To the editor:
Intended or not, the Newburyport City Council ambushed the Newburyport Plum Island residents and Ward 1 Councilor Sharif Zeid Monday with drastic and overreaching proposals to further sharpen the blade of existing zoning restrictions.
As Plum Island residents recover from major storm damage and face trepidation as to the local, state and federal response, and while already enduring the most restrictive zoning laws in Newburyport, Councilors Afroz Khan, Heather Shand and Barry Connell saw fit to use the Feb. 22 meeting to propose one of two ordinances that add even more restriction.
When pressed on “why?” the sponsors offered vague and obscure descriptions of interdepartmental inefficiencies that make the process “confusing.” While these may or may not be real issues, one does not resolve interdepartmental confusion by removing property rights from citizens.
The updated restrictions, as described, would effectively eliminate the ability to improve our properties in any meaningful way. This, even though many, if not the majority, of full-time homes on the island are cottages, often over 100 years old, that require updates and renovations.
Where not every resident has capital that allows them to purchase a house and then immediately renovate, many have planned to gradually “pick away” at updates as we save money or take out loans to do so.
These concerns are not lost on either the City Council nor the residents. Despite over 100 Plum Island residents who attended the meeting on Monday and expressed unanimous consternation (the likes of which Councilor Joe Devlin noted he’d seen only once before), Councilor Khan forced the issue.
Objecting Councilors Zeid, Devlin, Christine Wallace, Jim McCauley and Byron Lane pleaded that Councilor Khan establish consensus and use proven methods to mature the issue. Councilor Khan expressed frustration at residents for their “procedural misunderstanding.” Councilor Connell, in a misguided and frankly unbecoming attempt at humor, told residents “not to put their heads in the sand.”
While I can’t speak for every resident of Plum Island, I can speak for myself and my family. I’m not unaware there are unique requirements for living on the island.
As Councilor Zeid pointed out, we mostly fund those unique requirements ourselves. The beach reclamation, sewer betterments, and the recent flood and erosion “control”/“prevention” are not funded from the general budget, but specifically funded by Plum Island residents. And though funded by island residents, they benefit all of us.
It is for this reason that we, collectively, not simply “island” residents, must object when our City Council is so eager to push arbitrary ordinances that address vague and poorly articulated problems — not safety or environmental issues, but routine municipal processes.
We must also caution Councilor Khan, who seems to think she has but one tool: “We make laws, it’s what we do.” If inappropriate, don’t use that tool.
If, as Councilor Khan claims, the impetus is process improvement, then perhaps she should look first to improving her own house, not diminishing the value of mine by force.