Further Clarification on the 40B Project and the ZBA

Dear Mary,

Having just read your item on our conversation I would like to make a slight addition just so that no one is mislead about the strict legal possibilities as compared with past experience and probabilities.

You and I knew just what we were saying as we talked and I would like those persons not in that conversation with us to also be clear on this.

Past experience with significant projects, 40B (1 in Newburyport) and others is that they tend to take time involving multiple hearing dates. Both for continuances while the applicant sorts out external events that arise. And then multiple hearing dates for presentations pro and con plus questions by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and often the referral of data to specialists supporting the ZBA’s analysis.

Also, because of the complexity that usually accompanies significant projects, the hearing date where volumes of substantive presentations are expected are usually assigned to meetings devoted to that single application.

That reflects past experience and probability, however, the legal reality, although remote for significant projects, is that at any scheduled hearing for a particular application the ZBA could receive presentations, public comment, ask questions, undertake deliberation and even a vote, if the ZBA so desired.

Legally public notice for these hearings, once the hearing has originally been opened, is the continuation date set by the ZBA at the currently scheduled hearing date. There are no further “published” legal notices as the law presumes that if you are interested you are there or at least are aware.

These are the legal possibilities, not the probabilities, but I don’t want anyone to misconstrue what “could” occur and somehow lose an opportunity to hear or be heard about a particular application.

The ZBA is not about “gotcha too bad,” it is about open public process, but there are some underlying legal rules under which the ZBA functions that need to be understood.

I’m sorry if this muddies the waters that had a moment of apparent clarity but I wouldn’t want anyone to become overly complacent relative to any proceeding where their possible interests are involved.

If there are other questions as to procedures or particular hearings the Newburyport Office of Planning and Development can help or refer.

The Low Street project that you mentioned has requested and received a number of continuances as they have dealt with external events. At the ZBA meeting of April 25 they requested a further 2-month continuance to permit them to proceed with certain meetings with various city entities.

The ZBA granted a 2-week continuance and requested that a representative appear at the meeting of May 10 (delayed from the 9th because of the special election) to provide further detail in support of the continuance request.


Ed Ramsdell, Newburyport

(Editor’s note: Ed Ramsdell is the chair of the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals.)

ZBA and Woodman 40B Project

I got a chance to talk briefly with Ed Ramdsell the chair of the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) about the 40B Project on Low Street on the Woodman Property.

What Mr. Ramdsell told me was that the 40B project would be on the ZBA agenda often, but that did not mean that anything significant would happen at any particular meeting.

Mr. Ramdsell also told me that because the 40B Low Street project is so complicated that whole ZBA meetings would be devoted to that project only.

Since this is such an important issue for so many people in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Ed Ramdsell said that the ZBA would make sure to let media outlets know when something of significance was going to happen.

One of the things I learned early on as an activist is that people get “meeting fatigue,” so it’s really important to know which meetings are significant. And I really appreciate that Mr. Ramdsell will let the community know which meetings are important to go to.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

What Gives With the Norbert Thing?

Ok, I was on blog-break. And no I didn’t watch the Newburyport City Council meeting last Tuesday, so I didn’t get to hear what anyone said about the Norbert Carey reappointment, so I don’t know the “arguments” for why in the world he got the a-ok.

First of all I couldn’t believe that Norbert Carey was on the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) in the first place. Mr. Carey is a developer, is developing a very controversial piece of land–the Russell Terrace project, and has had some not so good looking run-ins concerning land for the Rail Trail Project (whole other post.) All of this would, in my mind, create a conflict of interest. Seems to be a no-brainer to me.

So what happened? This was the Newburyport City Council that shot down the Byron Matthews appointment on the first reading no less. On my fingers I thought there would have been at least 5 possibly 6 votes against Mr. Carey. Progressives, where were you?

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Faux/Foe Progressives

I have a bone to pick with Tom Ryan the Editor of The Undertoad and The Undertoad Blog, it’s this business of “faux/foe progressives.”

For goodness sakes, progressives are human beings just like anyone else. We’re all full of peccadilloes (myself very much included.) So progressives got “upset” after Lisa Mead lost to Al Lavender and Donna Holaday lost to John Moak. Anger is one of the very natural responses to loss. Frankly, it would be worrisome if they weren’t angry.

Ok, progressives aren’t saints and not all of them act with “grace and dignity” all the time. So what. They are still progressives, and as far as I know, they aren’t corrupt.

Bruce Vogel has been singled out of late in Mr. Ryan’s sight line. One could easily think of Mr. Vogel as being assertive, a tad over eager, and possibly having the grave sin of lacking “political finesse” at times. Frankly as a resident I’d rather have a City Councilor be “gung-ho” at times than asleep at the wheel. In a “post Cracknell world” an “over-eager” progressive on the City Council works for me.

And Walter Clay…my, my. Mr. Clay did play the unfortunate game of “get the Toad.” As Mr. Clay has found out, playing “get the Toad,” especially playing “financially get the Toad” backfires big time. Mr. Ryan’s response was to start a blog, so now Mr. Ryan cannot only torture Mayor John Moak 24/7, but also anyone else, including Mr. Clay. However, despite foolishly playing “get the Toad,” Mr. Clay is and has been a long time progressive. As far as I am concerned we need every one we can get in the “John Moak Era.”

So if this gets me “Toaded,” well, I don’t care. Mr. Ryan and I could start a “battle of the blogs.” Be good for both of us. Ratings would soar…maybe. We could both cash in…maybe.

Tonight, progressives “faux” and “unfaux,” will mingle at the “Nick Cracknell rumble.” Of course we will all try and keep it light. But I hope we will all stick together like glue for the remaining duration of Mr. Moak’s administration…19months and 2 days…but who’s counting.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

The Rumble and Blog-Vapors

The “rumble” tonight in honor of our axed Planning Director, Nick Cracknell, certainly cheers me up. The expectation of a good rumble is enough to at least shake off blog-bog, temporarily lessen mind-mush, and vaguely evaporate blog-vapors.

Last week when I stopped by the Planning Office to drop off my $12 for tonight’s reverberations, I asked if this was a “wake” or a “celebration.” I was told every effort was going to be made to “keep it light.”

Well, of course, I’m going to wear black anyway. I thought seriously of wearing a black arm-band, but of course that could add a pall to the “festivities.” It most probably would not be met with glee by the event’s hard working hosts. I guess who could blame them. A very big “thank you” to Doug Locy and Geordie Vining.

I think I might save the black arm-band to wear while wandering around the downstairs of City Hall the next time I pay a visit. (I don’t know what “dates” me more, “black arm-band,” “rumble” or “the vapors.”)

Apparently a large turn out is in order. Could this possibly send a message to Mayor John Moak? Big mistake, Pyrrhic victory, activist coming out of the woodwork…I’m guessing that the “rumble” has only just begun.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Spring Fever

I have a very serious case of “spring fever.” The doctor is calling for immediate “blog-rest” saying this could develop into a serious case of “blog-burnout.” Oh, dear.

The doctor suggests no blogging, no emails, no computer, no newspapers or periodicals for about a week. I am going to do my best to try and follow the doctor’s orders.

Plus she (the doctor) has noticed that lately I’ve been tearing my hair out over Mayor John Moak’s political actions.

After the consultation, it was obvious that it just isn’t worth it to go bald over this administration. I just happen to like my hair, thank you very much.

So she (the doctor) stressed even more firmly that it might be a good idea to take some time off, calm down and try to get some sort of perspective on the situation. Personally, I think this is optimistic. I don’t think I’m going to have any better perspective in just one week, four or five years maybe, but just one week, no. But, I’m willing to give it a shot. It’s most definitely worth giving it a try, especially if there is any possibility that I might be able to keep my tresses.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, 40B Housing, the Woodman Property

I think I may have finally calmed down enough to comment on Mayor John Moak’s decision to go ahead with a 40B housing project on the Woodman property on Low Street in Newburyport. The property is across the street from the shopping plaza that contains Shaws.

Where to even begin.

A) Newburyport’s Planning Office, under the leadership of Nick Cracknell (now axed by Mayor John Moak) had come up with a solution. 10 dwellings that would include affordable housing, a compromise between a huge development and open space. Yet another one of the many Nick Craknell win-win situations.

B) Mayor John Moak throws out that solution in favor of a 40B housing project. Paired down from, 150 to 100 units, we think.

C) This decision takes place without the Planning Director being part of the decision making process (The Undertoad Blog, April 14, 2006.) Talk about hubris.

D) This not only shows an incredibly lack of respect and contempt (The Undertoad Blog, April 2006) for soon to be gone Planning Director, Nick Cracknell, but it also shows an incredible lack of respect and contempt for all the boards and committees that helped make this very thoughtful compromise a possibility.

E) The realtor involved is Dick Sullivan, former mayor and major Moak supporter, part of the “good old boy” network (The Undertoad Blog, April 14,2006.) My feeling is that it is always a good thing to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The fact that this has the “who cares about anyone else, I’m taking care of my own, thank you very much,” thing written all over it, drives me absolutely nuts.

F) What in the world is this 150-100 unit project going to do to this particular area? This is huge folks. How about the traffic in that area, which is congested already. The burden on the new Low Street sewer system that’s just been put into place. And no, I don’t buy this empty-nester thing. Obviously families will move into a complex like the one proposed. One can only imagine how that will affect our school system.

G) I feel utterly helpless and wonder if it will ever be possible to get through to Mayor John Moak. Well, now I’ve worked myself into such a state again over this particular issue, that I’m going to stop writing this particular blog post for now. And I’m going to try and calm down and maybe try and address this issue at a later date.

H) And no, I do not think that Mayor John Moak has any time to “turn it around,” thank you very much. I think this is just one more large, very large nail in John Moak’s political coffin.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Development and Greed

I have this horrible feeling, having gotten a phone call from a developer (see earlier post) that developers actually are reading this blog to get information about Newburyport.

I figured it would basically be a local readership, but apparently not. According to the email I received, I am apparently “reaching the masses.” This is not necessarily a good thing.

So I was thinking, Ok, what if I was a developer and I was reading the Newburyport Political Blog, what would it sound like from their point of view.

Well, we have Mr. Karp as a landlord, not exactly small potatoes, so that must mean it’s a pretty good place to invest in. They were picking up that I wasn’t exactly too happy with the mayor from a policy point of view. And if you read the Newburyport Political Blog, there is a lot of chit, chat about how the mayor sure does sound like he is pro-developer. And we have a very pro-active, pro “smart growth” planning director who’s been fired.

When I think about the Newburyport Political Blog from that perspective, Newburyport must sound like a developer’s playground. No wonder there was a (most probably a lot more than one) developer from out of state sniffing around our small, historic, seaport city. Makes me feel sort of ill.

This brings me to the subject of greed. How many people in Newburyport are there out there, if a Target came to town, if they could make mucho money, would jump at it, integrity of Newburyport be damned. Of course it would be called tax base first, being fiscally conservative, Newburyport’s best interest at heart, jobs for one and for all.

Money, lots and lots of money, does very strange things to folks. We’ve all seen it happen again and again. Yes?

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Motherhood

Since I seem to be on a Mom-blogging roll, so to speak, I thought I would blog a little more about my son.

At first I wasn’t going to ask his permission. After all if you have a mom who’s a blogger, you’ll probably appear on her blog sooner or later, right? But I did ask him, and he said it was fine by him.

I talk to parents with younger children all the time. And their worries and concerns are exactly what my worries and concerns as a younger parent used to be. And I know that at certain key phases of a child’s life, as a parent one thinks that it will never be Ok. Frankly, sometimes it never is. But by and large, for the most part, it appears that things, one way or another, usually turn out just fine.

When Ulrika Gerth, the editor of the Newburyport Current came to do her story on the Newburyport Political Blog, she saw the poem that my son wrote, which I have above my computer.

Her reaction, was the same as mine, she was deeply moved. Since I’ve already published my son’s poem on my website, Mary Baker Art, I figured it was ok to publish it on the Newburyport Political Blog. Everyday my son’s poem gives my day meaning and it gives my day hope.

in my belly is the sea
of my mother
i am the wind
a white dress
slips through a hand
like water
this is love

© Hal Fickett 2003

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Being a Mom Living in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Living in Newburyport as a mother I worried as my child grew up, what good mother doesn’t?

I remember carrying my son out under my arm, him kicking and screaming, and wondering what in the world people might be thinking. When I see mom’s doing the same thing now, I give them a broad smile and say to them “been there,” knowing that that was just part of the process, and it turned out just fine. I want to say, “Honey, it’s Ok, you’ve just joined the millions.”

I see the latest crop of “urchins” as I used to call them, popping up downtown. I forget exactly what age, somewhere in Middle School, probably around 7th grade. I remember the utter fear of every parent that their child would be hanging around downtown in front of Richdales. I think the location changed to in front of the library, I’m not quite sure where it is now.

When I pass the latest crop of “urchins” downtown, I just smile. I think they are so cute. Their strike at independence so obvious and now to me so benign.

And when I walk along the playground at the Brown School and see the pick-up games going on at the basket ball hoops, I want to clap. I want to shout, “Yes! Good for you! You go guys.” Of course I don’t, they would think I was crazy and I would completely embarrass them. But I always think it.

And probably my favorite, are the kids on Inn Street. I remember the fear of every parent, that their child would be hanging down at “that place,” doing who knows what. But I think they are delightful too. It’s all I can do not to stop and sit on the bench where they are, say nothing, listen to their conversations and just enjoy the fact that they are there. I asked my son if he thought they would mind, and the answer was, “Yes, Mom.” So, so far, I’ve managed to refrain.

And now that my child is older and about to graduate from college and about to go onto whatever is next in his own journey, I get such delight from seeing all the kids, all over Newburyport. I know that things will turn out in varying degrees of “success” with some tragedy along the way. But I thoroughly enjoy that they are part of my experience of living in Newburyport, Massachusetts. And even though they are completely oblivious that I see and enjoy them so much, and that they enliven my experience, I would like to thank them for the privilege of just having them be there.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport’s Guardian Angels

I’ve just come back from seeing my son perform a “solo performance” that he wrote–an independent study for college. My son graduates from college this May.

Sitting in the dark theater surrounded by his adorable, wonderful and boisterous fellow travelers, I forgot that the amazing versatile and gifted young man on stage, performing this remarkable, poetic piece, was the child that I gave birth to.

In the audience were two people from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

The first was Greg Moss, who cast my son in a play that he wrote and directed called “Yoohoo and Hank Williams.” An incredibly poignant play, performed at the Black Box at the Tannery, a play I’ve always wanted to see not only at the Fire House, but always thought it was worthy off-Broadway.

Greg Moss’ mother is Maureen Daly, who was my son’s kindergarten teacher. Mr. Moss’ father is yes, “Mr. Moss”, Myron Moss, my son’s poetry teacher his senior year at Newburyport High School. A family that so lovingly has book-ended my son’s earlier education.

Suzanne Bryan, my son’s high school theatre teacher, was also in the audience. “Mrs. Bryan” was one of his first high school “guardian angels.” Without Suzanne Bryan, there would have been no college “solo performance” this April.

When my son was going through the Newburyport school system, I would hear parents complain and complain. But I was always amazed at the men and women who showed up everyday, who had a gift that I could never imagine having, and cajoled, inspired, were exasperated and proud of my child. I always tried to thank them.

And there were many “guardian angles.” One always worth mentioning, Bernadette Darnell. There would have been no college experience, period, with out “Mrs. Darnell.”

I hear parents say to me today, “Ah, but your son’s experience was so different from our child’s experience.” I just say “Oh.” But, what I would like to say is, “Hush, be still, listen. If you open your eyes you will find your child’s guardian angels. No one has taken them away. They are most definitely there. There is a treasure hunt ready to happen.”

The guardian angles all through the Newburyport school system, made my son’s college experience possible. It is in part because of their dedication, warmth and caring that he will graduate from college this May. And for that I can never thank them enough. I know I am proud. And I am sure that they are proud too.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

(My son is Hal Fickett. You can see his web page at www.halfickett.com.)

Newburyport, Local Blog Journalism

I think one of the biggest “stories” this week is Tom Ryan and The Undertoad Blog.

Mr. Ryan has taken the blog software, has understood its potential and has “run with it.” And there has been some outstanding “local blog journalism” and “local blog photo-journalism” on The Undertoad Blog.

I think people are going to look back and say to themselves that this was such an obvious thing to do, why didn’t anyone do it sooner. And my feeling it’s just a matter of time when the national media pick up a story like this one.

I think my favorite piece so far has been the one on the City Council’s interviews with the three applicants for City Clerk.

First of all there is the factor of “immediacy.” The “story” was reported the night it happened.

Second of all the photograph is very powerful. As a resident, I usually see the Newburyport City Council in its very formal setting at council meetings. But here was a glimpse of the Newburyport City Council in a way that most residents never see them. It appeared to be an informal but very thoughtful gathering. It gave a “face” to the Council, and gave the average resident (me) an understanding of just how much work the Newburyport City Councilors must do.

It was fascinating to me that the way the interviews were reported. I felt as if I were there too. The first candidate, the second candidate and then the overwhelming vote of confidence in the third candidate. Also Mr. Ryan’s reporting of the body language of the City Council during the interview, gave an insight into what the process must be like, in an intimate way that is not (or has not been) possible in a regular newspaper.

It was also a relief as a resident, that the Newburyport City Council looked like it had a fairly clear consensus on what has turned out to be a difficult issue. And it was a relief that it looked like this issue was about to behind us and we as a city could get on with things. It made me proud of the Newburyport City Council, and it made me proud to be a resident of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

And I also thought Mr. Ryan did an outstanding job of reporting on the fire of the Woodman Way apartments. I found out about the fire on the Undertoad Blog.

Again the photograph of John Moak and Steve Cutter was incredibly moving. You could see the empathy and concern on John Moak’s face. It said that the community cares. And it was a much more appropriate way of reporting the despair of the situation than photographing the victims whose homes have been destroyed.

I felt the report also gave the sense that this was someone who knew the community and the community knew him. It gave the story a “face” without being inappropriate or cold.

Personally, I like the straight “blog journalism” and am distracted by Mr. Ryan’s “Toadisms.” I’m sure people are reading the phrase “without being inappropriate” in the paragraph above, and are going, “excuse me.”

But the “attack blog,” as it is called on the Web, has a very big following and is a very successful medium. (Most people do it anonymously they don’t have the guts to let people know who they really are.) So, it could be that this mixture of really good “local blog journalism” and Undertoad “Toadisms” could work very well on the World Wide Web. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

Obviously, this is the “year of the local political blog.” And my guess is that many people globally, because the World Wide Web is global, will be using The Undertoad Blog as a template for their local political blog.

How about them apples.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Our Hearts Ache For You

I am so sorry for the incredible loss that the families in the apartments on Woodman Way have suffered today and the terror that they must have felt and still feel.

I was so proud of our Chief Steve Cutter and the Newburyport Fire Department. We are in good hands. And at times like these, political differences don’t matter. I was so moved to see our mayor, John Moak and the concern and despair on his face. And I know Mr. Moak, our City Council and our community will rally around the families whose homes have been destroyed, and whose lives have been irrevocably altered.

The hearts and prayers and thoughts of our community reach out to you.

Newburyport, Thoughts on the Waterfront

After moving here from Marblehead in 1971, I became involved in local issues, including membership in various organizations and participating in local, state and national political campaigns. I am an original member of the “Friends of the Waterfront” and have been very concerned about the ultimate appearance, public access and ownership of that land.

Here is my idea idea/opinion for the waterfront; I’m sure there may be better ones out there:

Waterfront/parking (much like option 2 on the survey,) with addenda:

A)Beautifully-landscaped park which would almost hide and soften limited parking areas, which would be income-generating, via a gate & ticket or commuter-train parking system;

B) Three open, four-pillar, pitched-roof picnic shelters, spaced away from each other, for family/elderly/visitor get-togethers out of the sun or rain (simple design in-keeping with nearby buildings);

C) A simple, architecturally-appropriate (NOT a phony federal or Georgian, etc. design) limited-convenience store/laundry/shower/bathroom facility that would address the basic needs of boaters and others…the operator of said facility would operate it for a profit and lease the space from the city and be responsible for all maintenance. Revenue generated from the lease and parking would help defray costs of the waterfront park to the taxpayers.

I have ruminated about the waterfront for thirty years…the above scenario may seem like a betrayal of what I have fought for during that time. My thinking is that there does need to be some relief in terms of downtown parking and the thought of any kind of parking garage is extremely distasteful to me.

Existing or new sight-lines could be maintained if engineered sensitively. Plantings could ‘soften’ the appearance of the parking areas.

Most important is the fact that the whole area could be turned into one beautiful park at some point in the future if/when another solution is found for parking…who even knows if cars, as we know them today, will be around in 25/50 years?

Meanwhile, I feel that the waterfront should remain, in perpetuity, in the public domain with no “permanent”-permanent structures and the area will provide the most pleasure and ‘good’ for the most people, including old folks, working-class people, tourists, merchants, boaters, and even those of us who would rather see a pristine, unspoiled expanse of beautiful landscaped parkland there. My feeling is that a real, workable compromise is long-overdue.

David Clarridge, Newburyport

Newburyport, Mayor has Time to Turn it Around

Many of my friends questioned me about…lobbied against…my supporting and voting for John Moak for mayor. I’m a liberal Democrat, after all, and Mr. Moak was perceived to be the more pro-business and conservative candidate for that office. I have known him for a long time and believe him to be honest, intelligent and honorable…to me, there is no inherent conflict between my liberal political philosophy and supporting a person of known capabilities (his job as city clerk) who would employ sound business practices and responsible fiscal policies in office…I welcomed these qualities.

It was obvious from the get-go that John was, in-fact, running for two terms as mayor and he made no secret of the fact that he would bring a disciplined, no-nonsense perspective to that office. I assumed that this approach to running the city would allow enough leeway to incorporate an objective evaluation of issues rather than being locked-in to a rigid plan of action that he may have envisioned before taking office.

Now, after he has been in office for a few months, I find that I do not agree with some of his choices and decisions, but I assume that this would be the case no matter who would be mayor. Also, I respect the fact that he has his own leadership style that may be seen as rather abrupt, or direct, as opposed to that of a typical ‘politician’ who tries to please everyone while refusing to take a clear and principled stand on important and controversial issues.

That said, I am having a hard time understanding just where he wants to take us and the rationale for some of the things I read about in the newspaper. I am not yet willing to line-up with the well-intentioned citizens/voters who seem to be digging-in-their heels in opposition to him until I am satisfied that their criticisms are justified. I would like to know enough about his views on the issues to determine, for myself, where I think he should be open to opposing ideas and where I think he is right to forge ahead without compromise.

I guess that I would not support him again if the reelection campaign were to be held today, but there is plenty of time for him to turn things around…maybe he could start by letting us know what is his vision for the city and what, exactly, was the nature of his disagreements with Nick Cracknell and Mary Lou Supple, both of whom I greatly admire and appreciate.

David Clarridge, Newburyport

Newburyport, Developers

On Thursday (yesterday) someone called me asking me about property around Storey Avenue. I kept asking, “Why are you calling me?” “Why are you calling me?” And after I stopped saying that for about 10 times, because I really could not imagine why in the world they wanted to talk to me, they told me it was because of the “wealth of information” on the Newburyport Political Blog.

Later Thursday evening after I received an email from them and checked out their website, it turned out that this was a commercial real estate broker, and they happen to specialize in large chain stores. This is not exactly who I thought the readership of the Newburyport Political Blog would be.

(Note to developers, for goodness sakes do not call me for information. It makes me very angry and I am completely weirded out.)

However, after I stopped saying “why are you calling me?” “why are you calling me?” I finally said, “Good grief, the person you want to talk to is our Planning Director, Nick Cracknell. He has knowledge and information, not me. And leave an ASAP message with the Planning Office.”

And when I called the Planning Office to give them a “heads-up”, Mr. Cracknell was in and already talking to them. Thank goodness.

The barbarians are at the gates folks, to use Jim Roy’s phrase, and Mr. Cracknell is on his way out.

From what I could make out these people wanted information about our mayor, John Moak, basically just how receptive he would be to their company. (Why they were calling me is a mystery.) In particular they kept talking about the Woodman property.

No I never want to talk to these people again. But if you are reading the Newburyport Political Blog, this is not Stamford Connecticut, and no we do not want anything like a Target down on Storey Avenue. Good grief. And you know what, I have every confidence, that our mayor John Moak and the entire Newburyport City Council would agree.

This is Newburyport, Massachusetts. We want to keep the historic and natural integrity of our small New England city. We have a Walmart in Seabrook, New Hampshire. We do not want anything close to that here.

So, thank goodness Nick Cracknell was around. But heads-up folks, if these folks are calling me a blogger, with a baby blog no less, who else are they trying to get in touch with. And how many others are out there like them who may be thinking the same thing?

The goal of the Newburyport Political Blog is not exactly to help developers, especially those who aren’t interested in “smart growth.” So, leave us alone. Stay in Stamford, Connecticut. Go away. We do not want you here. At least I don’t.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Design Review

I’m obsessing here. I’m obsessing about Mayor John Moak’s remark in the Newburyport Daily News, April 11, 2006, about Newburyport’s planning process, “Things need to move along faster and not get bogged down in design.”

Well this remark addresses is one of my concerns about this administration. Nick Cracknell, as Newburyport’s Planning Director would review projects that came before the Planning Board to make sure that they adhered to the Newburyport Master Plan. In my mind, this was a great thing. Better to err on the side super safe than have a laissez faire approach to what happens building wise in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Now there has been some talk in the wind that Mayor Moak would like a design review board made up of just architects and landscape architects. The in the wind part is that there would be a group, and out of the group the mayor would choose which ones would review which project and then the person who has the project reviewed would pay the reviewers. Now this is in the wind, but it’s in the wind, floating around enough to have some credence.

If there is any truth to any of this, let’s just say, I’m worried.

Because this would give architects and developers a green light and no check and balances, and there would be absolutely no advocacy for “smart growth.”

And this approach would be completely at odds with the Planning Board’s approach of having a balanced Design Review Board, one that includes a member of the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), a member of the Historical Commission and including the Planning Director would also work for me. This version of the Design Review Board would have the Newburyport Master Plan as its guide. This is a good thing. Not only is this a good thing, this is a very, very good thing.

Yes, this approach might “bog” down the design process, but it would also help insure the integrity of Newburyport, Massachusetts, something I believe its citizens want in a major way.

The Design Review Board will come up for a public hearing in front of the Planning Board and I believe it will also have to be voted on by the Newburyport City Council.

I’m hoping that the whole issue of design review will be addressed in the Newburyport Current or discussed in the interview that Mr. Ryan had with Newburyport’s departing Planning Director Nick Cracknell. And I’ll have some more facts. That way either I can relax and breath a sigh of relief or obsess some more.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, The Nick Cracknell Fiasco, What a Political Mess

Hanging around the Newburyport City Clerk’s office when John Moak was the City Clerk it seemed pretty obvious to me that there was absolutely no love lost on Mr. Moak’s part towards Nick Cracknell. And this was me, a very casual and infrequent visitor to Newburyport City Hall. So in 20/20, the word on the street way back in 2005 that Mr. Cracknell was “out,” looks like it was most probably on the money.

So, let’s suppose that all of this is true. Although it would have been no picnic in the park in the beginning, politically, it would have been much wiser to have made the decision to let Nick Cracknell go in January. (Tough but wise) That would have given time to look for a planning director to replace him (not that I think that Nick Cracknell is ever going to be replaceable.) And then ask or beg Mr. Cracknell to stay on if he could, to help the new planning director to begin to come up to speed. (It will take the new planning director 9 months to a year to begin to get a hang of all the things that are going on here, much less get a handle on all the players. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.)

Now Mr. Moak has had 3+ months of people lobbying, if not down right begging him publicly to keep Nick Cracknell on as Newburyport’s Planning Director. There has been a huge amount of pro-Nick Cracknell publicity, and if the plan, on whatever conscious or unconscious level, could have been to get rid of Nick Cracknell all along, then keeping him on for 4 months is a political disaster.

In the Newburyport Daily News, April11, 2006, Mr. Moak says, “There was a lack of respect on his (Cracknell’s) part.” Well ironically, because of the dismissal of Nick Cracknell 3+ months into John Moak’s term, there is now a lack of respect and for, and even worse, a lack of trust in John Moak as the Mayor of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

And my response to the fact that Mayor John Moak is not going to appoint a Planning Director for 3 months because “Under his union contract, Cracknell will receive three month’s severance pay. The city can’t afford to pay salary on top of severance” is:

A) Really, the City of Newburyport can’t afford not to have a Planning Director, unless of course the plan is to have developers and architects run the show–scary thought.

B) And I think that statement isn’t really about fiscal responsibility. Instead it feels as if it blames Nick Cracknell and the union for costing the city money–unwise.

Mayor Moak’s goals appear to be different from Mr. Cracknell’s. And if so, that seems pretty frightening for the future of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

So folks, if what I suspect is true, I think we better seriously think about coming together as a city and fighting for what we believe in, because it’s possible that we could be in for a very, very bad time.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Doug Locy on Nick Cracknell

I believe April 7th was an unfortunate day for future of our City. When I arrived at the Planning Office that Friday morning to sign some letters I saw Nick Cracknell just after he had been told by the Mayor that he would not be reappointed. Although I kind of expected this from the Mayor based on his apparent commitment to those who supported his campaign, I had hoped that maybe reason would have prevailed and he would have reappointed Nick. Recognizing the knowledge and expertise that Nick provides and the City’s many pending development plans you would think the Mayor could have managed to have resolved whatever differences remained. But that was not the case. Some folks, mostly developers I assume, will applaud this decision but I believe the Mayor has done the people of Newburyport a great disservice. He’s removed a dedicated and visionary leader of a progressive Planning Office who only had our City’s best interest in mind. When I had questioned Nick about his future plans he said he had not seriously considered them to date. I guess he felt that whatever problem Mayor Moak had with him might have been resolved during his three month trial period. On Friday morning Nick’s only concern that he expressed to me was the impact this might have on his staff, and how to best transition the significant workload to his successor, whoever that might be.

Some people I’ve been told felt Nick had too great an influence on the Planning Board and its decisions. If that’s true it’s only because the Planning Board and Nick Cracknell had shared a common purpose; to insure that proposed applications that come before our Board comply with city zoning and our rules and regulations and are consistent with the intent of the City’s Master Plan; and to ensure that all zoning amendments we might draft and propose to the City Council are based upon recommendations of the Master Plan, Best Practices and public comment. Only then do we represent the City’s best interest. The Planning Board will continue to follow that purpose. Mayor Moak may have goals that are more directed at faster execution and preserving private property rights. These are reasonable and honorable objectives but must be considered within the context of delivering a quality product. In that regard we will continue to work with applicants to achieve an outcome that benefits not just the applicant but also the City and fulfills our obligation to preserve the historic and natural character of its neighborhoods. As a voluntary and independent Board we are very willing to work with any Mayor and his or her administration. However, this Board, like Mr. Cracknell, will not sacrifice its integrity or its obligation to act in the best interest of the community.

Doug Locy, Newburyport

(Editor’s note: Doug Locy is the Chair of the Newburyport Planning Board. It is a great honor for the Newburyport Political Blog to have a post by Mr. Locy. I extend my own admiration and gratitude to the Newburyport Planning Board for its integrity and diligent hard work, and hope that the people of Newburyport, Massachusetts will do everything they can to support it.)

Newburyport, the Power of Local Political Blogs

Now that Tom Ryan, the editor of the Undertoad, has launched his blog, the Undertoad Blog, this changes all kinds of things.

It’s been said that 2006 is the year of the ”local political blog,” and I guess whoever “they” are, are right.

We’ve seen how powerful national political blogs have been in shaping the reporting of events and news. It looks like the same thing is about to happen on the local political level.

CNN, The New York Times, all the big media outlets now have their own blogs. Are they any good, sure they are. Do people read them, yeh. Do people love them, no.

The blog is the ultimate populist medium. It gives the “everyman” a voice. And what people have found on a national level that the “everyman” voice is a) much more interesting, b) has no allegiance to money or lobbyists or advertising or editors, c) fiercely independent in its thinking, d) because of all of that, immensely powerful.

Maybe because of vast amounts of money, the established media will be able to co-opt the blog bandwagon, but my guess would be that blog readers know that the real info can be found on the populist blogs.

So that brings me to Tom Ryan. With the launching of The Undertoad Blog, Mr. Ryan, with his expansive political network will be able to communicate all sorts of information in “real time.” Case in point, the first blog post was about the axing of Nick Cracknell on a Sunday. Huge story.

This kind of power turns a city like Newburyport, Massachusetts upside down. How this will effect the Newburyport Daily News will be interesting to see. And my guess is that now there will be a number of local Newburyport political blogs, probably from many different political ideologies. After all, this is an “everyman” medium. (In fact, we already have another local blog, the Around the North Shore Blog which was launched yesterday.)

How the local political blog will effect local politics will also be interesting to see. I think we are about to begin to see the beginning of an information revolution, and I for one am really looking forward to the ride.

And Mr. Moak, the firing of Nick Cracknell may end up being one of the most ” Pyrrhic Victories” (a victory won at too great a cost) in Newburyport’s history. Congratulations.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport