June 29, 2006

 
 
Moak seeks consensus on waterfront lots

By Stephanie Chelf
Staff Writer


NEWBURYPORT — Over the next two months, Mayor John Moak hopes a group of diverse residents, business owners and volunteers can come up with a consensus on the future of the central waterfront.

A group of about 20 residents met yesterday in the first of what are to be five meetings this summer. Moak has called together several waterfront stakeholders to develop a "position paper" on how the community should use the central waterfront dirt parking lots and present that proposal to the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority.

The participants include the NRA, the Newburyport Waterfront Trust, the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, residents of Maritime Landing, the Harbor Commission, the Custom House Maritime Museum and the Firehouse Center for the Arts. Moak also invited former Mayor Byron Matthews and attorney William Harris to serve as citizen representatives.

Moak presented some of his ideas for the future of the dirt lots and also outlined some of his goals.

"I want a beginning and an end for this group," Moak said. "Lots of these issues have been talked about in your committees and associations. I want us to come together and get this in writing."

However, at least one member of the group doesn't feel like a consensus is possible on an issue that has polarized the community for years.

"I don't think we'll get a consensus," NRA Chairwoman Janet Marcus said after the meeting.

At issue are the NRA-owned dirt parking lots. Over the years, the properties on each side of Market Landing Park have been eyed for commercial development, a hotel and a larger park. Since 2000, the NRA has explored turning the dirt lots into a sprawling park, a plan that was dependent on the city building a parking garage.

Moak has shifted away from a parking garage and calls for permanent waterfront parking. NRA members said the park can be partially expanded without affecting downtown parking. The NRA is also conducting a survey to gather public opinion on those proposals.

Moak said the work of this new task force will supplement the survey and bring together people who are not represented by the residential survey.

This first meeting was considered an introduction and there was little discussion of ideas and solutions for the waterfront.

At the next meeting, scheduled for July 12 at 6 p.m. at the police station, the task force will hear a presentation on Chapter 91 regulations and the history of the central waterfront and its relationship to the urban renewal project.

Moak said he hopes three other meetings this summer will lead to a report that will be completed by September.

"My concept is to find the best use of the central waterfront and portray that to the NRA," Moak said.

As the task force defines the best use of the parking lots, Moak asked members to keep in mind several factors: cost, visual, protection of the river, service to residents, manageability, future needs and needs of visitors.

Marcus questioned Moak's thoughts, saying, "The city doesn't own the property yet."

The mayor said that is not part of this task force.

Moak also reiterated his waterfront goal to primarily keep parking. To meet downtown parking demands, Moak said, the city needs to keep all spaces in the west parking lot and three-quarters of the parking in the east lot.

The NRA has long had a goal of expanding the waterfront park and removing most of the parking.

It is also planning to use the results of a new survey to guide the project. Preliminary results show an overwhelming majority of residents support some park expansion, Marcus said.

The NRA has been tallying its survey responses. Results from 1,000 surveys, of about 4,000 total, show 36 percent in support of a larger park with parking reduced to about 100 spaces. An additional 44 percent supported expansion of the park with about 200 parking spaces remaining. About 10 percent support all parking.

Final results of the survey should be available at the end of July, Marcus said.

Harris, who spent many years fighting for access to the waterfront, said the approach of this task force should be more than just park vs. parking.

"A multitasking solution can come in at a lower cost and serve the needs of the community," Harris said. The solution should reflect the original purpose of urban renewal, Harris said, which was to support a vibrant business district.

"If we don't have a central waterfront that supports the central business district, then we failed the urban renewal plan."
 

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

 
 
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