Monthly Archives: September 2006

Crow Lane Landfill, Newburyport, Toxic Fumes

I live outside of the Crow Lane Landfill fumes. And typically, if something going on in town does not affect me, I do not pay as much attention to it as I would otherwise.

Yesterday I talked to some folks who are affected by the Crow Lane Landfill fumes. Apparently New Ventures, the Landfill operator, has claimed that they have fixed the problem, but they have not.

From what I have heard, this weekend the toxic fumes were for some people at their very worst.

The smell has been described as rotting eggs or rotting cabbage. One family who lives beyond the hospital on the other side of High Street (which is quite a ways from the Crow Lane Landfill) has said the odor woke their family out of their sleep and the stench is so bad that they could hardly breath. One can only imagine what it is like for the folks who live closer to the Crow Lane Landfill.

As I understand it the fumes from the Landfill affect people in different ways. These are some of them:

*Burning eyes
*Scratchy throat

Apparently the odors start in the evening, typically around 8PM and go all through the night.

This is really terrifying folks.

People in Newburyport are at their wits end as to what to do. Obviously they are terrified for their health and their family’s health. We should all be terrified too.

If it is not safe to breath the air in Newburyport, MA, it really won’t matter about anything else.

The hope is that the State will do something immediately. State Representative Michael Costello and State Senator Steven Baddour have been invited to attend Thursday night’s meeting. So have Officials from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Sate Attorney General’s Office. Mayor John Moak and members of the Newburyport City Council will be there as well.

People need to pour into this meeting. Numbers count folks. This is a citywide emergency.

And this is the meeting to go to.

This Thursday
September 14, 2006
7 PM
Newburyport, City Hall

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, MA, A Moment of Silence

It seems inappropriate to write anything on the Newburyport Political Blog on the anniversary of 9/11.

For me the horrific events of that day and its aftermath put issues and politics in Newburyport, MA in perspective. By comparison, all the things that are discussed on the blog seem manageable.

And I am incredible grateful for everyone in our community. And that we do have such a terrific and caring community in Newburyport, MA.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, DEP Meeting–Landfill, City Hall

The DEP is coming to City hall next Thursday night, September 14, 2006 at 7 PM to address the Landfill issue.

This is an extremely important meeting for the City of Newburyport, MA.

The DEP is coming to discuss health issues as a result of the air quality sampling that was done earlier in the year. The DEP has labeled the findings to be a “health hazard”.

This is a City-wide issue. Not only has the air quality been deemed a “health hazard,” but also the runoff is affecting the Little River and surrounding wetlands.

The hope would be that State officials would understand that we as a City are concerned and would not like to be left with this unfortunate and dangerous situation.

And I also gather that the hope would be to try and get at least 200 people or more to be at City Hall that evening

My understanding is that the DEP will present information on what is currently happening and, hopefully, what is going to be done to fix the problem. They will also answer questions.

As I understand it, this is an opportunity to ask questions of the DEP. And I also understand that the hope is that the tone of the meeting would be civil and constructive and that complaints and war stories would be left for another time.

City Councilor Bruce Vogel has offered to gather questions. Please feel free to send your questions to Councilor Vogel at 978-462-5463 or

(The Landfill is in Councilor Vogel’s ward, Ward 5, and I am sure that he will do everything in his power to help everyone on this issue.)

I have no idea if there are fliers out for the meeting. If there are, I would be most happy to pass on the word.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, MA—A Little Protection

I’m going to say a dirty, dirty, dirt word – Local Historic District (LHD.)

Wow, it’s as if we’ve been brainwashed in this town to think LHDs are evil.

A LHD in Newburyport MA has come to mean “I’m only allowed to paint my house a certain color of purple and the outside doorknob has to be brass surrounded with diamonds.”

Well, I’m exaggerating here, a purple house with a brass and diamond doorknob isn’t exactly New England historic (I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s not New England historic.)

But you get the idea, people in Newburyport MA have gotten the idea that a LHD means someone is going to dictate what they going to do and it is the equivalent of being in “property ownership jail,” plus they would never be able to sell their house and their property values would drop like crazy.

Well, let’s see. A Local Historic District is the only thing that would completely protect our historic assets. We can create incentives to do right, but given the example of let’s say threatening to turn the Wheelwright House into condominiums, “incentives” to do “right,” may not always work with people who have no intention of doing “right” by Newburyport, MA.

I’m a big advocate of “Local Historic District Light.” Basically creating a Local Historic District or a series of Local Historic Districts that have absolutely the minimum restrictions and see how we all deal with that. A little bit like having a demolition delay that starts with 6 months and seeing how it works.

You can write whatever you want a Local Historic District to be folks…it doesn’t have to be purple houses with diamond doorknockers.

And as for “Local Historic District Light” being a waste of time, well “nuts” to that, some protection is better than no protection at all.

And guess what, properties in Local Historic Districts usually appreciate at rates greater than your general housing market. Well, just look at Newburyport, MA, people want to live here because of our historic structures.

Historic heritage = money.

Worst-case scenario for houses in a Local Historic District is that they would appreciation at rates equivalent to the overall local market. Boy, that’s really bad.

And also for houses in a LHD, there is less volatility when the market goes south. Believe me folks, that’s really terrible.

Hey, this all of this works for me.

Our luck in Newburyport, MA has changed. It’s time to un-brainwash ourselves about LHDs. No, a Local Historic District is not the equivalent of having the Bubonic Plague.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Economic Agenda

In today’s Newburyport Daily News, September 7, 2006 there is a brief article on Mayor John Moak’s economic agenda.

“The city is trying to streamline the permitting process for new businesses…” The Mayor also talks about luring business and industry to the City.

Nowhere does Mayor John Moak mention protecting our historic heritage that is the foundation of our economic survival.

And last night the Wheelwright property came before the Newburyport Planning Board. According to the Newburyport Daily News, the Newburyport Planning Board agreed to divide the property. The front parcel can now be sold as a separate entity and the back parcel can now be considered for a “subdivision.” From what I understand, legally, there was not much the Newburyport Planning Board could do to prevent the Wheelwright land from being divided…sigh.

However, the Newburyport Planning Board has been working hard at what I would consider the City’s best interest. They have been working on an amendment to a zoning ordinance that would help protect our historic heritage and local neighborhood character. Whew.

This is the amendment to Section IX (9) of the zoning code or what I call the “Infill Ordinance,” which was on the Newburyport Planning Board agenda last night.

I have seen the “Proposed Revised Version of Section IX” dated August 28, 2006 and it looks good to me.

Basically any non-conforming one and two family homes are allowed additions of 500 square feet. In my mind that’s a good amount of square footage which would allow a responsible addition or alteration—a very nice kitchen, family room, master bedroom, huge spa.

Anything over that would require coming before the City for a dialogue about what would be proposed. This does not mean that something larger than a 500 square foot addition could not be built. It would, however, be a step towards helping to insure that all parties are working together to keep the historic nature and local and neighborhood character of Newburyport, MA.

This amendment to the zoning ordinance will require a vote before the Newburyport City Council. Last year, for reasons I am still unclear about, a similar amendment to the zoning code did not pass.

My hope is that this year we have a different political climate. That the residents and City Council are beginning to see that we are at a turning point of over development and that we are about to or already are losing our economic base. My hope is that the vote on this zoning amendment is a “no-brainer,” and that the Newburyport City Council will do its part in helping to insure our economic survival.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Railroad Station – Senior Center

It is my opinion that the railroad station is, commercially, a dead dead duck, because it is impossible to get directly from the station to the tracks.

I have always thought that the railroad station could be enlarged where necessary and turned into the senior center. And there would be plenty of parking.

James Charles Roy

Questions About the Newburyport Commuter Rail Station

Hi Mary,

Perhaps you or one of your readers could help me understand the ongoing saga at the Newburyport Commuter Rail Station.

The station seems to have a severe electrical problem which makes it impossible for the operator to keep it open on a consistent basis.

As I understand it, the ball keeps getting tossed back and forth between the Newburyport City Council and the MBTA. And the issues still have not been resolved 13 months after opening.

It is frustrating to have a train station that is unable to stay open consistently, sell food, or otherwise function as a station could.

BTW – Thanks for starting this blog, it is a great source of information.

Thanks for your help

Frank Smietana

Newburyport, Our Preservation Dilemma

A very astute reader of the Newburyport Political Blog has this to say:

“We were preserved because of the 1811 fire and the storm that filled the harbor with sand. Since that time, until the early 80s when low prices brought so many of us here to restore, there was no money to demolish and rebuild. Long-term depression was our gift. Now, there’s money, and lots of it, and we are faced with the downside of economic success. We can now, finally, demolish and rebuild.”

Well, “yuck.” Unfortunately, it is my belief that this reader is right. And I have heard this opinion many times before.

Just look at the Wheelwright property, the rape of the Ridge, “the compromising of another stately building and its surrounding property which will visually affect the historic landscape of that area.” (From another reader of the Newburyport Political Blog.)

So what to do?

George Cushing, of Frog Pond (yes, there really is a Frog Pond) at the Bartlett Mall, the new political consultant for the Newburyport Political Blog is mulling this dilemma over.

George Cushing of Frog Pond at the Bartlett Mall
contemplating this dilemma

George Cushing feels that the only way to prevent “demolish and rebuild” is by having zoning amendments that protect our historic heritage. Otherwise, “ouch” the future looks very, very bleak.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Consultants for the Planning Office

A couple of weeks before she left, our former City Planner, Julie LaBranche, said to me that she thought it would be a good idea if Mayor John Moak hired a consultant to do part of her job and part of the job of Planning Director, using the funds from the two unfilled positions.

Seemed like a great idea to me, since it’s going to be awhile until those positions are filled.

Of course my first thought was, “wouldn’t it be fun if the City hired Nick Cracknell and Julie LaBranche as the consultants.” That obviously was never going to happen.

My second thought was Nancy Colbert, who was Newburyport’s Planning Director before Nick Cracknell. It was during Nancy Colbert’s tenure that the Newburyport Master Plan took shape. Nancy also knows all the players and all the issues. The only possible drawback would be that when I knew her, her expertise appeared to be in project management rather than zoning. But hey, she’d be great.

My other thought was Rick Taintor, the president of Taintor and Associates. Rick was the consultant on the Strategic Land Use plan and is the consultant for the Little River Transit Village project. And Mr. Taintor’s firm was the consultant for the Newburyport Master Plan. In my book, who better?

And low and behold that is who Mayor John Moak picked to help us through this transition period. As far as I’m concerned, well, “yeh.”

From what I can make out, our consultants will be working 12 hours a week. According to the Newburyport Daily News, August 31, 2006, Nancy Colbert will be the “primary onsite representative, while Rick Taintor and associate Juliet Walker will provide additional technical support and meeting attendance.” I wish the hours were more like 30 hours a week, but this solution appears to be a good “port in the storm.” And it will be fun to see Nancy Colbert in the Newburyport Planning Office again, even if it’s just for a short time.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Wheelwright Property, Approval Not Required—Subdivision

The new owners of the Wheelwright House property, 75 High Street, Willis Lane Investments, LLC, will becoming in front of the Newburyport Planning Board this Wednesday, September 6, 2006, 7:00 PM at City Hall to apply for an ANR – Approval Not Required – Subdivision.

These guys are moving fast. According to the Daily News, August 31, 2006, the firm would like to develop the roughly “4 acre” land at the back of the property and put in a 5 single-family home subdivision.

Newburyport Planning Board
Wednesday, September 6th
7:00 PM at City Hall
75 High Street
Wheelwright Property
ANR – Approval Not Required – Subdivision

And a very big “thank you” to Ulrika Gerth and the Newburyport Current for the front page story on Save Our Town in yesterday’s paper, September 1, 2006. The Newburyport Current also has a great story on the Wheelwright property.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, The Ridge is in Real Trouble

The rape of the Ridge has begun. This is one of my worst nightmares for Newburyport, MA.

The “Ridge” is the area on High Street on the upper side of the roadway that goes roughly from State Street to about Lime Street. It is one of the most beautiful and stately areas of High Street and one of the most beautiful parts of Newburyport, MA.

And folks we have been sold out by the Board of the Wheelwright House, the realtor that listed the property and the lawyer, who ironically was Newburyport’s Mayor for 3 terms and the Mayor under whose administration the Newburyport Master Plan took shape, former Mayor Lisa Mead.

To say that I am beside my self is an understatement. I really thought long and hard about using the phrase the “rape of the Ridge,” but this morning I thought it was more than appropriate.

And many thanks to Stephanie Chelf and the Newburyport Daily News for putting this story on the front page and also having the aerial view of the entire property on page A8.

According to the Newburyport Daily News, August 31, 2006, the property was bought by Todd Smith and Peter Nordbloom of Willis Lane Investments, LLC. Both men are officials of Nordblom Real Estate Solutions of Burlington, “one of the regions largest real estate and commercial property firms.” Believe me, they do not have our best interest at heart.

The firm bought the entire property for $1.6 million. The property is “nearly 5 acres.” That’s a lot of land folks.

Willis Lane Investments, LLC has already put the Wheelwright House, the historic gardens and the carriage house back on the market for $1.3 million. The house and the carriage house “are protected through a preservation restriction that prevents alteration or demolition.” The historic gardens are not protected and it doesn’t mean that the Wheelwright House and carriage house could not be converted to condominiums.

And basically the rest of the property was bought for $300,000…not a bad price folks. And the firm would like to develop the roughly “4 acre” land at the back of the property and put in a 5 single-family home subdivision.

This is on the Ridge.

It sounds from the paper that the firm will have to get a number of permits for the “subdivision proposal.” Thank goodness for that.

Let us not welcome these folks to town. Let us make their lives as miserable as possible. I cannot imagine that the Newburyport Planning Board or residents of this City would be amenable to this proposal.

And for goodness sakes let us start pestering our City officials, especially the Newburyport City Council for zoning amendments that protect our historic assets. This project alone helps destroy our economic vitality.

Mary Eaton