Neighborhood Development in Newburyport, Massachusetts

As people living in Newburyport, I think often our first gut reaction when we find out that there is going to be new development in our neighborhood is “no way.”

I’ve seen projects where the neighborhood has worked with the developer and Newburyport Planning Office and come up with a solution (Fruit Street for example.) And neighborhoods that have refused to work with the developer in the first round of negotiations and the results have been messy and unpleasant.

A piece of property sold in my neighborhood and a developer was chosen by the seller. The immediate reaction of the neighbors (including me) was suspicion. We went down to the Planning Office at City Hall and got the plans for the property and we were not happy with what we saw.

I went and talked to the Planning Director, Nick Cracknell, and he explained that as a neighborhood we could work with the developer and come up with something that could be a win-win situation.

I also talked to a friend of mine who I trust to be objective and fair. What this person told me, and I think it was very wise advice, was that at this juncture we as a neighborhood had the opportunity to work with the developer. But if we dug our heels in and refused to compromise, the developer could come back with a proposal that fit within the zoning ordinances, but could be detrimental to the community.

So as a neighborhood we embarked in the process of working with Nick Cracknell, Newburyport’s Planning Director, and the developer to try and come up with a win-win situation that would not only benefit our neighborhood but the community at large.

Did we as a neighborhood get everything we wanted, of course not? Did the developer get everything he wanted, of course not? But I look out my window and see a beautiful new dwelling and know that the Victorian house also on the property was thoughtfully renovated.

Did the new development cause change and impact the dynamics of the neighborhood? Of course it did. Is this a bad thing? No, because this is part of adapting to life.

As I said in an earlier post my feeling is that communities are organic. We as a City are going through huge changes. I think as a community we have a responsibility not only on a City level, but on a neighborhood level as well, to not have a “not in my neighborhood” mentality. We can instead choose to see growth as part of an inevitable process and work towards integrating it well into the City of Newburyport as much as we possibly can. Then we as a community have the challenge to try and constructively incorporate the changes that have taken place. Both of these things take time and are not necessarily easy.

So I think it’s just not the City of Newburyport (the Newburyport Planning Board, the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals and the Newburyport Planning Office) and the developers that are solely responsible for “smart growth” in our City, but it is the people on a neighborhood level as well.

Change is really hard, but on a neighborhood level, we as citizens can either embrace and help the process, or dig in our heels and at the end of the process not have a say in the end result.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport