I don’t want to make this into a big deal because it’s the holiday season and frankly, there is life beyond politics. Some of the most unpleasant people to be around are those who delve into such things. Everything in life is either for or against their political leanings – those they encounter are their potential enemy or friend or an ally – no relationship has value unless it’s toward a cause or a crusade.
Frankly they are a bore – which is why the average person just throws their hands up and declares to these political types, ‘Don’t take life so seriously – lighten up and take a breath. Enjoy a sunset for the sunset in itself!’ Failing to convince the bore, they just walk away.
But those who have taken on the unpleasantness of politics do have a value – for it takes a strong resolve to deal with the quicksand of fortune. Yes, in many ways, politics resembles war and unlike in the movies; you can get hurt and lose your life and yes, even your soul! Hence the term, ‘Soldier of Fortune’.
So, for those brave fellows amongst us – male and female, I just want to give you a heads-up on the challenges ahead and be prepared for a fight!
One, if you read the header on the ordinances concerning the Newburyport Historic District Demolition Delay District and the Downtown Historic District; they eventually become invalid by the supposed replacement of a unified new zoning ordinance. One of the reasons, that states and most citizens dread a Constitutional Convention is the fear that a select special interest group will seize control and move to create some kind of a monster in constitutional law. So too with the new zoning re-write for the city – and most of it is being done behind closed doors! It will be presented in a nice package with a bow on it – and if someone wants to change it – the argument will be that it is too much trouble (or too expensive) – whatever works. The re-zone to have it done right is going to be a fight.
Two, the Master Plan has been somewhat transparent but the nitty-gritty is being done by those who do not work in the private sector or by a select special-interest group assembled, you guessed it, largely by the Mayor. I’m not saying the end product will be bad – the larger question will be – will it move our city into a bright future or will many of the measures be designed to benefit a select few? Will it be subject to some half-baked populist or elitist concept? Worse, if it has no real relevance; will it be shelved and forgotten!
Three, lawsuits concerning the Waterfront. Some of the best things that ever happened to the city have been derived by lawsuits. Either they help put a little solution toward an ever-growing issue or they wear out the contestants until they collapse in exhaustion; or the economy takes a nosedive. Who runs what, what do we do on parking or how will a compromise come about? It may not come to separate parties shouting at each other but the process and the eventual resolutions may get very harrowing.
Four, Demolitions. The two new ordinances are largely dealing with demolitions. Our greatest asset, historic landscapes and properties ironically are now the huge target for destruction. These are not being destroyed by developers, rather are being destroyed by exploiters – where a select well-connected few profit and leave the town in a poorer state than before. To help in the exploitation, many in town have tried to develop a mindset and economy so these exploiters may profit. This bad situation is so apparent and obvious that the city has actually written this sad state as a fact into their ordinances! Be prepared for epic battles as those who actually care about the future of our city wage war against demo lawyers and flipping-house developers.
Five, Sidewalks. If cities and towns were people, they’d all gather round Newburyport, point their fingers and mock, “You call yourself a ‘walkable’ city!?! Why the tiniest town has done better than you! In fact, Hillbillies when they build a village have better sidewalks than you do! You do what you like and you don’t even have standards! And when you have the money, you just slather anything, anywhere. What an embarrassment.” If anything, 2015 has to be the year the city finally gets it right. (We all hope!)
Six, The Brown School. So the Bulldozer wants a fight on her hand. I saw it with my own eyes. She puts in a couple of smug (and they were smug) stooges to field the idea of moving the park to Atwood. Right on que, she rattles off that possibility. With their job done, the stooges promptly left. Bruce Menin out of town, many other players couldn’t make it. You’d think she’d walk carefully over such an explosive issue; but hey, she’s a bulldozer! Bulldozer’s don’t tread lightly. Expect some shenanigans this year!
Seven, Hotels, Karp and the Garage. We’re suppose to be kept in the dark over the whole development until, “Lo, there it is!” hugging the border of Merrimac Street. Maybe in somebody’s pipe dream but it’s not going to happen in reality. You’d think that with COW for it, Preservationists don’t mind it, Karp needs it and location just right; this wouldn’t be an issue. But no, this is Newburyport. And sadly, it’s all over money – which somehow makes it alright to do it ALL WRONG!
Eight, The New Republic Property. Hot to trot to put in basically sea-side tenement buildings, they fussed at the city, they fussed at the Planning Board and they fussed at the citizens for having the nerve to tell them anything. They sent in their arrogant lawyers and pushed and pushed and pushed. And then when the economy did a nosedive, they promptly left, literally leaving the workmen’s tools lying around as they hoofed it out of town. They’re coming back and the Bulldozer may allow them to shed their commitments to the city; we can’t let her do it. We have a stranded boathouse that needs to be moved to city property and added to our Park Commission’s inventory and refurbished (at their expense!); and we need work done on the waterfront that abuts the property. Be alert.
Nine, The 40R Development. I put this down last because the Bulldozer is 100% on target on this one. Years ago, the Strategic Land Use Committee identified the traffic circle and the train station nearby as the prime area for development to ease pressure on the historic district and our Common Pasture. But right now, it looks more like a frontier town facing the countryside and seems isolated and disorganized. Having residences near the train station will re-invigorate the area and re-invigorate the train station that has sorely been under-utilized.
On top of these issues, are hidden simmering developments:
The retirement of The Great Destroyer, Gary Calderwood. Not having a building inspector that is sympathetic to our most valuable asset, our historic buildings; has absolutely been devastating for our city. He has closely allied himself with the Mayor and with that alliance, has had a free hand to ruin our city. With his retirement, there is just a whisper of a chance to get someone in who is sympathetic to sustaining our heritage tourism industry and our spectacular real estate value. More than likely, the city council will be asleep at the wheel and will approve yet another destroyer as our new building inspector. It will take strong activism to get the right person in that position – one must overcome the Mayor’s appointment and campaign for a good replacement.
The Common Pasture. The protection of the city’s great ‘Green Belt’ that lies from Scotland Road to Storey Avenue is one of the city’s great success stories, but it is still a fragile condition. Property deeds criss-cross the expanse and always there is the threat of development from cash-strapped farmers to solar farm exploiters. Fully a third of the Common Pasture is not covered by any protection. We must always keep a watchful eye. The Colby Farm for sale by Low Street ought to have the section of property behind the landfill to be either sold to the city or a conservation easement established. That will take active involvement in the Planning Office.
The National Grid Property. Eventually the area will be cleaned up and ready to be sold. As much as the current exploitation mood wants to just let the utility company dispense with it as desired; there is a Waterfront community plan for how to deal with development. We need it resurrected and we need the Planning Board to get up to speed to deal with whatever plans are brought before them.
The Local Historic District(s) issue. Local Historic Districts are now part of the city’s ordinance and zoning and we have a real one on Fruit Street. According to the old Master Plan, the city should be pursuing neighborhood and street LHD’s to protect the most sensitive historic areas. If the new Master Plan does not contain that continued intent, there will be a fight for it is our future.
The National Historic Landmark status. We are not Podunk Hollow; our city has had a tremendous impact on our Nation especially during the Romantic Era (1764 to 1864). Having our city recognized will greatly aid our heritage tourism and enhance greatly our cultural district. It will be interesting if it is left out of the Master Plan – it will signal that we want to continue being a backwater – and most backwaters are pretty broke! The city needs to get a vision based on our historic foundations. This means a large expense in educating and campaigning to defeat the ‘sleepy-Boston-bedroom lobby’.
The Custom House. Our museum has come along way with the strong guidance of past members and with the energy of Michael Mroz – but it can only go so far. The museum needs heavy funding, a much needed addition and a clear idea of how to grow. It can do it if the citizens of Newburyport rally behind it. This again will take energy, vision and a whole lot of education to an indifferent community.
The Cushing House. The Historical Society of Old Newbury is rapidly coming to a crisis. First, many of the contributing members are ‘passing on’, and Second, they have been compromised by being infiltrated by developers which has prevented them to be relevant to the city. The community needs the history and they need to know how relevant it is to the downtown; but any attempts are thwarted by the fear they might actually influence someone to protect their artifacts and their homes. Heaven forbid! They must figure out how to be relevant so they can obtain much needed revenue and they need to make an impact on Newburyport. I don’t see them reforming unless we have new blood and the newcomers will have to fight the old guard. Would that the Lunt sisters were still alive!
The Churches. Like it or not, most of the downtown religious organizations in Newburyport have largely abandoned traditional Christianity. (The Religious Society has always been non-Christian and there are a few notable exceptions who are faithful.) As they do, their very existence is an hypocrisy and they more often than not are doomed to shutter their doors. Thanks to CPA, we’ve been able to stave off at least the exterior deterioration. To prevent these closings, they need dedicated members and they also need creative ways to generate income such as what the Belleville Church is doing with a concert series.
The office & industrial ‘park’. Bill Plante opines about the ‘park’ but the Chinese and the Global Economy has managed to stab its prosperity right through the heart. We need the Chamber to stop being incestuous with crowd mixers and actually help the city with a promotion to get companies up here. Its tough persuading them what with us being so near New Hampshire but it can be done!
The 40B on Low Street. Even though the courts ruled in favor of developing the wetlands off Low Street; it should be a non-starter. Yes, even the Bulldozer has actively done her part to stop this crazy effort probably because such development will increase impervious surfaces and increase flooding downriver in our present industrial park and the Quail Run residential area. The Woodman’s have got their money from Tropic Star; the whole idea needs to be discarded and the area donated to the city or have a narrow band of development abutting Low Street. But conservation activists need to be ever alert if they do not!
Moonbat Initiatives. The Plastic bag ordinance was not the first; we’ve had the 22 wind turbines stuck on conservation land; the anti-nuclear organizations, dark-skies initiatives, etc. (Alas, each is just a practise session for yet another one coming) Newcomers have been a great plus for the city as they appreciate our ecology, our history and our high quality of life. That new crowd has been joined by the extreme left and the Cambridge crowd. On my part, I am used to having candle light vigils on Market Square for world peace. (even when the world doesn’t even know where we are!) If, while they are riding bicycles in February, they contribute to protecting our beautiful city; to me it is well worth the traffic disruption!
And finally, The Promotional Issue. IF THIS DOES NOT GET RESOLVED, IT MATTERS LITTLE, ANY OTHER ISSUE THAT WE MAY FACE THIS COMING YEAR.
That’s right, in big caps! We can have great schools, great shops, great restaurants, great events, great museums and sites, beautiful views and a lovely place; but it will all be in vain unless the world knows about us. We must tell the planet that we exist and that we want them to come here. Economically, and that includes our real estate and taxes; can not be sustained by 18,000 residents. We have a ‘big city’ community that we enjoy because a whole lot of other people are helping to pay for our fine quality of life. If no one comes, we will have plenty of parking and lots of peace and quiet – and then we will go broke.
Those who promote eco-tourism and heritage tourism should not be laughed at or ridiculed. They are helping us in a hundred different ways. It will be activists in our community that promote our city that we need to fund and support.
Let’s work on all these issues with a clear vision and most of all, promote our city!