Newburyport City Council

I went to watch the Newburyport City Council on TV last night and it wasn’t on. It wasn’t on cable. I gotta say I was sort of relieved. I’d managed to watch two whole City Council meetings all the way through, and I was beginning to feel kind of compulsive about it. So whoever runs the cable company helped me break my “gotta watch the Newburyport City Council habit.” Thank you.

I’ll just have to rely on The Undertoad, the Newburyport Daily News and the Newburyport Current to find out what happened. (What I really wanted to know was if the Towle Project passed on the second reading. I’m assuming it did, but you never know. If it didn’t you bet I’ll probably be blogging about it.)

Well, OK, I’ll admit I was actually tempted to go down and see what was going on first hand. But, the thought of those cold hard benches for that long was daunting.

I thought about bringing my hot cocoa, the large bowl of popcorn, some soft comfy down pillows and a warm snuggy blanket. But then I wasn’t sure how the Newburyport City Council would take it.

They would either bark at me, or complain that they didn’t have comfy down pillows (which they don’t) and want me to share some of my popcorn, even all of my popcorn. Which actually I would have done, because I think sharing my popcorn with the Newburyport City Council would have helped. It would have lightened things up a little, might have even made them smile or even laugh. And from watching my last two Newburyport City Council meetings, I think they could possibly use it.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport Massachusetts, Energy Independence

Here are three ideas I’d like to raise about energy independence for Newburyport.

Let me start with having all heads nod their assent to the proposition that energy supply is now dangerously tied to geopolitical forces of immense scale. Ticking down the list of hot spots and problems from Korean, Nigeria, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and the newly insatiable Chinese and India demand for oil…can make you break into a cold sweat.

So the idea that we need to work towards more local and regional independence seems to be just plain common sense.

Here are a few ways Newburyport could begin to solve the problem:

1) All vehicles used by the city, including school buses, police cars and public works trucks should be converted on a four or five year schedule to either hybrids, fuel flexible vehicles like ethanol/ diesel mixes, etc. The goal would be to “average down” our city fuel costs by, say 15%.

2) We should consider floating “Energy Independence Bonds” to be used to put in place an appropriate mix of alternative energy systems for all municipal and school buildings. Starting with the schools with electric heat, we should invest in whatever array of building scale energy production and savings technology our smartest minds can develop.

3) We should begin to hold hearings to add to our zoning and development laws the idea that ‘green building’ will be encouraged. We might even include a first year property tax ‘discount’ for people installing new energy saving ideas. Allowing building orientation to maximize solar gain, allowing minor building height adjustment for any roof top energy systems.

There are people in the city who are working on various ideas to move us towards energy independence. Two people I’m aware of are Mark Guay and Molly Ettenborough. There are committees being formed, maybe you can join one.

We can do this…we just have to get the ball rolling.

Ron Martino, Newburport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Lisa Mead, Stephen Karp and Jacalyn Bennett

In the Newburyport Daily News on February 22, 2006 there is yet another Letter to the Editor extolling Nick Cracknell’s, Newburyport’s Planning Director, virtues. The Letter to the Editor is written by Mary Wilkins Haslinger. Ms Haslinger applauds Nick Cracknell’s many virtues while pointing out that we as the City of Newburyport need him because has won the confidence and respect of Stephen Karp–a very good point (hope it’s true.)

I would also add that we need Mr. Crackell because attorney Lisa Mead is representing a number of clients, including Jacalyn Bennett. (Ms Mead is also the lawyer for the directors of the Wheelwright House, and yes I gather she and Mr. Cracknell have been negotiating for the fate of that High Street property.)

Jacalyn Bennett is the owner of Bennett and Company and according to the Newburyport Daily News on February 17, 2006, is opposing Mr. Karp’s first project, a proposed restaurant on the former Mackenzie’s Warf, Fin51. (This is not the first project Ms. Bennett has opposed, but that would be the subject of another post, or in fact a number of posts. We are talking “controversial scale” here. However, I’m not quite sure where Ms Bennett would land on the “controversial scale,” whereas of course Norbert Carey was a slam-dunk.)

For those of you out there in Web-land or who are new to our city, Lisa Mead has been the mayor of Newburyport three times (no mean feat.) Ms Mead has also worked for Senator John Kerry. Lisa Mead knows who all the “players” are. Ms. Mead is a tough negotiator and as they say in New York (see earlier posts,) Lisa Mead is “one tough cookie.”

I personally don’t want a wallflower fighting for the City’s interest in this situation. Can you imagine negotiating between Stephen Karp and Lisa Mead? We as a City need a Planning Director who is also “one tough cookie.” And yes, and I think Nick Cracknell fits that bill quite nicely, thank you very much.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, NRA, Waterfront

Jim Stiles (along with a whole lot of other people) is very concerned about the fate of the Newburyport’s Waterfront (see earlier post), an issue that people continue to feel passionately about.

I can see why people might be reluctant to wade into this discussion, because Newburyport’s Waterfront has been so controversial for so long. (You haven’t seen me give an opinion on this one, even though I happen to have a few.) But that doesn’t mean that people don’t care about it a whole lot.

The very, very good news is that the NRA questionnaire is going out with the Newburyport City Census. And this situation might be a little bit like having a very controversial election where you don’t really want to discuss it with your neighbor, but you sure know how you are going to vote. And the nice thing is no one needs to know how you are going to vote, the important thing is that you do it.

The NRA has worked very hard on the questionnaire that will be arriving in our mailboxes. And the very, very good news, is whether or not you want to wade out there and let everyone know your opinion, democracy reigns. (Well, I hope that democracy reigns, that Mayor John Moak would take this questionnaire seriously, even though there are various quotes in the Newburyport Daily News where he says he won’t! But I suppose that the fact that Mayor John Moak might not take this survey as part of the democratic process, might be another post altogether.) You can express your opinion by filling out the NRA questionnaire about the fate of Newburyport’s Waterfront and mail it to the City of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

And Jim Roy, who has never, ever been one to be shy about giving his opinion, has written an article in this week’s Newburyport Current, (it can be found under “Opinion and Letters”,) talking about the NRA survey and issues surrounding the fate of Newburyport’s Waterfront. If you haven’t done so already, give it a read.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, the Infill Ordinance

No matter who ends up running in the special election for the Ward 1 Council seat, it raises the question of what I call the “Infill Ordinance,” although that is not its specific title.

I went down to the Newbuyrport Planning Office to get a copy of the Infill Ordinance, which is really a revision of a zoning law, and Nick Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director, happened to be there and gave me a crash course in Newburyport zoning. What I came away with was that zoning in Newburyport, Massachusetts is very complicated and I’m sure glad that we have experts. I think I quipped to the person who was scheduled to meet Mr. Cracknell that I was “getting a Ph.D.”

(And btw, I was so busy trying to learn about the complex zoning laws around this one particular issue that I didn’t get a chance to ask a lot of the questions I wanted to ask, like “what the heck is going on?” My golden opportunity and rats, I missed it.)

I have not gone back and looked at all the periodicals to research why this particular amendment to the zoning law was voted down, but what I remember (and if I’m wrong, please email me or call me or send in a post and please let me know) is that the objection was that it infringed on people’s property rights and that it discriminated against a very small portion of the population–those who owned two family homes.

While I was getting my crash course in Newburyport zoning, I could actually see how one could come to those conclusions.

BUT, I think the purpose of the this particular zoning amendment was not to make it difficult for your average homeowner who wants to expand their kitchen, master bedroom or whatever. It was to address developers who are buying two family homes in Newburyport’s Historic District (btw this is very different from a Local Historic District) and building in a manner that is not in keeping with the community.

As I understand it, the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals and the Newburyport Planning Board are very sympathetic to homeowners who need to expand in a reasonable way and they don’t want to be swamped with a huge amount of applications.

And what the City of Newburyport does want, is to be able to have a chance to have a dialogue with a developer who wants to radically change the look of a property, to make sure that there could be the most constructive solution possible.

An example would be the project in my own neighborhood (see earlier post.) The proposal that the developer came up with did not conform to the zoning laws. This gave both the City of Newburyport and the neighborhood a chance to have a dialogue with the developer. The developer made money and the neighborhood was happy. My understanding is that this particular zoning amendment would give the citizens of Newburyport the same opportunity when a developer comes into their neighborhood.

For me this would be an example of “smart growth.” I don’t know if the Mayor and the Newburyport City Council would like to revisit this issue, but I still think it is enormously important to how Newburyport’s Historic District will evolve over the years.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Some Tips on How to Have a Civil Discussion on the Newburyport Political Blog

In today’s Newburyport Current Jim Stiles has passed on the information that the Newburyport Political Blog would be glad to host a civil discussion on the Waterfront. If that could be accomplished, that would be quite a feat considering that this has been such a hugely divisive issue that has been going on for more than 30 years.

If you do decide to send in a post, please read the guidelines that are at the side of the Newburyport Political Blog.

My goal for all guest bloggers is for your point of view to be heard. So, it helps if you use the first person–“I think, I feel, it is my opinion, etc.” Second of all, the tone of a posting is really important. A civil tone can be achieved by using verbs like “could, would, may, might,” instead of verbs like “should, can, will, must, have to.”

This doesn’t just apply to postings that may (see there’s that verb) come in about the Waterfront. These are tips that would (yup, there’s another one of those verbs) apply to any posting that concerns a controversial issue.

Calling people “idiots, stupid” (you get the drift) is just not a good idea.

And, if I don’t think your post is civil, I will email you back and suggest that you re-read this posting and the guidelines of the Newburyport Political Blog.

I’ll be interested to see where this goes.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Participating in the Newburyport Political Blog

As people tell me that they are reading the Newburyport Political Blog, my response is to thank them and ask them to please “chime in.”

The response I often get is “I just may do that” with a look that seems to say, “but, how do I begin to do that?”

Mr. Martino and Mr. Laing are two great examples. One found the Newburyport Political Blog and emailed me with an idea. The other found the Newburyport Political Blog and emailed me with a question. In both cases I emailed back and asked if their email could be “tweaked” and used as a post.

So, their first ventures into posting for the Newburyport Political Blog were small ones. I think that as their confidence grew, they began to submit longer posts.

So if you would like to be a guest blogger for the Newburyport Political Blog and you are wondering how to do that, start small. You can email me a thought or idea or a draft and I can help you turn it into a post. And hopefully you may become a frequent guest blogger for the Newburyport Political Blog.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, John Moak and Nick Cracknell–Making it Work

Our mayor, John Moak has lived in Newburyport, Massachusetts since the 1970’s. Mr. Moak has seen Newburyport evolve and has been the Newburyport City Clerk for 11 years. He has been able to observe up close, and with of a certain amount of detachment, how Newburyport has been governed. John Moak also knows who all the “players” are in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

It also seems to me that John Moak is a person who values harmony in the work place. And from what I have read it appears that Mayor Moak would like to see all of Newburyport’s department heads have constructive interaction.

Nicholas Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director, on the other hand, appears to accept conflict as a natural and normal part of any process. Mr. Cracknell’s emphasis appears to be on getting things done and not an emphasis on getting along.

And when Mr. Cracknell came into town approximately 4 years ago, he did not know who all the “players” were and therefore tackled various projects in a certain void.

Mr. Cracknell is an innovator and a visionary. He seems to be always looking over the next horizon, trying to do what other people say can’t be done. Mr. Cracknell has a powerful drive and has been able to turn those visions (which btw are the visions of the Newburyport Master Plan) into realities.

Nick Cracknell values progress and change, while other types of personalities find great value in a static and unchanging life and often worry that things change too fast. There are many kinds of personality types that work carefully and methodically with a detailed plan of action. What I’ve observed in Mr. Cracknell is that he has bursts of inspiration and translates them into reality through recurrent periods of extremely intense activity.

The world is fortunately made up a whole variety of different personalities and ways of approaching issues and problem solving. This is a good thing. The world would be awfully boring if everyone were the same. It can also make it very difficult to manage something like a municipality. However, it can be done. It requires an understanding, respect, appreciation and tolerance of each other’s differences and points of view.

When someone told me that Mayor John Moak and Newburyport’s Planning Director, Nick Cracknell were working on working together, I was delighted, and hope what I was told is true. Each man has Newburyport’s best interest at heart, they just happen to be two very different personality types and come from two very different viewpoints.

It would be an enormous benefit to the citizens of Newburyport, Massachusetts if these two very dedicated men can find a way to creatively work together. It would also be leadership through example of a way to tolerate and work through differences on a human as well as a political level.

What I’m beginning to see on the Newburyport Political Blog is the emergence of different personality types and different points of view. I think this is a great thing. And I’m going to be really interested to see if the Newburyport Political Blog will be able to foster a constructive dialogue where as a community we can appreciate and understand each other a little better. And if the Newburyport Political Blog could bring people together and help make municipality problem solving just a little bit easier.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Development Happens

In response to Ben Laing’s posting (nice to have you as a guest blogger, Mr. Laing), my point of view is that development happens. I am a big proponent of “controlled development” or “smart growth.”

A good example of this is the Russell Terrace project. There is an article in yesterday’s Newburyport Daily News on Tuesday, February 21, 2006 on the Russell Terrace subdivision. The project is described as “the largest new housing proposal currently in the works.” (Now I sure hope that people from Russell Terrace and the Open Space Committee are going to help me out here, because I’ll admit, I just don’t begin to know all the details.)

The developer is Norbert Carey. For you out there who don’t live in Newburyport or have just recently moved here, on the controversy scale of 1-10 Norbert Carey would probably rate a 15, possibly a 25. We are talking major history here. The background on Norbert Carey would warrant a number of posts.

(What I am beginning to find is that many of the readers of the Newburyport Political Blog have moved here fairly recently and don’t know about the controversy surrounding Cherry Hill or the Access Road. Maybe there can be a few posts explaining those stories.)

Fortunately, fortunately because of the Newburyport Planning Board and the Newburyport Planning Director, yes, you guessed it, Nick Cracknell, and lots of other concerned citizens, we have a zoning ordinance that prevents the Russell Terrace project from becoming another Cherry Hill. The Newburyport Daily News writes that “The new cluster zoning law, called open space residential development, was designed to avoid large subdivisions such as the Cherry Hill project.

The new homes will be built on a cul-de-sac on about 8 acres of the 43-acre property. The remaining 35 acres, which include wetlands and abut other underdeveloped farmland, will be preserved as conservation land and protected by a land trust, under the special permit requirements.”

This is what I call “smart growth.” Thank goodness for the farsighted Newburyport Planning Board and Nicholas Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director and all the other people on various city boards and committees and other involved citizens who contributed to the creation of this new zoning law.

But, obviously there are still problems–traffic, adjacent wetlands and animal habitat. I do not know the details, but there are plenty of people out there who do. So please, feel free to become a guest blogger on the Newburyport Political Blog.

It seems to me that, as I said in another post, Newburyport has become a very desirable place to live and people will move here and build, or live in places that have been built for them. As I see it, the trick is to find the right balance so that Newburyport continues to remain a place that we as residents can be proud to live in. This is a very complicated task. And as I’ve said over and over again, I think we are incredibly lucky to have people like Doug Locy and the Newburyport Planning Board and Newburyport’s Planning Director Nicholas Cracknell whose job it is to help us find solutions to those very complicated issues.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Growth and Development in Newburyport, Massachusetts

On February 15th, Mr. Martino stated that he thinks the best strategy for Newburyport is to grow rapidly. I respectfully disagree. As Mr. Martino pointed out in a previous post, he has only lived here for 2 years, so he may not realize that in the last 10-12 years Newburyport has grown substantially, and development has been pushed to the max. Calling for rapid growth now doesn’t make sense to me because there is no room left to grow in the city. There is no more land like Cherry Hill or Turkey Hill to build more development on and the only other option is in-fill which the majority of Newburyporter’s do not support. It seems to me that the only people that support in-fill are the people that will profit from it.

What gets overlooked when talking about growth and development is the size of the city itself. We are a tiny city (I believe the smallest in the state, area-wise), and we have a limited amount of space. We are also a very old city, over 350 years old. To continue down a path of development is destructive to the reasons why we love this city. We love it for its beauty and character and we love it because it is unique. Every new development, be it new homes, condo’s, in-fill, or business, is a permanent change that can not be undone (at least not practically). This growth and development robs the city of what we have all come to love about it. It also adversely affects the rest of the citizens that already live here. We have been told constantly through the last decade or so, when development was rampant, was that it was going to benefit the city through creating a larger tax base, and thus we would have more money. Well, that hasn’t happened, and saying we need to do more of the same seems to me to be an empty promise.

There are other issues that arise from over developing such a small city, such as traffic and parking. As everyone that lives here knows, you may as well avoid driving to the down town area altogether on any given weekend from May to September. The traffic is often backed up from Market Square to the Gillis Bridge (right where the Waterfront West development is planned), as well as the lights on State St. During the rush hour on weekdays, Storey Ave. can be a nightmare. The lights on Rt. 1 off of Low St. are another problem area. Additional development will only add to the problem, not solve it. As for parking, well, that’s a different issue, but again it gets back to the character and charm of the city. Do we want an ugly parking garage (that won’t actually increase the number of parking spaces we have) that we as citizens have to pay to use, just so we can increase the development of a town that is too small to support it? I don’t, and I don’t think most Newburyporter’s do.

I think, and I don’t mean to speak for everyone, but my sense is, Newburyporter’s have had enough development, the city is can’t handle it and neither can it’s citizens. The only people who really support development are those that are going to profit from it, and we as a city are running out of time and space, if we don’t take a stand, we won’t have the beautiful city we enjoy now. We don’t want more promises of lower taxes due to a larger tax base because it will never happen. Does anyone think the city will lower the fees they recently increased in the past year or so because we have more people to handle the tax burden? Absolutely not, if anything an increase in people will mean an increase in fees. We don’t want houses that are too big to be crammed into a lot that is too small to support more than one house. We don’t want more traffic and less parking. We don’t want fewer services and larger expenses. We do want to preserve what we have left, what hasn’t been developed yet and what everyone loves about the city, and that simply won’t happen with continued development.

Ben Laing, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Is it my Business?

For all of you out there who think I’ve been (to use a Jim Roy expression) blathering on about the Undertoad, well I’m so sick of hearing about it, that I’m going to blather on about it some more.

First of all, anyone’s finances (I’m obviously referring to this weekend’s posting[s]) are none of my business. And quite frankly they’re none of anyone else’s business either.

Second of all, just how naïve does anybody out there in Web-land think I could possibly be. Just because Tom Ryan gave me a nice testimonial in this edition of the Undertoad, doesn’t mean that I’m not going to say something that Mr. Ryan isn’t going to like, and I’m not going to read about it in the Undertoad, and it’s going to be in classic “toadese.” Dollars to donuts I’m not going to put that one up on my Testimonial Page.

Is the fact that our children now have to take the MCATs my business (and btw, I sure wish someone would post about education on the Newburyport Political Blog), yes, that’s my business. Is the fact that a development will affect people’s lives now and in the future my business, yes that’s my business. Is how the Waterfront’s going to be addressed my business, yes that’s my business (and I hope people will make it their business too and be sure to fill out the Waterfront questionnaire when it arrives with the City Census.) Is the fact that we have a city planner who has done positive and creative things for our city and may be let go by the present administration, is that my business, yes, I’ve really made that one my business. Is the fact that someone may wear purple socks my business, no that’s none of my business.

I think as a filter for the Newburyport Political Blog when a post comes in, I am now going to ask myself “is that any of my business?” And if the answer is “no” then it’s just not going to go up there.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Storey Avenue as a Possible “Village Center”

Here’s a little urban development fantasy of mine. What if………..

The commercial area of Storey Avenue was able to evolve into Newburyport’s second village center? What would it look like? Why would we want it that way? What would be the upside/downsides?

Here’s how it might look:

I’m talking about the residential condos and apartments behind Duncan Donuts as well as the residential areas along Ferry Street, Low Street, and Storey Ave itself as being the ‘catchments’ area of the new village, supplying the foot and vehicle traffic to support “village life”. I’m also including the retail areas of the two malls along with the services, restaurants, and commercial activities on the backside along Low Street. I’m talking about linking it altogether by some sort of design flow from area to area and encouraging the mix of activity that begins to make it a real village.

Here’s what could be added to make it start the process of evolving into a village: Walking paths, side walk and minor traffic light adjustments and a more defined ‘street’ like pattern inside the retail areas. This is at its simplest level a matter of paint and signage changes. I’d include a name adjustment so we start calling it “Storey Village.”

Some new components would be nice. How about a multi functional civic resource center so that people are not always driving and parking in our historic waterside center for every little thing governmental. One small branch of city government could include a small library, the ability to pay traffic fines, pull a permit, register to vote, or have occasional meetings with city councilors, planning boards, etc.

I’d like to see sidewalk cafes in summer. Another reason to have sidewalks! What else? How about a bookstore, maybe a branch of one of our great independents? Maybe a small walk in medical clinic? Maybe a “not quite an emergency room” staffed by AJ or Pentucket? A branch post office would be nice and it would free up Pleasant Street traffic as people jockey for parking and it would allow the merchants of Pleasant Street to have the foot traffic they need.

We could put a visitors center there and in summer provide jitney rides to the waterfront and ease the crush during our high season.

Why do it? We’re going to develop and grow anyway, this path would provide a “smart growth” solution. It would free up some routine city center traffic and alleviate parking downtown. It would save energy, as a number of residents of the area would choose to walk not drive. It would raise property taxes as more infill of the malls took place and some of the homes and apartments on the edges rose in value.

It’s not an especially architecturally significant section of the city and we could see some 21st century ideas as well as inoculating against too much change in the historic downtown area.

Why not? I see lots of upside. Off course the process of change is hard, key choices and tradeoff need to be made, but in the end “Storey Village” sounds more like another great place in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Ron Martino, Newburyport

Newburyport Political Blog Picked Up by

The Newburyport Political Blog has been picked up by thanks to Ron Martino. Thank you Mr. Martino.

This is huge, really, really huge. As Ron Martino wrote me in an email (I don’t think Mr. Martino would mind if I quoted him, even though I haven’t checked it out with him,) “This means the NPB is a national player in the planning world, [albeit a junior one :-).]”

I knew eventually people around the country would start to read the Newburyport Political Blog, but I didn’t think it would be this soon. So, Wow!

We are in the section called “Under the Radar.” The entire website (each posting) is being picked up and re-posted on Planetizen is serious stuff folks.

Planetizen is a major Planning and Development website. The Newburyport Political Blog is floating around there (Yiddish and all) with major, I mean really major, national and even international organizations (architects, city planning organizations, major newspapers, major universities–go look.)

So what is being discussed on the Newburyport Political Blog is already being read by national and international players. What we as a community in Newburyport, Massachusetts do matters. The world is watching. This is not just about Newburyport anymore.

There are so many important planning and development issues that will continue to present themselves to our city. For example, two major properties on the “Ridge”, the area along High Street in the South End of Newburyport where the large mansions are built, have been sold (the Wheelwright House being one of them.) Developers can now build in front of those mansions, the zoning laws allow it.

One of the things that the Newburyport Planning Office has been thinking about is a “zoning overlay” just for the area in front of those mansions. This would be to prevent developers from building on the lower part of the “Ridge.” It is hard for me to believe that once most people understand that this is an issue, that they would not support this kind of “overlay district.”

Newburyport, Massachusetts has one of the best and brightest city planners in Nicholas Cracknell. Nick Cracknell understands the unbelievably complicated issues around planning and development in Newburyport, such as the need for an “zoning overlay” for the “Ridge.”

I would hope, if Ron Martino is right that the Newburyport Political Blog is now a national player in the planning world ( although a junior one), that we can continue to advocate for “smart grow.” I would hate, as major players are watching us, to make the mistake of letting Mr. Cracknell go.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

The Newburyport Political Blog

I thought when I started the Newburyport Political Blog on New Years Day 2006 that a few people might wander onto it in 6-9 months. It has come to my attention that the Newburyport Political Blog really is becoming “a must read” and it is actually being taken very seriously by people in town as well as people out of town. (There will be a future posting on the fact that it has been picked up nationally and yes, believe it or not, internationally.) I am very flattered, but that puts me on a very steep learning curve.

There are a lot of very strong personalities in Newburyport and emotions can run high. This is not a forum, to quote Random House, “for the scheming of a person who engages in politics for party ends or personal advantage.” Please do not send me posts that have that agenda.

I would like to make something very clear. The purpose of the Newburyport Political Blog is to have a constructive dialogue about issues concerning the City of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

I would like all of you out there who would like to make postings to keep to the guidelines of the Newburyport Political Blog.

It has come to my attention that the recent posting by Jim Stiles could be interpreted to mean that Tom Ryan’s business, The Undertoad is in trouble (I did not read it that way.) Many people have been concerned.

I have talked to Tom Ryan to clarify matters. Mr. Ryan tells me that the Undertoad is in excellent financial shape and that he is being paid by all his advertisers.

Whether you agree with him or not, Jim Stiles is an outstanding and committed citizen, who has done an incredible amount for our community. It never occurred to me that any posting by Mr. Stiles could be anything but constructive.

I know that Jim Stiles has many important issues that he would like to address. My wish is that this remains the forum to do that.

I hope this clarifies matters for all of you out there in Web-land who apparently have been reading the Newburyport Political Blog today with some distress.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, City Council Clerk “Saga” Continues

The “saga” around the position for the Newburyport City Clerk has gotten so complicated, even more complicated and convoluted, that it’s becoming one of those situations that I’m beginning to forget how it all originally started in the first place.

You can read about all the twists and turns in the Newburyport Current, Newburyport Daily News and The Undertoad (The Boston Globe hasn’t picked it up yet.)

(And for all of you out there in Web-land who are searching for a way to get a hold of the Undertoad, and there are lots of you out there, I hope Tom Ryan, the Undertoad’s editor won’t mind if I let you know that the address is, P.O. Box 5, Newburyport, MA 01950 and the email address is

Mr. Ryan, the editor of the Undertoad reports that Jeremy Gillis, one of the applicants for the City Clerk position, is dropping out and concentrating on the special Ward 1 election. (If you don’t know what that means, to figure that out, you’re going to have to read all the back issues of all the local periodicals.) So I would think that would be a relief for Mr. Gillis. If I were him I wouldn’t want to be sitting in the City Clerk’s chair and facing the Newburyport City Council after all of this.

BUT, now we’ll have two “sagas” to look forward to. The “are we ever going to find a Newburyport City Clerk and how will that go saga.” And the “special election in Ward 1 saga,” because at the moment Jeremy Gillis, who ran unopposed in November, will have at least one challenger. And then after that we’ll have the “how will the Newburyport City Council handle whoever wins the Ward 1 City Council seat saga” (which I think would be Mr. Gillis, but who knows for sure. I promise that the Newburyport Political Blog will let you know the outcome. And I suspect it will be front page news in all the local periodicals mentioned above. And for sure, when the day comes that the Newburyport City Clerk is finally appointed, that moment in history will be front page news too.)

But, the big political story will be if Jeremy Gillis does win the special election in Ward 1. Mr. Gillis has very strong opinions on planning and development. He was, and I imagine still is, very much against the Infill Ordinance created by the Newburyport Planning Board and the Newburyport Planning Office. So if Jeremy Gillis fills the 11th seat on the Newburyport City Council, that will have an affect on what happens in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

(And btw the Newburyport Political Blog has been picked up by, a major website on Planning and Development. The Web is an amazing thing.)

Such is politics in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, The Undertoad

A couple of rumors about problems at the Undertoad have been circulating lately. Mostly there is no way to know whether or not they are true, but at least one does seem to be. It seems that many of the Undertoad’s advertisers haven’t been paying, and yet their ads continue to run. This does seem kind of odd, and of course unless someone checked thoroughly (which I have not) they could not say with confidence just how widespread the situation is.

I was wondering if anyone else out there knows anything about this situation – how many advertisers in the Undertoad ARE paying?

Jim Stiles, Newburyport

Native vs. Newcomer, Newburyport, Massachusetts

Native vs. newcomer in Newburyport, Massachusetts–“oy veh” (here we go with the Yiddish again, which is a definite clue that the editor of the Newburyport Political Blog is not a “native.” People in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a good New England Yankee town, don’t usually go around using Yiddish phrases.) (And btw, “oy vey” means “oh no” or “oh dear” in Yiddish.)

The editor of the Newburyport Political Blog (me) was born and raised in New York City (hence the propensity for Yiddish phrases) and moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1981. I was part of the first wave of newcomers in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that “discovered” our city after the renovation of Newburyport’s historic downtown had taken place.

What I have experience over the years is a tension between the “natives” of Newburyport and the “newcomers,” something I have thought about for 25 years.

Anyone who has seen the pictures of what Newburyport looked like before Urban Renewal knows that Newburyport, Massachusetts had fallen on really hard times. Even when I moved here, it still wasn’t safe to go down to lower Lime Street in Newburyport’s historic South End. In fact it was called “Slime Street.” No matter what you think of Al Clifford’s building project at lower Lime Street, because of that project the South End of Newburyport radically changed for the better. I’m sure that the people who live in those very expensive houses cannot imagine how much of a real slum that area was for decades.

My experience is that the people, who grew up here, experienced Newburyport as that very run down and often dangerous community to live in. The natives couldn’t imagine that the property that they had grown up in or now lived in could be worth much money. Even though they loved their hometown, they often did not consider it a desirable place to live.

The people like me who have “migrated” here, found Newburyport and thought they had discovered an amazing “gem.” They couldn’t believe their unbelievable luck at finding such an extraordinary small New England City.

The natives and the newcomers experience Newburyport from two completely different points of view.

There is still a good amount of distrust between the natives and newcomers in Newburyport, Massachusetts. My hope (and it really may be hopeless) is that they could gradually appreciate each other’s point of view and some of the distrust might dissipate.

Maybe the newcomers could realize what the people who have lived here all their lives have lived through. And maybe the old-timers could value the fact that the newcomers think that what they have preserved is amazing. And it would be nice if we could work together a little bit more easily to help the City of Newburyport move into whatever its next phase may be. That we can help the City of Newburyport to continue to flourish and grow and to make sure it doesn’t ever again experience a downward spiral.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Thank You Mr. Ryan

Well I am “verklempt”. (That is Yiddish for “deeply moved”. Yes, I Googled it to make sure it was spelled right.) (And yes, I’m originally from New York, I’ll admit it right up front, the editor of the Newbuyrport Political Blog is not a native–but that is another posting altogether.) I was extremely moved by Tom Ryan’s write up in the Undertoad. I promise that I won’t get upset when the time comes that Mr. Ryan may disagree with me. (Ok, I’ll be hurt for a while, but I will inevitably come back for another peek at Newburyport’s local journal, The Undertoad.)

Actually, Mr. Ryan was one of the inspirations for the Newburyport Political Blog. I watched him as he started the Undertoad (see earlier post), an entrepreneurial venture and admired how it took off and how it has affected the City of Newburyport, Massachusetts. As far as I’m concerned Tom Ryan was one of the original bloggers, he just happened to do it in print. If Tom Ryan ever decides to go online and do something like blog, you can bet I’d check it out every day.

So, thank you Mr. Ryan. Your write up in The Undertoad was very, very kind.

( P.S. If you have trouble remembering the web address, if you go to Google and put in “Newburyport blog”, the Newburyport Political Blog should come right up.)

Mary Eaton, Newburport

Neighborhood Development in Newburyport, Massachusetts

As people living in Newburyport, I think often our first gut reaction when we find out that there is going to be new development in our neighborhood is “no way.”

I’ve seen projects where the neighborhood has worked with the developer and Newburyport Planning Office and come up with a solution (Fruit Street for example.) And neighborhoods that have refused to work with the developer in the first round of negotiations and the results have been messy and unpleasant.

A piece of property sold in my neighborhood and a developer was chosen by the seller. The immediate reaction of the neighbors (including me) was suspicion. We went down to the Planning Office at City Hall and got the plans for the property and we were not happy with what we saw.

I went and talked to the Planning Director, Nick Cracknell, and he explained that as a neighborhood we could work with the developer and come up with something that could be a win-win situation.

I also talked to a friend of mine who I trust to be objective and fair. What this person told me, and I think it was very wise advice, was that at this juncture we as a neighborhood had the opportunity to work with the developer. But if we dug our heels in and refused to compromise, the developer could come back with a proposal that fit within the zoning ordinances, but could be detrimental to the community.

So as a neighborhood we embarked in the process of working with Nick Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director, and the developer to try and come up with a win-win situation that would not only benefit our neighborhood but the community at large.

Did we as a neighborhood get everything we wanted, of course not? Did the developer get everything he wanted, of course not? But I look out my window and see a beautiful new dwelling and know that the Victorian house also on the property was thoughtfully renovated.

Did the new development cause change and impact the dynamics of the neighborhood? Of course it did. Is this a bad thing? No, because this is part of adapting to life.

As I said in an earlier post my feeling is that communities are organic. We as a City are going through huge changes. I think as a community we have a responsibility not only on a City level, but on a neighborhood level as well, to not have a “not in my neighborhood” mentality. We can instead choose to see growth as part of an inevitable process and work towards integrating it well into the City of Newburyport as much as we possibly can. Then we as a community have the challenge to try and constructively incorporate the changes that have taken place. Both of these things take time and are not necessarily easy.

So I think it’s just not the City of Newburyport (the Newburyport Planning Board, the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals and the Newburyport Planning Office) and the developers that are solely responsible for “smart growth” in our City, but it is the people on a neighborhood level as well.

Change is really hard, but on a neighborhood level, we as citizens can either embrace and help the process, or dig in our heels and at the end of the process not have a say in the end result.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport Massachusetts, a Possible Design Review Board for the City

In today’s Newburyport Daily News, February 16, 2006, Douglas Locy, the Chairman of the Planning Board, writes in a Letter to the Editor that Newburyport may now get a chance to have a Design Review Board (DRB.) Both the Newburyport Planning Board and Newburyport’s Planning Director, Nick Cracknell, have been actively working towards this goal for a couple of years.

Mayor John Moak met with the Newburyport Planning Board and suggested that a DRB be created to advise them. Now with Mayor Moak’s support, Mr. Locy says that a “zoning amendment to create a DRB could be submitted to the City Council and open to public hearing by this April. This proposed five-member DRB would likely consist of a registered architect, a landscape architect, a developer, a member of the Historical Commission and a member of either the Planning Board or ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals).”

I think this is a very positive development and it would be a great for the City of Newburyport if a DRB could be implemented.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport