Saturday, March 9, 2013

Recent Survey: Waterfront

On January 29 of this year, I sent an email survey to 426 Newburyport citizens asking them for their feedback on a variety of topics: the Waterfront, Historic Preservation, Parking, the Mayor and the City Council.  In the email, I also shared some of my thoughts on the Waterfront.

Today I'll share the results concerning the hottest topic at the moment: the Waterfront.

I don't claim that these 426 are representative of Newburyport but  then again they might be;-)  A few of them I know well, but most of them I wouldn't know if I passed them on the street.  These are people I've gotten to know because they have emailed or phoned me about schools, taxes, snowplowing, sidewalks, historic preservation, Crow Lane, and all the other exciting issues we have here in Newburyport.  I wouldn't classify this group as 'friendly' to me; many of them really don't like some or most of the stands I've taken over the last few years.

109 (or 25%) of these folks responded to the survey.  Again I make no claim as to this being a statistically valid sample but it's probably as valid as reading the tea leaves of the Letters to the Editor of the Newburyport Daily News. 

I did ask for names, so as to avoid the one person answering multiple times, and I did tell people that I would share the results in aggregate but that I wouldn't identify their answers to their name.

Here's a little bit about the people who responded:
What is your age category?
Answer Options
Response Percent
Response Count
18-24 YRS
25-34 YRS
35-44 YRS
45-54 YRS
55-64 YRS
65-74 YRS
75+ YRS
answered question
skipped question
Apparently I don’t know any young people.

Here is how long people have lived in Newburyport:
How long have you lived in Newburyport?
Answer Options
Response Percent
Response Count
0-5 years
6-10 years
11-15 years
16-20 years
21-25 years
25 -30 years
more than 30 years
answered question
skipped question

Okay cutting to the chase, here is how these respondents feel about the Waterfront, my number one question:
How important an issue is the Waterfront to you?
Answer Options
Response Percent
Response Count
Very Important
Not Important
answered question
skipped question

Okay so the Waterfront is a big deal for most of us.  Not terrifically surprising so far.

So what do people want:
The City and the NRA are moving towards a plan with more park, less parking, and a limited amount of commercial development on the Waterfront.  Do you agree or disagree with that approach?
Answer Options
Response Percent
Response Count
Strongly Agree
Strongly Disagree
answered question
skipped question

So 54.2% like/love the current NRA/City concept and 33.6% dislike/hate it.  12.1% are like Switzerland.

84 people answered the most important question—Why?  Please note that I did slightly alter 5 comments to avoid identifying respondents.  I did not change the substance of any comment.

These people strongly agree with the NRA/City plan and added these comments:
  • The waterfront is priceless to the public. I've gone down there often all the years I've been in Newburyport, whether it was to bring my young children and through ice into the Merrimac and watch the tide sweep it away over and over or to soothe me when they left for college. I will never be able to afford waterfront property as I am a human service provider, but I appreciate it no less than those who can.
  • Achieving a balance is the key - the desired of everyone is to achieve a delightful waterfront. This is best achieved with a dynamic yet beautiful, usable and inviting environment 365 days a year which is built and maintained on a self sustaining model with a model which generates funding now and into the future. This consists of both inside and outside areas of congregation and use. Sitting along the water in warm weather or sitting in a place like PI Coffee roasters when the weather is cold or inclement allows one to enjoy the waterfront even one isnt actually outside. I submit that urban waterfronts are always combinations of built structures and open space and the vistas we remember most are select framed views which create "aha" moments for the viewer when views are revealed which can be more dynamic than continuous open vistas…my views are also framed by the fiscal realities of budget limitation which can best be overcome with public/ private partnerships where projects can be a success for both parties. I have also seen this model proven time and again in my professional life….
  • i believe that the needs of the downtown area extend beyond simply providing open area. a limited amount of thoughtful construction should be able to allow the public different uses of the space (retail, restaurants, office) as well address MAJOR needs in the downtown & waterfront area (public restrooms! and facilities for boaters).
  • Excessive parking lot on the waterfront is not the highest and best use of the space. It does allow for visual contact with the water but the parking can be reduced and other uses added, especially if the old Gabriel site will be used as a parking lot as well.
  • I agree with the way you framed your interpretation of the plan in your email to constitutients for many of the same reasons... Most worth highlighting are: 1. A dirt parking lot is hardly a desirable use of the beautiful land 2. A bigger park in that area would be wonderful! An asset for people both living in and visiting Newburyport. 3. Limited retail will bring people out to enjoy the area in the winter 4. Off-setting taxpayer burden is important, as is considering how the property will be maintained in the future
  • I believe that is the appropriate type of development for an urban waterfront.
  • To beautify the city and make it desirable to it's visitors and residents. Bring in more commerce.
  • As much river as possible should be visible from the street
  • I think the plan to derive income from those buildings that will be exclusively used for the waterfront park and possibly other parks in the city is a good one. I'm a newcomer. I ARRIVED IN 1964. At that time there were a number of structures spread across the waterfront and even farther up Merrimac Street. I always anticipated that more buildings would be built along the waterfront after those were torn down.
  • I think the gravel parking lots on the waterfront are an eyesore and take away from the beauty that surronds it.
  • Need the limited commercial to pay for the park.
  • Would anyone know what a great historic maritime city we live in if they were to go to our waterfront..? Absolutely not. Our waterfront is a barren wasteland with two very successful restaurants that are completely disconnected from the core of downtown. When Waterfront West develops it will become the "second" downtown core with a barren wasteland between them both. Not only is this a crime against our history but it is fundamentally bad urban design. Those who rally against any form of development forget that our waterfront was a fully developed, thriving place of commerce. Thats what maritime cities are. And if that commerce today is restaurants, cafes and boatyards, so be it. If it has the watchful eye of residents above it to keep it active 24/7 than that is just good planning. I WOULD like to see a large amount of historical information, an expanded custom house and other interpretive information. I know that any expansion of the park will need to be tied to revenue generating development. That just makes sense. Not to mention I don't think adding grass to a barren open space makes it any more appealing. Still looking at the backside of all the buildings along Merrimac street. There should NOT be recreation in the core of the downtown. The core of the downtown is not the place for soccer fields, skating rinks etc. We have Cashman Park and the Mall for that purpose and many many other parks. We are rich with parks and coastal access in the Newburyport and regardless of the development proposed it does not eliminate the long and always expanding boardwalk access we currently have. We should have a parking garage, it should be paid for by Karp and State / Federal funding / and hourly fees. It should be on the Green street lot (anywhere else is just silly) and it should be wrapped with a thin band of retail space along Merrimac and Green Streets that can be sold / rented to further pay fund its construction.
  • We have a ton of prime land that is entirely wasted. This would bring in much needed tax revenue, hopefully more visitors and provide us with an improved waterfront.
  • This has been going on to long, this area should be developed and should accommodate retail and condominiums. But before that we should provide parking away from the waterfront. Thank you Ed for taking the time to do this survey.
  • Because it is a balanced plan that will provide improved pedestrian access to the river, tax revenue, will have more people living downtown, and will expand and improve the waterfront park.
  • My views on plans for the Waterfront have gone full circle for a number of reasons. …more than 25 years ago, I was the "basic store" proponent in the wake of the loss many of the stores in or near the downtown-Eatons Drugstore, Atkinsons Lumber, Boxers Furniture, Mr. Grocers, the fish market, etc. and I wanted the City to resist the allure of the revolving door "trinket stores" for tourists, who would pay a high price to lessee space until going out of business to the detriment of the residents. the "basic store" concept included covenants running with the land that the NRA could impose on developers to control the rent of those stores to be built out on the first floors of any buildings that were developed on the central waterfront, in exchange for 2nd and 3rd floor offices and condos at market rent and sale. The "hotel" was to me a necessary compromise to achieve the "basic store" goal. This was a time before Market Basket, Dunkin Donuts, the Instution for Savings branch and Story Ave expanded development became the location where community residents greet each other, mainly while driving in cars or clutching shopping carts. Also, the City was still engaged in debate over the Topics driving plan which converted State St into a one way in the wrong direction and forced driver s to either travel to the foot of Green St and wait for an opening at the blinking red light onto Merrimac St or travel down the quaint, narrow Fruit St…... So too, it was a time when the City had many opportunities to buy inexpensive parking areas but refused to move forward because of the default parking on the wasteland of a waterfront(beyond the borders of the current park). The lack of will by mayors and city counselors for years continued to frustrate me but then again, the downtown had already been lost to the residents in my opinion, so like you, when Karp took control of the properties to the east and west of the NRA property, I thought that maybe we, as a City, did not need to maintain the development initiative. Well, the land remains barren....
  • economically viable, and will permit nice waterfront views and use, while having a source of income to maintain the property over the years, outside of city general revenues
  • It is a waste to have that space devoted to car parking. It should be developed to ensure the vibrancy of downtown. Including a bit of both park space and commercial development is smart.
  • The waterfront could be the jewel of our city and right now it is a hot mess...the city needs to have this project over and the one presented really enhances the waterfront, ties it into the rest of downtown and is beautiful
  • I think having that lot for parking is a big waste of a great space. I like the idea of having some open space, but to often, parks just for the sake of being a park are not useful or enjoyable by many if anybody. I think having some limited development certainly make sense financially, and does not at all contradict the history of our waterfront which has always been commercial. As long as public access to the waterfront is maintained, I am fine with it.
  • It's simply unbelievable that the waterfront, which should be our greatest asset, has been allowed to be such an eyesore because of the community's inability to reach an agreement for decades. I believe the opponents of any kind of development are a very vocal minority who have been dictating this issue for too long. Most people, I believe, would like to see a mixture of park and development. I would prefer the whole area to be turned into our own Prescott Park.
  • we are overdue for change in the waterfront. a plan to oat for that change, other than the NRA's, has never been presented. in addition, the NRA's plan is appealing.
  • Because this issue has gone on too long-we need the tax revenue-and you can't plkease them all-it makes sense!
  • Parking lots along the waterfront are a waste! Should be relocated elsewhere, as much as is possible. The City needs income - why not have a limited amount of commercial development? (Why not a parking garage downtown, for the City to get the revenue, but that's another matter, of course?).
  • I am so tired of having no plan, and this plan is balanced and will provide a way of sustaining the parks.
  • Once you lose open space, you can never go back. Open space preservation is very important to me. Newburyport is special, in part, because it has not allowed over-development.

These people agree with the NRA/City plan and added these comments:
  • sounds and looks good, but some of my friends think the building in the COW lot is too much. I honestly am not too good with viewing a paper plan and seeing the end product. But maybe smaller buildings than in the plan would be best. I like expanding park area and if parking is needed, the City needs to plan 2 to 3 different parking areas around the City or one big one, with underground off Green Street. The Titcomb area needs a facelift and a parking garage will only make it homelier looking. I would rather have seen our money go to that rather than new schools or more 'affordable' housing for the YWCA. The Y could have raised their own money. And if affordable housing were for Vets, that would be wonderful, but it never is....
  • We need open space and we already have a decent sized commercial section.
  • Like the idea of park space for all to share.
  • Land once turned into commercial property or parking lots will always remain that way. I come from the… NJ area and cringe when I see what has become of the land which was farms, lush landscape. Now the highway is jammed wiith malls.
  • I agree for all the reasons you give in your message that accompanied this survey. I too am concerned that the structures, as currently envisioned, will be too large for the space and will over-whelm the abutting structures and open spaces. I would like the NRA to reduce the structure size requirement in their RFP and also require all applicants to provide diagrams that show the proposed structures in perspective with their surroundings from all sides.
  • The "parking lots" are in terrible shape, and there's no real need for all that space, especially in the Custom House lot.
  • I prefer more park. I'm OK with *very* limited development that does not block the view of the water from the top of Green Street. I would *much* prefer less parking
  • But I hope they are serious about "limited" amount of commercial activity there. Ideally, it would be mostly park and minimal parking.
  • The plan I'm familiar with that proposes expanding the park with some commercial development is a good one. I don't understand, nor do I support, such a strong restriction against any commercial development on the waterfront. This plan seemed a beautiful compromise. I'd just like to understand why it's taken so long to come up with a workable plan that the city can move forward on. Dirt parking lots on that prime real estate seems a waste on many levels.
  • The NRA has put together a decent proposal of balancing greenspace and commercial development that will allow the city to maintain its current beauty. The loss of parking will be minimal and should not be a major issue in this.
  • It's time to finally do something with the waterfront property - this is a good solution and will bring revenue to keep the park maintained and bring dollars into the city.
  • Parking does not need to be right on the waterfront. More park space and LIMITED commercial development would be good.
  • I think it is time to move the cars off the waterfront and have the precious space utilized. The commercial development needs to be sensitive to Newburyport's history and architecture. Make it interesting, fitting, thoughtful and creative. Make sure there is the feeling of an open waterfront where there is one now and make sure there is walkable and bikeable space wherever possible. People love the rail trail and people like walking in Newburyport.
  • Need to fill in gaps in buildings that edge traditional historic ways resulting from unfortunate demo of brick buildings in November 1968. But same building areas could be achieved with: 2 bldgs, 1 on each side of Central Wharf Way w Unicorn St View to water preserved & single rectangular underground garage under both bldgs & pt of historic way. Plus 2 shorter buildings on both sides of Ferry Wharf Way. Step down bldg height adjacent to park. Expands area of park. Add Marine Info Ctr, W Lot & Harbormaster Ctr on East lot adjacent to wider park berm & w of Custom House Way. Do full scope environmental review before any RFP. Substitute clean fill for Activity & Use Limitation, so pregnant women can sit & young children dig at green park, not synthetic surface due to near-surface Pb (lead).
  • Many people refuse to accept the fact or understand that all Redevelopment Authorities were established by City Councils or Selectman in order to receive federal funding - the city or town could not receive these monies directly. Once a RA was established the City/Town has no authority over the RA......the only way to dissolve the RA is for the members to vote to dissolve themselves. (kinda crazy). As all RAs - the NRA is controversial - the citizens created the historic downtown......the NRA had another vision. "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar" - The best way to compromise is for the City and the NRA to work seems the best in years. I'm not supported of large buildings on the waterfront but understand that this is compromise.
  • Balance is wise. Waterfront parking is waste of public asset.

These people strongly disagree with the NRA/City plan and added these comments:
  • if they can reduce the amount pf parking lot space and keep the same amount of spots why don't they reorganize the space and pick up more spots. the lack of parking is the #1 problem. it hinders business growth as seen with the conversion of Davis Electric.
  • The proposed buildings really are too damn big. I would absolutely choose no change at all over two hulking monstrosities looming over the waterfront forever. The only alternative being a $5 million park costing $100Tthousand a year to maintain is way overblown and therefore a false alternative. It reminds me of the renovation of Brown Square to the tune of some $350,000 for a job that should have cost a small fraction of that. People get carried away with public projects, especially when it's paid for by OPM (other people's money) - grants, state and federal funds, our descendants.
  • I feel that we're losing a lot of open space in our city and the waterfront should be left open so people can enjoy the beautiful view . I am worried if we allow more businesses on the waterfront it could have a negative impact on our ocean. I see how people treat the Bartlet Mall pond like a junk yard , this could happen to our ocean too. Leave the waterfront open so everyone can enjoy it.
  • The so-called "limited" commercial development proposed, including 30+ residential units, is VERY BIG. Underground parking for the buildings is unrealistic. We don't need to spend 5 million to finish the park, expanding open space and landscaping some parking, and it can be done in stages as it has been done, improving all the time. The NRAs interpretation of their mission is different than the majority of residents/taxpayers. It's time for NRA to call it quits.
  • I agree with what I've heard from the COW folks and very much dislike the NRA draft proposal.
  • I think there are too many buildings and that they are much too big. I am strongly in favor of a truly "open waterfront". It is one of Newburyport's biggest assets. I have been to the NRA presentations, and as an architect I also know how to read and visualize architectural plans and renderings. It will feel very congested. Quite honestly, I would prefer the dirt parking lots any day over that much building.
  • I do not want to see any more buildings at the waterfront. That is a forever committment. We need more useful public access with walkways, park and picnic areas not more buildings. Encourage more paid boating adventures/fishing boats, etc. whose tickets can be taxed to increase revenues for the city.
  • The entire area should remain completely open space, as multiple surveys have indicated. The few wealthy transients who could afford a prime waterfront condomium should not should not benefit at the expense of Newburyport citizens.
  • I think the city should find other areas/sources of revenue than building on the Waterfront. The development planned looks like it's from the 1980s and doesn't seem in-line with contemporary thinking about the environment and open space. Frankly, it's ugly (I've seen the plan on the city web site). At a time when other cities are trying to figure out how to preserve and supply open space, why is this city going to build on it. I grew up in Chicago and that city has profited from it's open space ( a move made by city planners in the early 20th century)--it's open lake front is what has made Chicago a huge tourist attraction.
  • Not a good way to generate revenue. 2. An open waterfront is more valuable in the long run. 3. Improvements that are needed on NRA -held land can be done much more cheaply and creatively. Why were these alternatives not pursued? 4. It is morally wrong to sell public land to private developers. 5. You can't change the laws of physics to create "more open space," and if you could, constructing two huge buildlings would do the opposite.
  • condos are not necessary - it would mean waterfront view for a few area is overly congested already from may to sept. or longer commercial business is struggling - no need for more shops and breakfast places etc. ad infinitum...
  • There is enough parks to maintain. There are many needs in this community although we are seniors, a senior center is not one of them on my list. I strongly wish for self supporting waterfront development. We feel there should be a balance between park, parking and supporting business development of which parking is an essential element. I have always felt that this city needs a self supporting hotel and conference center/function hall large enough to support events such as weddings, senior proms and and other events which this city has limited facilities.
  • We are completely against the building that the NRA plans for the waterfront and even more against selling the land to developers. We do not believe that there should be any private residences on the waterfront, and the buildings that the NRA proposes are much too large. The people of Newburyport have voted for open space several times and this is the only open space left on the waterfront. Yes, we should get rid of most of the parking, but there must be other ways to fund more park than selling and developing the open space. 
  • I agree with an open waterfront no buildings just hot top the dirt parking lot which is a mess in the summer with that cheap material they laid down its all over the place and on a windy day it blowing everywhere
  • while the commercial development is limited, it is a of development for the space. a recent lunch at 'average joe's' demonstrated very clearly to me how blocked the park will be. from those windows and back patio, buildings will be the predominant view.
  • Do not want any development : the more open space the better.....
  • you know why ...
  • I wish that the waterfront would remain basically as it is with landscaped parking in the large dirt parking lot. I question a need for more restaurants or other business establishments or condominiums in Newburyport. Let's use what we have well and keep the waterfront for everyone.
  • Ed I don't want any commercial development on the waterfront. Leave it open for all the people as a PARK. If we need incme ,why don;t we have our own Ambulance service which 256 other cities have?.Amesbury generated over 5 MILLION DOLLARS over the past 9 years.
  • There should be no commercial development.
  • I want the city to treat the waterfront like the federal government treats its national parks--as a sacred open space. This is the most precious open space in the Commonwealth. While most communities are fighting for open space, why would we develop ours? How putting commercial stores which could easily be national chain stores on the waterfront with rich-person condominiums and not calling it for what it is--crass commercialization--is beyond me. There are many poor people in America but the US government should not sell off its national parks which could offset the whole US debt. By the same token, we should not use this sacred space as financial relief for the city taxpayers. The waterfront is open and has unpaved parking but is not blighted and deteriorated. The NRA has said they cannot stop national chain stores so it will sacrifice Newburyport's image of a place of special, authentic worth the trip shopping. The US and state economy is on the upswing with the stock market hitting.all-time highs so the idea that we are in a economic depression and people are dying in the streets of starvation argument that would warrant giving away our marquee space. Moreover, it would be foolhardy to develop the waterfront before Karp completes his urban renewal project because may be kicking ourselves to death that we gave this space away prematurely by the time he is done. The NRA has tried to implement so many bad projects on the waterfront over the years and this plan fits the mold perfectly…..
  • The plan they show in the slides is nowhere near what the specifics of the plans are. We have more than enough commercial development there. People come to this waterfront for the peacefulness of it. Actually more park is rather a myth given the plans they have outlined. More space near the water in back of the stage is wasted greenery in space where no one can see performances. And, unless they tear down the benches, people there will not see the water at all.

These people disagree with the NRA/City plan and added these comments:
  • While I could accept some development, it should much smaller than called for in the NRA's plan and should be 100% for public use.
  • I see the downtown waterfront area as a public asset and I disapprove of development that will primarily benefit the developers. Once Karp starts building we will have to adjust to change that is hard to envision at this time. I am not convinced that the argument that the NRA plan will add to the tax base is an adequate justification as I question if the increased tax revenue will be that significant to merit the development of the waterfront.
  • I prefer to see the public land protected and left as it is. No commercialization of the waterfront that has been public for so many decades. It would only serve to profit the few. I am not opposed to free public parking, but no garages above or below ground.
  • Time and time again, the citizens of Newburyport have said NO to building on the waterfront.
  • Only if: 1) there were adequate hydraulic and treatment capacity at the WWTF, adequate capacity in the sewer system, 2) adequate water supply resources, 3) adequate parking provided by the developer, 4) ongoing O & M costs for the above, all of which to be paid for by the developer, and 5) a higher sewer and water rate structure for non residential use would such new commercial development be acceptable. Otherwise, the residents would be subsidizing the development. Regardless of this development, the city should adopt a two or three tiered water and sewer rate structure.
  • What assurance do we have that the commercial businesses and residential properties will result in annual income to the city? Any annual income derived should benefit city-wide needs, not limted to Waterfront Park/boardwalk needs.
  • We will never get back land that we develop now.
  • While I agree with the more park, or rather an enhanced park, and less parking, or rather better organized parking, I do not feel further commercial development in any way improves our waterfront. There is already an enormous flipping of stores and restaurants, and there are plenty of both to satisfy the normal resident and summer visitor. Outside of a quest to have this new plan incorporate some self-funding, i.e. limited commercial development, why do we need ANY further businesses or condo housing on the waterfront? In my opinion, we do not. And I do not like what these plans are showing for commercial development.
  • I would perfer all open space on the Waterfront.
  • No development or just grass for now. (Expand green park, reduce parking and watch effect) Wait for private developers to do their solidify plans for adjacent and nearby parcels first. Karp doesn't need a competitor in this market.

3 comments: said...

Thank you Ed for a most useful survey and for including our comments. I must admit I'm surprised by the %'s.Nevertheless, I remain deeply opposed to the current NRA/city plan. said...

Thank you Ed for a most useful survey and for including our comments. I must admit I'm surprised by the %'s.Nevertheless, I remain deeply opposed to the current NRA/city plan.

Joe DiBiase said...

Thanks Ed ... nicely done. And probably no less scientific or representative than other polls that have been done in the past.