buy (the property)."

"It makes no sense not for us to turn down this great opportunity for the city," Tontar said. "Whether it is used for the Parks Department, perhaps the School Department in the future or whether it is used for Youth Services, it is worth purchasing."

Khan expressed support for purchasing the site and added that she also liked the idea of buying the property from the National Guard.

"I don't want to lose this opportunity," Khan said.

Vogel pointed out that Nock Middle School is directly across from the Low Street building and all children would have to do is walk across the street to get to Newburyport Youth Services.

"Our constituents want us to buy this property," Vogel said.

McCauley told the council the administration did not convince him to vote for the purchase and that he was not going to "fall for this Jedi mind trick" that it was an excellent deal.

"We're going to pay $220,000," McCauley said. "Then, Parks is going to ask for $300,000 to make the building inhabitable. Then, the School Department is going to ask for $500,000 to retrofit it for their needs. Then, NYS is going to ask for $7 million to tear it all down and to build their vision."

Wallace echoed McCauley's concerns.

"I see this as a study in risk," Wallace said. "What are the costs going to be? We don't know exactly. We don't know the use. We don't have defined, physical plans. We don't have financial plans so we are going in, guessing and saying that we will figure this out later. I am not comfortable with that."

Eigerman has repeatedly said in the past he would not vote for the purchase unless there was a city conservation restriction that requires a 25-foot buffer zone to protect neighboring wetlands.

Mayor Donna Holaday recommended a late amendment at the council's meeting Monday that would make a 25-foot buffer zone part of the deed and not part of a city regulation.

Tontar then sponsored the amendment — which required a two-thirds vote for approval — and the meeting Thursday night was scheduled.

The amendment was approved 6-5 on Thursday night, with McCauley, Khan, Vogel, Tontar, Shand and Eigerman voting in support.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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