Monthly Archives: October 2006

The Good Newbies

I hear people complain all the time about how the “new” people coming into town have no respect for Newburyport and are destroying the place.

Well, I know a bunch of folks that I call the “good newbies.” And I like them a whole lot.

I know a whole bunch of “good newbies” who adore this place and want to do right by Newburyport, MA.

On a warm summers day at the end of my block you can see a bunch of “good newbies” gathered together. They maybe waving a new edition of “The Undertoad” around, saying things like, “Hey, Mary’s in the Undertoad this week.” The “good newbies” I know read the Undertoad to find out what’s going on in our fair city. I think a few of them check out the Newburyport Political Blog. And then of course there is the Newburyport Current, becoming the “go to” newspaper, the “alternative” newspaper, full of “meat” to find out the important stuff happening in Newburyport, MA.

Well, look at Sarah White and Steve Rudolph, two really great “good newbies.” They’ve stepped up to the plate big time, not only with Save Our Town, but with the Newburyport Preservation Trust. Downright smart, energetic, deeply caring and full of integrity. Definitely “good newbies.”

And there’s Ulrika Gerth, the editor of the Newburyport Current. A great “good newbie” if there ever was one. Not only does she put out a “meaty” newspaper every week, but she’s “fearless” in what she reports on. Talk about an impassioned “good newbie” who not only cares deeply about Newburyport, MA, but knows about it and puts it all in print. Good grief.

I’ve told Ms Gerth she better not think about leaving Newburyport, MA. We need her too much. Forget this climbing up the ladder stuff or moving to someplace else. We want her to stick around until she becomes an “old newbie.”

I’m here 25 years (a quarter of a century) and I’m an “old newbie,” never a “native.” My son is a “native.” But whether all the “natives” born from “old newbies” value their very valuable “nativeness,” remains to be seen.

Anyway, there are a lots and lots of “good newbies” out there. And if you are feeling discouraged about the “new” people who have moved in, go on a “good newbie” treasure hunt. I promise you, they are all around us.

Mary Eaton


One of the other reason’s I’m pissed about all these complications I’ve discovered (like being sued) if I keep on blogging on the Newburyport Political Blog is that George could no longer make an appearance on the World Wide Web.

I love George. We are talking about George Cushing of Frog Pond at the Bartlett Mall, in Newburyport, MA, who has graciously offered to be the political consultant for the Newburyport Political Blog, for goodness sakes.

And George has a big fan club. And when he gets upset about something all the frogs in Frog Pond at the Bartlett Mall get upset too. So upset sometimes that they even make guest appearances in an effort to comfort and abet (as in support) whoever they seem to feel needs comforting and abetting.

You know any other political blog that has a frog for a political consultant? I don’t.

George mulling over multiple dilemmas

George is mulling over how I could keep on blogging. He’s thinking of “safe” stuff that maybe I couldn’t be sued over. Like the mayor’s current plan for Newburyport’s Central Waterfront.

The map of the latest version of the new Waterfront possible plan has already made an appearance in both the Newburyport Current and the Newburyport Daily News (you’d think I’d be covered on the “being sued stuff” on this one.)

George and I both looked at the latest version of the new Waterfront possible plan, and said to ourselves, “Say what? The green part is where?”

And one of the things he and I are both confused about is a delightful gentleman, an ardent preservationist, seems to be plugging for this less than green wonder of a proposition.

(One of the things I’ve learned is that people don’t like to see their names in anything that could possibly be inferred as a “bad light.” That’s one of the ways I get these nasty phone calls. So, that’s one of the reasons I’m not saying who this well loved, ardent preservationist is, in this post at least. You’re just going to have to read the Newburyport Current’s past issues, they are on line.)

This very well respected preservationist has been described to me as “going over to the dark side” (George is wondering if “going over to the dark side” is suable. I hope not, I think it’s just someone’s opinion. I hope.)

“Going over to the dark side” (this is someone else’s phrase, not my phrase, I’m just repeating it here) is a little over the top, but it does indicate how impassioned (is that an understatement or what?) people are over this darn waterfront thing. People are equating the Newburyport Central Waterfront saga to “Star Wars!”

George (who is green) recommends that the mayor put in lots more green (i.e. park) in this particular parking plan. That might mean there could be some sort of resolution in my lifetime (how utterly optimistic of moi) to this ongoing, going on way more than a quarter of a century, emotionally charged, stunningly baffling Waterfront opus.

Mary Eaton

This Whole Being Sued Thing

I went to talk to John Macone, the editor at the Newburyport Daily News about this whole being sued thing. (One more time, as a blogger, I am considered a “publisher” and can be sued.) And folks it’s really, really bad news. Everything I read about being sued turns out to be true. Bleh.

Apparently the Newburyport Daily News gets threatened with the “threatened to be sued stuff” at least once a week. The Newburyport Daily News?!? We are talking a small New England city newspaper. And Mr. Macone kept nodding his head “yes” at my complete disbelief.

And it gets worse. People can be sued for Letters to the Editor (how about that one,) fliers, petitions and even email lists. All of those things are considered “publications.” Make you a little ill? Makes me a little ill.

Apparently a lot of these lawsuits are “SLAPP suits – frivolous lawsuits designed to have a chilling effect on free speech,” a quote to me in an email from Robert Cox. (Now that I’ve done a tinsy-winsy bit of research I am now able to throw around the words like “SLAPP suit” like I have any idea at all what I’m actually talking about.)

And Tom Ryan is right in his latest edition of the Undertoad, October 27, 2006. People do tell me all sorts of stuff, and it becomes an incredible burden. I do NOT want to know this stuff.

If you have an issue that you feel would be important enough to tell me about, do NOT do it. Instead contact the Ulrika Gerth at the Newburyport Current or John Macone at the Newburyport Daily News. (I have a feeling if I know stuff and feel weighed down with it, Tom Ryan of the Undertoad knows thousands of more things than I do, and would really feel weighed down about all that stuff.) They are reporters, they want to know this stuff. They are trained journalists, not moi. I have a degree in Fine Arts for crying out loud.

Both of these papers want to know about relevant stories, yes, it is true. There was a story quite a while back before the idea of blogging ever entered my pretty little head. I went (like showed up in person) and talked with the Newburyport Daily News and they went with the story. They were great.

And Ulrika Gerth of the Newburyport Current is amazing. Talk about a “go to girl.” Wow. If I decide to keep on blogging (still a big question mark) you can be sure I’d do a whole lot of gushing about the guts of that young lady.

And the other person who is willing to be a “go to girl” is Sarah White. Yes, Sarah White of Save Our Town. But more importantly, Sarah White of the Newburyport Preservation Trust (NPT). The NPT has just sent out a flier and has a new website, . So if you want to get in touch with Sarah White about any of this development stuff, go to “Contact Us” on the NPT website.

The other thing is if you care about all this development stuff that’s happening in Newburyport, MA, join the Newburyport Preservation Trust for goodness sakes. They want to be on the front lines (bless them) and they are protected because they are a real deal non-profit organization (go check it out.)

So, to recap here. You got something on your mind, give the Newburyport Current, the Newburyport Daily News or the Newburyport Preservation Trust a jingle. It is up to them to let people know what’s going on. NOT me. (Can you tell I’m still pissed? See previous post.)

Mary Eaton

I’m Pissed

You know what, I’m pissed. (I can almost hear a few lips curling up into the beginning of a smile out there in Web Land, saying, “angry is good, pissed is good.”) And if you don’t like the word “pissed” don’t read this post, ok? I’m tired of tippy toeing around on egg shells, afraid I’m going to piss people off.

I’m pissed that I can be sued, because as a blogger I am considered a “publisher.” And from all the research I’ve done, people are suing bloggers a lot, mostly to shut them up. I’m not exactly thrilled by that.

I’m also pissed because I LOVE working on the Newburyport Political Blog, and I still haven’t figured out if it’s safe or sane to blog or not.

I’d like to say for the record, I may have political and philosophical differences with our mayor (well of course I do, that’s obvious,) but I like the man. He’s a good, good-hearted man. And he also has a heck of a gorgeous lawn. I enjoy it every time I walk by it, which is almost every day, because the lawn is on my walking route. It’s pretty.

If anyone has a right to call up and be upset with me, it’s our mayor. But you know what, he’s been classy. Who would want a blog with the bloggette disagreeing with him all the time? I sure wouldn’t. Not that if I keep on doing the Newburyport Political Blog (still a very big question mark) I’d become all rosy and wonderful.

And for the record, for all those people who are upset about what could happen to the back of the Wheelwright property, our city government canNOT do anything about it! It’s the owner. And he lives in town. If you want to change someone’s mind you’ve got to change HIS mind. Go picket in front of his house or something. (Good grief, I hope that doesn’t get me sued!)

Picketing might actually work. Would you want your house picketed? I sure wouldn’t. There’s a group forming (read this week’s Newburyport Current, don’t call ME, under any circumstances, do not call me for how to figure out who they are. The Newburyport Current is at the Library and at Richdales downtown and probably at the White Hen Pantry, just to name a few places.)

And I was very, very flattered, Ulrika Gerth the editor of the Newburyport Current, Tom Ryan the editor of the Undertoad and John Macone, the editor of the Newburyport Daily News all offered to let me write for them. To protect me from people who threaten or who could threaten or who might threaten to sue me or who actually would sue me. Thank you so much to all three individuals. I am very, very moved.

And I’m also very moved by all the emails, phone calls, visits, even food (I guess people didn’t want me to waste away.) I was, am, still am unbelievably moved by those deeply kind gestures.

And one last word here. I am fricken relieved that Nancy Colbert has applied to be Newburyport’s Planning Director and has been picked by our mayor. She’d be great. And I’m assuming that she will get a 100% nod from the Newburyport City Council. Oh, City Councilors (all of whom I am very fond of, believe it or not) I will personally come and stamp my little feet in front of your door if you don’t vote for this woman.

I don’t know if I’m back or not (I still haven’t figured out this being sued thing, being a “being sued phobic,” which I think is sane,) but I gotta admit it, it sure was fun to blog again, pissed and all.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Taking a Blog Break

I am taking a break from the Newburyport Political Blog, and it may be a permanent break, I don’t know yet.

I started the Newburyport Political Blog because I thought it would be interesting and fun and enable me to connect with the Newburyport community.

However, the blog is taking a huge emotional toll. And folks, it’s not worth it.

I’ve been threatened with lawsuits a number of times. I have people call me up and scream and or threaten me. I get nasty emails.

When these things happen, it makes it impossible to sleep, I feel sick to my stomach, and instead of helping me paint, it makes sitting down to the easel extremely difficult.

There are times when I feel like the city shrink, the city conscience.

A friend of mine said to me, “Mary, I am worried about you, you are going to start to feel like you are in a marriage where you give and give and give, and then wake up one day and realize that you are getting nothing in return and are getting abused on top of it.”

That was only ten days ago. This friend is obviously very perceptive.

So folks, I’m on blog break. And I am going to take some time to see if and how I would like to continue the Newburyport Political Blog.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Remembering What It Was Like

A little history.

In 1970 Newburyport, MA, except for a few places here and there, was in really, really bad shape. All those pictures of how downtown looked before Urban Renewal…it wasn’t good.

Even when I moved here in 1981 (I think I’ve blogged about this a little before) downtown had just been restored. The Tannery did not exist, neither did Maudslay State Park. Urban Renewal had just begun to have a ripple effect into the surrounding neighborhoods of the North and South End.

There were places in the South End that I didn’t want to venture into. One person has told me that when they bought a place in the South End they could not get a mortgage from one of the banks because it was literally on the wrong side of the tracks. This is not to say anything bad about whatever bank it would have been; this is to remind folks that not too long ago a lot of Newburyport, MA was in tough shape.

Survival was the name of the game. A lot of folks had a hard time believing that anyone would want to live in Newburyport, MA, much less build an “infill” project in the North and South Ends of town.

When I moved here there were lots of places with apartments. It is my understanding that one family homes had apartments to help pay the bills. It was about survival.

And I am wondering how many of those apartments, like the one on Eagle Street, were given a building permit but never went through the process of getting a variance. I’m guessing that in their wildest imagination many people would never have envisioned that anyone would want to build a large out of scale “infill” structure in their back yard. The idea would have seemed preposterous.

I am guessing that what the neighbors found out about 16 Eagle Street, even though it had a building permit, but that a variance was never given for the upstairs apartment, may well apply to many places in Newburyport, MA.

And if that could be the case, then that opens up a whole can of worms.

And once again, if the “Infill Ordinance” or the Amendment to Section 9 was in existence, all parties would have had a chance to have an open dialogue before anything was done, and this whole fiasco concerning 16 Eagle Street might have been avoided.

If this is an issue that you care about, please contact your Newburyport City Councilor and ask them to vote in favor of the “Infill Ordinance” or the Amendment to Section 9. Also, please write a letter to the editor in support of this zoning amendment. All of this would really help.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, A Reporter Very Much Missed

I miss Stephanie Chelf who used to be the Newburyport reporter for the Newburyport Daily News. Stephanie has gone on up the journalistic ladder.

There were at least 3 really good stories in Newburyport this week. Stephanie would have known what the three stories were. And she would have also known not only the issues involved, but also the players.

Stephanie really helped the Newburyport Political Blog by giving me so much to blog about. She was also really willing to go out there and get, for this small town, some fairly controversial quotes and cover your not so run of the mill journalistic stories.

One of the stories this week is 16 Eagle Street.

For me this is a heart breaker. On the one hand I am glad that people are becoming so passionate about the issue of infill. On the other hand it elicits such anger and hard feeling in Newburyport’s neighborhoods.

As I understand it, Jamie Pennington bought what he believed to be a deeded two family home. An 1850 dwelling with an apartment on the top floor. And there was enough land to “legally” build a large addition.

I’ve never talked to Mr. Pennington, but my guess would be that his thinking could have been something along the lines of, “great I can build another attached house, and I can make some money by either renting one of them, selling one or both and help myself and my family.”

If this was his thinking, he is hardly alone. Over the years, I will admit that I’ve had plenty of those thoughts myself. I’ll think, “Oh my goodness, maybe I could make this bedroom into a studio apartment.” And then I’ll come back down to earth and think, “No, Mary, not a good idea.”

I can’t quite remember when infill started to come to people’s attention in such a passionate way, but I would imagine that back when Mr. Pennington bought his home, it was not the issue that it is now.

As I understand it a foundation is poured and part of the back of the house is demolished.

Understandably the neighbors were alarmed that a large addition was going up in their neighborhood. Just like neighbors and residents all over town.

And as I understand it, what the neighbors found out was that the apartment had a building permit, but never had a “variance” so that the apartment was not (I don’t know what the legal term is) “lawful” even though on paper the property was a deeded 2 family. And apparently the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals has agreed with them.

What an incredible mess.

And this is one of the many reasons why the Newburyport City Council so desperately needs to pass the “Infill Ordinance” or the Amendment to Section 9. The zoning amendment not only would help protect local neighborhood character, but it would also greatly clarify things so that neighbors would have a chance of living more peacefully together.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Development, Back of High Street

The Newburyport Daily News on Monday October 9, 2006 ran a cartoon by Gary Robertson (no, not our City Councilor Gary Roberts) on what is being proposed for the back of the Wheelwright property by Todd Smith and Peter Nordblom of Willis Lane LLC, or what is now being referred to by the developers as “Brown Street.”

The cartoon has a bunch of construction folks with chainsaws hacking down trees to make way for the development by Willis Lane LLC. There is a sign that says:

to this Historic Property…
Wheelwright Estates
FIVE –count’em – 5 Luxury Homes
Priced from…must you ask?”

And then there is a gentleman standing inside the Oak Hill Cemetery gateway saying:

“Hey! Are you the same guys that tried to build a strip Mall right next to Gettysburg?”

Gotta love it!

I have traced/drawn from the Newburyport GIS map part of the back of High Street, from State Street to Lime Street or what is know as the “Ridge” the land behind the stately High Street mansions. The tracing/drawing is pretty crude, but I hope it will give folks an idea of just how much land is back there.


The area in red is the Wheelwright Property that is being developed by Willis Lane LLC. Two little dark blobs near High Street are where the Wheelwright House, the historic gardens and the Carriage House would be. (The Wheelwright House is very large, so that gives some idea of how huge the property actually is)

The little green squiggly part is the “wet-lands” in the middle of the property. And then the brown line starts at what is Brown Street, and my freehand drawing of the extended road would give an idea of what the developers have proposed for the road in the ORSD or Cluster Zone subdivision.

(See previous post for the actual plans.)

It sure looks to me as if that whole area by the historic Oak Hill Cemetery would be decimated. And the neighbors are beginning to organize, handing out flyers and circulating a petition. That’s a relief.

The green area belongs to 67 High Street and that area has a deed restriction on it by the owner. That land bordering Oak Hill Cemetery can never be built on. Well, yeh, whew…thank goodness.

I’ve outlined the Ridge area in blue. (Again, a little crudely drawn, but the hope is to get the general picture.) This as far as I know, except for 67 High Street, is completely unprotected. (Please see Disclaimer on the “Overview, Guidelines and Information” page.)

As I understand it, there are things that the owners can do, like putting deed restrictions on the property, or possibly the City of Newburyport could do a protective overlay, I don’t know.

Who would have thought that a beautiful piece of property like the Wheelwright land would be proposed for a subdivision, of all things. I hope that the residents and the City of Newburyport could do something to protect the rest of this irreplaceable landscape.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Wheelwright Subdivision Plans

I went down to the Newburyport Planning Office and took pictures of the two plans that were submitted to the Newburyport Planning Board by the developers Todd Smith and Peter Nordblom of Willis Lane LLC. The plans are for the back part of the Wheelwright property that abuts historic Oak Hill Cemetery.

The proposed Wheelwright subdivision project is being called “Brown Street.”

There is also a memo from the consultant who is helping out the Newburyport Planning Office, former Newburyport Planning Director, Nancy Colbert (a great person.)

I would need the help of a pro for me understand what it all means. The gist of the memo appears to be, “there are a lot of problems with this Preliminary Application, folks.”

I did understand: “ The proposed cul de sac does not appear to comply with subdivision regulations.”

There seems to be some concern with the steep slope of the land (and the land is very steep.) From the same memo: “For the Board’s information, many communities prohibit development on steep slopes and do not allow the inclusion of steeply sloping land to be part of lot area calculations.”

Here are the two maps.

The first is the traditional subdivision map (this does seems unlikely to me.)
Traditional subdivision map for Wheelwright Property

The second is the OSRD or Cluster Zoning version. Things are real close to historic Oak Hill Cemetery. And there appears to be retaining walls along part of the proposed road.
OSRD subdivision map for Wheelwright Property

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, I Apologize

I sincerely apologize to Mr. and Mrs John Morris. I was wrong about their intentions towards their property at 69 High Street.

Happily for everyone in Newburyport MA, Mr. and Mrs Morris say they have no intention of developing 69 High Street, but are planning to restore the beautiful High Street mansion into a single family home.

Mr. and Mrs Morris have grown up in Newburyport, MA and have contributed in many ways to the culture and climate of our community.

I have obviously made a terrible mistake.

Mary Eaton
Editor of the Newburyport Political Blog

Newburyport, Infill, 16 Eagle Street

What is going on at 16 Eagle Street is an excellent example of why we need this new Amendment to Section 9 or the “Infill Ordinance.”

The owners of 16 Eagle Street, which is an 1850 dwelling, bought the property I believe 3 years ago. As far as they knew it was a deeded 2 family. As I understand it, the third floor was an apartment.

They applied and received a building permit to construct an attached unit that, as I understand it, would be 35 feet by 22 feet, technically two and a half stories, but apparently the plans show straight dormers, making the house look more like a 3 story structure. From what I understand the square footage would be slightly over 2000 square feet.

The neighbors feel very strongly that the house does not fit in, in regards to scale and mass, with the local neighborhood character.

To make things even more complicated, the property is owned by Jamie Pennington, who is a member of the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA.)

The hearing tomorrow night, in front of the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals, is to request that the building go no further (at the moment I believe the foundation is poured) and that the building permit be revoked.

At issue, apparently, is whether or not 16 Eagle Street is a legal 2 family. It is my understanding that a variance was never applied for when it was expanded in 1986. It is possible that the statue of limitations for challenging the lack of a variance for this property has run out.

It is complicated.

What is not complicated however, is that we need this new amendment to the zoning ordinance Section 9. As is stands now, a legal two family, with a small apartment, can build a large attached structure that is completely out of scale with the existing neighborhood character.

This is and has happened all over town. 16 Eagle Street is yet one more example of how this loophole has been taken advantage of.

If the Zoning Amendment to Section 9 or the “Infill Ordinance” existed, the neighbors and the City would have been informed of the new large addition and a dialogue would have taken place.

Hopefully a win-win situation would have come about.

As it stands now, this is a lose-lose proposition. Mr. Pennington has stopped construction. The neighbors are faced with the possibility of a large infill project. There are lots of bad feelings all around. And no matter how the ZBA rules tomorrow, it would be my guess that the case, because it is so complicated and the project is so far a long, would go to court.

What a mess.

I would urge everyone to contact their City Councilor and urge them to vote for the Amendment to Section 9 or the “Infill Ordinance.”

There will be a joint public hearing with the Planning Board and the Newburyport City Council. And then this issue will come before the Newburyport City Council for two readings. On the second reading there will be a deciding vote.

The Newburyport City Council hopes to vote on the Infill issue either in November or December of this year.

It is very unclear to me whether this Infill issue has the votes to pass.

I would also urge everyone who cares about this issue to get a Save Our Town bumper sticker and put it on their car, on their door, in their window.

Unless something like this happens in a person’s backyard, people do not appear to be aware of what an acute problem the City of Newburyport, MA is facing.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Mayor Moak and the Infill Ordinance

George Cushing of Frog Pond at the Bartlett Mall (yes, there is a Frog Pond) the new political consultant for the Newburyport Political Blog is a tad discouraged. “Oy vey.”

George Cushing, a tad discouraged. “Oy Vey.”

In one of her last columns before she left for a higher rung on the journalistic ladder, Stephanie Chelf wrote an article for the Newburyport Daily News, Thursday, October 5, 2006 on a zoning amendment that would protect our historic heritage and our local neighborhood character.

The zoning amendment that would address Newburyport’s out of control infill issue.

So why is George Cushing discouraged? It is because of this quote by Mayor John Moak:

“Mayor John Moak said he wants to make sure the ordinance doesn’t lead to a design review by the zoning board.

‘I’m not ready to endorse it,” Moak said. “There is a lot to it to absorb.’”

Actually, there’s not a lot to absorb, it’s real easy. There is no mention anywhere of any design review (and why that would be a bad thing beats me, and it beats George Cushing the new political consultant as well, good grief.)

The Zoning Amendment or the “Infill Ordinance” talks about “size, scale, massing, volume and location of the proposed structure,” making sure those aspects would be in keeping with the local neighborhood character.

What George Cushing is just so darn frustrated about is that Mayor John Moak still doesn’t seem to get it. Protecting our historic heritage and local neighborhood character is the key to long-term and short-term economic growth.

Destroying our historic heritage and neighborhood character is a sure fire way to have Newburyport’s economic value go down the tubes real fast.

This zoning amendment is not a “cure-all,” as Newburyport City Councilor Tom Jones points out in the same article, but it sure is a real good piece of the puzzle. And why in the world Mayor John Moak isn’t getting that baffles, bewilders, perplexes and mystifies the editor of the Newburyport Political Blog.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport City Council, Preserving our Historic Heritage

A little while ago I had the privilege of seeing one of the brick houses on Federal Street that was saved and preserved because of the Federal Street Overlay.

The Federal Street Overlay has been much maligned. It has been called “Disney Land Architecture” and criticized for its density and the high prices of some of the homes within it.

People forget that what would have gone in there was not up to the City of Newburyport, but rather up to the Archdiocese of Boston, the Catholic Church, who owned that huge piece of property.

And the Catholic Archdiocese could have easily picked a huge 40B project. Instead they picked a project that preserved and protected the William Bartlett House and the William Johnson House and tried to keep the area in keeping with the historic neighborhood character, actually rebuilding what had been destroyed in another era.

The William Bartlett House and the William Johnson House had been nominated by Preservation Massachusetts as one of the 10 Endangered Resources in 2001.

The project also contains affordable housing. Something that I’d like to see a lot more of (a subject for another post altogether.)

The Federal Street Overlay had to be approved by the Newburyport City Council by 8 votes.

As I recall, there was an open house for everyone, but especially the Newburyport City Council, so that the members of the Council could see the two historic houses that could be saved by their vote.

As I remember it, there were a lot of poker faces among Councilors that day and for the life of me I couldn’t get any read on how they would vote and whether or not these properties would be saved.

It ended up that the Newburyport City Council voted unanimously for the Federal Street Overlay and the William Bartlett House and the William Johnson House are preserved with deed restrictions no less.

So when I had the privilege of seeing one of these houses, I wanted every Newburyport City Councilor who had cast their vote that evening to see it too. To see what an incredible difference they had made to Newburyport, MA. To see a piece of our historic heritage that without their vote would have been lost. And for them to see how they had contributed to the very heart of what makes Newburyport, MA such an amazing place in which to live, work, visit and play.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport, MA

Newburyport, the Roadway into the Wheelwright Property

Just our of morbid curiosity, I decided to take a look at “Brown Street,” the street that Todd Smith and Peter Nordbloom of Willis Lane Investments LLC are planning to use to develop the back of the Wheelwright property, or the “rape of the Ridge.”

So I crossed State Street from Greenleaf Street (which goes past the Newburyport Fire Station and the video store) and went right onto Brown Street.

That beautiful driveway down to the cemetery where the Wheelwright family is buried is real easy to find.

Edward Gerrish Mair © 2006
The driveway to the Oak Hill Cemetery
off Brown Street that Willis Lane LLC plans to develop

But although Brown Street is large as life on the Newburyport GIS map, all that was in front of me, one house in on Brown Street were lots and lots of trees. I couldn’t even find a path, much less anything that resembled a road.

Well, two things.

Just to build a road, much less a 4-6 house subdivision back there would entail an incredible amount of damage.

Second, from what I understand reading planning and development stuff, it’s really, really not a good idea to put in any new roads (or in this case resurrect what was once an old roadway) because it only leads to more and more development.

(One can envision “Brown Street” going all the way across the Ridge enabling all that land back there to be developed. What a treat.)

So I was really depressed on my foray down Brown Street, and I am very, very angry that Todd Smith and Peter Nordbloom of Willis Lane LLC are determined to make this come about.

Zoning amendments to protect our historic heritage where are you?

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Wheelwright Gardens, Endangered Resources

Obviously I liked the fact that the gardens at the Wheelwright House made Preservation Massachusetts 10 Most Endangered Resource list a lot.

One of the things that I also like is that a realtor was one of the three people who nominated the Wheelwright Gardens.

Why do I find this so enchanting? Let me digress a bit and tell a tale.

I love going to open houses. Always have. Let’s say, it’s hard to remember just how long ago it was, 10-14 years ago I went to an open house that was on a side street very close to downtown Newburyport.

The house had been a one family Federal and had been pretty much gutted and turned into 3 condominiums. The start of a long and enduring trend.

I went in and looked at one of the condominiums. It was an “open” concept with a gas fireplace separating the dinning, living room area from the kitchen. No wood fireplace insight. This was when wood fireplaces were still considered a “good” thing.

All very nice if it was in Tucson, Arizona, but this was Newburyport, Massachusetts.

I asked the realtor how the developer came up with this concept. And the realtor quite happily told me that the realtor had told the developer what people “wanted” and what would sell, and the developer developed the property accordingly. The realtor seemed quite pleased with the contribution that the realtor had made to our historic Newburyport heritage.

And in my experience, this particular realtor was and is not an anomaly.

So that’s why I find the fact that a realtor, of all people, nominated an historic garden as an Endangered Resource endearing.

And I would not be at all surprised if other realtors might not be happy at this audacious act. Much easier to sell a million dollar plus property on historic High Street if one could just pave over that darn garden without a qualm in the world and make it into a nifty parking lot. Good grief, let’s get real.

So the fact that we are losing Newburyport’s historic heritage, short-term profit instead of long-term economic gain, is just downright complicated and downright multi-determined.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Leadership Under the Current Administration

Tom Ryan in the latest issue of the Undertoad, September 29, 2006 has suggested that I started the Newburyport Political Blog to blog about Mayor John Moak’s failures.


In truth, if Donna Holaday had been elected mayor of Newburyport, MA, I am not sure that the Newburyport Political Blog would exist. When I started the blog on January 1, 2006, I desperately wanted to make sure that “progressives” had some sort of “voice.”

And actually, I had sort of a sinking feeling about Mr. Moak being mayor. But I never anticipated that I would be quite this disappointed, if not down right panicked about the future of Newburyport, MA under his leadership.

If Donna Holaday had been elected mayor, I think that the Planning Office would not be in disarray. Newburyport would still have Nick Cracknell as Newburyport’s Planning Director and Julie LaBranche as City Planner.

I am quite sure that Donna Holaday would have honored the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s survey and not wanted all parking on the waterfront.

I also think that Ms Holaday would never have thought that having a 40B project on the Woodman property would have been a good idea.

And with Mr. Cracknell and Ms LaBranche in place in the Planning Office, I would have been confident that zoning issues to protect Newburyport, MA were being worked on and that Newburyport Planning Office was doing its best to implement the Newburyport Master Plan. And that there would have been some sort of check on the all the development happening in Newburyport, MA.

I’m sure if Ms Holaday had been elected there would have been other issues to blog about. Whether those issues would have been alarming enough for me to start the Newburyport Political Blog, who knows.

So did I start the Newburyport Political Blog to blog about Mayor John Moak’s failures? No. Do I blog a lot about the concerns I have about the direction that the City of Newburyport is taking under Mayor Moak? Yup, you bet I do.

Would I like to see these first 9 months be a huge learning curve for the Mayor of Newburyport, MA and if the Newburyport Political Blog is still in existence 9 more months from now, be blogging about how much Mayor John Moak has learned, how he would be listening to the residents of Newburyport, MA and how proud I would be to have him as Mayor of our City? You bet.

I would love to blog about the positive direction Mayor John Moak might take the City of Newburyport, MA. There’s still time. And it would really work for me.

Do I think this would actually happen? In truth, I still have that sinking feeling about Mayor John Moak being mayor of Newburyport, MA. And I would really, really love to be wrong on this one.

Mary Eaton