NEWBURYPORT – The seven candidates running for five at-large seats on the City Council in Tuesday’s election responded to three questions sent by The Daily News. There biographical information and answers to the questions are below.
1. What do you believe needs to be included in a new zoning amendment for the Waterfront West Overlay District?
2. If voters decided to allow marijuana retail shops in Newburyport do you think the city is prepared and has sufficient controls in place?
3. What do you see as the key issue facing the city and its residents in 2020 and how would you address it as a city councilor?
Name: Paul O’Brien
Occupation: Self-employed, local business owner, Encompass Premiums & Apparel
Education: BSBA Suffolk University
Municipal offices: Former chief administrative officer, City of Newburyport; constituent services liaison/legislative aide for state Rep. James Kelcourse; member of Community Preservation Committee for Newburyport
1. There needs to be a carefully thought out negotiating strategy for WWOD for the City of Newburyport and its current residents to receive the maximum amount of concessions for the least amount of units and density. Significant infrastructure improvements such as the outdated sewer lines from the WWOD to Newburyport’s sewage treatment plant need to be replaced. Implemented traffic-calming measures at least from Winter Street to Titcomb Street. Design measures that would be a true representation of the city of Newburyport. Finally, a boutique hotel with sufficient meeting space to increase economic development within the city.
2. I think we don’t know what we don’t know. It may require additional police presence in the city. I knocked on the door of a Newburyport resident who is the police chief in another city outside of Boston and he stated that “his department sees more violent crime from the illegal sales of marijuana than both heroin and cocaine combined.” Admittedly, the size and demographics of his city are different than Newburyport but that doesn’t mean his concerns are not something to consider, especially as it relates to our city’s youths.
3. The No. 1 concern I have heard from our residents is the improvement of streets and sidewalks. Residents want more of their tax revenue brought back into the neighborhood infrastructure. We need to prioritize this during the budget process in the upcoming fiscal years. Teen vaping is the No. 1 health issue facing our youths today and we as a city should consider banning all vaping products within the city, possibly including those infused with THC if retail marijuana is zoned within the city. The CSOs that are being dumped upstream into the Merrimack River is a significant problem for many of Newburyport residents. We should consider litigation against the offending cities because they will do nothing for decades until a court forces them to do so.
Name: Charles Tontar
Occupation: Professor emeritus of economics
Education: Georgetown University, Graduate faculty of the New School for Social Research
Municipal offices held: City councilor, Ward 4, Newburyport
1. The mass, height and density of the current proposal should be curtailed. While I believe some improvements could take place on Waterfront West, the large, dense project proposed by NED would be a detriment to the city. Since that section of the waterfront is the last remnant of the city’s maritime past, its eradication would permanently alter the character of the entire city. If NED reduces the number of units they propose (215), we could discuss the zoning changes they need to build on a site challenged by rising sea levels and inadequate parking.
2. Newburyport can control the time, place and manner of marijuana operations and impose safeguards. We have already established buffer zones, limited the location of marijuana retail shops, and limited the number of shops. Further safeguards can be established during an applicant’s licensing process. If there is an applicant, they must enter into a host community agreement that provides Newburyport with the ability to assure adequate security, to prevent diversion to minors, and to keep the shop from becoming a nuisance at its location. A community impact fee can be negotiated to mitigate any costs imposed on Newburyport. We are prepared.
3. The city faces challenging budget choices next year. Additional funding is needed to improve our schools, repair our streets and sidewalks, complete the expansion of the central waterfront, construct a new West End firehouse, fund adequate facilities for Youth Services, pay burgeoning solid waste costs, and address drainage problems. If I am returned to the council, I will utilize my experience as an economist and chair of Budget and Finance for the past six years to assure that the choices we make are undertaken in an open and transparent process that is fiscally responsible.
Name: Afroz Khan
Occupation: Electrical engineer
Education: M.Eng. electric power engineer, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
B.S. electrical engineering, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Municipal offices held: City councilor at large (2018-19)
1. A new zoning amendment needs to account for sea level rise and storm surges. This is a significant issue that is currently not addressed in the overlay and should be at the forefront when moving forward with any development. Once we can address that, we can then refine specific zoning points by engaging residents, councilors, Planning Board and other experts in a working session. Some of those key zoning points for discussion are building heights, pedestrian access/open space and on-site parking requirements.
2. In 2018, the City Council adopted laws for zoning retail shops in specific locations, capping the number of shops and setting a local tax rate. Newburyport officers are trained in ARIDE (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement) where they learn to identify the signs of impairment from drugs, alcohol or both. Once the outcome of the ballot is determined, we can apply further controls through the Planning Board (i.e. reduced operating hours) and the public Health Board (i.e. increased minimum age). We can also look to other communities for additional lessons learned and best practices.
3. While canvassing, I heard from many residents who were concerned about being able to stay in their home. They also would share that many of their children have had to live elsewhere due to the lack of affordable homes in our city. As a city councilor, I would like to work with our state representatives to see if there are any property tax programs at the local level that can provide some relief. I also believe that we should consider strategies to reach a goal of 10% for our total stock of affordable housing. The Merrimack Valley Housing Production Plan showed Newburyport to be at 7.47% in 2017.
Name: Bruce L. Vogel
Occupation: Local business owner
Education: B.A., recreation, San Francisco State University
Municipal offices held: Five years as youth commissioner, four years as Ward 5 city councilor, six years as city councilor at large
1. Per the state Ethics Commission, my comments are that of a Newburyport citizen.
Respectful of our waterfront heritage, include this specific language from Massachusetts Chapter 91, the commonwealth seeks to preserve and protect the rights of the public, and to guarantee that private uses of tidelands and waterways serve a proper public purpose. Protects and promotes tidelands as a workplace for commercial fishing, shipping, passenger transportation, boat building and repair, marinas and other activities for which proximity to the water is either essential or highly advantageous. Any housing units need to be ancillary, be affordable and in low-height buildings. An ideal model of inspiration is Annapolis, Maryland’s waterfront.
2. The city is prepared and has sufficient understanding to put appropriate controls in place. The city is also more than able to negotiate and manage the host agreements that come along with the establishment of retail marijuana sales. In addition to the state Cannabis Control Commission, numerous other sources of support and guidance are available if needed.
3. In one word — “revenue.” As the country is in the longest economic expansion in history, the inevitably changing of the tide is demonstrated by our new growth figures being projected lower than in years past. This leading indicator means we need to prepare now by focusing on a course that will lead to increased revenue sources through economic development. My proposal is to create the position of economic development director inside City Hall with the charge of bringing vitality to the business park, downtown and the community as a whole.
Name: Joe Devlin
Address: 3 Dexter Lane
Education: Sanborn Regional High School, Brewster Academy, Wheaton College, Boston University School of Law.
Appointed or elected positions: Currently in second term as councilor at large; former vice chair of the Licensing Commission.
Civic organizations or activities: Newburyport Boys Basketball Association (director/coach), Pioneer Baseball (coach/member of fundraising committee), Ancient Order of Hibernians (vice president)
1. If one developer is going to build the entire project, something needs to be put in place to make the buildings look more organic, as if built over time and by different developers. Height and density are the No. 1 concerns voiced by residents. There are positives from dealing with one developer, but the negatives are the proposals look monolithic in nature, like a series of college dormitories. I’d like to see varied height restrictions that protect certain views, like along the water or from the rail trail and Merrimac Street. The residents at Horton’s Yard must be considered as well.
2. Out of an abundance of caution with regard to a client with retail space in Newburyport, I recused myself from the zoning debate, but my colleagues on the council worked hard to fashion a compromise over the course of many meetings. I am satisfied with that compromise, though as with all compromises, it isn’t perfect. The state Cannabis Commission has promulgated regulations over operations, so relative to security and identification, the state has done the work for us. As with most new things, we will have to be flexible in order to address issues that come up.
3. We must continue to focus on “streets, sidewalks, schools, safety and services” — the basic things residents expect. I’ll continue to sponsor items like the ordinance requiring new sidewalks from developers and the road bond order, so that neglected streets like East Boylston and Phillips Drive can get done. I’ve steered budget cuts to the schools, but more needs to be done to give our educators the resources they need. At my urging, the School Committee will send us an “aspirational budget” this year, and I look forward to debating the needs of our school on TV in Council Chambers.
Name: Barry Connell
Occupation: Retired educator
Education: B.S. (Biology) Allegheny College; M.Ed. University of Massachusetts
Offices held: Zoning Board of Appeals (1990-96); city councilor at large (2003 to present); City Council president (2017 to present)
1. I helped craft the 2005 protections in the Waterfront West zoning overlay that are currently in place. These include: Limiting development to the same density that already exists in the downtown district; Ensuring public access to all structures on the site, which prohibits a gated neighborhood; Requiring architectural appearance consistent with the existing downtown district; Mandating that all parking for the development be provided on site. We need to sharpen our zoning requirements to reflect what the city needs in 2019. Specifically, we must encourage development of a hotel/conference center on the waterfront, negotiate with the developer for resources to reduce traffic congestion at the intersection of Merrimac Street and Route 1, expand public use and access to the site, require that any development address potential impacts of sea level rise, and mandate that all buildings be designed and constructed to meet the highest energy efficiency standards.
2. Our city is prepared for either outcome of Tuesday’s vote. We identified zones for retail sale of cannabis after gathering a significant amount of public testimony, and we’ve met the requirements of state law.
3. First, we have to get the zoning for Waterfront West right. Protections I supported in 2005 need to be updated as this new neighborhood is developed between the old Black Cow and the Gillis Bridge. I believe the current land owner has the resources to do a high-quality development under uniform zoning rules — the city would suffer if NED sold off the property to a cut-rate developer who might do shoddy work to maximize profits. Second, streets and sidewalks are a mess. The City Council last week passed a $6 million bond order that will significantly increase improvements over the next five years. This will allow us to clear the backlog of work that is long overdue. Third, we must acknowledge the possibility of an economic downturn and move forward only on projects we can afford. We may have to limit new spending until past debts for the library and high school renovations have been paid off.
Name: Robert Germinara
Occupation: Self-employed truck driver
Education: 1984 graduate of Newburyport High School/Bridgton Academy
1. I believe the parking for any project considered in the Waterfront West Overlay District is of utmost importance to be completely self-sufficient of any City of Newburyport parking, including any summer parking or overflow from Michael’s Harborside already owned by NED. I believe a 35-foot height restriction is appropriate and that NED must be required to pay for and improve infrastructure such as sidewalks, streets and crosswalk lights at the foot of Market, Summer and Winter streets as well as the on- and off-ramps to the Gillis Bridge. NED must be required to pay for these costs for any project considered on Waterfront West – not the taxpayers of Newburyport.
2. First and foremost, I am hopeful that voters will vote “yes” and ban retail marijuana retail stores in Newburyport. I had hoped legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts three years ago would regulate and capture revenue for Massachusetts that inevitably other states would get if it hadn’t been legalized. After watching the way Massachusetts has handled things and especially at the local level, I’ve had enough. I am certainly against “spot zoning” on Storey Avenue and at the traffic circle, where there are still several residences and others being built such as the project near the commuter rail. Newburyport doesn’t need retail marijuana.
3. In 2020, the key issue facing the city and its residents is to hold the current mayoral administration accountable to the City Council and the taxpayers. The recent wasting of taxpayer money with the debate of sidewalk and street improvements being done incorrectly, inefficiently and against our own city ordinance is a perfect example of money wasted I would rather do less improvements correctly once than rush improvements, go against current City Council ordinances, and have to redo sidewalk and street improvements again in five years. The current administration must be held accountable to the City Council and the taxpayers whose money it is.