10 Residential Units at the Brown School Would Make the Neighborhood Feel a Whole Lot Better

The Brown School
The Brown School

The Brown School, Newburyport

I’ve been scratching my head as to where in the world the push for 27-29 affordable senior housing units came from for the Brown School, which is a complete about face from the direction that the City had been going for as re-use for that property.

It has come from good folks in Newburyport.

And from someone who lives in the Brown School neighborhood 27-29 units of any size is nuts.  This is one of the most densely populated areas of the city with narrow 18th century streets. On street parking is already a nightmare, we already have what I call “neighborhood road rage” when it comes to parking and traffic.

The temperature in the neighborhood would go down a whole lot if the proposal was for 10 residential units. That’s realistically 20 cars. And if the neighborhood got to have the Newburyport Youth Services (NYS) stay, that would be a big extra bonus.

There are a variety of different affordable categories which are referred to as Affordable Medium Income (AMI). Here is table from a 2015 household study from Boston, Newburyport is considered part of the Boston Hud Federal  Management Regulation (FMR) area.

2015 Affordable Medium Income (AMI)
2015 Affordable Medium Income (AMI)

2015 Affordable Medium Income (AMI)

As you can see there are different percentages of the AMI, 30%, 50%, 60%, 80%, 100% and 120%.

According to HUD the Medium Income for Newburyport in 2017 is $103,000. This table show 50%, “Extremely Low” and 80%.

Newburyport 2017 AMI
Newburyport 2017 AMI

Newburyport 2017 AMI

If the City put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) for 10 units, they could be half market rate and half affordable, or all affordable at let’s say 5 different levels of AMI (that’s the % of income) if funding could be found for different AMI levels in the same building. I think under scenarios along these lines that most of the neighborhood would be breath a sigh of relief.

Newburyport Youth Services (NYS)
Newburyport Youth Services (NYS)

Newburyport Youth Services (NYS)

And my understanding is that there is no place for NYS to go even if there was funding. My impression was that NYS did not want to be in the building or the neighborhood, but that’s not the case at all — they love where they are. I thought NYS had somewhere they could go, but apparently that is not the case.

Councilor Jared Eigerman’s Ordinance now in front of the City Council is a wonderful starting place.  I hope we can get to a place where NYS, affordable housing folks and the neighborhood are not pitted against each other, but where we can all come together and find a solution that has something for everyone and not everyone gets everything they want – that’s what I call good negotiating.

Editor’s Note:

This is from the 2014 Brown School Feasibility Study. There are 37 available parking spaces. If there were 10 units, that would realistically be 20 cars and 17 left over parking spaces. The basketball court at the Brown School Park and possibly parts of the Brown School Park itself could be used for snow emergency parking for the neighborhood along with those extra 17 spaces.

Brown School Parking from the 2014 Feasibility Study
Brown School Parking from the 2014 Feasibility Study

Meetings on What Will Happen to The Brown School

The Brown School
The Brown School

The City is now actively concentrating on what to do with the Brown School. Although the template for what to do with the Brown School has been the 2014 Brown School Feasibility Study, the City of Newburyport is now taking a different approach. The school is in terrible shape, and would cost around $14 million to rehab/fix/develop it. The school and the land itself has been appraised at $5.5 million. Understandably the City would like a developer to develop that property.

I was very upset at the last Brown School meeting that affordable housing advocates from all over the city were “rounded up” on Facebook and by word of mouth. The push was for all affordable housing. The neighbors felt intimidated about speaking up about their concerns about parking, traffic and density, worried that they would be labeled as being discriminating against poor people and the elderly, and the fact that this was a completely different direction than the one they had been lead to believe that the City was going in for the last 3-4 years, i.e. The Brown School Feasibility Study.

City Councilor Jared Eigerman  introduced an Ordinance for Monday’s City Council Meeting. I am very grateful to Councilor Eigerman that he has done this. I hope that it is the beginning of a thoughtful dialogue on the new directions that the city is taking for this project.

“This is my (Councilor Eigerman’s) attempt to reconcile all of the interest that I’ve heard over the past five years and balance it out,” Eigerman said, noting that the ordinance will likely be sent to one of the City Council’s committees and ultimately require a positive vote from eight of the 11 councilors.

“Now, with my colleagues, we’re going to hammer it out,” From the Daily News, February 9, 2018.

The Ordinance proposes 40%-60% affordable housing, which I think is a good mix.

The Ordinance proposes 1-1.5 cars per unit. I think that is really unrealistic parking for the neighborhood. I think at least 2 cars per unit is realistic.

The Ordinance calls for 24 units, which I think is way too many units for this property. (Councilor Eigerman has assured me that all of this in his mind would be open for discussion. I trust him a lot.)

The Ordinance would enable the Newburyport Youth Services (NYS) department to serve City residents, “consistent with its mission,” and to Identify public monies for the “NYS to continue to serve Newburyport residents after it relocates from the Brown School Site.”

The Ordinance would protect the 2013 Brown School Park, roughly 11,000 square feet.

The Ordinance calls for, “Mitigating negative impacts upon the neighborhood from changes in use of the Brown School Site, with particular concern for quality of design, traffic, and parking.”

The Ordinance calls for, “Providing for a diverse, balanced, and inclusive community, with housing for people of all income levels as a matter of basic fairness and social responsibility, and to promote economic stability within the community.”

The Ordinance calls for “Protecting the historic exterior features of the schoolhouse building.”

The Ordinance can be found here in the City Council packet https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/sites/newburyportma/files/agendas/city_council_packet_02_12_18_reduced.pdf

I think that it is really important for people to contact all 11 of our Newburyport City Councilors, not just Councilor Eigerman (Ward 2) and Councilor Sharif Zeid (Ward 1). The City Councilor’s contact information can be found here: https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/city-council .  I would also Cc Mayor Holaday and our City Planner Andy Port.

The Ordinance was sent to the City Council Planning and Development Committee at Monday night’s City Council meeting. I was very relieved by this. They will be holding sub-committee meeting on the Brown School. If you care about this project please attend those meetings, this is where a discussion of the fate of the Brown School will take place. The first meeting will be scheduled the week of February 26th.

The Brown School
The Brown School

The Re-Use of the Brown School

The Community Coming Together Working on the Brown School Park, September 2013.

The Community Working on the Brown School Park, September 2013
The Community Working on the Brown School Park, September 2013

In 2013 the city rallied to protect the Brown School Park after the Brown School was decommissioned. The neighborhood desperately wanted to at least keep some of the community feeling that the Brown School created. Citizens worked really hard on a petition drive to protect the Brown School Park. And on September 30, 2013 the Newburyport City Council passed an Order that protects about 10,000 square feet of the Brown School for a park in perpetuity, it was then approved by the Newburyport School Committee.

The 2013 Order to protect the Brown School Park

The 2013 Order to protect the Brown School Park
The 2013 Order to protect the Brown School Park

In the fall of 2013 Mayor Donna Holaday reassured the South End that the Brown School would not be closed, “we were considering the possibility of selling the school for some mixed-use housing, but after listening to residents and looking at the broader school and youth needs of our city, we believe we have come up with and better option.” Mayor Holaday’s words, not mine.

Mayor Holaday’s 2013 Letter

Mayor Holaday’s 2013 Letter Not to Sell the Brown School
Mayor Holaday’s 2013 Letter Not to Sell the Brown School

In 2014 the City spent $40,000 on the Brown School Feasibility Study *, which is excellent. However it does point out that in 2014 the Brown School and the land is worth over $5 million * (it has recently been appraised at $5.8 million) and the cost in 2014 to develop/fix the Brown School is close to $14 million — that’s a total of $19-20 million dollars *, that’s a lot of money.

This year, just recently the mayor did a complete about face. In the Thursday January 25th meeting the mayor said that the Newburyport Youth Services (NYS) would be removed from the building *** (the Brown School neighborhood loves having the NYS there **) and the building would be used for all affordable housing. In my opinion that is nuts given the density of the neighborhood and the parking and traffic issues.

To my dismay, what now seems to be happening is that the neighborhood and the Brown School Park are now pitted against the affordable housing folks which is awful. We want to work together to meet all the needs, not have the community divided against each other.

These are Links to:

The Brown School Re-Use Updates

* The Brown School Re-Use Feasibility Study 10/30/14

**The Public Comments (which are very favorable) to the draft of the feasibility study and options as of 11/18/14

*** From an email from the Director of Youth and Recreation Services, Newburyport Youth Services (NYS), February 1, 2018

“Dear NYS Friends and Families,

It was announced last Thursday at a public meeting that NYS will no longer be part of the re-use proposals for the Brown School. The plan, as of now, is that the City hopes to move forward with a Request for Proposals (RFP) to developers focused on creating affordable housing. At the meeting, the Mayor did state the City may retain the gymnasium (to be overseen by NYS) and then find, buy, lease or build a new space for NYS.”

Meetings that Push Agendas Rather than have Thoughtful Critiques — Recently the Reuse of the Brown School

Push an agenda

Last year I worked on a national level to save the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from Republican repeal efforts. It was fascinating and not unlike local politics. And my experience in local politics helped me emotionally navigate this new political terrain.

I joined up online with a bunch of folks at Vox.com, the group is called “A Community for Obamacare Enrollees by Vox.com.”  And one of the things we did was organize people to go to Capital Hill for committee meetings on health care. I watched a ton of meetings on Capital Hill, and my frustration was immense. The meetings by the Republicans in February 2017 were completely choreographed to produce a result that promoted their agenda, it wasn’t about an honest discussion at all. Later in the year, there was actually a great series of health care committee meetings, and they were completely different. Everyone on both sides of the aisle listened to a variety of witnesses with very different viewpoints. They were rational, constructive and very informative and a really good example of governing. I was really impressed.

In Newburyport we are not immune from meetings that are what I call “push agenda meetings,” that have a specific end goal in mind and are not an open discussion of different possibilities and options. The first one I went to was a sub-committee on plastic bags, it was a nightmare, the process was so bad that I blogged about it.

I remember writing that the meeting seemed to me to be more about a homily to a plastic bag ban, than a how could we problem solve this together as a community. It was stacked with anti-plastic bag folks from Newburyport as well as folks from as far away as Boston.  There was a woman at that meeting, not from Newburyport, who had the gall to say that plastic bag lobbyists lived among our wards and were giving bribes to our city councilors – which was absolutely nuts. Did the folks who were running the meeting, who were City Councilors, bat an eye. No they did not. And any suggestion of having a nuanced approach was shouted down by people in the meeting. The meeting was completely out of control. I vowed I would never, ever go to a Newburyport civic meeting again. But I did.

I went to the public meeting on the 40R, it was a joint meeting with the City Council and the Planning Board. I had a lot of questions about the 40R and so did a lot of folks. My impression was that the meeting was stacked in favor of the 40R (and later a City Councilor quite proudly told me that yes indeed, the meeting was stacked in favor of the 40R, they made sure that it was). Lots of folks spoke in favor of the 40R and were warmly received. Anyone with questions, were dismissed. I walked out. Friends of mine who went, who had lots of very smart reservations about the 40R, asked me what was going on, they could not believe it. Unfortunately I said they were right. Any sort of practical or thoughtful critique of the 40R proposal was not part of the “agenda.”

The recent “neighborhood” meeting on the reuse of the Brown School was a stacked meeting for affordable housing. Anyone who knows me at all, knows that the fact that Newburyport has become so unaffordable really upsets me, and I am all for affordable housing with a big and small “A.” The meeting was not for the neighborhood to constructively discuss what to do with the Brown School and discuss what to do about affordable housing in Newburyport and at the Brown School. The meeting was to push an agenda for the Brown School by the current administration. I’ve been told that there were folks from outside the neighborhood (all well meaning) who showed up to speak in favor of all affordable housing for the Brown School, which is very different from what the city proposed in 2014And I’ve also been told that the neighbors who had reservations about the idea felt intimidated about speaking up. This surprises me not at all.

So, for the neighbors of the Brown School who would like a say in what happens (and it’s very complicated, I’m not saying it’s not), please email the mayor and all the Newburyport City Councilors with your thoughts, ideas and concerns. They will not be able to make an informed decision if they do not hear from you. The City Councilor’s contact information is here.

Push

An Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District that Would Make it Pedestrian Friendly Sooner Rather than Later

I am relieved.

One of my many concerns about Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth District (SGD) around the Traffic Circle is that the goal is to make the area pedestrian friendly, and it is one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous area for any pedestrian in the city. There is no safe way to get from State Street over to the Train Station or visa versa.  There were some vague  promises that the area would be addressed, but there was never anything ever from MassDOT saying, yup, this is exactly what we are planning to do to remedy the situation and this is when we are going to do it.

Area in the Proposed Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District
Area in the Proposed Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District

Along comes Newburyport City Councilor Jared Eigerman with a proposed amendment, to temporarily put on hold a small area of the 40R SGD, to encourage the state to come to the table and improve that area of Rt. 1 so that it is finally SAFE.  Yeah!! I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this from Councilor Eigerman, along with the co-sponsor of the amendment, City Councilor Bob Cronin.

There are a couple of maps in this post that outlines the parcels/area in question.

And there is absolutely no reason not to do this.

1) This would not affect anyone’s property rights, as I understand it, the old zoning in that smaller area would apply, until the state made sure it was safe to get to the Train Station from that small but crucial area, and then the 40R zoning would kick back in.

2) It would not affect affordable housing, the 40R still has a bundle of space to build in, until this particular issue is addressed, and then it would be safe to get from the Train Station to State Street, so that it would then actually make some sense to build more housing units on State Street, because it would then be pedestrian friendly.

3) It would not jeopardize the 40R Smart Growth District in any way.

4) And this concept came from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so why in the world would the state not want to step up to the plate sooner rather than later, to make this whole area, their concept, happen in the way that it was intended.

Area in the Proposed Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District
Area in the Proposed Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District

I wrote all of my Newburyport City Councilors and Mayor Holaday expressing my enthusiasm for this proposal, and except for a few responses, it’s been “radio silence,” which concerns me.

Below is the amendment drafted by Councilor Eigerman that went before the City Council and is now in committee.

“4. Intersection of State and Parker Streets. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Zoning Ordinance, until such time as the City’s Director of Public Services certifies to the City Council that U.S Route 1 has been rebuilt, reconfigured, retrofitted, or otherwise improved to ensure safe pedestrian access across U.S. Route 1 within the SGD and south of Parker Street, development of a Project pursuant to this Section shall not permitted at any of the following parcels located near the intersection of State Street and Parker Street: Parcel 34-5 (165 State Street); Parcel 34-6 (3 Parker Street); Parcel 34-9-A (4 Parker Street); Parcel 34-11 (163-165 State Street); Parcel 34-12 (161 State Street); and Parcel 34-13 (151-155 State Street).”

The different parcels are marked on the maps.

This is what Distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process (and it’s not what you think)

This is what distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process.

By sinabeet on Flickr, "Hand say Hand Listen, Creative Commons License
By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

The problem is with the citizens of Newburyport who are not paying attention, not with the elected officials and folks on volunteer boards who made the Smart Growth 40R District happen.

1) This is not new.

The 40R was first proposed way, way back in 2004.  This idea is not new to Newburyport. People are presenting this new zoning law as if it just came out of the blue. They are wrong.

2) No one was paying attention.

  • If people had been paying attention to the 40R as early as January 2014, things might have turned out much differently.
  • I was blogging about it since January 2015, and no one was listening, and I couldn’t get anyone to listen.  I actually went around and talked to people explaining that this was probably one of the biggest long term projects that Newburyport was looking at, and it would affect everyone.  I actually had people turn their backs on me and walk away while I was talking in mid-sentence.  No one cared.
  • I talked to at least one city councilor who had reservations about the project, and they couldn’t get anyone to listen either.  We both agreed that trying to get people to pay attention was like talking to a wall.

3) Do not complain after the fact.

If you do not show up and pay attention EARLY in the process when things are being decided and problem solving is taking place, do not complain after the fact.

4) Pay attention NOW.

This is a multi decade project that will go through multiple administrations and planning directors. The 2 things that are on the docket now is the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.

5) Stop making excuses.

If you really care about this project, and just don’t want to complain about it, follow those 2 initial projects, the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.  If you cannot make it to meetings, talk to city councilors and other people who do attend those meetings.  You can find out who is interested by asking around (I do), or reading the minutes (I do), which are online on the city’s website, see who shows up and contact them. Reading the minutes of the meetings helps too.

6) Stop throwing people under the bus because you think that they are not listening to you.

The time to get elected officials and volunteer boards to listen to you is in the BEGINNING of a project when decisions are being made — not after all the work has been done. Stop throwing elected officials and volunteer board members under the bus, because you were not paying attention when this 40R Smart Growth District was being worked on.

Things I Look for in a Newburyport City Councilor

Gandhi quote: You must be the change you wish to see in the world
You must be the change you wish to see in the world – Gandhi

There is a local Newburyport election coming up on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 for Newburyport City Councilors at Large, and City Councilors in Ward 1 and Ward 4, as well as Newburyport City School Committee members (for a list of candidates please press here).

There are a number of issues on people’s minds — the Waterfront, Schools, 40R Smart Growth District, Historic Preservation, seem to be the 4 that come to my mind. And each of the two Ward races have their own specific issues.

There are 2 characteristics that I look for in a City Councilor, whether I agree with their stances on certain issues or not.

1) An ability to have a dialogue with their constituents. Not to give the people that they represent their “spiel” on their stance on certain issues, but an ability to truly listen to the people that they speak for.  And also an ability to explain how they feel on a particular issue at that moment, which is different than a spiel — it assumes that City Councilors are problem-solvers, not people who proselytize. I think one of the worst things for a person talking to a City Councilor is to feel ignored, to feel invisible and to feel as if their insights are insignificant.

The issues in front of the city are all complex, and often have no easy answers, because life, people and civic issues are complicated. And to come to a conclusion on how to solve problems as a civic leader is not an easy one, and at the end of the day decisions are made.  And as a caveat to Newburyport’s electorate, it helps to get involved at the beginning of whatever issue/process is at hand.  To show up on the Newburyport City Council floor for the first time, at the second reading (which is the last reading of when something passes) with a short tempered opinion, is not part of a problem solving approach. In civics, it is a two way street.  Show up and pay attention early, and then tell what you believe to be the truth about an issue that you believe in, but show up, pay attention and get the facts first.

2) Civility. I think that this is a very important characteristic, and vital in having the ability to have a dialogue, build trust and problem-solve.  If someone, in the course of my civic involvement, has called me a “Nazi controlling zealot,” which is their right in a society that values free speech, it is difficult for me to imagine that person being capable of a civil, problem-solving dialogue as a city councilor.  It is also hard for me to imagine voting for a city councilor who has been arrested for assault. I believe in second chances, but this would give me pause in voting for someone as an elected official (although it has been pointed out to me that we had a mayor run the city from jail, and that the city named a bridge after him).

And another caveat to the Newburyport electorate. It would be great if civility worked both ways. The abuse that city councilors can get from the people that they try their darndest to represent, is often astounding and just downright mind-boggling.

Newburyport Full-Blown Gentrification, Beyond High End to Luxury Real Estate and Smart Growth

Yesterday when I looked on Zillow, I counted 23 properties above a million dollars for sale in Newburyport, most of them significantly above a million dollars and one for 3.2 million dollars.

I think that it is safe to say that Newburyport is now in full-blown gentrification and is going beyond “high end” to what I would call “luxury” real estate.

Million dollar house for sale in Newburyport
Newburyport house being sold for 3.2 Million (on the City’s website)

When I first moved here, the large houses on High Street and elsewhere throughout Newburyport’s Historic District were often chopped up and used as rental units. Later in the the 1990s many of them were made into condos. If one of them was turned back into its one-family state, that was mighty unusual. And when I lived downtown in the 1990s, there was a rooming house next door, and the police were there all the time (Newburyport was a very different place even a short while ago). That location is no longer a rooming house. Starting in the beginning of the first decade of the 21st Century large houses began to be turned back to one family homes. 182 High Street is an example of a place that was once a pretty rundown rental property, that was restored to its former glory.

From the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.
Newburyport before Urban Renewal, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport before Urban Renewal, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

And one of the places that I’ve watched being restored is on High Street between Federal and Lime (not on the Ridge).  It used to be the Harbor School, a residential program for “troubled and neglected” young people.

It was bought after the economy collapsed, and the Harbor Schools sold it to pay its debts.  It is now being restored.  It is not being restored to the way many Newburyport preservationists would like.  It is a “down to the studs” restoration project.  It has been reconfigured inside the way people would like to live today (see earlier post).  Although it is not using the original materials (although the front door looks original!!), and the original layout, the original details have been meticulously duplicated — the house is being restored to its former grandeur.  This is not the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s in Newburyport anymore.

And that got me thinking about the Smart Growth, 40R  project around the Traffic Circle (see earlier posts).  I have many reservations about the project. It is very idealistic in its goal to get people out of their cars.  I would like very much if it succeeded in that goal.  The Minco project in its current renderings is ugly.  I do not think it is too much to ask for a “classy” gateway to Newburyport, this rendering is anything but “classy.”  I think the optimistic  projections about how the area will impact traffic and the schools are possibly misguided. All that being said, with Newburyport in full-blown gentrification, the city needs places where middle class folks, who want to live here, can reside.

The Minco Building, Smart Growth, 40R
The Minco building, Smart Growth, 40R

The Smart Growth, 40R project has been approved by the Newburyport Planning Board, and the Newburyport City Council Planning and Development Committee, and it looks like it has the votes to pass in the City Council.  This project is part of this chapter of Newburyport’s history, and I hope it materializes the way it has been envisioned.

P.S. Here is a good blog post on gentrification by Jerry Mullins.

Newburyport Candidates running for City Council and School Committee, 2015

City of Newburyport

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ward 1
Edward Waldron III, 14 Oak St,  Facebook Page
Sharif Zeid, 192 Water St,  Website

Ward 2
Jared Eigerman, 83 High St, Incumbent, Facebook Page

Ward 3
Robert Cronin, 126 Merrimac St, #46, Incumbent, Website

Ward 4
Charles Tontar, 29 Jefferson St, Incumbent,  Facebook Page
Sean McDonald, 9 Farrell St, Blog, Facebook Page

Ward 5
Larry Giunta Jr., 139 Crow Lane, Incumbent, Facebook page, Website/Blog,

Ward 6
Thomas O’Brien, 11 Moseley Ave, Incumbent

Newburyport Councilor at Large (5 seats)

Laurel Allgrove, 22 Beacon Ave., #2
Ed Cameron, 17 Oakland St, Incumbent, Website, Facebook Page
Barry Connell, 36 Woodland St, Incumbent
Greg Earls, 25 Milk St, former City Councilor and mayoral candidate, Website
Robert Germinara, 2 Ashland St
Lyndi Lanphear, 347 High St, Website
Sheila Mullins, 7 Parsons St, Website
Bruce Vogel, 90 Bromfield St, Incumbent, Website
Joseph Devlin, 3 Dexter Lane ,  Facebook page

Here is a link to a list of video interviews of all but 2 of the Newburyport City Councilors that are running, both in Ward races and At-Large races. The videos have been produced by Citizens for Environmental Balance (CEB) and they are very informative.

And here is a link to the Newburyport City Councilor-at-Large debate held on October 20, 2015. The sponsers were The Daily News of Newburyport, the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, WNBP radio, and Port Media.

Newburyport Local Pulse podcast with all 9 Newburyport City Councilors-at-Large.

Newburyport School Committee (3 seats)

Christine Miller, 12 1/2 Market St, Facebook page
Bruce Menin, 83 Lime St, Incumbent
Peter McClure, 28 Federal St, Facebook page
Nicholas deKanter, 19A Congress St, Incumbent

Running unopposed for a two year School Committee seat:
David Hochheiser Blog/Website

There is no election for mayor. This is the first year that Newburyport will be voting for the City Council and the School Committee without voting for a mayor.  The mayoral term is now four years. The mayor is Donna Holaday.

Where to Vote!!

Where to Vote
Where to Vote

And if you do not know where to vote, there is  a very cool tool to find out where to vote in Newburyport, Tuesday, November 3, 2015.

You just enter your street number, the street’s name, and your city or town, or your zip code, and it tells you exactly where to go (it even tells you which ward you are in, and how to get in touch with the City Clerk). It can be found here.

Ward 1 — Methodist Church, 64 Purchase Street
Ward 1 Plum Island — Plum Island Boat House, 300 Northern Boulevard, Plum Island
Ward 2 — Brown School, 40 Milk Street
Wards 3 and 4 — Hope Church, 11 Hale Street
Wards 5 and 6 — The new Senior Community Center, 331 High Street  (In the past, these wards voted at the Bresnahan Elementary School.)

_____________________________________________________________________

The Order for the Newburyport City Council-at-Large candidates as they will be on the ballot.

Councillor-at-Large 2 YEAR TERM

(9 CANDIDATES FOR 5 SEATS…IN ORDER ON THE BALLOT)

Lyndi L. Lanphear
Gregory D. Earls
Sheila A. Mullins
Barry N. Connell (Candidate for Re-Election)
Laurel R. Allgrove
Bruce L. Vogel (Candidate for Re-Election)
Robert A. Germinara
Joseph H. Devlin
Edward C. Cameron, Jr. (Candidate for Re-Election)

Newburyport 2015 ballot
The Absentee Ballot which looks like the November 3, 2015 ballot

The Newburyport Absentee Ballot which looks like the November 3, 2015 ballot. This is the Ward 5 ballot, all the ward ballots will look different.

Newburyport, Proposed 40R Smart Growth Update

Here is a link to the application that the City of Newburyport made for the proposed 40R Smart Growth District (It has all kinds of links and information on it), it can be found here.

Here is a photo of the proposed Minco building (it is now in the public domain), which is the cornerstone of the proposed 40R District, and that I think is  ugly.

Minco Building
The Minco building

Here are two of the new maps of the proposed Smart Growth 40R

Smart Growth 40R map
40R Smart Growth map
Smart Growth 40R map
Smart Growth 40R map

And here is a table for the Water and Sewer capacity for the 40R District which also includes the number of bedrooms and the number of apartment units.

Water and Sewer capacity and number of bedroom and units
Water and Sewer capacity and number of bedroom and units

 

Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth, Trying to Bring Back Rental Units to the City, and the Data from 1989 to 2010 of the Rising Income Gap

Income percentages in Newburyport from 1989-2010 from the City of Newburyport's website
Income percentages in Newburyport from 1989-2010 from the City of Newburyport’s website

It is really hard to find a place to rent in Newburyport these days. If you go to Zillow and look for rentals in Newburyport, it’s very depressing.  That is why the city is so hopeful about the proposed 40R, which is a real effort to bring back rental units back to Newburyport.

Here is a document from the city that articulates with data the gentrification that has taken place since Urban Renewal, especially interesting is the “Income Distribution by Household, 1989 to 2010″ on page 20 (an image of the table is in this post), that document can be read here.

In 1989 the largest percentage of income was $10,000-24,999. In 2010 the largest percentage is $150,000+, and that is in 2010, when we were still in the “great recession,” and I would think in 2015 that percentage would be much, much greater now.

And here is Jerry Mullins’, over at Brick and Tree, worst fears about what would happen to the proposed 40R. That post can be read here.

And here is a link to the discussion on The Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page, it can be read here.

Previous post on the proposed 40R District can be found here.

Here are some more table from the City of Newburyport’s report “Income Distribution by Household, 1989 to 2010.”

renters
Renters and Owners
Housing values
Housing values
Rental costs
Rental costs

And here is a map of the proposed 40R Smart Growth District.

A map of Newburyport's proposed 40R District.
A map of Newburyport’s proposed 40R District.

The Proposed 40R Minco Building is Ugly

The Minco Building
The Minco building

Editor’s note: The Minco Building, the image, as of June 19, 2015, is now in the public domain.

Map of the proposed 40R District
Map of the proposed 40R District

I cannot put an image up of the proposed Minco building because of copyright issues, but you can see it if you press here. (Editor’s note, it is now included in the post because the image, as of June 19, 2015, is now in the public domain.)

The only place left to build in Newburyport is around the train station and the traffic circle.

For years (since 2004) Newburyport has been talking about creating a “40R smart growth” district, which, “encourages communities to create dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including a high percentage of affordable housing units, to be located near transit stations, in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations.”

All of this could be very, very good, if not great, BUT, we are creating a new gateway to the city. If the new zoning 40R passes, the Minco building behind the train station will be the first project. IT IS UGLY. And it is important that it not be ugly, because it will set the standard by which other structures that (probably would be built over a 20 year period) would refer to.

ALSO… the traffic circle eventually would be eliminated. There are no drawings, no plans, no nothing that would demonstrate what that might, could, should look like. It could be great, mediocre or awful.  At this point it seems that the sentiment is pass the 40R District so that the Minco building can get built, and just hope for the best.

There are NO drawing to show, if/when actually built, what the 40R district would look like (we only have the rendering of the ugly Minco building to go by).  This is not good. And whoever is responsible, needs to get their act together and come up with these two renderings, so that an intelligent and informed opinion can be made.

Previous posts on the proposed 40R District can be read here.

The draft of the proposed ordinance can be read here.

The First Draft of the 40R District around the Train Station

I’ve seen the first draft of the new 40R Smart Growth District around the train station.

The proposed 40R District (see previous post) would allow for mixed use buildings near the train station, traffic circle, parts of Rt 1 and the area on lower State Street between Lunt and Kelly and the edge of the cemetery. There is a new updated map (see below), the larger area subdistrict B is zoned for 4 story buildings (45 ft), Subdistricts A and C is zoned for 3 story building (35 ft), and the Minco building would be zoned for 5 stories (55 ft).

Portland-Wikipedia
Four story buildings in Portland Maine, please press image to enlarge.

And I’ve gone on a hunt for some good looking 4 story buildings. I have found only one photo that is in the public domain, it is in Portland Maine.

I’m a little confused about Google’s copyright laws, and WordPress does not allow me to embed Google’s images, so what I’ve done is put links to 4 story buildings in Portland ME, Providence RI and Haverhill MA. Haverhill has, on Washington Street, what I think is a gorgeous, but rundown historic section of 4 story building. I love them.

And when you press on the links for the different cities, you can go on a “Google drive” through the areas and see what you thinks works and what does not work. Interesting stuff. Also, the buildings take a few seconds to show up after you press the links.

Portland Maine’s links can he found here, here, here, here and here.
Providence Rhode Island’s links can be found here, here and here.
Haverhill Mass links can be found here, here and here.

Newburyport-40R-Smart-Growth-Village-District-Map-1-20-2015
Updated 40R Smart Growth Village District map, please press image to enlarge.

In looking at the initial 40R draft (this is just the beginning of a large process that the city will go through) a couple of things stand out.

1) The design review is outstanding. Yah!! I hope that means that the Minco building will be forced to look awesome.

2) There is extensive input into the affordable housing aspect of the district (I’m sure the affordable housing folks with Phd’s in the subject, will have lots of input). It looked great to me.

3) Parking seems a little “skimpy” to me. A residential unit only gets one parking spot. But there is “shared parking,” with businesses and residents, which use parking at different times during the day and week, the objective being not to have lots of wasted, barren parking lots. There are so many people in this city who have Phd’s in parking, and I am not one of them. I am hoping, and pretty sure that they would figure out the “Goldilocks” version of parking, “not too much, not too little, but just right.”

4) The setbacks of the buildings are puzzling to me. There are “no requirements” on setbacks on front, side and rear yards. The way it was explained to me is that there would be no requirements for setbacks for mid-block buildings, but it might be a good idea to look at the setback requirements for intersections (and there seem to me to be a whole lot of intersections). At this point, we do not have close-up renderings of what buildings would look like in different areas of the proposed 40R District.

This is one of my main questions. I can’t imagine 4 story building around the traffic circle where Dunkin’ Donuts is and where the Bird Watcher is located. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live on that dangerous and noisy area, and being so close to a busy traffic circle. Renderings are definitely needed.

5) Not in the 1st draft, but backup information that would be arriving in the coming weeks that would include:

(1) estimated maximum dwelling units
(2) expected sewer flows (and how to pay for them)
(3) expected traffic impacts
(4) renderings/photo-simulations of new buildings
(5) expected impacts on schools
(6) expected c. 40R and c. 40S payments from the Commonwealth
(7) expected property tax revenues

Newburyport’s 40R District around the Train Station

Newburyport is beginning the process of thinking about rezoning the area around the train station, so that there can be a mix of residential units and businesses. This is called a 40R Smart Growth District. This is nothing new, the city has been talking about this since 2004.

“Chapter 40R, encourages communities to create dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including a high percentage of affordable housing units, to be located near transit stations, in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations.”

Here is a 2015 map of the proposed 40R District. It includes the area around Lunt and Kelly, where Dunkin’ Donuts is around the traffic circle, it goes up Rt 1 by Haley’s Ice Cream and includes the proposed building by Minco at the train station.

Newburyport-40R-Smart-Growth-Village-District-Map-12-11-2014-small
The 2015 map of the proposed 40R District (press image to enlarge)

Here are the 2 conceptual drawing that were done in 2004 by the Planning Office. The view is from Parker Street coming from Newbury. The first rendering is the way it looks now, the second rendering, done in 2004 (we don’t have an update yet) is what the proposed 40R District might look like. It’s a little confusing, but if you download the two renderings and put them side by side it becomes a little clearer.

Strategic Land Use Plan-small
The 2004 rendering of how the area looks now (press image to enlarge)
Strategic Land Use Plan2-small
The 2004 rendering of what the 40R District could look like (press image to enlarge).

At the moment there is a certain “rush” to get this 40R District going, because Minco would like to build at the train station (this is nothing new, it has been going on for a while) and has a deadline (which may or may not be flexible). And the city gets money for a 40R District (we always need money).

BUT, I think that it is very important to ask hard questions during this process, and be sure to think things through.

So here are a few of my “hard” questions and concerns and reservations.

1) The Minco design at the train station has to look great. At the moment I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks that it is in anyway acceptable.

2) There needs to be a “design review” for that area. This gateway to the city can’t look awful.

3) Traffic. The maximum buildout, when last I heard was 800 units. Folks that I’ve talked to think that it would be a lot less, more like 500 units. We don’t know the exact numbers yet, but even 400-500 units is a lot.

The 2004 rendering of what the area would look like, seems idyllic to me. There are no cars. If that area were to be built out, at rush hour it would be a complete nightmare.

4) Pedestrian traffic. Even with the rail trail, there is no way to safely and or practically cross either the traffic circle or Route 1 to get downtown, even at the crossing at Rt1 at what is called “Back Bay.” People want to get from the area on foot and they want, and do try to get to State Street, which is insanely dangerous. I think at one point there was an idea for a pedestrian bridge, but, oh my, that would cost so much money.

5) I still can’t envision anyone wanting to live up along Rt1, even with the rail trail there. The view is butt ugly, with Rt1 on onside and a view of the Industrial Park on the other.

6) I also can’t imagine anyone wanting to live around the traffic circle, especially where Dunkin’ Donuts is located. The view towards Newbury as it is now, is lovely. However, I would think living next to a dangerous traffic circle would be unappealing, and figuring out a way to walk from there, much less having a denser number of people trying to exit at that location by car, raises the question of safety to me.

7) The area on State Street.  The intersection where the Court House, Parker Street, State Street and the Traffic Circle intersect is wicked dangerous. I’ve seen really bad accidents there. If that area becomes densely populated, that intersection becomes even more dangerous. And I don’t like the prospect of getting MassDOT involved–Salisbury Square is a cautionary tale for everyone, of what never to do, and of how MassDOT can really mess up an area.

So, I totally get building at the train station if it is done well. And I have a lot of questions about building in the other proposed areas. And I hope, that through this process we don’t ram this through because of Minco’s deadline, and the fact that we would like the money from the state.

Newburyport Carpetbaggers, the 95%

Carpetbagger
Carpetbagger

One Newburyport City Councilor (Dick Sullivan) got up in the Newburyport City Council chambers and lamented that all these “newcomers” were coming in and telling the folks who were born and raised here what to do.

Another Newburyport City Councilor (Tom Jones) got up (Thursday night) and said how Newburyport was a working class town, and seemed to intimate that it was still a working class town.  No it’s not. In the year 2012, Newburyport is an upper-middle class city, quickly approaching a upper class enclave – especially when Mr. Karp starts building.

Honey, it ain’t your father’s Newburyport anymore.

If you haven’t noticed the carpetbagger thing has really, really gotten out of hand lately.  You don’t just have the carpetbaggers who came in the first wave, in the mid to late 1970’s and very early 1980’s,  right after Urban Renewal renewed.  There was a wave in the late 1990’s after the MBTA came back to town. Remember that, a big housing spike when a lot of the old timers cashed in.  I remember folks saying  that it was a joke that anyone would want to live in Newburyport’s South End. There was a lot of bitterness about how high the taxes had gotten because of the housing boom, but that money bought more house not so far away, in a place where there weren’t so many doctors, lawyers and financial folks. Where the working class folks felt more comfortable.

And then the super duper influx around 2005, when Mr. Karp bought so much land and real-estate downtown.  Yup, and people have just kept coming, with more and more money, lots more money.  And the old-timers, the natives, they pay attention and they vote, but their numbers just ain’t what they used to be.  It’s not your father’s Newburyport by any stretch of the imagination, no how, no way, any more.

Stephen Karp’s Visit to Newburyport, MA

I wasn’t at Mr. Karp’s visit to Newburyport, MA (see previous post), and having read all the newspaper articles, blogs and having talked to any number for folks, and having put all of that in a stew in my brain, the following “stuff” has emerged.

It does appear that Mr. Karp did good. As Public Relations go, in fact, of all the many, many ways he could have conducted the evening, it was “brilliant.”

To meet folks in person before hand, I gotta tell you, A+. (Does this blogger feel a little bit arrogant giving a developer of Mr. Karp stature, grades that one receives in High School? Yup, she does.) Being the only one to address the audience, relaxed, joking, in shirt sleeves and taking questions–as my son would say, “classic.” Definitely good go’n Mr. Karp.

Stressing public input and public process, on the record no less, well, this blogger likes this big time.

However, there were a few, “wait a moment” moments for moi.

The stress on the city coming up with a solution to the parking issue.

My first thought was, well, we’ve been fighting over this since the automobile first made its appearance, good luck with that one. I guess nothing is ever going to get built on Waterfront West or East. As my mother would say “tant pis,” or French for “too bad.”

And then I thought, hmm, the best proposed location for a parking garage by far, in my opinion, had been on the Lomardi Oil site, on Merrimac Street, behind the Newburyport police station. The Newburyport Planning Office had come up with a pretty awesome design (it failed in the Newburyport City Council at the time by one vote–in hindsight, it appears to be an “oh dear”).

And Mr. Karp has mentioned that he would not be opposed to a public, private enterprise. So 2 great locations on Mr. Karp’s property. Around the Fitness Factory, but even better, a well designed garage right off of Route 1 where the land going down to Michael’s Harborside is, and where I gather the hotel-condominium is being proposed. I think that the citizens of Newburyport, MA might go for a parking garage on that site. I have a feeling however, that that might not give the bang for the buck that Mr. Karp could be looking for.

There was a “ding, ding, ding, ding” going off in my head, hearing that when the question was asked, who on the development team would be the contact person for the Newburyport public on this project, and that at that time, no one had been appointed.

And on the subject of affordable housing, it sounds as if Mr. Karp drew a blank, and our own Nancy Colbert (Newburyport’ Planning Director), came to his rescue.

On his blog, Newburyport According to X, Mr. Npbt X had some interesting observations about Mr. Karp’s audience. What can I say, I wasn’t there. An interesting read.

And it appears that the audience broke down into three separate groups: the “skeptical group,” the “cautiously optimistic group,” and the “can I KYA, leechy group.” All of which, I would imagine, in Mr. Karp’s long career, must seem all very, very familiar.

So welcome to Newburyport, Stephen Karp.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Sticky Dishes

In a large welcoming, bright warm room, company around a morning cup of coffee at a Senior Center.

In conversation it is mentioned that dishes feel smooth, not sticky or gummy as they do in the small two-room apartment.

Heads tilt and brows furrow. Sticky, gummy dishes.

A visit from a friendly face.

The dishes are in the drying rack next to the sink. But they are gummy and sticky with food that is dried on and never been removed.

It is remarked that a generic bar of soap and a washcloth might not work so well, washing dishes.

A light, small bottle of dishwashing liquid and a scrub sponge cut with scissors to comfortably fit a hand, is produced. The liquid is blue. It is alright, it will not leave a blue color, but clean dishes.

Every dish is plunge into warm soapy water and scrubbed with new scrub sponge, rinsed and left to dry. Instructions follow. The dishes are no longer sticky or gummy.

A promise of a follow up visit to check on new dish washing approach. The generic bar of soap and washcloth are left there for familiarity. The new blue dishwashing liquid stands upright by the side of the sink.

A suggestion to wear glasses when washing dishes. Better to see what could be missed.

Relief. The dishes are smooth. Somebody cares.

Probably would not have happened without a sanctuary, where people know the kind of questions to ask, and do not laugh at or ignore, such small issues. A Senior Center.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Numbing Silence

Silence.

Except for the TV. Silence.

On warmer days a walk.

On return, check the answering machine. No calls.

Last sibling, in another state, died.

No one to check in with.

After initial condolences–nothing. No cards, no phone calls.

Pick up the phone, can’t call, not there anymore.

5 degrees out. Two small rooms. Too cold to venture forth.

Later in a big, bright, welcoming, safe space, a timid mention of no calls on the answering machine, or any ringing of the telephone at all. The defining and deafening stillness. The numbing fear that results.

Someone listens and hears about whispers of a chilling emptiness, talks to someone else, and the telephone starts to ring once a day. “Telephone Reassurance” program initiated by a Senior Center.

Something to look forward to.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Spoiled Milk

8:00 o’clock in the evening. Forgotten to eat. Look into the frig. The milk looks odd. Not sure why.

Cream colored clumps at the top of the clear plastic bottle. Don’t know.

2 eggs left. Boiling water, not a good idea. Pot is heavy. Spills and burns.

Too tired to scramble.

Too dark at night, too cold, too difficult to plan ahead. No extra money for a pizza. Box too heavy. Delivery person not like putting it on table. Unhappy, no money for a well deserved tip. What to do with the 7 other pieces?

Cereal. Don’t know about the milk. Water from the tap and Cheerios for dinner.

Losing weight.

In a large brightly lit room, warm faces fuss. Despite a lunch-time meal, look thin.

Correct.

Concern about the odd looking milk. Relief. An explanation. Don’t drink it.

A warm unknown friend comes to look at the refrigerator. Sees it empty.

A plan. A person to help.

Who would know if not for that brightly lit, welcoming, warm place. A Senior Center. Enough time to see the difference, how thin. Someone seems to know what to do.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport