Newburyport, In-fill, Special Permits and Amendments to Section IXb of the Zoning Code

Hi Mary,

Thank you for the discussion you are having regarding “in-fill” in Newburyport. The thoughts and ideas about this issue, as perceived from all sides, are interesting and are an important debate that is crucial to the future character of the city.

I would urge your readership to attend the upcoming Planning Board and City Council meetings and public hearings that are discussing amendments to Section IXb of the city zoning code. During these public deliberations, at which time the public has every opportunity to participate in the process, crucial elements to that section of code will be adjusted in ways that directly relate to the “in-fill” concerns that are addressed in some of your articles.

If I may, I would like to make one point about Special Permits (SP). While the definitions you have astutely researched are a great basis for the understanding of what a SP is, we can more directly look at our own Newburyport Zoning Code which establishes the criteria that must be met in order for a SP to be approved by either the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals, (depending on what the SP application is requesting determines who the SP application is heard by). These criteria are well defined within our zoning code and map out exactly what the Special Permit Granting Authorities, (SPGA), must base their decisions on.

Just a quick clarification. In your latest posting the statement is made that, “…a SP is an opportunity to come and chat informally with the Planning Board about making a project more beneficial…”

Actually, the SP process is the FORMAL process through which an applicant comes before the Board and the public to gain a SP for their project, whatever it might be. During this formal process the public has the opportunity to discuss their concerns at length and to hear the deliberations of the Board in direct relation to the submitted application. The “informal” or pre-application process is just what its name denotes. It’s a prospective applicant’s “testing the waters”, if you will, with his/her ideas for a project.

At that time the applicant usually has preliminary plans and is trying to gain very early input from the Board as to whether they should take the next steps, which involve both money and time, in the design phases of their projects. The Planning Board does usually hear public input during these informal discussions and so your point is well taken that these are very important arenas in which the neighbors and others can express their thoughts. The SP process itself however, is a very formal process once an application has been accepted by a Board.

Again, thank you for raising these points and concerns with process and the general future of the city. These are important discussions and I enjoy reading comments from all sides on these issues.

John Skibbee
(Planning Board member)

(Editor’s note: The formal name, “Section IXb of the city zoning code” is what I have been referring to informally in various posts as the “infill ordinance.” And a very big thank you to John Skibbee of the Newburyport Planning Board.)