Every community in America has its ‘seedy’ neighborhood. Newburyport is no exception. At one time, the South End was considered a pretty bad area with the worst being the small homes and shacks around Joppa and along Water Street. Then, later as the downtown restoration took root, it finally shrank until there were only two areas that were considered run down: the bottom ends of Boardman and Strong (roughly around the old DPW sheds) and the North end of Lime Street (affectionately called Slime Street). Today, thanks to efforts by Al Clifford, Slime is back to Lime; and the old DPW has been replaced by an elegant housing development.*
This has set the stage for a whole new neighborhood to be transformed from being the armpit of the City to being a highly desirable area to move into. Along with the new Foundry development, has come the rebuilding of the old shoe store, new elegant homes replacing the old Jake’s Cafe, the new opening of the gas station, the restored restaurant, Park Lunch, and the sustained anchors of O’Leary’s Liquors and the Riverside Condominiums. Setting the stage for its new rebirth was the installation of the Clipper City Rail Trail which took a graffiti-covered trestle span and made the entire area a fine and inviting place to walk. Not only that, it took an isolated condominium complex and by using the River walk, has shoved the the residential complex into the limelight. And of course, popular Mr. India and the new pleasant-looking business units on Winter Street have been a great contribution too!
And if you’ve got people wanting to live here, where can they go? One, there is a squat-ugly stretch of blacktop at the Lombardi Oil location. Two, an unresolved patch of new housing at the Towle Complex and Three, a used car lot and ram shackled old building complete with sad-looking old cars and a trashy lot.
You’d have to be blind in one eye and can’t see out the other not to recognize the opportunity. Murphy Construction wants to take the car lot and contribute big time to this neighborhood rebirth by doing a Section 6C development. They want to build some residential housing in this area because people will be lining up to purchase homes so close to the downtown with all the amenities.
But here is the catch. They must through this zoning provision show public benefit. This puts them at two choices: One, they can restore that ramshackle building (Which was a 19th-century carriage making business and before that a blacksmith shop) by putting a low-cost interpretive marker on the Clipper City Rail Trail, sell as a home or business and thus enhance the history of Newburyport and further enhancing heritage tourism. Or Two, make some of their residential home units affordable (and thus reduce their profit potential) and contribute further to the City’s affordable housing allotment so we can (hopefully) chase off future 40B projects.
I will tell you now, the choice is obvious. They should restore the historic building
and forget the affordable housing route.
Why walk away from the full potential for profit by artificially restricting yourself? It’s stupid. As for the affordable housing fanatics, you’re chasing a fantasy dream! That new development at The Foundry though financed by CPA affordable housing money was able to wiggle out of selling affordable units. There is no guarantee these units will be set ‘in stone’. Why do you think the City is killing itself trying to ‘own’ affordable units? So no one can wiggle out! Choosing that route, in the end, Murphy Construction will have a new development and the City will have egg on its face. At the very best, the City will be no closer to getting its 10% goal.
By choosing historic preservation, a solid benefit will occur for all parties – and it will be real.
* Unfortunately, due to some misguided developers and homeowners, the stretch on Water Street between Federal and Bromfield is now our new ‘seedy’ section. The total disregard of historic preservation and the use of vinyl and steel siding along with metal windows has artificially depressed property values making it a lure for those who want to get their foot in the door into Newburyport or are wishing to be transient renters.