June 20, 2006

Moak pushes for action on central waterfront

By Stephanie Chelf
Staff Writer

NEWBURYPORT — Mayor John Moak has asked elected officials, volunteer board members, nonprofit group members and private developers to come up with a plan to "motivate" the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority toward action on the central waterfront.

Moak wants this group of stakeholders to meet at least five times this summer to draft a "position paper" by Sept. 1 and make recommendations on the use of the unpaved central waterfront parking lots.

"The purpose of this committee is to ascertain the most appropriate use of the central waterfront property as it relates to its neighbors," Moak wrote in a letter sent to waterfront neighbors late last week.

Moak has asked several entities to be represented on this new task force. Letters were sent to: the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, the Newburyport Waterfront Trust, the Harbor Commission, the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the City Council, the Custom House Maritime Museum and the Firehouse Center for the Arts. Charles and Ann Lagasse of Piper Properties and New England Development, Stephen Karp's company, were also asked to participate as they develop plans for their properties in the "Waterfront West" area, which is bordered by the Black Cow Restaurant and Michael's Harborside Restaurant.

William Harris and former Mayor Byron Matthews were asked to serve as citizen representatives, Moak said, because of their history with the central waterfront.

Moak said he is also planning to invite neighboring condominium association members to participate.

"The goal of this committee is to inform the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority of the needs of the neighbors of the central waterfront property and to motivate the authority to move forward with action to complete the central waterfront in a manner to be more beneficial to the citizens and businesses of the city," Moak wrote.

The task force will have its first meeting June 28 at 4:30 p.m. in the police station conference room. The meeting will include a discussion of individual needs of the groups participating in the committee, Moak said.

"People would like to see something finished down there," Moak said. "Let's put it down in writing and come to a position, a vision."

City Councilor James Shanley said he wants to get more information about the task force before deciding whether to participate.

"I'm unclear as to the purpose of it," Shanley said.

The discussion will center on the two dirt parking lots that are on either side of the Market Landing Park. Since 2000, the NRA, which owns the property, has eyed an expanded park and removal of parking. Moak has repeatedly stated his interest in a landscaped parking area.

The NRA recently sent a survey to all homes asking for public input on the use of the lots, a follow-up to a 2000 survey by the authority. The survey asked residents to choose one of three options for the site: all park, a mix of park and parking, or primarily parking.

Results are still being collected, NRA members said. This winter, Moak dismissed the survey as "biased" during his first meeting with NRA after becoming mayor.

The purpose of this task force, Moak said, is to work in conjunction with the survey results and provide a voice for the business community and other groups not involved in the survey.

"This survey should be used as an important tool to determine the most effective use of this property, but as with any analysis of data and/or opinions, all facets of involvement and their effect should be considered prior to making any determination of the final solution," Moak wrote.

Moak said he selected members based on their relationship to the central waterfront. The resident representatives, with a third yet to be named, were chosen because of their historic knowledge of the issue, Moak said.

Harris was an advocate for an open waterfront more than 30 years ago through a group called the Friends of the Newburyport Waterfront. Harris spent 20 years in state and federal litigation to preserve public access. As part of that work, Harris said, he researched the land back to the 17th century.

Since the public access cases were settled in the early 1990s, Harris said he has not been involved in the waterfront.

"I have a flexible view," Harris said. "We need to identify what the needs are now and project the needs of the future. It's an opportunity to improve understanding of needs and perhaps build a consensus."

Matthews, involved in the downtown redevelopment during his five terms as mayor in the late 1960s and 1970s, was also on the redevelopment authority three years ago. Matthews was picked to join the authority again this year by Moak, but his appointment was denied by the council.

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