Just as the Aztec cold coin hit the ocean in the movie, Pirates of the Carribean, and caused a powerful ripple alerting the pirates of its presence; so the Brown School has had the same affect on our land pirates. Word spread like wildfire a full two-years before the buildings were going to close. Word also reached the Corner-office in City Hall.
The South End is the most exclusive area of our city. This is ironic since it once was the worst area of the community years ago! Regardless, regional ‘pirates’ began to salivate at the prospect of luxury condo’s in the last large development for that neighborhood. Only problem was, there was a playground in the back local families used; plus what do you do with the gym area already occupied by Newburyport Youth Services?
This started a strange sequence of events.
So to everyone’s surprise, as word spread of the school closing, one day the playground was gone. Who was responsible? Well, it turned out that an elected individual had done it and done it swiftly, overnight. What that person failed to realize was an astute politician from years back had attained for the area behind the school to be designated by Beacon Hill as a park. It also helped that South Ender’s rose up as one and passionately protested demanding the playground be returned. In the end, the park was restored and the city had to recognize that an official park existed behind the Brown School.
So to get feedback from the neighbors, a series of options were presented in several forums. The main objection from the locals was the presence of a noticeable 24-hour, round the clock parking situation. In the end, the sentiment was to go for affordable/art community condo’s with a reduced resident presence. And so feelers were put out to the ‘pirates’. Well, no self-respecting marauder is going to put that kind of money into refitting the school building with out a commensurate compensation that is worth the effort. There were no takers!
So, City Hall has cooked up the affordable housing angle. We’ll have the majority as luxury condominiums for a ‘percentage’ of affordable units. When you get into the affordable housing topic, you are opening up yourself to the Commonwealth-wide 40B law. Each community is basically open to buccaneer-style deprivation of its zoning and quality of life; unless it can achieve 10% of affordable housing. Of course, the definition is constantly changed by regulators so it is extremely difficult to ever attain that level.
But Newburyport has an out!
We avoided the damaging effects by passing a 40R in our city, which we have done so around the railroad station and traffic circle. And now, mysteriously, we are told we are again in danger because we aren’t even close to the 10%?
We are now introduced with another scam. One that the Affordable Housing Trust is well aware of because they were the victim of one!
Many years ago, the old DPW shacks on Merrimac Street were to be torn down and a developer was going to build new housing with as much as a quarter as affordable housing. Using a goodly amount of taxpayer money through the CPA; this development became a reality. But low, due to some loopholes in the 40B law; our money went to naught. We ended up losing out on getting those units available. The citizens were scammed! And this by the way, has been happening all over the Commonwealth. To help avoid this, towns and cities have actually built their own fully-owned affordable units. You can see this clearly in Groveland and in West Newbury along Route 113 and there are many other examples that can be seen in our area. Even Newburyport learned its lesson and has heavily used CPA money to build completely-owned affordable housing units.
Let’s get back to the Brown School.
Putting in affordable housing provisions into a corsair’s plans is only going to result in an unpleasant, deeply-felt disappointment as a ‘surprise’ result will be luxury apartments and a lot of cramped parking. (Since the park can not be used) The cost of underground parking will demand high-priced units. If we decide to make them all affordable, the city will have to pony up the money completely. This can be achievable by leveraging the CPA money stored up for affordable housing. But do we want to take on the debt? Can we accommodate another bond?
All these things need to be considered before attending tonight’s meeting.
I am using historical knowledge and a thing called ‘reality’, not what is hoped-for, or what is presented however so rosy. Newburyport is a crazy real estate boomtown. And that attracts a whole range of opportunists, some good, some bad. And in a boomtown, the South End is the epicenter. Hold onto your wallets, hug your precious quality of life and take care of what you hear!
I know the pirates don’t want you to consider all these aspects but being a South Ender myself, I feel I owe it to my neighbors.