Newburyport, A Response to the Idea of Positive Infill

After reading today’s post about the positive benefits of infill I felt compelled to dispute a few of the claims:

1. “When it preserves open space by diverting new construction to small city lots, rather than on unused “suburban” land.”

This sounds great, but the problem people have with this is that it isn’t one home that is being diverted to a smaller city lot, it’s either multiple units or multiple buildings.

2. “In already dense neighborhoods where the new structure fits in with the character of the neighborhood in terms of building separation and mass.”

The key to this statement is “already dense neighborhoods”. By shoehorning in more houses in neighborhoods that are already packed, it harms the neighborhood and the city in general. It increases the parking and traffic problems, and begins to erode whatever buffers neighbors have between them, such as backyards.

3. “When it increases the value of the land to the city or the owner by increasing the number of units on it while still fitting into the character and look of the neighborhood.”

Increasing the value of land to the city and increasing the amount of money that goes into the pocket of the owner by allowing a number of units to be built where there was previously only one is not a positive. First, whatever increased income the city may get is already spent on new services for the new homes and residents (schools, water, trash, etc. etc.) That has been the philosophy of Newburyport for years now, promises of new developments that will bring more money to the city. The reality is that taxes continue to go up, services continue to go down, and development is running wild all over the city. Clearly this doesn’t work. As for the owner, everyone is entitled to make money, and you can’t fault them for that, however, that doesn’t mean it is good for the city to allow an owner to convert a single family home into a huge mess of condo’s or what have you. In regards to the “Character of the neighborhood”, please, take a look at the huge monstrosities on Plummer Avenue, the new plans for High Street, or any of the other major infill projects around town. They don’t fit, they stick out. The true value to this city was it’s small town feel, its character and beauty, all of which are slowly destroyed with each new infill project.

4. “When it permits the building of affordable housing because smaller lot size might be reflected in lower costs.”

Smaller lot size is not reflected with lower costs. A look at any of the infill projects will show you that the prices of those new homes aren’t significantly cheaper than any other existing house for sale. They may be made into condos, however, the price still isn’t really any lower than any other condo in town. These infill projects aren’t affordable housing, unless they are sold at a price that people can afford, not a price that is slightly lower than market value. Infill isn’t going to solve this city’s affordable housing problems unless you force the developers to sell the homes at affordable prices, but no developer is going to sell at those prices unless they can make it up by selling more units at market value. So rather than creating a solution, it creates a problem, and the city will never reach its percentage goal for affordable housing if we trade one affordable unit for a dozen at market price. Claiming that the smaller lot size is going to result in a cheaper home is simply not true and everyone in Newburyport knows that.

Benjamin Laing, Newburyport