July 27, 2006



Bryan Eaton/Staff photo

The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority last night released results of a survey on the waterfront lots, including the east lot pictured here.


Residents prefer park space to parking spots

By Stephanie Chelf
Daily News of Newburyport

NEWBURYPORT - The majority of the respondents to a Newburyport Redevelopment Authority survey said they want to see the dirt lots along the waterfront become expanded park with reduced parking space.

Close to 80 percent of the 3,945 respondents want more green space along the central waterfront. Just 10 percent said they wanted all parking, the option Mayor John Moak said he supports.

"The sentiment of residents are pretty much in line with what they responded to in 2000," said NRA member Nat Norton. "The question was has the city changed its mind in six years? This confirms for me what I have been on this board working for, in keeping with that Newburyport residents want."

In 2000, after the NRA won a decade-long battle against a proposed hotel development on the site, the authority sent a survey to residents asking if they preferred a park or commercial development on the site. That survey came back with the majority support for expanding the park.

Last year, the NRA began the process of developing a new survey, as a way to continue to guide them on the future of the property.

The survey was sent to about 8,000 homes with the city's annual census forms in February.

"We're obliged to move forward one way or another," said NRA Chairwoman Janet Marcus.

The NRA will develop a formal report to release the survey results to the mayor and other city officials. Comments written on the survey have not yet been reviewed.

By the fall, the NRA hopes to hire a consultant to draft preliminary images of what park expansion could look like and provide several scenarios to be discussed at future public hearings.

NRA members said they were pleased with the 50 percent response rate received on the survey.

Results show that 398 people supported entirely parking on the lot, 1,756 support an expanded park with up to 200 parking spaces, and 1,389 support a park with up to 100 parking spaces. About 400 surveys contained no response.

The two lots currently hold between 400 and 450 parking spaces.

Moak had initially criticized the survey as biased; however, he later said he would use the results as a guide for the future of the waterfront.

"The survey is an important tool to decide what is going to happen, within our financial needs," Moak said last week, prior to the results being released. "An expanded park generates the need to build a parking garage and that was never really stated in the survey. Someone has to look at the dollars and cents of this."

The survey results were presented last night during an authority meeting. The NRA is a quasi-government agency formed by the state in the 1960s to oversee the redevelopment of downtown. The central waterfront dirt parking lots on either side of the Market Landing Park have been used for city parking since the 1980s in what was called a temporary arrangement. The parking lots are the only remaining NRA properties.

Meanwhile, Moak formed a task force this summer to look at the central waterfront issue and develop a position paper to "motivate" the NRA to action.

Moak said this task force is intended to get input from the direct abutters to the central waterfront, including businesses and organizations that were not part of the survey.

"My focus group is talking about the needs of the abutters and business and things in that area with regard to the central waterfront," Moak said. "It will complement the opinions of the community survey."

Moak has asked members of the task force to discuss ideas and needs with the group each member represents and report back to the mayor at the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 9.

Moak, opposed to a municipal parking garage, said parking needs to remain on the waterfront to support residents and business needs. He has advocated for turning the lots into a permanent, landscaped parking area.

"The NRA can't make their decision without knowing its financial implications for the city and business community," Moak said.

The mayor has said there needs to be at least 300 to 350 parking spaces to meet the city's parking needs.

NRA member Timothy Brennan, appointed by the mayor earlier this year, said the results show there is a way to compromise with the mayor.

"We're not all that far apart," Brennan said. "There were 45 percent who said up 200 spaces, and the mayor is looking at 300."


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

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