NEWBURYPORT – The city will have to return to the drawing board to find long-term housing for the parks department after city council rejected a proposal to enter into a five-year lease for 50 Parker St.

Council voted 8-1 Monday night against Order 256, which is a letter of intent from the mayor for the city to enter into a lease as a tenant of the Parker Street property owned by 230-232 East 49th St. Associates.

Ward 3 Councilor Heather Shand voted to sign the lease. General Councilors Afroz Khan and Joseph Devlin were absent for the meeting.

The space was initially touted as being able to meet the needs of the department such as a break room and workspace for employees, storage space and a loading dock.

Following discussions by members of the Neighborhoods and Municipal Services Committee, several councilors, including Ward 5 Councilor James McCauley, found that they had “more questions than answers”, especially regarding the costs.

The rental rate would have been $ 47,776 per year for the first three years, followed by $ 50,359 in the fourth year and $ 51,650 in the fifth year. But councilors were concerned about the additional costs associated with the lease. These costs include water and sewerage, electricity and gas as well as a fixed contribution of $ 15,495 for taxes and operating costs each year.

The city does not know the state of the equipment already present on the premises and the lease stipulates that the owner would not be responsible for their maintenance.

Shand asked the mayor for an update on 57 Low St., a property that council voted against buying earlier this year. The parks department still houses facilities there as part of the city’s informal, lease-free, rent-free agreement with the property owner, the National Guard.

Mayor Donna Holaday said the city is in talks with the National Guard to potentially enter into a formal lease. The city just signed a contract with Credere Associates LLC to perform soil drilling and air quality testing at 57 Low St., which is next to the armory.

Depending on the results, the City will be able to look again at the short and long term uses of this property. The city is expected to have test results in about four to six weeks, the mayor said.

In the meantime, General Councilor Barry Connell said the city should take a closer look at alternatives for the parks service and come up with “more concrete” ideas.

Also during the meeting, council voted 9-0 with the two councilors absent to approve the zoning changes.

Shand, who chairs the planning and development committee, said the changes were the first in a series of efforts to clean up zoning ordinances. All of the changes involved input from the zoning administrator and town planning council.

Some of the minor updates include cleanups of definitions such as “building area” and “floor space”, while larger changes include clarifications to yard requirements or setbacks.

Another change, which was altered during the meeting by Ward 2 Councilor Jared Eigerman, states, “The proposed replacement windows can be made to open and close (i.e. become windows), provided, however, that such means of opening and closing and replacement of windows must be approved by the SPGA under a DOD-SP, notwithstanding the conditions of the existing window (s) such as described in section XXVII-F (5) (e).

Eigerman acknowledged that there are restaurants that wish to have windows that open and close, most recently Brine, on the former Fowle’s News site on State Street.

When the Downtown Overlay District was created seven years ago, Eigerman, who was its primary author, wanted to make sure the historic windows would be preserved. On Monday, he said that the initial language, which prevented changes in how a window works, was aimed at maintaining the integrity of the window.

He recognized that there are ways to make a window usable without changing the style.

For more on these changes, see Monday night’s council brief at www.cityofnewburyport.com/city-council/events/291766.

The city is preparing to finalize a design for the West End fire station project. The council entered into executive session on Monday evening to consider purchasing an adjacent parcel of land as part of the reconstruction of the John F. Cutter Jr. Fire Hall. More information on the project is detailed in the board file.

Additionally, the city could change its name to rebrand Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day after an order sponsored by Shand was presented to council on Monday.

The order was returned to the General Government Commission for further discussion.

In October, second and third grade students at River Valley Charter School presented letters to the mayor, asking the city to make the change.

A previous story about this can be read at www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/river-valley-students-call-for-indigenous-peoples-day-in-newburyport/article_aa1e8360-f6de-50d7-8f6c-60388a31d590. html.


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