High Street Master Plan Passes

On Monday night, April 28, 2008, in the Newburyport City Council, the High Street Master Plan passed.

It passed 11-0. Not a peep from anyone. Everyone just sat there and then voted, “Ah,” another words, “yes.”

I expected at least one rant from Newburyport City Councilor Tom O’brien, having listened to his and former Newburyport City Councilor Erford Fowler’s very colorful rants the last time. But no, absolute silence.

So I figured it must be the first reading, and the rants and protests would come later on.

Well, of course I’m going to ask around and find out why this went so smoothly, of course.

And apparently, the High Street Master Plan–as it was read, the restoration of an historic roadway, was not an “Ordinance,” but an “Order.”

I’m still on a learning curve here. An “Ordinance” is a law, and “Order” is a directive, and only requires one reading.

So, “Voila,” the High Street Master Plan actually does pass 11-0. A minor miracle, in my book.

My first question is, can the mayor veto an “Order.” (I ask this question because the previous mayor vetoed the High Street Master Plan, go figure. See earlier entry on “Weird Bike Lane Politics.”) And the feeling that I am getting is Mayor Moak’s approach simply could be, not to fund the project in anyway. Thereby, very politically sidestepping the entire issue. Notice that there is not one mention of High Street, at least that I can find, in his proposed 2 million Capital Improvement Plan.

The only person who spoke in the Public Comments, was a Mom who was very concerned about the danger of the Newburyport High School students crossing High Street, when they get out of school. (And unfortunately this has been an ongoing dilemma, ever since the automobile was invented.)

And as I remember, and I’d have to look again, the compromise that “we” came to was, a “push light” at the corner of Toppans Lane and High Street, where the crosswalk is.

When I talked to the crossing guards when the Bike Lanes first went down, their response was that the only thing that slowed downed motorist around the High School on High Street, was the presence of a cop car. Other than that, people didn’t give a rip.

I mentioned this to one of my Newburyport City Councilors, and suggested somewhat flippantly, that maybe the city could leave an empty cop car, one that isn’t working so well, at the corner of Toppans Lane and High Street during peak get out of school hours.

And I don’t know whether or not they were kidding or not, but the response was, “good idea.”

The passing of the High Street Master Plan, one more milestone in the ongoing, now just about 13 years, High Street restoration saga.

Mary Eaton

Economic Lousiness

Real super doom and gloom on the business and economic pages, web pages and otherwise, as to the doom and gloom of our national economy.

And, yes, this may sound weird coming from me, skeptic (this is a vast understatement) that I have been, but it feels to me that Newburyport, although not completely bullet proof in a lousy economy, would still be a good place to live, work and own a business, and part of that would be to, yup, Stephen Karp, Newburyport’s biggest landowner.

How about that for more weird apples from moi.

Mr. Karp indicated, I believe in his visit to Newburyport, MA recently, that New England Development would be able to ride out less than favorable economic times.

I actually feel like Mr. Karp is a buffer for my beloved home town, after reading stuff after stuff about communities and areas in real trouble.

Who knew that I would ever come to this frame of mind. Not moi.

And the other thing, in the doom and gloom of economic lousiness, is that economic lousiness has always been good for historic preservation, something that the readers of the Newburyport Blog know that I’m real big on.

Terrible economic times in Newburyport, MA during the mid part of the 20th Century, kept people from demolishing and butchering Newburyport’s large stock of historic dwellings.

But in good economic times, according to the National Architectural Trust, “…demolition, development and period inappropriate alterations and additions have effectively replaced one third of these (Newburyport) historic properties.”

As I read the financial stuff (the Huffington Post has become a favorite, who knew about that one either), I keep thinking that so far, Newburyport, MA has been pretty lucky.

Mary Eaton

Bland and Colorless

I think one of the things that saddens me about Newburyport’s growing “fluidity” (see earlier post) is it’s growing blandness.

One of the things that I like so much about “Newburyport According to X” is that it reflects the feisty, unbland Newburyport that I loved so much.

I may have agreed or disagreed with a lot of the folks, but colorful they were.

Yes, folks like Byron Matthews and Erford Fowler are still very much about, but it feels as if their color is muted.

Whether you liked Tom Ryan or not, he was mucho colorful.

And the “old boys” clashing with the “newbies” created spark and a colorful tension.

And it feels as if so much of that “tension” in Newburyport is gone, like the gutted insides of so many historic homes. Obviously, many, many folks are glad of the “calm,” but for this artist and blogger, that lack of color feels like a tremendous loss.

Mary Eaton

Fluid Community

More heresy on the part of moi.

“Newburyport According to X” has this to say about Todd Freemont-Smith’s project in back of the Wheelwright property:

“The real kicker is that while he (Todd Freemont-Smith) and his family may live there for decades, they will more than likely, as many who move to Newburyport these days, live there a couple years until they move on to their next business or financial opportunity…”

And, Mr X is right.

I think I’ve gone and am going through a mourning process for Newburyport, MA. I liked it far better before it became an “it” town. But it has become an “it” town. And I am pretty powerless over its growing “it-ness.” So I have a choice, I can be angry and bitter, or I can be curious as to what will transpire.

For a long time my anger at the change to Newburyport’s blossoming “it-ness” felt like sticking a finger in a dike that was bursting all around it. It felt as if I was left with my finger in a small piece of concrete, while the water was gushing down all around me.

Todd Freemont-Smith is part of that gushing water thing. And yes, I agree with Mr. X, Newburyport no longer has become a rooted community, but one in which people stay for a while, or in many cases are forced out, and move on, leaving their mark, good, bad and indifferent.

But Newburyport reflects the larger world in which we live–global and mobile. And it seems that fewer and fewer offspring stay in the place that they were born. And fewer and fewer families, because of so many mobile jobs, can afford to stay in one place for a lifetime or enjoy a generational span.

So, Ok, this is what we appear to have. And what I guess I now hope, is that even as we would become a more and more fluid community, we could agree on the boundaries of the marks that people, who would come and go, could leave. How that would be done, I don’t know.

Mary Eaton

The View of the Wheelwright Property

Oh heretic that I am.

I drove up State Street from the Traffic Circle and took a brief gander (as I’ve been doing for a while, wondering what the heck it is going to look like) at the entrance to the Oak Hill Cemetery where Todd Freemont-Smith is building on the back of the Wheelwright property (see gobs of earlier posts, including the “Rape of the Ridge.”)

And you know what, I thought that the clearing of the woods and the view to the field in the back of the Ridge (which I think was deeded to the Essex County Greenbelt), was, yes, breathtaking. And I’m not being sarcastic here, or anything.

How about them weird apples.

That road to the Oak Hill Cemetery with it’s tangle of trees always seemed very spooky and uninviting to me. And (Whatever help me), I think that opening up that space makes it much more inviting, a whole lot less spooky, and might (heretic I go again) possibly make “upper” State Street a much more inviting “gateway” to the city.

Emails of protest and horror to the Newburyport Blog are unnecessary. I can already hear the very loud “howls of betrayal.”

What also struck me was what an unbelievably difficult hilly terrain that property has, and how difficult it would be to build anything. It’s one thing to see it on maps, it’s a whole different thing to see it “revealed” with all the trees cut down.

So I am actually curious (yes, can you believe it) as to what the project is actually going to look like.

I do have these two plans, dated March 2007. I don’t have anything more recent, but they would give at least an overall “picture” of the project.


Overall plan, March 2007


Detail of plan, March 2007

Mary Eaton

Dithering Over a Place for Seniors

Maybe all this dithering for so many years about where to have a Senior Center, and predictably the resistance to the most recent site, among many, many “resistances” to a whole host of sites, could be our collective unconscious resistance to the notion of our own inevitable aging process and death, and the aging process and death of the people that we love.

Maybe it’s time to slightly change the focus. Not on where to have the ultimate location for a Senior Center (not that I don’t think that that is a good idea), but rather where to house all the senior services in one place, how to make sure that the Newburyport Council on Aging is always properly funded, and how to make sure that the Director of the Newburyport Council on Aging is appropriately compensated for working 24/7.

This “new” approach, actually didn’t come out of my “brilliant brain.” It came out of a conversation with Newburyport Councilor at Large, and pretty much close neighbor, Katie Ives.

Her thinking was that even (due to some miracle–my injection) if we do agree on a site for the Newburyport Senior Center, it’s going to take quite a while to fund it, and quite some time for it to become a reality.

In the mean time, something has to be done to house all the services and activities in one central location.

Hear, hear. Good for Katie Ives. An actual rational thought process.


Not everybody has children, but everyone in Newburyport, MA does share the same fate, no matter what a “Paris Hilton” world might tell us. No matter how distracting the “flash and gash” of our culture might be.

Why wait until your last minute, or the last minute of someone you love, to realize that the services of the Council on Aging are applicable to everyone. Period.

And yes, we are all going to age, and if we are “lucky” grow old, and our loved ones are going to need information and support and just plain old help, even if we think that we might magically skip the aging process in the all together.

Mary Eaton

Wisdom, Council on Aging

I missed my Mother’s death 18 years ago.

Neon lights flashing, “Your mother is dying,” were completely lost on me. My determination that she would “beat it” and come home. Not so.

So I was determined that I would “receive” my father’s death, and respect the way in which he wanted to die. A decision that I was quite sure my very capable father, had made.

My Dad, checked himself out of the hospital against doctor’s orders, and went home, rebuffing professional help that he so desperately needed to survive.

And my father died a brilliant death, just the way he wanted it. 12 hours before his 90th birthday, he died standing up, in his doctor’s waiting room, having just, so characteristically in his gentlemanly way, taken off his hat, waiting to give his doctor “hell” for treating him like “a pathetic invalid.”

My father died “with his boots on” and did not “go gentle into that good night.”

It may have been a “brilliant” death for my father, but it took an enormous toll out of all the people who surrounded him and loved him so much.

And the Council on Aging is not only for the individual who is aging, but it is also a resource of comfort, expertise and information for families and friends who love them.

Mary Eaton

Growing Old in Newburyport, MA

I never would have imagined my father’s death, and the last weeks of his life would affect me the way it has.

Yesterday, for the first time in two and a half months, I sat down in front of my easel and painted. And it was a relief.

It won’t last, but like Spring, for me, it was a sign of hope.

Having watched the last five and a half years of “my” senior’s life, I have become passionate about having a place for seniors in Newburyport, MA, that house all the necessary services and activities, as well as making sure that the Director of the Newburyport Council on Aging, who works 24/7 is adequately financially compensated.

And as one of my favorite seniors in Newburyport (not my father) put it, “Mary, there’s nothing ‘golden’ about the ‘golden years.’ The ‘golden years’ suck.”

As a society, we seem to focus, guided by “Madison Avenue,” as they used to say, on “youth.”

Old age appears to be an anathema to the advertising agencies, and we as a society appear to have little tolerance, for the process of aging and the inevitability of death. And for goodness sakes, forget the wisdom and knowledge of our elders. Who has time for that, when in a “Paris Hilton world,” the “flash and gash” have so much more appeal.

I got news for everybody, the ones who are “lucky” enough, will get their “golden” years, and they are going to be just as “sucky” as they were for my Newburyport friend.

And for those people who think that they might not need the services of the Newburyport Council on Aging, collected in the same place, listen carefully, and respectfully to the “process of old age,” because that would be your old age as well.

And for those people who feel that they are wealthy enough, well educated enough to feel that they would not need the services of the Newburyport Council on Aging, congregated in the same place, I’ve got news for you. In life there are no guarantees. There are no sure bets. Period.

And for those out there who might not think that having the services of the Newburyport Council on Aging all in one place, might not be a good idea, I’ve got more news for you–it is not and it will not be “all about you.” The people who are around you, if you are lucky enough to grow older, will need support and education and just plain old help, in helping you with the “sucky” process of growing old.

Am I pissed about all the dithering about where and how to house the services provided by the Newburyport Council on Aging and the lack of respect and support by so many people in Newburyport, MA? Yup, you bet I am. As they say in New York, for goodness sakes, “get off the shtik.”

Mary Eaton

What is a High Street Plan

What exactly are High Street “plans?”

The original plans from MassHighway for High Street were 52 pages of detailed drawings.

The High Street Master plan is also (or I would imagine be somewhere around) 52 pages of detailed drawings.

When the original plans came back from MassHighway, the High Street Ad Hoc Committee that I was on (this would be the spring of 1999) was asked to “mark-up” the plans, another words write comments on the plans as feedback for the MassHighway engineers.

As I recall every page had “NO” written all over it in red pencil.

I don’t know how the Newburyport Planning Office marked up the High Street Master Plan, but I do remember that the plan itself was huge. Each page seemed huge to me (like 1.5 by 3 feet–that’s not exactly the exact size, and yes I could call the Newburyport Planning Office and ask, but you get the idea, the pages aren’t exactly puny).

And when the plan was put end to end, it seemed long enough to almost cover the back of the City Hall auditorium wall. I’m not exactly sure if that is exactly right, but we are talking long, really, really long.

And the plans are detailed. You can get an idea by pressing here, a page labeled “Kent and Johnson Street”. You can see that there are markings for detailed things like trees, where steps to houses are, whether a spot in front of a house has an iron or a wood fence, how long the fence would be, exactly where the grass is, where a house starts and the beginning of a house’s “foot print.”

All of this was and still is visually fascinating to me as an artist. I could appreciate the hours and hours of work that went into such a document/plan. Every inch had been measured. Every inch had been sometimes agonized over.

Having followed the process from the beginning, I realized when I saw the final High Street Master Plan, that it was truly a labor of love. And I was very moved and very thankful to all the people who helped create it.

Mary Eaton

Weird Bike Lane Politics

A little history on the weird Bike Lane politics. Oy Veh.

The High Street Master Plan was presented at a Public Hearing in 2004, to cheers, except for Tom O’Brien, who was at that time the President of the Newburyport City Council. The mayor (Mary Anne Clancy) was at that meeting. All seemed to be well. In fact, all seemed to be great.

(And as a btw, the High Street Master Plan calls for things like textured cross walks, that look like bricks, but are not, so the Fire, Police and DPW could navigate without any problem, brick sidewalks for all of High Street, and yes, trees, and other good stuff.)

As I recall the Newburyport Planning Office had urged the mayor to give the press, press releases before the bike lanes, (the first phase of the High Street Master Plan) went down, so that people would have some information, and not be totally surprised. It is my recollection, that that piece of civic information never made it to the press, and the bike lanes were a surprise to folks who weren’t following along, which turned out to be almost everyone in Newburyport, MA.

Massive confusion and a visceral dislike of the bike lanes followed (this is a vast understatement). The Newburyport City Council decided that it would be prudent to officially vote on the High Street Master Plan, which they did, and it passed.

Then the Mayor, Mary Anne Clancy, vetoed the plan, and there were not enough votes on the Newburyport City Council to override the mayor’s bike lane veto (you need a lot of votes for such things as overriding vetoes).

What a mess.

What a mess especially because the bike lanes were only partially done. For example, as I remember, there was no signage put up to explain to the bikers and drivers when the bike lanes would stop and when bikes and cars would share road space together.

The rounded painted corners look like parking spaces. They are not. If things had been finished, those areas would have been striped, for no parking, so that people could have proper “sight lines,” or in other words, be able to see traffic coming from either direction.

And of course the textured crosswalks never got done, to help slow down traffic further.

All of this, and other stuff, left us in Newburyport, MA, in “bike lane limbo.”

So I would imagine that the Newburyport Planning Office and the Newburyport City Council would dust off the High Street Master Plan, take a good look at it after 4 years now, and decide what to do next. And give the public, I am sure, all kinds of good and helpful information.

Mary Eaton