I was incensed at Springwell Investments last night at the Planning Board Meeting.
Was I upset because of their development? No. True, I, and many others, concerned with watersheds and flooding would have recommended this area not be developed. But it wasn’t Springwell’s fault that when Mayor Lavender was in office and during special town hall meetings in 2004 on the strategic land use of the industrial complex and the common pasture; a mysterious plot of land smack dab at the top of the Little River Watershed appeared on planning maps. No one in the public claimed to have placed it there. No one came forth claiming to have advocated it to be put there. It just ‘appeared’. Turned out it came into being due to behind the scenes meetings with the former land owner. Then, of course, that same landowner created problems step after step until the City and its boards and commissions put their collective feet down.
Am I upset because of Springwell Investment’s architectural style? No. Why should I care about the design of the residential buildings when it sits far away from the Newburyport Historic District? Whatever goes in will be better than the suburban houses along the streets of the entire Russell Terrace residential neighborhood. Anything done will be a step up from drab and more drab.
Am I upset over their very compacted residential development? No. It is a powerful tool to preserve open spaces, watersheds and wildlife areas by doing ‘cluster developments’. This is why so many European cities are so tightly squeezed because the countryside’s have been gloriously left open. This type of ‘forced’ zoning has never taken hold in America and if done, would be extremely complicated and fraught with lawsuits and political wrangling. Newburyport has become such a regional success because we have put into place a homegrown cluster development. By putting conservation easements on the Common Pasture and applying Overlay Districts that maximize open space, we in effect have created just such an environment. Development is squeezed onto the spine that runs from Storey Avenue to Newbury leaving agricultural lands for the farmers and to the wetlands to soak up the flood waters and guarantee our water supply.
When the first shovel digs into the ground at the end of Russell Terrace Extension, 36 acres of crucial wetlands will be left open doing the job nature has done so well over the centuries. And as I learned last night, the newly established neighborhood association will be enforcing wetland protection with Essex Greenbelt Association having the legal power to reinforce that protection.
Am I upset over their development being too close to the Little River Bike Path and the Little River Nature Trail? No. This adjacent area is City property zoned for passive recreation. City residents and the newly arrived homeowners of this neighborhood will be able by a short path enjoy nature very close and have a handicapped accessible roadbed as well. Bicyclists and pedestrians will be but fingertips away from pristine wildlife. In fact the developers are offering to put in trees to help buffer the houses from the recreational area. Are we talking quality of life or are we talking quality of life?
But that gets me to my point. I am upset at Springwell Investment’s business plan. They actually think they are going to have a tough time selling these houses. They actually think that they have to use the cheapest material for their buildings to maximize their profit because they feel they will be lucky to sell these at fair market price. These developers are either pretty dumb or they’re trying, in vain, (I was proud that Don Walters put them in their place last night on ‘profit’ issues!) to con us into sympathizing for them. These are savvy businessmen. They bought distressed property at below market price from the bank. They have the numbers and they know what the realtors are telling them.
THIS IS NEWBURYPORT. In contrast, there are areas in so-called tax-free New Hampshire that are ‘spooky’. You’ll be driving down a road and a whole series of abandoned homes come into view. Here, there and we’re not just talking the Live Free or Die State, Massachusetts has these sights too. We’ve had some residents get it in the chin due to the regional job situation but by and large our real estate market is EXTREMELY HEALTHY. Who can’t notice the profusion of new real estate offices opening up in our City? Our storefronts are filling up fast. Our quality of life is one of the best in the state if not in New England.
Do not sympathize with these developers – it is us as a collective whole that draws them to invest here!