10 Residential Units at the Brown School Would Make the Neighborhood Feel a Whole Lot Better

The Brown School
The Brown School

The Brown School, Newburyport

I’ve been scratching my head as to where in the world the push for 27-29 affordable senior housing units came from for the Brown School, which is a complete about face from the direction that the City had been going for as re-use for that property.

It has come from good folks in Newburyport.

And from someone who lives in the Brown School neighborhood 27-29 units of any size is nuts.  This is one of the most densely populated areas of the city with narrow 18th century streets. On street parking is already a nightmare, we already have what I call “neighborhood road rage” when it comes to parking and traffic.

The temperature in the neighborhood would go down a whole lot if the proposal was for 10 residential units. That’s realistically 20 cars. And if the neighborhood got to have the Newburyport Youth Services (NYS) stay, that would be a big extra bonus.

There are a variety of different affordable categories which are referred to as Affordable Medium Income (AMI). Here is table from a 2015 household study from Boston, Newburyport is considered part of the Boston Hud Federal  Management Regulation (FMR) area.

2015 Affordable Medium Income (AMI)
2015 Affordable Medium Income (AMI)

2015 Affordable Medium Income (AMI)

As you can see there are different percentages of the AMI, 30%, 50%, 60%, 80%, 100% and 120%.

According to HUD the Medium Income for Newburyport in 2017 is $103,000. This table show 50%, “Extremely Low” and 80%.

Newburyport 2017 AMI
Newburyport 2017 AMI

Newburyport 2017 AMI

If the City put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) for 10 units, they could be half market rate and half affordable, or all affordable at let’s say 5 different levels of AMI (that’s the % of income) if funding could be found for different AMI levels in the same building. I think under scenarios along these lines that most of the neighborhood would be breath a sigh of relief.

Newburyport Youth Services (NYS)
Newburyport Youth Services (NYS)

Newburyport Youth Services (NYS)

And my understanding is that there is no place for NYS to go even if there was funding. My impression was that NYS did not want to be in the building or the neighborhood, but that’s not the case at all — they love where they are. I thought NYS had somewhere they could go, but apparently that is not the case.

Councilor Jared Eigerman’s Ordinance now in front of the City Council is a wonderful starting place.  I hope we can get to a place where NYS, affordable housing folks and the neighborhood are not pitted against each other, but where we can all come together and find a solution that has something for everyone and not everyone gets everything they want – that’s what I call good negotiating.

Editor’s Note:

This is from the 2014 Brown School Feasibility Study. There are 37 available parking spaces. If there were 10 units, that would realistically be 20 cars and 17 left over parking spaces. The basketball court at the Brown School Park and possibly parts of the Brown School Park itself could be used for snow emergency parking for the neighborhood along with those extra 17 spaces.

Brown School Parking from the 2014 Feasibility Study
Brown School Parking from the 2014 Feasibility Study

Meetings on What Will Happen to The Brown School

The Brown School
The Brown School

The City is now actively concentrating on what to do with the Brown School. Although the template for what to do with the Brown School has been the 2014 Brown School Feasibility Study, the City of Newburyport is now taking a different approach. The school is in terrible shape, and would cost around $14 million to rehab/fix/develop it. The school and the land itself has been appraised at $5.5 million. Understandably the City would like a developer to develop that property.

I was very upset at the last Brown School meeting that affordable housing advocates from all over the city were “rounded up” on Facebook and by word of mouth. The push was for all affordable housing. The neighbors felt intimidated about speaking up about their concerns about parking, traffic and density, worried that they would be labeled as being discriminating against poor people and the elderly, and the fact that this was a completely different direction than the one they had been lead to believe that the City was going in for the last 3-4 years, i.e. The Brown School Feasibility Study.

City Councilor Jared Eigerman  introduced an Ordinance for Monday’s City Council Meeting. I am very grateful to Councilor Eigerman that he has done this. I hope that it is the beginning of a thoughtful dialogue on the new directions that the city is taking for this project.

“This is my (Councilor Eigerman’s) attempt to reconcile all of the interest that I’ve heard over the past five years and balance it out,” Eigerman said, noting that the ordinance will likely be sent to one of the City Council’s committees and ultimately require a positive vote from eight of the 11 councilors.

“Now, with my colleagues, we’re going to hammer it out,” From the Daily News, February 9, 2018.

The Ordinance proposes 40%-60% affordable housing, which I think is a good mix.

The Ordinance proposes 1-1.5 cars per unit. I think that is really unrealistic parking for the neighborhood. I think at least 2 cars per unit is realistic.

The Ordinance calls for 24 units, which I think is way too many units for this property. (Councilor Eigerman has assured me that all of this in his mind would be open for discussion. I trust him a lot.)

The Ordinance would enable the Newburyport Youth Services (NYS) department to serve City residents, “consistent with its mission,” and to Identify public monies for the “NYS to continue to serve Newburyport residents after it relocates from the Brown School Site.”

The Ordinance would protect the 2013 Brown School Park, roughly 11,000 square feet.

The Ordinance calls for, “Mitigating negative impacts upon the neighborhood from changes in use of the Brown School Site, with particular concern for quality of design, traffic, and parking.”

The Ordinance calls for, “Providing for a diverse, balanced, and inclusive community, with housing for people of all income levels as a matter of basic fairness and social responsibility, and to promote economic stability within the community.”

The Ordinance calls for “Protecting the historic exterior features of the schoolhouse building.”

The Ordinance can be found here in the City Council packet https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/sites/newburyportma/files/agendas/city_council_packet_02_12_18_reduced.pdf

I think that it is really important for people to contact all 11 of our Newburyport City Councilors, not just Councilor Eigerman (Ward 2) and Councilor Sharif Zeid (Ward 1). The City Councilor’s contact information can be found here: https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/city-council .  I would also Cc Mayor Holaday and our City Planner Andy Port.

The Ordinance was sent to the City Council Planning and Development Committee at Monday night’s City Council meeting. I was very relieved by this. They will be holding sub-committee meeting on the Brown School. If you care about this project please attend those meetings, this is where a discussion of the fate of the Brown School will take place. The first meeting will be scheduled the week of February 26th.

The Brown School
The Brown School

The Re-Use of the Brown School

The Community Coming Together Working on the Brown School Park, September 2013.

The Community Working on the Brown School Park, September 2013
The Community Working on the Brown School Park, September 2013

In 2013 the city rallied to protect the Brown School Park after the Brown School was decommissioned. The neighborhood desperately wanted to at least keep some of the community feeling that the Brown School created. Citizens worked really hard on a petition drive to protect the Brown School Park. And on September 30, 2013 the Newburyport City Council passed an Order that protects about 10,000 square feet of the Brown School for a park in perpetuity, it was then approved by the Newburyport School Committee.

The 2013 Order to protect the Brown School Park

The 2013 Order to protect the Brown School Park
The 2013 Order to protect the Brown School Park

In the fall of 2013 Mayor Donna Holaday reassured the South End that the Brown School would not be closed, “we were considering the possibility of selling the school for some mixed-use housing, but after listening to residents and looking at the broader school and youth needs of our city, we believe we have come up with and better option.” Mayor Holaday’s words, not mine.

Mayor Holaday’s 2013 Letter

Mayor Holaday’s 2013 Letter Not to Sell the Brown School
Mayor Holaday’s 2013 Letter Not to Sell the Brown School

In 2014 the City spent $40,000 on the Brown School Feasibility Study *, which is excellent. However it does point out that in 2014 the Brown School and the land is worth over $5 million * (it has recently been appraised at $5.8 million) and the cost in 2014 to develop/fix the Brown School is close to $14 million — that’s a total of $19-20 million dollars *, that’s a lot of money.

This year, just recently the mayor did a complete about face. In the Thursday January 25th meeting the mayor said that the Newburyport Youth Services (NYS) would be removed from the building *** (the Brown School neighborhood loves having the NYS there **) and the building would be used for all affordable housing. In my opinion that is nuts given the density of the neighborhood and the parking and traffic issues.

To my dismay, what now seems to be happening is that the neighborhood and the Brown School Park are now pitted against the affordable housing folks which is awful. We want to work together to meet all the needs, not have the community divided against each other.

These are Links to:

The Brown School Re-Use Updates

* The Brown School Re-Use Feasibility Study 10/30/14

**The Public Comments (which are very favorable) to the draft of the feasibility study and options as of 11/18/14

*** From an email from the Director of Youth and Recreation Services, Newburyport Youth Services (NYS), February 1, 2018

“Dear NYS Friends and Families,

It was announced last Thursday at a public meeting that NYS will no longer be part of the re-use proposals for the Brown School. The plan, as of now, is that the City hopes to move forward with a Request for Proposals (RFP) to developers focused on creating affordable housing. At the meeting, the Mayor did state the City may retain the gymnasium (to be overseen by NYS) and then find, buy, lease or build a new space for NYS.”