From 2003 to 2004, a Strategic Land Use Committee (SLUC) was assembled by then-Mayor Al Lavender – in this forward-thinking assembly were representatives from the industrial park businesses, the Planning Board, the Chamber of Commerce; and at the table were representatives from Citizens for Environmental Balance and Parker River Clean Water Association. At the time, the whole area from Low Street to the Artichoke Reservoir was subject to the possibility of intense development as the economy was booming.
There was a huge 40B in the works close to Storey Avenue, N.A.I.D. wanted to expand the industrial park from Hale Street to the Park & Ride and much pressure was being placed on the historic farms to the south from developers who visualized the spread of suburban homes across the Common Pasture.
In addition, if everything came to fruition, most of the area would be covered by buildings, parking lots, roads and manicured landscaping.
The problem was this was the same area in which a forest largely buffered most of the city from the noise of Route 95, it was also the home of the Little River that flows through the Common Pasture and into the Great Marsh and an area of prime wildlife some of which was on the endangered list. But The worst was the flooding. The top area is like a bowl – and the little, Little River, received in the water from the impervious surfaces of Storey Avenue and the landfill and would often burst its banks. Already the residential areas had received damage and so did the industrial park in 1996, 1999 and later in 2006.
In a short span of time, three major floods occurred from 100-year storms. (Storms that are supposed to occur only once in a hundred years) After much discussion, it was decided in 2004, that the Common Pasture should be aggressively preserved and that development should be focused around the Traffic Circle and the train station and that every means possible would be made to encourage developers to head in that direction. This ‘transferring’ of development would allow expansion for the city while protecting a vital watershed and wildlife area.
Though there was initial interest, the financial collapse of 2008 struck the economy and most of the plans for the traffic circle went on the wayside. But the recommendations of the SLUC proceeded. The voters decided to leave the lands next to Route 95 as a passive recreation area and buffer; The 40B was tied up in land court, N.A.I.D. sold their land to Minco who in turn sold it to the City of Newburyport. A large section of the Common Pasture called Wet Meadows was purchased; and Essex County Greenbelt began to obtain conservation restrictions across the area. More recently, Oleo Woods Conservation Area has been added, Tropic Star will soon add the land behind their development over to Essex County Greenbelt and if all goes well, some land from Colby Farm may even be included.
Now, as the economy improves, the developers are back! Minco is not the only one as others have begun to approach the city – and just in time for the Clipper City Rail Trail to have its loop finished.
This development largely is a good thing for the city and will allow more of the Common Pasture and the watershed to be protected ensuring the business park and the residential areas downstream will be protected. Plus, the City will see an increase in affordable housing units as well as much better urban planning for the Train Station and the Traffic Circle.
There is, sadly, a cautionary note in the face of all this good news; and I will cover that in the next post.