February 3, 2004



Zoning, residents envision different future

By Kate Spinner

Staff Writer

NEWBURYPORT -- If suddenly faced with intense development pressure today, the city's open spaces near Route 95 would undergo a massive change that most would not welcome.

Bonnie Sontag, chairman of the city's Strategic Land Use Committee, said nobody on the committee wants to see the city developed to its potential under current zoning.

The committee formed in May is creating a vision plan for the expanse between Route 95 and Low Street from Storey Avenue to the Route 1 traffic circle. On Saturday, about 50 people participated in a workshop to help shape that plan.

During the next few months, the 11-member committee -- made up of varying interests from open space advocacy and habitat preservation to commerce and industrial development -- will devise a Strategic Land Use Plan with a list of recommendations for the city.

With help from two public workshop sessions, and the city's consultant, Taintor & Associates, the committee developed maps to show how the city could take shape under current zoning laws compared to what people in the community would really like to see.

Without some changes in zoning, the first scenario of complete build-out under existing laws would probably not be palatable, according to the message the committee heard from residents who attended the workshops.

The first "likely" scenario shows a scattered expansion of the industrial park into the upland areas that are interspersed within the wetlands between the abandoned Route 95 road bed and the Crow Lane landfill.

Other buildings could spring up along Hale Street, across from Cabot Stains, and a few more buildings could even pop up around the house on a hill at the Myette Farm.

The Low Street farm, owned by the Woodman's, could also be developed, along with the properties behind that farm, stretching all the way to the Russell Terrace neighborhood by the Route 95 on-ramp.

While more development could occur on the farms and open spaces in the study area, development around the Route 1 traffic circle is sparse.

The "alternative" scenario, which is an estimate of what people who live or work in Newburyport would like to see, visually describes a vastly different landscape.

Along Route 95, where there are farms and tracts of undeveloped lands rife with streams and marshes, the map shows a large swath of open space proposed for conservation. Within that habitat, however, the Cabot Stain building still stands and two new buildings are built on higher elevations within the Newburyport Area Industrial Development (NAID) property.

Near the Route 1 traffic circle, more intense development is illustrated. Sontag said the idea is that a mix of residential, commercial and retail business would fit near the commuter rail station that is near the traffic circle, and near the proposed rail-trail.

Sontag also said residents made it clear they would like to see the traffic circle area safer for pedestrians.

Also more developed, on the alternative scenario map, is the existing industrial park. Building within areas that are already developed is called "in-fill" and Sontag said in-fill seems to be a more acceptable approach to development.

"That is preferable to building on open space, but if you're going to do in-fill, you have to be very careful about stormwater run-off," said Sontag.

The whole industrial park is like a bowl, so it is prone to flooding, said Sontag. The addition of hard surfaces -- concrete and asphalt, for example -- that cannot absorb rain water, amplifies the flooding problems. Therefore, any new development in the industrial park would need to be accompanied by infrastructure that can manage heavy rain.

While the alternative scenario map shows a future that might not be easily attained without money to buy conservation land and laws to regulate growth, it provides the city with ideas about how people would like to see that part of the city evolve, Sontag said. The mapping may change as the land use committee refines the study and draws up recommendations for change.

No recommendations have been made and the alternative map is not set in stone.

Sontag said people voiced concern at the workshop about the cost the city would incur if it set out to achieve the vision portrayed in the alternative scenario map. She said that cost hasn't been determined, but she said it involves acquiring open space, loss of tax revenue from banking open space rather than developing it, and the infrastructure costs to the city needed to support different types of development.

"We don't have all the data we need to make detailed recommendations in that regard," said Sontag. And doing so, she said, would be beyond the scope of the land use study.

Land use committee members will be discussing and deciding on recommendations to the city from now until the spring. By late April, the committee plans to hold a public hearing to review a draft of recommendations. The plan and the recommendations for change and implementation will be sent to the Planning Board in late June; they will be an amendment to the 2001 master plan.

"The purpose of the study is to provide recommendations for a vision plan, not to actually make changes per se'," she said. "We have not made and decisions about recommendations yet."

[Comity webmaster's hyperlink: Recorded output from the workshop, as archived on the City's LaserFiche document processing system. The archival system can be accessed via the city website, URL www.nbpt.us, City Online link, go to Public Records Online: Newburyport Library.]


(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)

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