Category Archives: Real Estate

Real estate, property consisting of land or buildings, in Newburyport, MA

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.

Slouching towards Bethlehem, Newburyport’s Smart Growth, 40R District

Seal of the City of Newburyport

When Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth District passed on the second reading by the Newburyport City Council on Monday night, I had sort of a sinking feeling, a slight feeling of foreboding.  Not necessarily because I think it might not work, and that really smart people, who care a great deal about our city, did their very best to create it over an 11 year period. My guess is that as a city we will “Slouch towards the 40R Smart Growth District” over the next couple of decades, parts of it working, parts of it sort of working and parts of it, not so much.  10-20 years from now, the city will have some idea if this was the “best of ideas,” or the “worst of ideas,” or something inbetween.

(And for all of you who are up in arms about the 40R District, the next actual concrete thing on the Smart Growth 40R docket, is when the Minco building comes up in front of the Planning Board for review (which is probably pretty soon) — if you cared enough to sign a petition about the 40R, please be there and speak up about it!!)

My foreboding, as I think and mull on it, is the feeling of “backlash” and “hysteria,” about what this project represents to I would say to a good 85% of the people that I talked to.  What I hear over and over and over again, is that there is so much happening in the civics/political world of Newburyport, the Smart Growth 40R District being the most recent, that people feel overwhelmed by it all and feel that things are out of control.  And they feel this very, very strongly.  Notice the use of the verb “feel.”  As a friend of mine says, “Feelings are not facts.” But, when it comes to the world of local politics, especially 4 weeks out from an election for Newburyport City Council (see earlier post for the candidates), the feeling/fact thing is important, and could (we will find out) be a motivating factor in the election.

When I talked to people yesterday and the days before that, yesterday being the primary election for Ward 1, one of the major things on folks’ minds, aside for the smell from the Water and Sewer Plant, you got it, the 40R Smart Growth District. And who did they vote for (I am sure there are many other reasons as well, I’m not saying that this is the only one), they voted for Sharif Zeid , an incredibly bright and engaging young man, who at the Ward 1 Meet and Greet, talked very eloquently about his reservations about the size of the 40R District. I was sitting at the back of the room at the Emma Andrews Library and Community Center, and you could almost see peoples’ heads going up and down in agreement.

(Just as a btw, the fact that a mere 10% of the voting population showed up to vote in the Ward 1 Primary for City Council is a bit discouraging, voting is a privilege, and who you vote for has consequences.)

This upcoming City Council election on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 is important for all sorts of reasons. Be sure to vote.  Make sure to vote with your head and your heart, and not with your panic button.

And as a PS

Ward 1 Primary Election Results

Sharif Zeid 143,  Ted Waldron 98,  Mike Ferrick 33
Mainland:  Sharif Zeid 130, Ted Waldron 65
Plum Island:  Sharif Zeid 13, Ted Waldron 33

Is Newburyport no Longer a Place where the Middle Class are Welcomed?


Within the last year I’ve had two experiences that I hope, hope, hope are not indicative of a trend.

I need some things done around my reasonably modest dwelling, and I went looking for quotes.

For the first undertaking, I got one quote from a young man, who was highly recommended, it was 7.5 to 5 times higher than other quotes.  This was a young man in his 30s. Apparently he felt that, if I was willing to pay such an exorbitant price, it was gravy for him, otherwise he wasn’t interested.  I said no, and told everyone about him, and everyone I told was pretty shocked.

It happened again, about 10 months later, a completely different sort of task.  Another young man in his 30s. This time it was only 4 times the going rate. And when I asked if the person would accept a lower price, because it was so outrageous (and I was very, very tactful), the reply I got, “It just doesn’t make sense for me to spend anymore time on this so I’m going to pass on the job.” Believe me, as a consumer, I am allowed to asked questions, get quotes. I’ve never before felt as if I’d been “fired” by someone I asked whether or not they might be able to assist me.

If I lived in Salisbury or Amesbury, would I have gotten this same treatment? I’m guessing, probably not. But then again, if I lived in Salisbury or Amesbury, they might not have even bothered to return my phone call, because apparently so much money can be made off of the people who now live in Newburyport, MA.

I was talking to a friend about the “chutzpa” (shameless audacity, impudence) and dismissiveness, and they said, it’s probably because of the kind of people moving into Newburyport now.  There is now a gorgeous multi-million dollar home within sight of where I live (it was not a multi-million dollar property before, see earlier post), a middle class family is not going to buy that one.

It feels as if Newburyport has gone over a tipping point. It feels as if this is not a place for the middle class, i.e. teachers, nurses, accountants, middle class professionals to find a home anymore. There was once a spot where there was a balance of the “old guard/natives” and the new arrivals. The carpetbaggers had come in, but they were teachers, nurses, accountants, people with small businesses, artists, craftsmen, writers, even some doctors and lawyers. It feels as if Newburyport may soon no longer be hospitable to those folks either.

Are we going from gentrification, which has been described as “the conversion of working class areas into a middle-class area,” to an exclusive, luxury municipal location that only the very wealthy can inhabit–what Nantucket has now become? And Stephen Karp hasn’t even started to build yet.

Newburyport, The Stretch Code and Historic Preservation

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Jerry Mullins over at Brick and Tree is on a tear about the city’s Stretch Code.

Jerry is right, the Stretch Code does not apply to historic buildings in Newburyport. This is from the Q&A from the Green Communities Grant Program (page 4):

12. Does the stretch code apply to historic buildings?
Both the stretch code and the base energy code exempt historic buildings listed in state or national registers, or designated as a historic property under local or state designation law or survey, or with an opinion or certification that the property is eligible to be listed.

According to Jerry this information is not being explained in a comprehensive manner by the folks responsible at City Hall. And unlike Jerry, I am unwilling to throw the mayor and the building inspector under the bus, because I think that it is more complicated.

The EPA has a pamphlet on “Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes,” in which they give great advice and information, and also talk about “comfort levels.”

When I bought my first home in Newburyport in 1981, a historic home, it never occurred to anyone I knew to take an old historic home down to the studs. We did a lot of things recommended by the pamphlet by the EPA, but we were also willing to live with a lower “comfort level” for the privilege of living in a historic house. Yes, the houses were drafty* but that was just part of the deal, and also the codes are very different today, then they were in 1981.

My impression is that folks who are buying homes today in Newburyport want a 100% “comfort level.” It’s not just what the building inspector may or may not be saying, bottom line, the people moving here now often want a new home inside an old shell, (please see a previous post about other things that folks want, and Alex Dardinski’s very thoughtful reply). How to balance historic preservation, and all the regulations and expectations in the year 2015 in Newburyport?? I do not think that there are easy answers to that question.

Alex Dardinski articulated his point of view, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

*This is from “Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes”

“Walls: To insulate or not to insulate?
Wall insulation can be problematic in historic structures as it is difficult to install properly due to the unpredictable nature of historic walls.
• There may be old knob and tube wiring in the wall which would present a fire hazard.
• Blocking, fire stops, or forgotten or obsolete chases will result in cold pockets. Anywhere the insulation does not or cannot reach, such as the junction between the exterior wall and the floor joists, can create thermal bridging. These cold pockets and thermal bridges set up areas where moisture can condense. (Imagine a cold glass on a hot day and the beads of water than form on the glass to understand this concept.)
• Any time you have moisture in the wall, the possibility of decay and mold increases.
• Pumping in dense pack cellulose insulation in the walls can cause the keys that attach plaster walls to the supporting lath can be broken, necessitating repairs.

The trouble and expense of insulating historic walls may not be the best bang for your buck. Once you have air sealed and insulated your attic, tuned up (or replaced your furnace), and completed some of the higher priority energy saving techniques you might then consider insulating your walls but get advice from an expert. By undertaking these other energy-saving measures first, you may find that your comfort level goes up and your energy expenses go down significantly without the need to insulate the walls.

If your home dates to the 1850s or earlier and its frame is made of wood, there is a good chance that is has post and beam construction rather than balloon framing. This is an important consideration if you’re thinking about adding insulation in the walls.

Without modern vapor barriers and insulation, air and moisture in the house moved more easily between inside and outside. Adding insulation to the wall cavities without understanding how the house functions as a system and without establishing new ways to circulate air through the home can cause moisture to accumulate. High moisture levels can result in mold and rot, creating serious problems for the homeowner as well as unnecessary expense.”

Newburyport’s Future, Balancing the Love of New with the Love of Old, Historic Preservation

This is Alex Dardinski’s reply on Facebook to an earlier post of mine, “Newburyport is Losing its Patina, and Historic Preservation.”

“I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”

House before renovation © Alex Dardinski

House before renovation, photo courtesy of Alex Dardinski

I think about this concept all the time in my work life designing products,  as well as my personal life, restoring a historic Newburyport home — how to balance the love of new with the love of old? The term I always come back to is “palimpsest,” which in architectural terms would be the traces of the many years of use and reuse upon a facade or plan.

I struggle with the notion of doing a perfect museum grade restoration for many of the reasons that you have stated. I have lead paint concerns with my young family. I want a more open plan than the carpenters of the 19th century could provide. I want to have some modern conveniences too. I also want my house to have some patina, some soul. A connection to its past with real quality materials that were crafted when the house was built.  The best find I ever made in my house was evidence that my house was “converted” from a square 2 story box into a stately 3 story second empire victorian by the Caldwell Rum family. That was an earth shattering revelation. I wonder how controversial that was at the time. It was a pure case of gentrification, circa 1870! But that is my favorite detail about my house and that part of its history makes me love it even more.

We MUST have some essential historic protections and zoning that keeps the character of our city intact. But I don’t want to live in Williamsburg either, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.

The first room I renovated when I was 25 years old was truly in need of a gutting. It was heavily water damaged and the horsehair plaster was falling off the walls. I took out the plaster, accidentally destroyed most of the trim, then went the lath, then I added modern insulation and rewired it all. It was 100% new. Now that is the most soulless sheetrock clad room in my house.  So since that overreach, I have tried to fix real problems more surgically. Leaving many traces of the past as I go, knowing that in 100 years the work I do today will be part of the historic archive too — that the work of every tradesperson that will have touched my house adds to the “palimpsest” of the house.

On a larger scale, that is the story of Newburyport. The first period houses sat far apart from one another on large tracts of land. You see houses that once fronted the river, but now are 2 or more blocks away from the banks. They might face the wrong way from the street and seem odd until you close your eyes and imagine the wide open acres that separated these early structures from one another, long before the streets were fully laid out.

Second period houses came and filled in the density of our historic neighborhoods. That early construction boom must have come as a shock, but it makes the density (and one could argue the sense of community we enjoy is because of it) of our little city. Mid century Italianates then Victorians that must have seemed like modernist heresy to the purely colonial streetscapes of the early 1800’s.  But in retrospect where would we be without them today? They add such color to the fabric of the town.  In the period following the depression and post industrial Newburyport, many bad architectural choices were made, largely out of poverty, and so many of them have been erased in our city’s recent evolution.

So I guess my image of “the right thing to do” on my house of for the town in general is also still evolving. But I know that every change came with controversy. We must recognize that the best changes stand the test of time and the worst most often do not.  We won’t be a town of vinyl siding in 100 years. The good choices will stand and the McMansions and the other the hasty choices will be largely edited away.  We will still be a historic town, a beautiful town. And the things happening today even if controversial will be but one part off the palimpsest of the city’s history.

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Alex Dardinski for his thoughtful, informative and optimistic addition to The Newburyport Blog.

House after renovation

House after renovation

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.

Mobile Phones and Historic Preservation and Losing Newburyport’s Story

I have this theory that mobile phones are changing our culture in ways that its inventor never would have imagined.  And the cell phone has been amazing in many ways, and, I think that they have had some unintended consequences.

The street artist Bansky had something to say about one of those unintended consequences.

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

And I’m wondering what the impact of the culture created around mobile phones has on historic preservation.

With a cellphone culture “immediate and superficial gratification” is taken to a whole new level. It’s a Buzzfeed way of getting information.

What turns up when I search my mobile cell phone for “Newburyport” is Tripadvisor, restaurants and places to shop. The Newburyport Daily News used to be in the top two on a desktop computer.  It’s now more difficult to find the Daily News on a mobile device. It’s hard to find  detailed local content. It’s difficult to find real meaningful, thoughtful content.  Mobile devices are not geared for reading profound and thoughtful knowledge. It’s a Buzzfeed, quick bullet-point, mobile world.

And this has to have some “interesting” effects.

It feels in the new mobile world (which is now global) “new” very suddenly, almost wipes out anything “older.” And sometimes I wonder if  people now look at historic homes with the mindset, as something to be replaced, like an old version of an iphone.

If this is remotely true, and the previous post about HGTV and Newburyport losing its patina, is remotely true, historic preservationist need to rethink their approach. They need to adapt.

This is from Bernice Radle  (now part of HGTV), a preservationist in Buffalo, NY.

“Few people understand the changing nature of preservation, because our reactionary language looks backward and is architecture-centric. We’ve too often allowed ourselves to be framed by others as nostalgic – seeking to return to the past because we can’t cope with the reality of life today.”

There are so many people scrambling to preserve not only Newburyport’s historic homes, but Newburyport’s story as well. And I think for so many people, Newburyport’s story feels as if it’s being lost, it is slipping away, and they are puzzled and sometimes slightly panicked about what to do.

Newburyport is Losing its Patina, and Historic Preservation

Lime Street development

Lime Street development

Definition of Patina:

“A surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use.” Merriam-Webster

If you ever watch anything on TV that has to do with old stuff, from the tonier PBS “Antiques Road Show,” to “Pawn Stars” on the History Channel, something old would be brought in, and if it has been refinished, and the original finish has been removed, whether it’s an old gun, a coin or an old piece of furniture, the value of that piece, whatever it might be, would be greatly, greatly diminished.

When I moved here over 30 years ago, Newburyport had a whole lot of soul and patina. I loved walking down the street and feel the stories behind the homes that I would walk past.

That “patina” in Newburyport is going.  And because The Newburyport Blog was started in part to help fight for that, “patina,” I’ve done a lot of thinking about “why.”

And that brings me to the renovation on Lime and Prospect Street being done by a long time resident and lover of historic houses, Gus. And that renovation has gotten people’s panties in a twist (vast understatement).

Lime Street development

Lime Street development

And this time, instead of being horrified by a “take it down to the studs, gut, reno job,”   I’ve asked myself, Ok, if Gus, the owner and “developer,” who loves historic houses, is going this route, what does it say about us in Newburyport, and us as a society.

1) Lead paint laws
When I used to walk into an old house in Newburyport and see the layers of paint, I’d think, “patina.” Now if I see layers of paint I think, “lawsuit.”  The lead paint laws have done a whole lot to hamper historic preservation everywhere.

2) Newburyport has become a wealthy community, and people expect specific things when buying a house.

Yup, that is my thought. HGTV has done a whole lot to influence about what people think they want when they buy a house. And now that Newburyport is upscale, folks expect certain things.
a) Walk in closets.
b) Spa bathrooms.
c) En Suite bathroom
d) Open concept
e) Large kitchens with an island
f) Gas fireplace with a place for a large flatscreen TV over it.

Even 10 years ago, were any of these things a “must have” for your average buyer? Very wealthy people, maybe (Ok, flatscreen TVs didn’t exist even back then), but your average person, 10-15 years ago, I don’t think those things were on their “must have” list.

How we got to that “must have list,” is a whole other post or series of posts, or mulled over in all sorts of books (written by people other than me). But when a house is “developed” all those things, lead paint and the HGTV list come into play.  Not to mention people no longer tolerated drafty houses (they want to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer time, “green stuff,” they would like to save on their heating and cooling bills), and have a hard time with windows that don’t easily go up and down.

Is Newburyport losing its historic character because of the lead paint laws, how people want to live today, the influence of HGTV and the fact that we are now a wealthy community? Alex Dardinski makes a great contribution to that question, when he remarked, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time,” in a reply to this post on The Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page.  And I was so impressed with his thoughtful observations, that I put his whole response up on The Newburyport Blog as a separate post.

Well Loved Newburyport Postcards

Newburyport postcards–whether you’re a native, have lived here for a while or a short time,  people who live in Newburyport seem to love old postcards.

Newburyport Hay Stacks, postcard

Newburyport Hay Stacks, postcard

This postcard is of the haystacks on Newburyport’s Plum Island marsh, when they built the haystacks by hand and not by machine.

YMCA Newburyport, postcard

YMCA Newburyport, postcard

This is of Newburyport’s former YMCA on State Street that burnt down July 1987.  The YMCA was at the corner of State Street and Harris Street, where the expansion of our beautiful Newburyport Library exists today.  The YMCA was so decimated by the fire, that it was un-salvageable, eventually demolished, with a few of it’s elements incorporated into the MBTA train station in 1998.

Old Newburyport Bridge, Postcard

Old Newburyport Bridge, Postcard

This is a post card of Newburyport’s old Bridge, before Rt 1 was built in the 1930s. It is a view from Water Street, downtown Newburyport, looking towards Rings Island, Salisbury, MA.

Newburyport Mall, postcard

Newburyport Mall, postcard

And this is the Bartlet Mall along High Street when the stately elm trees existed. The Court House is to the left, and High Street is to the right.

The Master Plan for the Bartlet Mall had been worked on for a very long time, by a whole lot of people, and was finally finished in 1998. Restoration of the Bartlet Mall took place in 2001, 2003 and 2005. The Bartlet Mall was restored to its original design and the avenue of elm trees was replanted so that one day the beautiful canopy of trees would exist once more..

Newburyport is now High End, it used to be a Slum

On December 7, 2007 I wrote on the Newburyport Blog, wondering if Newburyport was headed for “high-end.”

And seeing where Newburyport has come since then, even in a short amount of time, now in July 2015, the answer is definitely, “Yes.” And I’m guessing it’s going to get more and more “high end.”

Market Square, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

Downtown Newburyport, Water Street, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film”A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

And this is where we as a city were back in 1970. Yes, Newburyport was a slum, it is really different now (vast understatement).

The film “A Measure of Change” was made in 1975 by Lawrence Rosenblum (it was uploaded with permission by Jerry Mullins over at Brick and Tree).  It is a film that chronicles the pivotal time (Urban Renewal) when the city transformed itself from a worn-out mill town (a slum) to a vibrant destination city by using historic preservation (first in the nation to use restoration rather than demolition for urban renewal). And Newburyport is now a prototype for other municipalities across the United States.

The photos in this post are still photos from the film. The link to the film “A Measure of Change” on YouTube can be found here.

Link to a Measure of Change

Link to a Measure of Change

Downtown Newburyport, Water Street, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

The Waterfront, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from  the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

The Waterfront, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

From the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge

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 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.

Newburyport’s Proposed 40R and Highway Engineers


What highway engineers might propose for the traffic circle

This is one of the things that concerns me about the proposed 40R Smart Growth District around the traffic circle. Eventually the traffic circle will need to be refigured. I can imagine that highway engineers might recommend something like the drawing above. A light with turning lanes where Route 1 and State Street meet, and a light and turning lanes at State Street and Parker Street. No one would want this (I don’t think).

Existing traffic circle in the proposed 40R District, no guidelines for future development

Existing traffic circle in the proposed 40R District, no guidelines for future development

But, at the moment, in the present draft of the ordinance, there is no mention of what should happen to that very crucial area down the line. Who knows when that might happen, 2, 5, 20 years from now?  And who knows who will be mayor or who the planning director might be, or even if a project of this magnitude could span several administrations and planning directors.


Map of the proposed 40R distrist

It would depend who was in office, if they had the vision and the moxie (courage and determination) to negotiate with MassDOT (been there, seen the best and seen the worst).

So I think it would be a good idea to have some guidelines. I think that is fair.

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).


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.


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.


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.

New Rules, Bricks on Curbs to be Replaced by Cement in Newburyport

Example of new white curb cut next to a brick sidewalk.

Example of new white curb cut next to a brick sidewalk.

This is what I now know (please see legal disclaimer–I am an amateur blogger, not a legal expert, or highway engineer, or any of the other things one might want to be, to fully comprehend this, and yes, there are still a lot more questions).

In March of 2012 MassDOT mandated the following changes for ADA curb cuts (those are the cuts on sidewalk corners):

1) To have a “Detectable or tactile warning strip, consisting of truncated domes.” (i.e. bumpy things)

2) And the change is also in material, the requirement is that it be “slip resistant” which according to the description, eliminates brick:

“7. Walk surfaces shall be designed and constructed as firm, stable and slip resistant surfaces. They shall lie generally in a continuous plane with a minimum of surface warping.”

The document can be read here:

What this means in real simple terms, is that legally cement is now in, and brick is out.

I have confirmed this with a very, very nice person at MassDOT, as well as folks who know this stuff in Newburyport City Hall.

And this applies to historic cities and towns all over Massachusetts, including Boston. And from what I can make out (every place that I have checked), with the exception of Beacon Hill, has eventually given in and gone with cement over brick (with much wailing and gnashing of teeth) (again, I am an amateur blogger, not a professional journalist–disclaimer one more time).

On Monday night, at the Newburyport City Council Meeting, the list of streets and sidewalks to be repaved is on the agenda to be Ok’d by the City Council. My hope is that at least one member of the City Council will get up and say, “Wait a minute, could we Ok all the money for roadwork and sidewalks, but could we take a little bit of time to find out some answers to the curb cut–no more brick thing, before we give the big go ahead on that one.”

My hope is that if brick is out and cement is in, that maybe we could mitigate the visual impact in some way.  And I’m just throwing ideas out there, there is such a thing as stamped cement, that looks like brick.  I have no idea if that would work, but something along those sort of lines would be better than glaring white strips of cement that would eventually replace the brick corners that now exist.

Here is a list of corners that are slated to be redone this year, where brick would be an issue:

Along High Street:
State Street
Market Street
Federal Street
Lime Street
Parsons Street
Coffins Court
Allen Street
Bromfield Street
Barton Street

State Street and Garden Street (Where the Dalton Club is.)


An an example of a good looking curb cut with brick that now exists. (The arrows pointing to the good example are photoshopped by me.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: A REPRIEVE!!  Newburyport City Councilor Bob  Cronin has just gotten up at the Newburyport City Council meeting and asked that the curb cuts that had been designated to be turned from brick to cement along High Street be sent to committee for further discussion. As I understand it, the matter was sent to “Public Safety.” (P.S. I wasn’t sure whether or not the now brick curb cut by the Dalton Club, at the corner of State and Garden was also included in that list.) Thank you so much Newburyport City Council!!

Newburyport’s Waterfront did have Buildings

Newburyport's Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Newburyport’s Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself.  I will read statements here and there from folks who desperately would like to keep Newburyport’s waterfront open, and the remarks go something like this, “Well, there never were any buildings on the Waterfront.”  Really, I hear this, sometimes, sometimes often.

Actually, that is not true. Not true at all.  And in this weeks Newburyport Daily News, John Macone wrote a fascinating history of the Waterfront, for Newburyport’s 250th anniversary.

Newburyport's Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Newburyport’s Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

“This was a crowded, loud, dirty, busy, smelly, bawdy and in later years a somewhat dangerous place, thick with buildings perched on wharves that stretched far out into the Merrimack River. Vessels came and went from ports all over the world, and the riverside rang loud with the clang and bang of shipbuilding yards that lined the shore…”

The Waterfront c1920, courtesy of The Historical Society of Old Newbury

The Waterfront c1920, courtesy of The Historical Society of Old Newbury

And John Macone ends the piece by saying, “Newburyport’s great ship captains of the 18th and 19th century would find today’s central waterfront unrecognizable — too quiet, too neat, too big, and too open.”

You can read the entire article here, along with some fascinating photographs.

Newburyport Tells its Own Past

Photo courtesy of the Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library

Market Square, Photo courtesy of the Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library

This is one of my favorite quotes. And I love this photo of Market Square, which is courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library.

“There can be no significance without memory…And if memory is necessary for significance, it is also necessary for both meaning and value. Without memory nothing has significance, nothing has meaning, nothing has value…

The city tells it own past, transfers its own memory…and it is memory that makes places significant.”

Donovan D. Rypkema, writing about the historic buildings in Newburyport, Massachusett

The NRA is not a STD

NRA = Newburyport Redevelopment Authority
STD = Sexually transmitted disease

One of the first things that struck me when I first saw the “Save the Open Waterfront” signs around town, was the phrase, “Stop NRA.” Not “Stop the NRA,” but “Stop NRA,” as if the NRA was not a group of Newburyport residents, but instead something like a STD, a sexually transmitted disease. And maybe that was the point in the marketing strategy, I don’t know.

What I do know, is when I walked and talked to folks during what seemed a very, very long election, the Waterfront always came up, and when the NRA was mentioned, I would try to explain that the members of the NRA are real, actual caring, human beings, not weird, wired, automated machines, cyborgs. Sigh.

And the chair, Tom Salemi, has got to be one of the nicest, fairest, kindest human beings in town–not toxic waste. When I would get beyond the tactfully stated, on my part, “not toxic waste” thing, and tell people about Tom Salemi, they would relax a little, and say, “Really.”  And I’d say, “Really. Really and Truly.”

And judging from the article in the Newburyport Daily News, see earlier entry, it is really and truly true. The members of the NRA are not some uncaring monolith (a large and impersonal political, corporate, or social structure regarded as intractably indivisible and uniform), but people who care about this small New England City and the people who live in it.  Will everyone in Newburyport believe that, probably not, but “really and truly,” that is true.