park or not to park...
By Ulrika G. Gerth/ email@example.com
Thursday, February 16, 2006
census is mailed in early March, residents will get a chance to weigh
in on an issue that for years has remained buried in disagreement.
Included in 8,500 envelopes will be the Waterfront Park and Parking
Survey that could help the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority once
and for all seal the fate of a Newburyport problem child: the NRA dirt
parking lots along the Merrimack River.
But, as has been customary for the NRA's final project, dispute looms,
especially if residents favor an expansion of the park with limited
parking, or a mix of expanded park and parking lots, rather than the
third option that became a centerpiece of Mayor John Moak's campaign
Moak said that during his three-month run for the corner office, conversations
with residents convinced him they supported his proposal of "park-like
parking" along the waterfront. That vision is most closely represented
by the "Entirely Parking Lots" option in the survey.
"I think I really know what people want," Moak said. "The
survey could be different from what I've heard, but it probably won't
change my mind."
Six years ago, the NRA sent out another survey regarding its waterfront
lots and residents responded overwhelmingly in favor of turning them
into parks while a smaller number wanted a combination of parks and
commercial use. Hundreds of hours have since been devoted to public
hearings, a feasibility study, traffic surveys, and, most of all, drawing
plans for a garage that would absorb parking displaced by the new park.
With Moak's pledge not to build a garage with local tax dollars, the
battle now focuses on the number of parking spaces on the waterfront.
While Moak said at least 300 spaces are needed to accommodate the needs
of a growing city, the NRA has, based on the 2000 survey, advocated
for about 100-140 spaces of paid public parking.
A NRA study of the West and East lots, located on either side of Market
Landing Park, concluded last year they only fill up during Yankee Homecoming
fireworks and River Festival concerts. Most days the team counted well
under 200 cars, according to NRA Vice Chairwoman Mary Lou Supple.
An aerial photo from May of 2004 - displayed on this year's survey -
paints a picture that Supple said is a typical parking pattern. The
municipal lot on Green Street is packed, the West Lot is partly full,
whereas the East Lot, besides a cluster of cars near downtown, sits
"If we can't park in front of the store, we want to park in the
Green Street lot," Supple said. "We have the perception of
a parking crisis. Mid-July to mid-August is the busiest season and even
then we don't fill up the East Lot. It seems crazy to devote the entire
lot to parking."
Development on waterfront property is also subject to Chapter 91 authorization,
a state law for the protection and promotion of public use of tidelands
and other waterways. The state Department of Environmental spokesman,
Joe Ferson, did not want to speculate about the city's chances of acquiring
such a license, but said the review, including public hearings, usually
takes at least seven months.
The attempt to redevelop the central waterfront is the last project
of the NRA, which was established in the early 1960s by then Mayor Albert
Zabriskie. Downtown was in disarray and the Newburyport Redevelopment
Authority could as a branch of the federal government acquire properties
by eminent domain and find developers willing to invest in them for
the economic benefit of the community.
Step by step, the downtown rose from the rubble, although legal and
economic challenges constantly delayed the process. The authority was
supposed to work independently of local government but as time wore
on, the city and the NRA realized success depended on their cooperation.
The mayor, for one, can appoint a member a year to the five-member NRA
"I don't mean this as a threat," Moak said, "but I have
the ability to appoint people to the NRA. I can use the strength of
the office ... My job is to use whatever authority I have to do what's
best for the city."
The NRA started composing the survey after then City Clerk Moak said
it would get a free ride with the census. In early January, Mayor Moak
reviewed the survey and expressed concern about what he deemed misleading
information. After several revisions, the survey was presented Jan.
30 to the City Council, which on initiative from Ward 4 councilor and
NRA secretary, Erford Fowler, referred the survey to the Budget and
Finance Committee for review.
Worried the survey would not make it out in time for the mailing, NRA
treasurer Nat Norton asked the council Monday to move it out of committee.
The council obliged.
"It didn't seem to be our area to be approving or not approving,"
said Bruce Vogel, Ward 5 councilor and committee member, of the survey.
"Our sense was this was something the NRA had to work out with
the city clerk's office."
Fowler called the survey "better than any of them that I've seen"
although he objected to putting a dollar amount next to each option.
Supple said she hopes for a turnout like in 2000, when about 50 percent
of the 7,800 surveys were returned.
"To a large degree the response determines what will happen. If
it's too low, it'll be dismissed," Supple said. "But if we
get any type of response at all, all public officials should listen
to what the public is saying."
2006 Waterfront park and parking survey
Please select the one answer that best describes what you would like
on the NRA Waterfront Lots:
- Mostly expanded park with limited parking (Create 50 to 100 parking
spaces. Estimated cost: $1.5 million. Will require new parking.)
- Mix of expanded park and parking lots (Create up to 200 parking spaces.
Estimated cost: $2.5 million._
- Entirely parking lots (Create the maximum number of spaces possible:
400. Estimated cost: $3.5 million.)
Funding - How should your selection be paid for:
- Newburyport tax revenue
- Community Preservation Act (potentially available for park)
- Grants, fund-raising etc.
- Downtown off-street parking revenues.
(Source: The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority)