Ward 3 and City Update December 16, 2014

Dear friends and Neighbors:

Well as usual, there is a lot of things to update; so here we go:

The City, New England Development (NED) and the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) are in negotiations for a joint effort parking garage between Titcomb and Market Streets. In conversations with the mayor and staff these negotiations are ongoing and confidential until finalized. I have asked a series of questions about the project that need answering if and when the project moves forward.

What we do know is NED owns the land and this is part of the equation. Most likely there will be some sort of tradeoff on parking spaces; this is just speculation at this time however. Currently the word is this would be about a 300 space garage. The Commonwealth has offered $5 million toward this intermodal facility/garage (cars, buses, etc.) and the feds have offered $2 million. It appears the fed’s $2 mil goes directly to the MVRTA. Therefore the questions I am asking are in part: – Who will own the property? – Who manages it? – Who gets the receipts? – Who pays if it loses money? – Who sets the rates and hours? – Will the current city employee and resident parking programs be allowed in the garage? – Will it be free to residents during snow emergencies? – Are taxes to be paid on the property as they are now? If the price tag is greater than $7 mil does the Newburyport taxpayer assume the burden?

This of course then develops a second level of questions about reducing parking on the waterfront and if we lose revenue from waterfront spaces does that affect future improvement plans? Also of note is that a project this size requires, by law, an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) and that should be decided in the coming weeks. Who and how this is paid for has not been yet disclosed, thereby creating another question.

On a similar line, the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee is recommending a complete examination of downtown traffic as we grapple with the proposed expansions downtown. This would look at the downtown completely and not as standalone projects. This idea needs to gather steam as currently there is the garage project, a hotel, condos proposed at the old Richard’s building and the Ale House. All of these are on private property and are zoned for their proposed uses but we as a community have to get a grasp on how these will impact parking, traffic and general quality of life.

The Back Bay sections of Ward 2 and 3 are in the process of a “down zone” from R-3 to R-2. This still allows two family homes but excludes larger developments, of course whatever is there or already submitted at present is grandfathered. The zoning change has already cleared City Council Planning and Development Committee and the Planning Board hurdle and should reach the full Council in January. On that date I plan to introduce an expansion to include Cottage Court and Hillside and will be submitted as an amendment. This must go to committee and Planning Board first, but the process has already started.

Now that the field vote has been taken, the school department will shortly begin building the FY 16 budget. While City Council has no direct or indirect oversight of the school budget process (except voting on the bottom line amount in June) I know many of us on the Council are ready and willing to work with the School Committee and to assist. Outside of the budget process, city staff is also researching various options for the synthetic turf field at the stadium and will be reporting back.

The City has received a state grant to upgrade the fountain on Inn Street with the intent to make it clean and filtered. The plan is to make it an interactive spray park to compliment the Inn Street playground.

Since the snow has already begun to fly just a reminder: you can get snow emergency information from the City of Newburyport homepage, you can also sign up there for email alerts. The city also robo calls all white pages listed numbers, you can add a mobile or unlisted number to the calls on the website as well. There are also the 12 blue lights that when activated signify a snow emergency; WNBP and the Boston radio and TV outlets also carry alerts. Newburyport Police also has a “snow line”.

The Kelly School has been sold in principle to a highly regarded Newton MA developer that has had many honors for redesign and reuse of historical buildings. The sale carries a deed restriction mandating the outside remain the same. The project only involves the Kelly School and not the playground across the street. Once the deal is formally completed, details will be forthcoming. The City Council has to approve the sale and its terms.

I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday season and if you have questions please call or Email me at cronward3@gmail.com or 978-857-9249.

Happy Holidays

Bob

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