Newburyport City Council votes to accept IFS settlement | News

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NEWBURYPORT — The City Council voted 7-4 on Monday to accept a settlement agreement between the city and the Institution for Savings following a Land Court appeal of the Planning Board’s decision in March 2021 to reject the bank’s expansion plans.

The settlement now goes back to the Planning Board as requested by the Land Court for further public hearings on the bank’s special permit and site plan approval applications.

“We appreciate the City Council’s decision to abide by the Land Court’s request to follow the correct procedure by remanding the settlement agreement back to the Planning Board,” IFS President Michael Jones said in a statement.

“After 14 months of meetings, seven revisions and a mediation process all of which included a reduction in scale, size and mass it is clear that the neighbors will never be satisfied,” Jones added. “I reiterate the bank’s commitment to working as cooperatively as possible with the city if they have a renewed interest in discussing a resolution that preserves the commitments made by both parties in mediation and that does not require continued litigation.”

The vote capped roughly an hour of discussion that involved not only city councilors but many of those who packed council chambers.

Several residents spoke against the settlement, saying the bank’s expansion plans violated city planning rules and would negatively affect the surrounding neighborhood. They urged councilors to reject the settlement and send it back to Land Court. Four voted against the proposal: Byron Lane, Afroz Khan, Jennie Donahue and Bruce Vogel.

Councilors who voted to accept the settlement were President Heather Shand, Mark Wright, Sharif Zeid, Christine Wallace, Ed Cameron, Connie Preston and James McCauley.

In March 2021, the Planning Board voted 5-3 against approving the bank’s applications for its main office at 93 State St. An official decision was reviewed at the board’s meeting on April 7, 2021.

On April 27, 2021, the bank filed a complaint with the Land Court, challenging the Planning Board’s denials of its special permit and site plan review applications.

City Councilor Jim McCauley said he understood both sides of the issue but felt the settlement was the “right thing to do for the city.”

McCauley, however, said the bank did not do itself any favors by submitting its original plan without input from neighbors. The sheer size of the plan even surprised city officials, he said.

If the council voted against the settlement, Land Court deliberations would have continued. It was a strategy that Lane said he supported.

“Let the process take its course,” Lane said during the meeting.

As recently as November, the City Council voted 6-4 to reject a settlement with the bank.

Dave Rogers is a reporter with the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.

Dave Rogers is a reporter with the Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008. 

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