Newbury Questions: Big Village on Little River?
Like the lady said at the forum two weeks ago, never trust a developer. Indeed, our experiences have all too often taught us this; empty promises, ugly projects, environmental defects, lack of vision – over the past decades, while land was easy to get and the demand for housing high, all too many guys who knew how to build became developers in order to build more of the same.
Fortunately, many factors have converged to demand a much higher level of professionalism in developers, not the least of which is highly educated people with vision who have learned how to build successful, attractive and well thought out projects. Beacon Communities falls into this category. This is not just a matter of luck; we can thank Newbury’s Planning Board for their proactiveness.
OK, it’s BIG. But it’s a big vision: The concept is to have enough density of population to justify businesses serving the resident population. One of the many terrible results of sprawl is the need to get into the almighty automobile to get a bottle of milk. Clustering a large number of homes around retail stores strives to fix that. So the population is needed for that to work. Do you need the supermarket and drugstore? There is a limit to the demand for residences and offices, so other development is needed to create both the financial incentive and ability to pay for the land, environmental studies and cleanup, traffic resolutions, and many other needs. I don’t know their numbers, but let’s face it, no one will - or should - take this kind of a risk without an expected return to justify it.
Two hundred residential units, of which 78 will be rentals, are planned. Do you need this many more residences? Let’s look at the Town as a whole. There are a good number of possible sites for construction of subdivisions. The Village could negatively impact the demand for new home construction because some empty nesters who want to downsize will move into these units, thereby releasing their homes into the market. By creating a high density community, you will be preserving open space in other parts of town. And to those of you who are worried about the “voting block” created by these residences, please realize that most of the buyers may already live in town!
And then there is the creation of desperately needed affordable housing. All 78 rental units will count toward the Town’s quota and give the Town far more control over future development. Most importantly, lower income housing is essential as some residents discover the Town’s housing stock to be beyond their reach.
School children. The projection of 27 new school children from 200 new units seems ludicrous, but it is based on reality. The average number of children per residence in Newbury is 0.48, but the average number in one or two bedroom apartments is far below that. The number of school children generated by the well over 200 units on Woodman Way in Newburyport is, in 2007, a total of 29. Of the residential units proposed here, there are 80 one bedroom units (surely no children) and only 8 three bedroom units.
While Beacon Communities’ designs for the intersection of Rte1, Hanover Street and Middle Road seem to resolve horrific existing (crossing that intersection is frightening!) and future traffic problems there, the questions of increased traffic on Hanover Street and Middle Road, plus the use of Highfield Road to connect to I-95 remain open. Jason Korb at Beacon told me that they will meet soon with residents along these roads to explore their concerns and find fixes to these issues.
Not to be forgotten is the connection this all has to Newburyport, which also has plans to encourage a development of this type near the MBTA Station and Traffic Circle. Newburyport will need to support Newbury’s endeavor by allowing water and sewer tie-in, and this matter has yet to be addressed. For Newburyport, it is not just a matter of capacity. If Beacon Communities will bear the cost of the tie-in, then Newburyport will have its sewer and water in place for its own development, allowing the City to negotiate other improvements from a candidate developer. The flip side of that is with Newbury’s development there first, it will decrease the market for the Newburyport side to be developed, and affect Newburyport’s chances for revenue from a similar transit oriented development.It’s big, and it’s change. Is this the type of controlled change the Town desires? Is the Town prepared to risk the integrity of other rural areas by not taking a proactive stance in allowing development in select, appropriate areas? Are the affects of increased population with its traffic, limited by proximity to public transportation and in a concentrated geographic area, preferable to general growth and increased traffic patterns spread throughout Town? It would seem the Planning Board, and this writer, think the answer to these questions is Yes. Are you ready to fully approve of it? I think not quite yet- but with careful planning and objective thought, you’ll get there.