Questioning the Advantage for Positive Infill for Newburyport, Massachusetts

I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that there could be an advantage for Newburyport, Massachusetts for the idea of “positive infill” as it has been defined in an earlier post. And in particular “increasing the number of units,” especially within Newburyport’s Historic District.

As I am beginning to understand it, infill can be an antidote to “urban sprawl.”

But, in Newburyport we now have the Open Space Residential Development Ordinance (OSRD), the purpose of which is to prevent “urban sprawl” or to quote the Ordinance itself:

“A technique to build residential subdivisions that maximizes the amount of preserved open space and protects local resources while not reducing the number of units built compared to a conventional sub-division.”

(The link to the entire ordinance is under “Helpful Links” at the side of the Newburyport Political Blog.)

I looked up the “Zoning Ordinance of the City of Newburyport” and under the purpose of the Ordinance it lists (among other things) the following:

* “To conserve the value of property, with due consideration for the character of the zones and their peculiar suitability for particular uses.”

* “To lessen congestion in the streets.”

* “To prevent overcrowding of land and to avoid undue concentration of population by regulating the height, number of stories and size of buildings and other structures, the percentage of the area of the lot that may be occupied, the size of the yards, courts, and other open spaces.”

* “To control the density of population by regulating the location and use of buildings, structures and land for trade, industry, residence or other purposes; and the height, size and location of these uses within the limits of the City of Newburyport.”

So it would seem to me that “positive infill” in Newburyport’s Historic District would go against the intent the Zoning Ordinance itself, not by “regulating the height, number of stories and size of building,” but by incrementally increasing an unduly amount of units that in that particular area because:

* It adds to congestion in the streets.

* It creates overcrowding of land.

* It increases the density of population.

* And it could decrease the value of the property within Newburyport’s Historic District and therefore Newburyport as a whole. (For example, if we start destroying High Street with infill in back or in front of those stately mansions, everybody’s property value would decrease, because Newburyport’s historic gateway, a key to its economic value, would at the very least be compromised, if not destroyed.)

And I would also add that “increasing the number of units” would seem to burden existing City services – schools, water and sewer, wear and tear on existing roadways.

And in regard to affordable housing, smaller lot size in this case would not “be reflected in lower costs.” Lots within Newburyport’s Historic District are extremely expensive, making the creation of affordable housing much more difficult in this particular area.

So while I can see where reasons for “positive infill” might apply to other municipalities, especially municipalities whose more urban areas are underutilized, I have a real problem with successfully applying this criteria to Newburyport’s Historic District in particular.

For me this would not be an example of “smart growth,” in fact for me it would be the very antithesis of “smart growth,” because this is an area in my mind that is beyond “dense,” this is an area that is on the verge of a “saturation point.”

Mary Eaton, Newburyport