Meanwhile, the Committee for an Open Waterfront is preparing to unveil an alternate plan that would preserve the central waterfront as an open space, protecting its existing water views, public access, and parking in an environmentally friendly way. There would be no commercial buildings.
The key feature of the group’s plan is to treat parking as part of the landscape, providing a space that can be used for various community activities, from festivals and concerts to farmers markets and maritime education. Rather than bring the city to the water’s edge, the committee’s vision would offer a place of respite.
“The idea is to make parking a quality space, so that when cars aren’t there, it can be used for other things,” said Matthew Potteiger, a professor of landscape architecture at the State University of New York with whom the committee contracted to create its plan. “The spaces would function as a series of outdoor rooms, created with native plantings that incorporate taller vegetation to delineate the rooms.”
Potteiger plans to submit his plans for the site to the committee’s working group on Sunday. Joanie Purinton of Newbury, the group’s community liaison, said the plan will be presented to the public after the working group and the committee’s board reviews it.
“This small space is the heart of Newburyport,” said Purinton. “And it’s one of the country’s few remaining early harbors. People come from all over the world to feel the history of this special place, to sit quietly by the water and be a part of the maritime culture and history. Condominiums and retail shops don’t belong there.”
Over the years, clashes over the waterfront have spawned several legal battles, with residents launching grass-roots campaigns to block a proposed hotel and preserve public access to the Merrimack River. In an effort to quell the current conflict, the authority is vowing to maintain an open dialogue.
“The [authority] is, has been, and will be open to the public process,” said Powers, the lawyer for the volunteer city board. “There is no intent, and certainly nothing has been done, to block access to the process.”
Salemi said: “I know there are people in the community who disagree with our vision, and they’re using various tools to get their message out. I want them to know we are listening and we are eager to hear more people speak.”
Brenda J. Buote may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.