The Next Step on and about the Waterside ~
Seeking common ground on the use of the waterfront lots
Commencing revisions to the website during the transition from old style (Julian) calendar year termed "The Year of Reckoning" (March 25, 2005 - March 24, 2006) to the "The Year of Common Ground" (March 25, 2006 - March 24, 2007) ~ insight was offered about the process and progress to seek "common ground" on the use of the waterfront lots. Towards this end, parties were encouraged to participate in the "unending conversation" at the Virtual Wolfe Tavern, then "e-stablished" on the now retired website's PHP bulletin board.

Retracing those "next steps" taken in the last quarter of "The Year of Reckoning" ~ during the transition of administrations after the biennial elections and directly after the inauguration of the Moak adminstration's first term of office. This webpage was created as the 2006 NRA survey was pursued and refined in the summer of the new style calendar year 2005 ~ before the election season through to when the results were made public nearly a year later. The record subsequently follows the Mayor's new waterfront task force which first met on June 28, 2006. (Timelines for the survey results were July; the Mayor expected a position paper to be generated by early September, although that report was delayed until later in the fall.)

During the process, the mind travelling reader had been encouraged to review the entries (text and context below) posted at the Virtual Wolfe Tavern forum which offered a discourse about "Envisioning as a community: the NRA waterfont lots." These posts chronicled the prior year, bringing the reader to the next step in the process: the "polling" data supplied by Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA) 2006 waterfront park and parking survey, empirical data about (parking) use of the NRA lots throughout the summer of 2006 ~ and foremost, the process of consensus building about sensible (and (environmentally sensitive) use of the two waterfront lots (View surveyed map at this link within.)

NRA Survey. Mailed out to residents with the 2006 city census (in early March) ~ the NRA survey solicited public opinions about preferred use of the two NRA waterfront lots (with three options from mostly park, a balance of park and parking, and all parking). The survey also screened for general demographics (ward and length of residency) and whether there is support to construct a downtown parking garage (and where). The overleaf provides extensive background information, and also encouraged that additional comments be added. (View the NRA survey in pdf format.)

The survey solicited the public's opinion on the use of the NRA lots by indicating preference for:

  1. Mostly expanded park with limited parking, which would create 50 to 100 parking spaces at an estimated cost of approximately $1.5 million and require new parking
  2. A mix of expanded park and parking lots, which would create up to 200 parking spaces, at an estimated cost of $2.5 million, and based upon several studies, require no ostensible immediate need for new parking
  3. Entirely parking lots, creating the maximum number of spaces possible (approximately 400) which is estimated to cost $3.5 million.

Additionally, the NRA survey posed questions such as how many times household members are downtown (selecting only one response, ranging from daily to once a month or less) --- plus asked the (typical) reason [e.g., work, municipal activity, shopping and dining experiences, entertainment or visiting the boardwalk (checking all that apply)].

There were also traffic and parking oriented questions focusing on the means of arriving downtown, and if you drive, the preferred site for parking. The first side of the survey was replete with various questions, some regarding demographics such as ward and length of time which you have lived in Newburyport --- plus a general yes/no question phrased: "If it did not add to the Newburyport taxpayer’s bill, would you like to see a parking garage somewhere in the downtown?" and a question about "Where would you like to see it built?"

The reverse side offered a chance to add comments, and provided background and additional information. The background provided a synopsis of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority which was created in the early 1960s, plus mentioned that over the past 10 years, parking committee(s) have been established by mayoral appointment (focusing on paid downtown parking, including a garage); provided detail on parking analyses and stresseed that no matter which plan is finally implemented "the NRA remained committed to providing space for the Rail Trail, access to the boardwalk along Ferry Wharf Way (an historic way through the East lot) and the Visitors’ Center."

The NRA encouraged the public to contribute commentary and clarification (of your selected survey option) --- adding that, after compilation of the results, the results and addenda will be archived in the library’s archival room. The survey was to be returned with your census form (which households will receive by mail in early March) --- with both census forms and surveys mailed or delivered to the City Clerk’s Office in City Hall, 60 Pleasant Street in a timely fashion.

After taking office, the new administation indicated that, before the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1st, the formation of a mayoral task force of "stakeholders" would be a key component to coming to forming consensus --- as a complement to the data compiled by the citizen survey.


Recent History. These will be the next big (tandem) steps to take in the last stretch of a very long haul --- for it is now over a generation (of 30 years) since the "Measure of Change" documentary in 1975. The reader may take measure of this with review of the news articles archived at this link within which chronicles how we arrived where we are at the point when the easternmost and westernmost "historic wayes to the Waterside" were rededicated in May 2003. Let us recap more recent history since then:

Note that the February 18, 2005 post by Dragonfly at the Virtual Wolfe Tavern mentions the appointment of Erford Fowler to the (single state-appointed seat on the) NRA, replacing Laura Rowe. Erford, of course, also sits as ward 4 city councilor.

At his suggestion, his fellow councilors considered a referendum question on the November 2005 ballot.[1] The city council weighed in with the NRA and decided that a referendum would be a more productive approach. The NRA was reassured that the survey could be included in the 2006 city census by the then City Clerk John Moak, who later campaigned for mayor and won with 60 percent of the vote. (It is no secret that the Mayor believes that in part, his position to develop landscaped parking on the waterfront brought him that support, and that he feels strongly that people want the waterfront resolved.)

Candidates had just geared up for the (biennial) mayoral (primary) campaign which typically begins in earnest after Labor Day --- when the NRA sent the City Council the following communication, which would appear on the September 12, 2005 city council meeting’s agenda. It was received and filed on a motion by Councilor Gillis, seconded by Councilor Donna Holaday, herself a candidate for mayor --- and recorded by the then City Clerk John Moak.

August 24, 2005

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority
Newburyport City Hall
Newburyport, MA 01950

Dear City Council Members,

In 2000 the NRA sent surveys to the 7820 households in the city asking residents to choose from three options to decide how the Central Waterfront lots should be developed. A remarkable 4011 households responded, with more than half expressing a preference for having the lots developed as parkland.
Subsequently, the City Council funded and worked with the NRA and Waterfront Trust to develop a feasibility study (the Bluestone Plan) in 2001. This plan called for the city to develop replacement parking for all but 100-140 spaces on the waterfront.

Since that time thousands of person hours have been spent developing plans to accomplish this goal. Many sites and funding formulas have been considered, and a wide range of proposals have been put forward. At one end of the spectrum is the current plan for a garage, with mixed-use development at both ends, that entirely covers the existing Green Street parking lot. This plan projects no tax increase; and it removes the largest number of parking spaces from the waterfront, thereby maximizing space for park expansion. At the other end is a proposal to convert the waterfront lots to permanent parking. This would cost the city a substantial amount (with no state funding available), and would permit little to no expansion of waterfront parkland.

There are options in the middle of this spectrum that have been considered and put aside for one reason or another. It's time to revisit a few of these and look at areas where we can compromise: a smaller garage; more spaces left on the waterfront; perhaps a reassessment of the number of spaces we really need downtown.

The NRA asks that the City Council join us in preparing a new survey of city households. The NRA is prepared to do the work necessary and welcomes the City Council's involvement to whatever extent the council deems desirable. Whether the council wants to join us in the information gathering and assessment process or would prefer to restrict its participation to reviewing and approving the survey, we are eager to work with you.

Please advise us of the role you would like to play in preparing a new survey. The NRA has delivered a letter to the City Clerk, requesting that he enclose the new survey with the 2006 census that is mailed to all city households. The NRA will start immediately gathering information and locating professional resources to ensure that the new survey will be able to elicit the information the city needs to finalize a parking solution. When the new survey's results are assessed, the city will be in a better position to move forward, knowing that we are all working on what the people of Newburyport want.

We look forward to working with you.

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority
Erford Fowler (absent from meeting)
Jan Marcus
Nat Norton
Mary Lou Supple
Rick Taintor

Apparently, as a conscious decision (or an oversight of their responsibilities for oversight and insight) the city council chose not to participate in the generation of the survey --- and for more than five months, with virtually no input from city council and a “lame duck” mayor[2] --- the NRA revamped and revised drafts of the survey content without the input solicited from the city council.

[Interestingly, the campaigns between the two successful primary candidates, John Moak and Donna Holaday, would be differentiated on this very issue: the balance of park and parking on the NRA waterfront property and whether to build a parking garage. (With Holaday advocating for mostly parking and building a garage on Titcomb Street, and Moak advocating that based upon his canvassing of the community, the best solution is to surface the lots for parking, then consider a longer-term solution.)]

Note that during this timeframe, the inter-dependent downtown parking study and parking garage proposal were released (in August) and at a later point in time --- after the garage proposal was sanitized then euthanized --- the NRA refined their own parking analysis to indicate that they could proceed without a garage because the ultimate number of parking on the waterfront lots rarely exceeded 200 - 215 vehicles.

After the inauguration, Mayor Moak attended the special NRA meeting held on January 4, and expressed dissatisfaction with the earlier draft survey. Based upon that input, the survey was revised and approved by the NRA at their regularly scheduled meeting on January 24, 2006, and sent to the printers. Out of courtesy, a copy of the approved survey was sent to city council with the following letter:

Memo: To Newburyport City Council
From: The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority
Date: January 24, 2006
Re: 2006 NRA Waterfront Survey

Attached please find the final draft of the 2006 Waterfront Park and Parking Survey. The NRA plans to vote on approval to print the survey at the NRA’s meeting, January 25, 2006. It will be mailed out with the 2006 census in February. We had hoped to deliver this to the Council earlier, but the amount of time involved exceeded our expectations.

The NRA met with Mayor Moak on January 4 to get his input on the survey. He explained his plans to institute paid parking in the off-street lots downtown and to pave the NRA waterfront lots to maximize revenues from paid parking which he would use to maintain the downtown. He later informed us that the he thought the survey contained misleading information that would influence the responses and was designed to receive the answers that the NRA was hoping to receive. We took his comments very seriously and have created countless drafts in the effort to develop a survey that is as neutral as possible. Our second goal was to supply as many facts as possible, something that a number of people felt was not done in the 2000 survey.

We have separated the garage issue from that of the NRA lots. We have determined by our counts of vehicles that we can create parking for 200 cars and expand parkland without negatively impacting downtown parking or requiring a garage to be built before finishing the NRA lots. The mayor disagrees with our counts, and the NRA is willing to work alongside the city to insure that counts are accurate.

The NRA thanks the Council for its attention and will report results as soon as they are available.

Upon receipt of the survey and cover letter as a communications item on the January 26, 2006 city council agenda, the city council first voted to “receive and file” --- until Councilor Fowler interjected that this should be sent to the General Government and Planning Committees. In doing so, this could ostensibly prevent the survey from being mailed out with the census. Ward 3 Council James Shanley remarked that he would like to see a more complete survey which would include an option for mixed-use development. [Note that Councilor Shanley ran for re-election based upon the position that he preferred mayoral candidate Holaday’s plan (for a waterfront park with most parking removed to a downtown garage) to candidate Moak (which would be to develop an “attractive park-like” parking area on the two waterfront lots).]

Actually, this input was all a little late in the process, because the NRA survey was already printed. So with a little scrambling and egg on their collective faces, the city council rescinded at the next council meeting --- with the motion to take the matter out of committee unanimously approved --- which essentially released the NRA survey for inclusion in the city census which was to be mailed out to Newburyport households in early March. This is where you, as a member of the Waterside body politic, step in --- or step up to be counted. And as you read this in the early-July timeframe --- the surveys are still being tallied. And the mayor hopes to rally support for a compromise and consensus on the waterfront.

A related article entitled “To park or not to park …” published in the January 17, 2006 issue of the Newburyport Current provides additional information can be found at this link within. A more recent article in June 20, 2006 edition of the Daily News reports about the Mayor's new task force (link within). Read more about the history of the waterfront at this link within which provides hyperlinks to related media coverage on the waterfront archived on the Web site ~ including coverage of the "fast track" task force (link within).

Look for more information to be forwarded in a Motion of Comity. As Jefferson said, "Information is the currency of democracy." Don't sell yourself (or your community) short.



[1] At the July 27, 2005 NRA meeting, NRA member and Ward 3 City Councilor Erford Fowler informed the board that he planned to seek city council approval that two questions be added to the November 2005 ballot. While there were objections made by the other four members of the NRA to this method of seeking resident feedback on parking plans (opining that a detailed survey developed jointly by the City Council and the NRA would be the best vehicle to inform the public of the costs of the various plans and the ways in which they would be funded), Councilor Fowler pursued this with council without sharing the question’s content or wording with his fellow NRA board members.

Upon reading the questions submitted to council, the wording only reinforced concerns made by the other NRA members. No one used the word “duplicitous” when describing the ballot referendum’s wording, but most considered it misleading, including a reference to “public funds” (in context of a simple yes/no question regarding construction of a garage).

His second question asked the public if they would like to see the City and NRA work on a plan to create permanent parking for a minimum of 450 cars while at the same time expanding the park. There was no mention as to how this would be funded or accomplished in the same space (since it is counter-intuitive to suggest the City could both expand the park and provide parking, although the term "landscaped parking lot" attempted to come to terms with that dilemma).

Plus, as worded, the two questions suggested that building a parking garage in downtown Newburyport will require public funds while a parking lot the central waterfront will not. The then Chairperson of the NRA Mary Lou Supple articulated to council that:

"Public funds would be needed for both projects, and finishing the waterfront as a permanent parking lots could end up costing the taxpayer more than a garage. There is no state money that encourages turning our waterfronts into permanent parking lots.

“The public is also not well served by a ballot question that asks for an opinion on an impossible option. The NRA lots currently supply approximately 450 parking spaces. If the proposal is to make the existing lots into permanent parking lots with 450 parking spaces, where would the expanded park be constructed?”

[2] Although no one could duck “that question of that election” --- for each mayoral candidate based their campaigns on their vision for the central waterfront, and the local press pressed ward and at-large candidates for their preference between “Donna’s or John’s ‘envisioning’ of the downtown parking and a garage.”

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