Newburyport, David Hall a Great Example of a Thoughtful Developer

In another response to Ron Martino’s post, David Hall, of Hall and Moskow, is a great example of someone in the community who has combined the old with the new.

David has also won the trust of the community.

David Hall has done an incredible amount for historic preservation–the gallery for the Art Association and moving an historic building that was on his property to another site are two examples. He has the well earned trust of people in town who value historic preservation.

He has also been working on the Rail Trail for years and managed to raise the money as well as help build the Skate Park at the Newburyport Nock Middle School.

I think part of why David Hall has been so effective is that he also appreciates and respects all the work that the City boards and commissions do. He has his ego in check. He works well with the Planning Office and enjoys them. And has had, I think, a pretty good relationship with various city councils and administrations, partly because of his easy going personality, and partly because all of the variety of ways that he has enhanced life in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

David Hall has built, what I consider to be a beautiful new building at the Tannery (not to mention the Tannery itself, which is a whole other post) which is contemporary, but fits in with Newburyport’s environment. To my knowledge there hasn’t been any contention about the new building (he also had a terrific opening where he invited the public in for a huge all day party for free–great public relations and marketing.)

The new building exists where two huge and unsightly storage tanks were once located. The new Tannery building consists of both residential and commercial units. It also provides parking and a pedestrian walkway connecting Water Street to the proposed Bike Path and to the Newburyport’s Waterfront. (And also in response to Ben Laing’s post, I think that this is an excellent example too of a development that benefits the citizens in Newburyport, Massachusetts.)

The Federal Street Overlay has been criticized by some architects as “being like Disney Land.” ( People tend to forget what might have gone in there, a huge 40-B housing project and also that the two historic homes on the property have been saved and beautifully renovated) Although I don’t agree with that opinion, I hope that most architects would agree that the new Tannery building is an architectural accomplishment as well as being an excellent example of a “win-win” situation for Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

A Business Point of View on the Towle Property in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Mr Laing’s observations would be true and solidly reasoned if Newburyport were at a perfect equilibrium point where the size of the City (value of property and thus the tax base) covered the basic overheads and necessities of the city.

In business there is the concept of the “break even point”. That’s defined as the level of income, in our case taxes, which are necessary to cover fixed costs. Once the “break even point” is met, all new income only has to pay for variable costs and in effect a profit is realized.

In the case of Newburyport, it seems to me that our strategy should be to grow rapidly toward a level of a property base that gets us to a “break even point.” Then we can provide services needed and get ourselves out of the destructive spiral of cutting based on tax burdens rather than “choosing” based on prudent management and priority setting.

Ron Martino, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Why the Towle Property is Good for Newburyport

In response to Ben Laing’s post, (and I think many people have the same questions that Mr. Laing does) it is my own opinion that a community is “organic,” it can either grow or die. Newburyport saw a “death” in the 1950’s and 1960’s and a “rebirth” started to take place with Urban Development in the “1970’s.”

Newburyport, Massachusetts has become a very desirable place to live and people have and will continue to move here, buy property and build. As a city we cannot stop people from building on their own private property. However, as a city we can advocate for “smart growth” and ask for something in return to make Newburyport a better place to live. One of the reasons I admire Nick Cracknell so much is that he has taken a very proactive approach in negotiating with developers and creating a “win-win” situation. For me the Towle Complex Redevelopment Overlay District is an excellent example.

The First Republic Corporation of America bought what was the old Towle building and has developed it in recent years. The property had been badly dilapidated and had become an eyesore instead of a piece of property that the people of Newburyport could be proud of. It is also a waterfront property and the developer, who wants to make money, would like to build luxury waterfront condominiums. That is the developer’s right, because the developer owns the property.

What the Newburyport Planning Office and the Newburyport Planning Board did was to create an “overlay district” to make it easier for the developer to do some things in return for some good things for the City of Newburyport. The developer will create a public access to the water, restore an important historic building, keep open space, make improvements to Cashman Park, create affordable housing, preserve the view of the Merrimack River from Tyng Street.

So, yes, Ben Laing is correct, this will put strain on city resources. However, the Towle development would have put strains on the city’s resources regardless. This way, the average citizen of Newburyport can once again be proud of the Towle property, as well as have the privilege of enjoying public access to the Merrimack River, along with the many other items mentioned above.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport Massachusetts, Is the Towle Development Really Good for Newburyport?

Hello Mary, I recently found your site and it’s very interesting. I read what you wrote about the Towle development and how it’s good news, but I have to ask, I’m simply curious and there are a lot of things about this issue that I admit I don’t know, but what is the benefit of this development for the citizens of Newburyport?

Increased development is going to strain our city’s resources (such as schools, traffic, road maintenance, etc.) and further it is going to take away from the overall beauty of the waterfront.

It seems to me that the argument for this project is that it creates an additional tax base. But my question is, as we’ve seen over the years, has development ever decreased our taxes? Have we really benefited from those additional revenues? It appears that those additional taxes simply go to cover the additional expenses the city accrues due to the new development.

Again, I’m a little naïve about this particular issue and I am simply curious as to what this additional development is going to mean for the city and how it benefits me and every other average citizen in Newburyport. I can see the downsides but I’m having trouble finding the positives.

Ben Laing, Newburyport

Newburyport City Council, February 13, 2006

Last night the Newburyport City Council unanimously passed the Towle Complex Redevelopment Overlay District in the first reading.

The Newburyport City Councilors expressed appreciation for all the hard work done by the Newburyport Planning Board, the developer, First Republic Corp. of America, and the Newburyport Planning Office. The city councilors seemed to have a sense of relief and even delight about this overlay district project.

(In a quick response to the earlier post by Ron Martino, this is an excellent example of a developer working with the City of Newburyport for a win-win situation. The developer won the trust of the City of Newburyport by addressing historic preservation issues (the developer will restores a 315-year-old home on the property), open space and public access concerns, as well as the issue of affordable housing. In return the developer will get the chance to build luxury waterfront condominiums. This is also an excellent example of combining the old with the new. Any thoughtful development takes time both on the part of the developer and the City of Newburyport. As far as I’m concerned, there should be no short cuts in regards to good sound development for the City of Newburyport. The long-term consequences for the City of Newburyport are just too important.)

The Newburyport City Council also took the NRA Water Front survey out of its two committees and voted to included it in the Newburyport City Census.

Two nice Valentine presents for the City of Newburyport.

The Newburyport City Council made sure the City Clerk’s office was temporarily well staffed and the staff adequately compensated. They also began to address how to start looking for a new City Clerk all over again. The issue of the Newburyport City Council finding a new City Clerk to replace Mayor John Moak has been discussed at length in The Undertoad, the Newburyport Daily News, and the Newburyport Current. The ongoing “saga” will most probably be further reported on. Unfortunately, The Undertoad is not online and only paid subscribers can read the Newburyport Daily News online. However, the Newburyport Current can be found at

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts Waterfront, NRA Survey Not Going Out With City Census

It appears that there is a move afoot to use a political maneuver to kill the Newburyport Redevelopment Association waterfront survey.

As most readers of this blog will already know, mayor Moak has said that regardless of what the results of this survey are, he plans to continue his effort to pave the central waterfront in Newburyport.

Now I have learned that city council has taken what I believe is an unprecedented action with regard to the survey that was presented to them as a courtesy by the NRA – at the request of Erford Fowler they have referred it to committee, in fact to TWO committees, where so far it has languished.

And as long as it is in committee, the acting city clerk has either refused or been instructed to refuse to include it in the Newburyport City Census as has been planned for months. To the best of my knowledge, action by City Council has never before been a requirement for including surveys or other information in the City Census. This action, taken at this late date, is questionable to say the least.

So, PLEASE show up for the City Council meeting tomorrow and insist that this survey be sent out with the Newburyport City Census – either because you believe the information is needed to plan the future of our downtown intelligently, or if you prefer because you object to what appears to many to be political hijinks of the worst sort.

The Newburyport City Council meeting starts at 7:30 at the Newbuyport City Hall. If you do make comments during the “comment” period, there will be a sign up sheet before the meeting. The Newburyport City Council asks that comments be kept to 2 minutes.

Jim Stiles, Newburyport

A Vision of Newburyport that Integrates and Saves the Old and Builds the New

I’ve only lived in Newburyport for 2 years and I admire the great old buildings which were saved from “urban renewal” by those dedicated preservationists in the past. But…I’ve got this conflict of ideas that I could use some help sorting out.

In addition to saving the old, I believe in progress, growth, prosperity and private property rights. I’d like to see a future based on a vision of Newburyport that integrates and saves the old and builds the new.

After all, the great old buildings exist because someone was once entrepreneurial and prospered. I’d like to see BOTH great old buildings and great new buildings harmoniously integrated into the living fabric of the city. I don’t want us to be just a museum.

Here’s one idea, maybe its a bit too optimistic (probably more likely naïve) but…why can’t the entrepreneurs and RE owners decide to pledge to some sort of “code of reverence” for the old and unique built heritage of Newburyport.

They shouldn’t do this out of altruism only. That’s not the way of practical leaders of business. They should consider it in exchange for the active support of those who are historically and preservation minded. The preservationist community should actively support those who take such a pledge.

And we need to differentiate between ‘a great old building’ and ‘just an old building’. After all the Merrimack Valley is full of 3-deckers that are almost 100 years old, and most of us would say with few exceptions they can be replaced with something better.

I’m thinking of some sort of “Grand Bargain” where it becomes easier to develop property in exchange for good solid, genuine respect for our built environment, scenic vistas, etc. Maybe planning boards, zoning boards, and historical commissions can set out some ideas of what it means to exhibit “good stewardship” and if developers agree to that code of behavior, they could get a easier and less costly process to approval.

Time is money. Give these developers a clear path and a less time consuming process and in exchange, demand authentic care for the built environment.

Of course if some are opposed to all growth, any growth period, then they won’t be part of this bargain. I’m afraid I think some people who want no change or growth at all will participate in the planning process just as a delaying tactic and not really out of an open minded desire to just ‘get it right’.

Personally I think we can have both growth and preservation, both history and progress. Its not and question of either/or.

Can someone help me sort this out?

Ron Martino, Newburyport

Zoning and Planning in Newburyport, Massachusetts

In the Newburyport Daily News, Tuesday, February 7, 2006, there is an article on “the developer’s plan to build new condominiums and renovate existing buildings on the property behind the Towle building.”

The City of Newburyport has worked with the developer for nearly a year to work out a compromise that benefits the City. “The property owners will renovate existing historic homes on the property and preserve the view of the Merrimack River from Tyng Street by keep all buildings out of that sight
line.” They will also “incorporate open space and public access, including extension of city harborwalk.”

This is made possible by a “zoning overlay.”

Mayor John Moak is quoted as saying, “Not being an expert in zoning, it seemed like a good approach.”

It is a great approach and has been used successfully since Nick Cracknell’s arrival as Planning Director to save a number of projects from really inappropriate design.

Addressing zoning issues like the Towle project is an unbelievably complicated and time-consuming process. I am glad John Moak admits that he is not “an expert in zoning, ” but he has a Planning Director who is.

I hope John Moak examines this project in detail and understands the intricacy and negotiations that have gone on to make it a possibility (the Towle project needs to be passed by the Newburyport City Council.) I hope he also realizes that the Towle project and the other very successful zoning overlays would never have taken place without the guidance and expertise of Newburyport’s Planning Director, Nicholas Cracknell.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Support in Local Media Today for Newburyport’s Planning Director

I’m very happy to say that there is tremendous support for Nicholas Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director in today’s local media.

Douglas Locy, the Chairman of Newburyport’s Planning Board wrote an outstanding Letter to the Editor in today’s Newburyport Daily News. Mr. Locy details Nick Cracknell’s many talents, work ethic and the varied and complex contributions that Mr. Crackell has made to Newburyport, Massachusetts. Mr. Locy goes on to say why Mr. Crackell’s expertise is essential to navigating the many complex developments that Newburyport is already facing. He strongly urges Mayor John Moak to reappoint Nick Cracknell as Newburyport’s Planning Director.

(In sitting in on Newburyport’s various boards and committee’s, it’s my own opinion that Doug Locy is one of Newburyport’s treasures–intelligent, even tempered and fair minded. I would think any endorsement by Mr. Locy should be taken very, very seriously.)

Jim Roy’s article in the Newburyport Current addresses planning and development issues facing Newburyport, Massachusetts. Mr. Roy gives high praise to Nicholas Cracknell and also goes into great detail as to why Nick Cracknell is essential to Newburyport’s present and future.

Donna O’Neil, in today’s Newburyport Current, also gives a strong endorsement for Nick Cracknell as Newburyport’s Planning Director.

What I hear is a veritable scream that Nick Cracknell is indispensable for Newburyport, Massachusetts. I don’t recall this level of support for a department head before, and I sure hope our new Mayor John Moak is listening.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, A Detailed Oriented Mayor

There are people who look at the whole forest or the big picture and there are people who look at the trees, or the details. These are actual personality types formulated by Myers-Briggs (R). For example a “forest person” would be a writer and a “tree person” would be a copy editor. Luckily in life both exist.

In reading the article in today’s Newburyport Daily News about Mayor John Moak’s approach to the budget, he appears to be a detail or “tree person.” I was impressed that he was having all the department heads “focusing on goals and justification for every account within their department.” That they will be “describing their accomplishments, goals, trends and a three-year analysis of staffing levels.” I’m impressed. As a “forest person” this never would have occurred to me. And I’ll be interested in what the new administration comes up with.

In running a city it would be nice to have two kinds of mayors, a detail oriented mayor and a big picture mayor. According to Myers-Briggs you can’t have both in one person–too bad.

I looked over the Newburyport Master Plan, created under Mayor Lisa Mead. Mayor Mead appears to be a “forest” or “big picture” person. In rereading Newburyport’s Master Plan I was impressed by it’s scope as well as the diverse personalities who helped implement it. It’s very impressive.

To go back to our Planning Director (I know, I’m beginning to actually “harp” on the subject, forgive me), Nick Cracknell is definitely a “big picture”, “forest” person and being a “big picture” person myself, it’s one of the reasons I identify with him.

In managing Newburyport, I hope Mayor John Moak will have a variety of people on his team, “forest” people and “tree” people. It’s hard to mix them, but it makes for a rounded outlook.

I would love it if the City of Newburyport could have a “big picture” planning director, who would appreciate the necessity of detail orientation. And a detailed oriented mayor, who sees the necessity of having a planning director whose strength is in looking to the future as well as dealing with the present.

I would hate to see Mr. Cracknell replaced by someone whose strengths are detail oriented. We already have an excellent Project Manager in Geordie Vinning. I really appreciate that Nicholas Cracknell has obviously taken a long and hard look at Newburyport’s Master Plan, the big picture, and is beginning to implement the vision of Newburyport that so many people had a say in (including, I was interested to find out, John Moak.)

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Mayor Moak Wins Hearts, Money of Local Business (and yes, Developers)

Tom Ryan, the editor of The Undertoad, way back in November wrote that developers won when John Moak was elected mayor.

One of today’s leading stories in the Newburyport Daily News is about how the largest donations to Mayor Moak’s campaign were from local developers and business owners. The Newburyport Daily News goes on to name them.

(Having the story on the front page of the Daily News this morning made me wonder if Mr. Moak and his supporters are actually reading the Newburyport Political Blog and would like their side of the story to be told.)

I would like to say for the record that my experience has been that often the business community has been reluctant if not the very last segment of the Newburyport community to get behind issues that are important to local historic preservation.

In fighting for High Street’s preservation against MassHighway, I found myself frustrated in getting the business community to take a stand against such an obvious threat to the community and their own economic prosperity.

In the fight to save One Temple Street against demolition, it was actually an institution in the business community that was destroying part of historic downtown Newburyport.

Most of the developers that are listed in the Newburyport Daily News are not historic preservationist. Often the shell of a building that these developers “restore” maybe left standing, but all the historic elements are usually gutted and often rescued by someone in the community who understands their worth.

No wonder that there are supporters of John Moak who dislike Nicholas Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director, so much. Mr. Cracknell is a planning director that is holding developers in Newburyport accountable and fighting for real historic preservation.

If I were Mayor John Moak, I would not be proud of the article in today’s Newburyport Daily News. I would be embarrassed that there are people who supported his campaign that often actively work against historic preservation. They may deny it, but people in Newburyport, Massachusetts know that it’s true.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Elections Matter

Before the mayoral election last November, I would walk around Newburyport and in the course of conversation would ask people why they were voting for our then City Clerk, John Moak.

People would say things like, “He’s my neighbor, I’ve known him for a while and he’s a nice guy, he’s been City Clerk so he must know something about running the government.” I would agree with every one of these statements. Unfortunately, being the Mayor of Newburyport, Massachusetts is more than being a “nice guy” (although that it sure doesn’t hurt) or knowing a lot about how our city government is run. Being the Mayor is also about “making policy,” and that was never an issue that came up in any of my conversations (amazingly enough.)

I applaud our new Mayor in his priority of restoring City Hall (not all politicians in Newburyport would agree with him.) Although there is definitely an ambivalence about having a garage downtown, I also think there is a great deal of doubt about paving over the entire Waterfront (see earlier posts, put in “waterfront” in the search box in the main part of the Newburyport Political Blog.)

Historic preservation is a huge priority for this small New England City (there are any number of posts that address this issue.) At the moment we have a Planning Director whose strength is historic preservation. There are an immense number of issues that the Planning Office is addressing, all of them complex. Even if the Mayor would be able to find another Planning Director to replace Nicholas Cracknell, it would take that person at least 6 months if not a year to get a handle on all the things that are going on.

One of my reservations about having John Moak as our mayor is that he had worked inside City Hall as City Clerk for 11 years. And that, yes, this would give him a significant insight into how our City government is run. But, it is impossible as a human being not to be involved in the lives of the people who he has worked with.

I am concerned that John Moak will be able to be objective when he is negotiating the union contract for the City Hall workers, for example. And there are endless rumors about the friction between various people within City Hall and the Planning Office. There is no question that Nicholas Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director, is a strong personality. But I wonder, as I wander around City Hall, hearing conversations, if Mr. Moak’s reluctance to reappoint Nicholas Cracknell to a 2 year contract, has something to do with the personal animosity that some people in City Hall appear to have for Mr. Cracknell.

So, elections matter a great deal. It is not enough to be affable and well versed in the ways of City government. Making political policy as well an ability to be objective and to turn a deaf ear to other’s personal agendas is also extremely relevant.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

An Update on the Status of Newburyport’s Planning Director, Nicholas Cracknell

There is an update on the status of Planning Director Nicholas Cracknell.

It looks like Nick Cracknell will be staying on for another three months. The “trial period” is now being referred to as the “holdover period,” and it looks like the City’s union is working on the contract clarification with the administration for Mr. Cracknell. However, as of this morning, 6 days after Nicholas Cracknell’s contract had expired, nothing had yet been finalized.

It sounds like Mr. Cracknell would very much like to stay on permanently as Newbuyrport’s Planning Director. All the support for him has certainly been a factor in his willingness to stay for this “holdover period,” even though the administration, shall we say, is ambivalent.

I would encourage people to keep contacting Mayor John Moak and continue to urge him to take the long view and keep Nicholas Cracknell on as Planning Director. (As someone said to me as I was explaining that it looked like Newburyport’s Mayor John Moak was planning to let Mr. Cracknell go, “what are they, crazy!”)

Mayor John Moak can be reached at 978-465-4413. His email address is You can also write Mayor Moak at Newburyport City Hall, Newburyport, Massachusetts, 01950.

Letters to the Editor at the Newburyport Daily News are also a very effective way to let the administration know how important Nicholas Cracknell is to the future of historic Newburyport. Letters to the Editor can be emailed to Merrily Bucks at And there have been a number of letters of support in the Newburyport Daily News for Mr. Cracknell already. I would urge people keep on writing them.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Nick Cracknell, John Moak and the Job of Newburyport Planning Director

Having read today’s Newburyport Daily News, which was a little confusing, I’m guessing as to what may be happening with our planning director.

The good news is it sounds like Nick Cracknell would like to be re-appointed for another two years. The bad news (at least from my point of view) is that it doesn’t sound like Mayor John Moak has done that.

There is a huge list of pending projects (just the Perkins Mint and the Wheelwright House would be overwhelming enough) and it sounds like Nick Cracknell and the Mayor Moak discussed the scope of what is being done by the Planning Department for the City of Newburyport.

It also sounds like Nicholas Cracknell quite rightly would like a proper severance pay and is probably negotiating for that if he stays on for another 3 months or is “let go” during that period.

If he doesn’t get the proper severance pay for the “trial” period, it sounds like he will leave right away.

If the City does give him a guaranteed severance pay, it sounds like Nick Cracknell might stay on and work on the many, many projects that are going on in Newburyport.

Would Mayor John Moak be convinced to keep this very talented planning director if he does stay on for this “trial period?” If he isn’t giving him a two year contract now, having known Mr. Cracknell for the entire time that he’s been here, it sounds unlikely.

It seems very shortsighted and it makes me very sad.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Nicholas Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director in his Office This Morning

The deadline for Nick Cracknell’s departure was yesterday, January 31, 2006, unless he was willing to stay on for a “trial period.”

I called the Planning Office at 8:35 this morning and asked if our Planning Director had cleared out his office or was still there. And yes, as of this morning Nicholas Cracknell is still in Newburyport.

(I haven’t seen today’s Newburyport Daily News yet, so I have no idea if there is story on Mr. Cracknell or not.)

The outpouring of support for Mr. Cracknell has been overwhelming. Many people have echoed Mr. Shoul’s sentiments in today’s earlier post, “Nicholas Cracknell is absolutely necessary for Newburyport. Without him historic Newburyport will crumble.”

I am relieved that Mr. Cracknell is still with us. I can only hope that Mayor Moak will take a look a the “larger picture” in Linda Miller’s words, set aside differences and reappoint Nicholas Cracknell permanently as Newburyport’s Planning Director.

I also hope Mr. Cracknell knows how much so many of the people in Newbuyrport appreciate him. And from the emails and phone calls I’ve received, Nick Cracknell is not only appreciated by people in Newburyport, but also by people in the surrounding areas and across the state as well.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Reaction to the Proposal to Pave Over Newburyport’s Waterfront

I talked to a number of people about Jim Stiles’s posting and the fact that Mayor Moak would like to pave over the Waterfront and make the whole thing a parking lot.

The response I get is “No, can’t be. Oh, no, I voted for this guy. I voted for the wrong guy.”

Tom Ryan, the editor of the Undertoad was right. Many people in Newburyport who have lived here for a while have met John Moak, an affable fellow, as the City Clerk, assumed they knew what his politics would be, and felt comfortable voting for him. My recollection is that Tom Ryan pointed out that after the election people would be horrified by Mr. Moak’s politics.

So far Mayor Moak is threatening to fire Newburyport’s Planning Director, Nick Cracknell, who stands up to developers (Jim Roy’s words, see earlier post) and would like to pave over the Waterfront.

I’m sure the response I got was not an aberration. Many people who voted for John Moak will be distressed that they did so. I hope they call and email the new mayor and let him know that they are not happy, that this is not why they voted him into office.

Mayor John Moak can be reached at 978-465-4413. His email address is

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Please Save the Perkins Mint on Fruit Street

I was a resident of Newburyport from 1922 to 1940. I am keenly interested in Jacob Perkins’s workshop and have been talking with Jim Roy, Nick Cracknell, Al Cliffordf, Jay Williamson, Wilhelmina Lunt and others.

Nicholas Cracknell is absolutely necessary for Newburyport. Without him historic Newburyport will crumble.

James Lagoulis’s plan to restore the front of the “Mint” and to place living space inside the “Mint” is the least attractive of the many solutions.

I have written the Bureau of Engraving and Printing asking them to make a site visit to view the building where Jacob Perkins created his inventions in relationship to steel engraving and the development of the methods to produce paper money. I will work towards interesting them in assisting in the reconstruction of the Perkins Mint. Newburyport survives on history, historic sites and historic heritage.

I applaud your writings in the Newburyport Political Blog, Mary. My feelings are similar to yours.

Melvin Shoul, Newton, MA