Affordable Housing & The Brown School

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.

-P. Preservationist



Posted in Affordable Housing, Developers, Economics, Health and wellness, History, News & Politics, Preservation, Quality of Life, Real Estate | 1 Comment

2018 – The Year of the QOL

A war has been waging for almost 50 years in Newburyport – one that is largely out of sight but raging red hot in the hearts and minds of the residents.      Admittedly, it can be seen occasionally when a citizen is screaming and jumping up and down in a public forum, or when an unsuspecting DPW worker is assaulted by an irate homeowner; or a farmer minding his or her affairs while riding a tractor meets flailing environmental wacko’s threatening to call the police.     Sometimes, some may even get run off the road or political signs vandalized as tempers flair.    The police have actually witnessed innocent park benches or wetland observation platforms viciously attacked and destroyed.

But those are the very occasional incidents.       No, most of the war goes unseen.

All this emotion and intense passion centers around a simple question:

Is Newburyport a place to make a living or a place to experience quality living?

This city is a hard place to make a living.    It’s expensive, and no matter how conned a person can be in late spring, summer and fall – the winter will literally take the stuffing out of any pretense of comfort.      Massachusetts is not business friendly.     It’s a long background story, but no matter how much money is poured into the paving of the roads, winter will destroy it all with potholes.    No matter how environmental-friendly you care to be, the climate is not conducive to bicycles year round or pedestrian travel.     The ground, the ocean, the seasons and the weather conspire to generate high maintenance costs.       So why on earth hang around if you can get out!?!

This city has an architectural treasure that can’t be reproduced on a factory floor.    Human experience, ancient history and time created it.    We are surrounded by ecology that is breathtaking and hugely significant.     Our seasons generate joy and pleasure.     And on top of all that heritage and ecology, we have the creative minds of the community expressed in art, and music and many diverse expressions.       Our economy is literally based on history and nature.      Residents and visitors alike can’t sit down and give you a rational dissertation, but they feel it everywhere.       It is pure romance.

So let’s define the two contestants:

There is the make-a-living group.    They work long hours, work hard and live hard.    Many are craftsmen who couldn’t care less about the architectural history, just rip it out, put in cheap material, sell it while it still has the patina of ‘newness’ and move on to the next property to ravish.     Short-term profit is the objective.     Just use up the historic stock until it’s all gone and then move on to the next place to work.     Restaurants and shops continue the daily grind – produce a good product – who has time to think about why the customers are here in the first place.     Those who have to commute, just push the gas pedal down and move on to the business and doing the business concerns, until the mad rush back to home.

Then there is the Quality of Life group.      They love to surround themselves with beautiful architecture, enjoy the parks, ride the bike paths, walk the trails; enjoy the shops.   They relish the wildlife – live life on the recreational boats, explore the history, canoe and kayak, visit the beaches and experience the downtown with live entertainment surrounded by friends.     This group may also work long hours, or do long commutes but they want to make sure all that effort is compensated by being in a community that enriches their life.

And these two groups do not get along!

The former group get irritated and yes, even threatened by the second group; and the second group doesn’t help any by romanticizing everything and not understanding the economics of the former group.     The first gang starts screaming when bike paths are put in where they used to dump their grass clippings; or a nature trail appears where they used to deposit their trash.     Their furious when a road race has blocked off their route to work, and outraged when they can’t even do some renovations to their own homes.

The second group can’t understand why the farmer is raising livestock or clearing a pasture where young birds are fledgling; can’t understand a carpenter ripping out priceless historical architecture and putting in cheap modern materials; can’t understand why developers want to rip out forests and or business owners want to cover land with blacktop or prefab buildings.      Nor create housing that doesn’t make sense or is ugly just because it ‘saves’ money.

Fortunately, the second group is winning.       They have the large sums of money to buy the houses which is why the biggest boomtown economy is real estate.      The QOL have the cash.     And just in time, the architecture to support that QOL is coming on line.    The Clipper City Rail Trail is at it’s zenith this year. (Though the Newbury span must still be built)   The William Lloyd Garrison Bike/Pedestrian Trail will be opened up this year.    And the Little River Trail System is now in place and will be fully available this year also.     We have a new Harbormaster building to help accommodate the boating industry and the Custom House Museum and the Newburyport Preservation Trust are continuing to roar along. (Along with the Old Newbury Historical Museum)   We have refurbished schools and a real-live senior center.   And finally, the garage and the open waterfront are coming into their own.

Admittedly, the war continues as exploiting developers try to cash in on the second group’s willingness to beat down a path to Newburyport with some built-in gullibility.    And we still have the former group hanging around doing as much damage as possible in the Chamber and City Hall.

I personally think that bottom-line economics and community self-preservation are going to win the day.

That’s the key.      If we are to continue to be such a desirable place where QOL money is attracted, we have to work hard as a community to keep the first group under control lest they destroy the golden goose.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Agriculture & Farms, Architecture, Art & Culture, Businesses, Conservation, Craftsmen, Demolitions, Developers, Downtown, Eco-tourism, Ecology, Economics, Environment, finances, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, History, Infrastructure, Maintenance, Planning, Preservation, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Recreation, Renovation, trails | Leave a comment

A Glaring Contradiction!

I actually don’t think the Newburyport Daily News is aware of the laughable contrast that was presented today in the paper.       Mr. Lodge has devoted himself to a whole series on the environmental threat posed to the communities that have some portion in the Great Marsh.        He’s basing his articles on the contents of a recent report on all the threats to the eco-system.         As President of Parker River Clean Water Association, a group that is involved in preserving and protecting the watershed; I am extremely gratified at the fine job that he is doing.

But in today’s (12/26) paper, is also the following article, Ending the Housing Crunch.     Read it, but basically the bottom line is, housing is extremely expensive in Massachusetts so the solution is to cram more housing in even if it violates local zoning laws.     In order to do it, the state will put extreme pressure on home rule communities to increase density so more buildings can be constructed.      It pooh-pooh’s the negative consequence of such a move.      It calls “Myth’s” that the explosion of increased city services will have a negative effect on the community with high taxes.       It demonizes restrictive zoning as the culprit.

Well, that “myth” is exactly why it is increasingly difficult to obtain affordable housing.   It is not restrictive zoning that is the cause.     It is the very law that is supposed to increase affordable housing that is causing everything to be so expensive.     Already the 40B law paves the way for big-time developers of which there is only a handful to disregard a local communities zoning (and in many ways, disregard building codes also!) and to put pressure on their water/sewer systems and their infrastructure and public services.   These communities are already suffering trying to achieve extremely high standards mandated by the State without providing the funding to achieve compliance.

And then, the State House seals the coffin by the Prevailing Wage Law.     To force them to avoid the cost-saving way of private subcontractors, towns and cities must pay the same high union wages with all the same benefit packages and bonding requirements of Boston unions.    This is why highway projects and other public construction is often double the cost that it would be in New Hampshire.

This is the irony of the two articles.     The Great Marsh is threatened by impervious surfaces and over-building and poor infrastructure planning that the Governor wants to promote!      Somehow cramming people into tighter places will somehow improve our Commonwealth and make it more desirable.       Nonsense!

In politics, you need to follow the money if you want to find the real motive.      The Governor needs lots of funding for re-election and he is counting on the goodwill of a virtual community that surrounds large developers to spread their lobbying influence.        If he succeeds, the losers will, as has already been seen for decades with the 40B law; are local communities and a legion of middle-class facing un-affordable housing.

It is also why large numbers of people are leaving the state, and I might add, continuing to leave the state.     That means less and less of us having to bear a larger load of the taxes of the Commonwealth.     Couple that with the collapse of Obamacare and we stick out like a red-herring with the lone tax mandate compared to surrounding states that don’t have it.     The anti-business atmosphere and high taxes are just some more nails to seal the coffin even tighter.

Regrettably, the working poor, and the middle class are going to be struggling.     But the solution is NOT building huge massive housing projects the likes that we are seeing in Amesbury and in Salisbury.      The residents that will fill these structures will not collectively compensate the community and taxes will begin to rise.

But let’s not leave 2017 in a down note.     Newburyport is actually a fine example of a city that handles affordable housing correctly.      A Healthy community is a mixture of different economic levels mingling together.     A wealthy person living next to a lower middle class and yes, even the working poor – all contributing together for the overall well-being of citizens.       It is the great success found in Newburyport that is causing us to be un-affordable.     Everyone wants to live in such a nice well-balanced town and so the cost is stratospheric.      But the solution is not to build a skyscraper crammed with renters out in the Great Marsh, or build endless tracts of housing covering the Common Pasture with parking lots and chemical lawns!

The key is to shy away from the typical State House solution and to find some creative alternatives to the high cost of living.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Affordable Housing, Developers, Economics, Environment, finances, Flooding, Health and wellness, Infrastructure, News & Politics, Preservation, Quality of Life, Sewage, Taxes, Watershed, Zoning | Leave a comment

On the Issue of Historic Preservation

Several years ago, the local historic district ordinance was a hotly debated topic.      Tempers flared and much acrimony was spread about dividing the community.      Historic preservationists warned that if no protections were put in place; the very attractiveness of the city would be lost and developers, lured ironically by the very history of the city; would through the boom-town atmosphere exploit for a quick profit the very assets that made Newburyport the envy of the region and yes, even the state.      Unfortunately and regrettably, a sizable amount of citizens and many elected officials chose to walk away from the LHD.

And the very prophesies of doom made by the historic preservationists began to be fulfilled.      Ancient homes began to be demolished, or, at the very worst, gutted to the studs and all the distinctive historic features cast away.       Worse, there was a total disregard to maintain the very distinctiveness of our city – though our architectural history made us so attractive – developers saw a chance to provide cheap replacements that fed on the ignorance of newcomers.   The reasoning was to take the profit and walk away before the new owners realized they had been cheated of the historic value of their homes.     The result has been and still is the steady loss of culture and history that makes our city so affluent and attractive!

So what were our city councilors going to do?     The city was virtually unprotected from the onslaught.      This was when  allies on the council sprung into action to work out a solution.     The LHD opponents demanded that zoning would be the answer and so taking them at their word a grand compromise was crafted using zoning to accomplish basically the same as the local historic district ordinance.    It still has not yet been tested via the courts but the DOD and the DCOD has greatly armed the ZBA and the Planning Board and I dare say the Historical Commission into greatly slowing the attack upon our affluence and our culture.

I have to write this editorial because during the heated debate of the local historic district, on my blog; I labeled Councilor Cronin, ‘Cronin the Barbarian’ because he sided with the opponents.     But I am here to say that this label should be promptly shed from him because after the LHD fight was lost; he became a strong leader in insisting in protecting our historic assets through as many means as possible.     In fact, he has continued that leadership by presenting the theme of his mayoral race to be the Preservation of the Community.      Not just in historic preservation but also in protecting the very culture, and state of Newburyport.      That is why it is so striking in this campaign that he has attracted a strong alliance of LHD opponents and LHD supporters.  Both sense that this election is over preserving and protecting the Newburyport that everyone so loves.

And which is why I, an ardent historic preservationist, am voting for Robert Cronin for Mayor.   A vote for him is a vote to preserve our culture and our history!

-P. Preservationist




Posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Conservation, Demolitions, Developers, Environment, History, Infrastructure, Local Historic Districts (LHD), News & Politics, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life, Zoning | Leave a comment

Just take a look!

There are two arguments against the garage that postulate the following:    The garage is going to be built in a residential neighborhood and the garage location will severely affect the issue of traffic.         Most citizens in Newburyport, in their busy lives, don’t often visit the Market Street-Titcomb-Washington area; or if they do, it’s to get to somewhere else.    The opponents are hoping that most people will be convinced that this location is a bad one and that some other alternative location or even some other way to find parking should be made.

I postulate that both arguments are bogus.     And all you have to do to agree with me is to go to this neighborhood and look around.        First, let’s deal with the location of the garage.     Walk to the northwest corner of the proposed garage site right next to the bridal shop and take a look.     On any given day, a long line of cars are coming down Merrimac Street under the rail trail overpass and winding up funneling right past you.     Slightly on the right, great numbers of cars are funneling off of Route One and most are proceeding, you guessed it; right past where you are standing.      A garage in this location is literally in a position to be fed not just at peak tourist season but year round.      A perfect location, and not on some side road to be rarely used.     I know that going to Portsmouth myself; I instinctively look for the garage and have to drive around to find it.      Here in Newburyport; there will be no issue.

Second, leaving that standing position, start to walk up Market Street and then cross over to Titcomb Street.    Notice the heavy parking around the YWCA, the parking lot around the Central Congregation Church and the large parking area around the catholic church campus.   Notice the steady car traffic as people race up Titcomb trying to get to High Street.       This doesn’t include St. Paul’s and the busy traffic around Green Street and Summer Street.      The opponents want you to believe this is a sleepy quiet neighborhood that will be first disrupted by construction and then a steady line of noisy buses and vehicles.        My natural question is, “When will they even notice?”

As I repeatedly have asserted, the ONLY issue is the aesthetics.      In a city where architecture and history is our bread and butter; it is important the garage blends into the streetscape and has some measure of connectivity with our Federalist-designed downtown.

As a side-note, the area where the garage will be is practically invisible as viewed at the top of the Gillis Bridge. (Take the time to go stand there!)    Unlike the ghastly Sullivan Building, it won’t harm the historic overall appearance of our skyline.

The majority of citizens in Newburyport have fought for years for expanded park on the waterfront and the garage will be a powerful path forward to seeing what has been sought for over 40 years.     Making it come to pass will be a complicated process and I do trust our elected officials to see it through.

-P. Preservationist

PS.  Oh yes!    Concerning Monday’s vote: thank you city councilors for supporting the garage!

Posted in Architecture, Businesses, Downtown, Economics, Environment, Infrastructure, Landscapes, Parking, Planning, Streetscape, Streetscapes, Tourism, Traffic, Waterfront | 2 Comments

The Infrastructure Queen vs. the Preservation King

I am not sure what to make of this next election.   If you are looking for a nice, clean difference between the two – then good luck.     But then, it never has been that way in politics.     In our Republic, you often get a choice between bad, less bad, a little bad; good, somewhat good and sufficient good.

But in our case as a community; the candidates are actually overshadowed by the larger demographics and cultural shifts going on in and around the city.      Each household represents the attitudes and belief systems of a block of voters.

The real question is, are there enough of a particular block to reach that magic 51%?

We have an increasingly growing amount of people who are moving in that are more affluent, and have an absolute ignorance of our history and the culture that has resulted from it.     They have intimate knowledge of what is going on in DC and the Statehouse; but know little of local politics.    They have well-formed opinions that are cemented on a national level but haven’t the foggiest idea or even have a stance on local issues.      The one plus is that they are here because of our city’s quality of life.     They may not know the details or the origins that created that wonderful environment but they certainly don’t want it to go away.

Then we have the Preservationists.     Let’s just be blunt.      They just like it here!    Words such as ‘wonderful’, ‘restful’, ‘secure’ are just inadequate to describe the city.     Maybe ‘friendly’, ‘family’, ‘accepting’, etc.    Maybe it is just that the low-crime rate and the sense of community set in an internationally-looking setting gives almost a utopian feel to the place.      It doesn’t hurt that we are surrounded by ancient architecture and beautiful ecology.

Unfortunately, this group can often feel like Thurston Howell the third  wondering why the riff-raff are allowed to come into the country club.    They see accommodations made increasingly to visitors while they have to pay the taxes to support the infrastructure and services.     Many come to the unfortunate conclusion of wanting to kick out the unwanted guests to ‘preserve’ all the goodies. (not realizing it’s those increasing visitors that provide all those goodies!)

Putting aside actual facts on any given issue; each candidate has to persuade this amorphous block to vote enough for them to reach a majority.     First, they have to get that newcomer block up to speed (like the NRA is not the NRA; and no; we should not chop all the nasty street trees off the sidewalks and some such silly responses on various subjects.)     Second, they have to fight this Zenophobic ‘Agin’it’ attitude from the second block of voters.

I am just one vote and I have already decided whom I’ll be choosing; but knowing the facts doesn’t help to persuade these two large masses of humanity.      There will be hyperbole, there will be hysteria and an urge to persuade by asserting ridiculous conclusions.

In the meantime, I’m just a spectator – reading the news and watching the events.   I’ll put in my two cents in the hope that I can at least give some guidance before that fateful day in November.

Let the politics begin!

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Education, News & Politics, News and politics, Quality of Life | Leave a comment

A New Experience for Me!

The last blog post gave me an unfortunate first experience with Internet trolls.      These bizarre creatures roam about trying to disrupt civil discourse by any means possible.

I realize that many fellow bloggers have removed comments from their sites but I prefer to keep them as far more intelligent people than I can constructively add to the thread of discussion.

But I suspect Facebook groups such as Newburyport Commons or the big NNA are ill-equipped to spot them or have the time to weed them out.

They are very annoying like mosquitos buzzing about the head.   Unfortunately readers can often be sucked in by their phony persuasion and apparent passion and re-direct the whole conversation into some bizarre off-topic.

Sadly, I will learn how to deal with them as they have no decency, ethics, or morality.

As we all know, mosquitos can inflict a lot of damage!

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Computers and Internet, Education, News & Politics | Leave a comment