Category Archives: Planning and Development

Planning and Development, Newburyport, MA, urban planning, the design, construction and organization of Newburyport’s urban spaces, architecture and activities.

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

Three Young Men that Give me Hope for Newburyport’s Future

What these three young men have in common, to paraphrase President Kennedy, is, “Ask not what Newburyport can do for you, but ask what you can do for Newburyport.”

And for me, these three young men honor Newburyport, they link the stories of Newburyport’s past to what will be the story of Newburyport’s future.

Tom Salemi

Tom Salemi

Tom Salemi

I first got to know Tom Salemi when he became a fellow Newburyport blogger, the editor of The Newburyport Posts.  Tom had been a reporter for the Newburyport Daily News in the early to mid 1990s, left Newburyport and then returned to our wonderful city.

Much to my surprise (and I was somewhat alarmed for his sanity), Tom jumped in feet-first  into the world of Newburyport civics, and became a member of what I think of as Newburyport’s most toxic committee, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA).

Tom became a member while the NRA was exploring the possibility of putting some buildings on Newburyport’s Waterfront.  The chaos and hostility that ensued was mind-boggling, I was sure that Tom would step down.  But Tom Salemi did not, instead he became chair of the NRA (I worried for his sanity), and has throughout his tenure conducted himself with grace and dignity, listening to the overall call for the Waterfront to remain “open,” and withstanding the onslaught of Citizens for an Open Water Front (COW) and calls by members of the Newburyport City Council for the NRA to disband.

You got to really love your city to preservere and work as a member of the NRA and to look  for a solution that has alluded the city for 50 years. This young man, Tom Salemi, self deprecating, funny, and without a hint of entitlement, gives me hope for Newburyport’s future.

Jared Eigerman

Jarred Eigerman

Jarred Eigerman

I first got to know Jared Eigerman during the push to have Newburyport have a Local Historic District (LHD).  And then, much to my delight, Jared decided to run for Newburyport City Council for Ward 2, and he won.

Jared was born in Newburyport, left our city and has now come back. He is a native son. Jared is one smart cookie, and again, self depricting and without a hint of entitlement.  He wanted to become a city councilor not for power or to one day become mayor, but, in his words to me, “to write good laws.” And the first law/ordinance that Jared sponsored, was to protect downtown Newburyport and Newburyport’s Historic District, something that people had been trying to do for 50 years. It passed the Newburyport City Council unanimously, with the support of the “No LHD” folks and the “Yes LHD” folks.  No small accomplishment.  Yes, Newburyport historic preservationists still fight on, and people find ways to maneuver around the ordinance, but still, what an accomplishment.

Jared Eigerman honors Newburyport’s past, its stories, and wants to make sure that its history is intertwined with the story of Newburyport’s future.  And Jared Eigerman is one of the young men in our historic city that gives me great hope for our future.

Alex Dardinski

Alex Dardinski

Alex Dardinski

I don’t really know Alex Dardinski except through Facebook and talking to him while he takes his young son in his very cool bike, riding around our historic city.  Alex was born and raised in Newburyport, his family moved here in the early 1970s when real estate could be bought for $9,000. Alex has witnessed the change in Newburyport and can envision its future. And Alex is passionate about a vision to make Newburyport more walkable and pedestrian friendly, and reducing a reliance on the automobile.  He is involved in Newburyport’s Greenway and Newburyport’s Open Street Event.

Alex has also written a very thoughtful post for The Newburyport Blog on historic preservation in Newburyport, and his own personal experience of renovating an historic home.

As many people know, I love walking in Newburyport. I do it every day, and I also love historic preservation, and that may be why I resonate with Alex Dardinski so much.  And Alex is one of those people who links the stories of Newburyport’s past to what Newburyport’s story will become, and he gives me great hope for the future of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

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.

The Newburyport Blog, What Makes Newburyport “Tick” and Google Search

 

What Makes Newburyport "Tick?"

What Makes Newburyport “Tick?”

The Newburyport Blog has all but disappeared from Google’s search engine, and I wanted to figure out why, I always have liked that question, “Why,” and got me to thinking, “What exactly is The Newburyport Blog anyway??”

The Newburyport Blog is not a place to find out where to eat or shop in Newburyport. There are many Newburyport websites now, including Google (which is almost becoming a website itself instead of a Search Engine), which would give answers to that question.

The fascination that I have, is not where to eat or shop in this wonderful historic city, but the fact that over the years the kind of restaurants and shops have radically changed (The General Store, the hardware/lumber store  have  been replaced by high end restaurants, spas, boutiques and very expensive furniture stores), and “Why” is that? and what does it say about Newburyport and how the culture in Newburyport is changing. What makes Newburyport “tick?” (the definition of “tick,” a verb, is “The motive and explanation of behavior” — that is what engages me.

The question of what makes Newburyport “tick,” was one of the reasons I was so hooked our once local political journal, The Undertoad.  Despite Tom Ryan’s very often, in my opinion, offensive, bombastic, childish and sometimes just downright sadistic approach to reporting the “underside of Newburyport,” The Undertoad’s basic premise was “What makes Newburyport tick?”

When Ulrika Gerth was editor of The Newburyport Current, she had an underlining theme, “What makes Newburyport tick??”

And Tom Salemi, the editor of The Newburyport Posts, with his journalist education, and his light, amicable, often deceivably “simple” posts, also had an underlining theme of “What makes Newburyport tick.” (Come back to blogging Tom Salemi!!)

And Jerry Mullins, God bless him, with his long, researched, valuable content (that Google  seems to ignore, so much for Google valuing “valuable content”), over at Brick and Tree, has that same theme too, “What makes Newburyport tick??”

And there are also the blogs by many Newburyport Councilors that address that very same question in a variety of ways.

The Newburyport Blog does have stuff on “gluten free,” but have you noticed the changes in restaurants, etc, gluten free has roared into out culture.

Where to park in Newburyport?? earlier post. Well, I never, ever thought we would have paid parking, but we do. It says something about our town (good stuff for a blog post).

And lots of Google search changes:

Ask for “Newburyport restaurants.” Google itself, not the webpages it “represents” in its search engine, will give you an answer.

Ask for 20+10, you will get an answer from Google, no need to go looking for a calculator on a website anymore.

Ask for information on “zucchini” and you will get Google’s answer. No need to look for a webpage anymore.

Ask for “Following Atticus,” Tom Ryan’s (Undertoad Tom Ryan) book.  Google will tell you all about it, need to got to a website?? Maybe.

Look for “Newburyport,” Google will give you an answer, maybe not a good answer, but an answer. That answer will get better, more refined, and pretty soon — no longer need to go to a website anymore.

Look for “Why Newburyport is the way it is today, culturally, socio-economically, architecturally, politically?”  That is not a simple question.  And if that sort of question is important, maybe check out The Newburyport Blog, the Newburyport City Councilors’ websites,  or go over to Brick and Tree and get Jerry Mullins take on what makes Newburyport “tick,” and maybe Tom Salemi will come back and blog again one day.

Inn Street, Newburyport, MA

Inn Street, Newburyport, MA

Where to Park in Newburyport, MA

It is sometimes difficult for visitors to find out where to park in Newburyport.  Here is a map and some parking information.

Newburyport Parking Map

Newburyport Parking Map (press image to enlarge)

The map can be found on the City of Newburyport’s website here.

Newburyport parking information

Newburyport parking information (press image to enlarge)

The parking information can be found on the City of Newburyport’s website here.

General parking information can be found on the City of Newburyport’s website here.

Paid parking is from 9am – 6pm.  NRA East, NRA West, and Prince Place are all day lots. Green Street and State Street lots are time limited (3 hours). The Water Front Trust (WFT)  lot is also time limited.  And a  Newburyport resident sticker cannot be used to park in the WFT lot.

You can also pay for parking with your phone, by using Parkmobile.  To use the Parkmobile option, you can register for free here or download the mobile app.

The City of Newburyport has a tutorial on how to use Parkmobile on your iPhone, which can be found here.  And if you need information on how to use it on your Android phone, click here.

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.

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, Trying to Bring Back Rental Units to the City, and the Income Gap by 2010

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.

Newburyport’s Proposed 40R and Highway Engineers

trafficLights

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.

Newburyport-40R-Smart-Growth-Village-District-Map-1-20-2015

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.

Newburyport, a Romantic City and the Proposed 40R District

I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is about Newburyport that I love so much. What keeps me longing to stay here despite a winter like the one we’ve just had.

High Street, Newburyport,  photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

High Street, Newburyport, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Jerry Mullins in his blog post uses the word “romance” in connection to Newburyport, and it is an adjective that describes this small New England seacoast city north of Boston, that had never occurred to me, but it is a wonderful adjective. So I went on a hunt to see what showed up for “romanic cities.”

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

And I found a blog post by Ken Benfield, a specialist on “smart growth and sprawl,” with this list:

  • Strong sense of place anchored by historic preservation
  • Lively, walkable, diverse downtowns
  • Compact development patterns
  • Extensive and well-used public transportation
  • Great public spaces for lively human interaction
  • Parks and quiet places mixed in with urbanity
  • Great traditional neighborhoods with a strong sense of community
  • Welcoming to people of diverse cultures

In the comment section of the blog post there was this observation:

High Street, © Sally Chandler, 2004, Courtesy of "Historic Gardens of Newburyport"

High Street, © Sally Chandler, 2004, Courtesy of “Historic Gardens of Newburyport”

“Cities that are dense, walkable, have accessible and vibrant public spaces, and have a vibrant mix of independently-owned businesses are the most enjoyable places to visit – and to live. It is at the intersection of these features where real neighborhoods and a sense of livability is created. These cities are also strong, have committed populations and diverse economies, and can survive many challenges. In essence, they are not only beautiful and livable, they are resilient.”

State Street, Newburyport, courtesy of Wikipedia

State Street, Newburyport, courtesy of Wikipedia

We as a city are considering making the area around the train station and the traffic circle into a 40R, Smart Growth area. I have many reservations about what is projected for that area, including the Minco Project in back of the train station (which I think is wicked ugly). And I think that Jerry has nailed the adjective for me. It may be (or not be) good urban planning, but what the vision lacks, is the “romance,” “beauty,” a “sense of place” that draws so many of us here to Newburyport.

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.

Leading–the Best and the Worst of the Legislative Process, Newburyport 2014

CityOfNewburyport

This year, 2014, it is my opinion that Newburyport saw the best and the worst examples of the legislative process in the Newburyport City Council

THE BEST

The best was the attempt to preserve Newburyport’s historic assets.

The process had its origins in Newburyport’s raucous and rancorous LHD debate (see endless posts). The two sides as I now look back:

1) Preserving Newburyport’s historic assets through regulations governed by a particular commission.
2) A concern about the control of that commission, and a distrust of commissions like it in other communities.

I ended up thinking that both were valid points of view.

And then Newburyport City Councilor Katy Ives spent a good year and a half listening to all and sundry and came up with an incredible win-win solution.

1) The properties before 1930 in Newburyport’s Historic District could not be demolished.
2) Newburyport’s commercial downtown, our “brand,” needed to be preserved.

Katy Ives got elected to the Massachusetts State Senate, and the compromise by Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives died. Poof.

That is until Jared Eigerman got elected as Ward 2’s City Councilor. And Councilor Eigerman met with the “Yes LHD” folks, the “No LHD” folks, hardcore preservationists, and hardcore property rights folks. It was made clear that no one was going to get everything they wanted, and that an ordinance would be presented that was possible in the existing political climate. It was basically what Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives had proposed a year and a half before.

People may have not liked all of it, but it passed unanimously with an 11-0 vote.

And people, whether they liked all of it or not, did not:

1) Feel ignored
2) Feel invisible
3) Feel as if their insights were insignificant

People felt that a decision had been made that took into account a wide variety of feelings and thoughts about the issue.

The result = a whiff, or slightly more than a whiff, of trust and hope.

THE WORST

The worst legislative process in 2014 by the Newburyport City Council in my opinion was the Plastic Bag Ban.

For me this was the most frustrating and appalling legislative process that I have been involved in. During that process, all kinds of very productive points of view and ideas were presented. They were swept under the rug.

As a result people:

1) Felt ignored
2) Felt invisible
3) Felt as if their insights were insignificant

People felt that a decision had been made that did not take into account a wide variety of feelings and thoughts about the issue.

The measure passed with a split vote of 6-5 with 2 of the City Councilors who voted for the measure, expressing doubt and reservation on the Council floor.

The result = a huge lack of trust, a festering sore and lingering resentment, and discouragement (the opposite of hope) in a process that did not reflect the larger representation of the citizens of Newburyport.

Video about Newburyport’s Urban Renewal, “A Measure of Change”

Many thanks to Jerry Mullins over at Brick and Tree for putting this incredible video about what Newburyport used to look like up again, this time on YouTube.

Newburyport used to look like a slum.  Hard to believe, but the history on this video is amazing.

And there are a lot of friends on the video.  Sue Little, the owner of Jabberwocky Books, opens the video.  Tom Kolterjahn, the president of The Newburyport Preservation Trust is on there, along with Bryon Matthews, John (Hacky) Pramberg, Bill Harris, Jack Bradshaw.

Enjoy!

A Measure of Change, the video about Newburyport's Urban Renewal

A Measure of Change, the video about Newburyport’s Urban Renewal

The link to the video “A Measure of Change” can be found here.”

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

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

Brick-curbing

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