City moves to settle Institution for Savings lawsuit

·4 min read

Oct. 14—NEWBURYPORT — The city is moving to settle a lawsuit with the Institution for Savings following an appeal of the Planning Board's decision earlier this year to reject the bank's expansion plans.

In March, after 14 months of discussion, 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 April 7.

The bank revised its plans several times, but abutters and some board members still took issue with the massing and scale of the proposed expansion of office space and the addition of garage parking.

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

After the City Council met in executive session Tuesday night, the council introduced a late file order that would authorize a settlement agreement between the city and the bank.

That agreement was signed Oct. 4 by bank officials, councilors and Planning Board members and the mayor but still needs council approval and the Land Court's approval to dismiss the bank's lawsuit with prejudice. That means the suit cannot be refiled.

The council voted unanimously to refer the order to the Committee on General Government for further discussion before an official vote.

The settlement agreement was signed by city officials after mediation with Mitchell Kaplan, a mediator and retired Superior Court associate justice, on Sept. 24 and Oct. 4.

As part of the agreement, "All city parties agree to recommend and support the approval of the special permit and site plan upon the terms set forth herein."

This means the Planning Board would agree to reconsider its votes on the bank applications in anticipation that members would approve the plans as presented in March with some revisions.

In addressing concerns related to massing and the building's scale, the bank would agree to reduce the addition's cornice height, use copper detailing above the cornice, and extend the building façades toward Prospect Street.

The bank would use spandrel glass for the first-floor windows along Prospect Street, preventing light from vehicles from shining onto the street and concealing columns, electrical wiring and other structural components from view.

The addition's façade would also have a different color variation of brick to distinguish it from the bank's 1980s addition.

The bank would provide a plan for plantings along the addition, including on Prospect Street and Otis Place. The Planning Board is expected to request dense plantings to soften the appearance of the addition, according to the agreement.

As part of that plan, the bank would work to separate any planting beds from sidewalks. This may include raising them by 6 inches above the sidewalk grade.

A noise and exhaust study would be provided to the city "to verify no meaningful impact(s) on the neighborhood or the city."

If any concerns are raised through this study, the bank would work with the city to address them.

If the Planning Board does not issue and file the special permit and site plan with the city clerk by Dec. 16, the settlement agreement would become null and void, unless extended by all parties.

A recording of the council meeting Tuesday and accompanying documents can be found at www.cityofnewburyport.com/city-council/events/291786.

Also during the council meeting, Mayor Donna Holaday said there was a cluster of COVID-19 cases at one of the city's long-term care facilities last week.

"Our numbers are significantly higher than they have been throughout the entire pandemic," she said. "The message is that we are not out of it yet. Please, please, please, if you haven't been vaccinated, I strongly encourage you to do so."

The mayor also announced that she will hold her final State of the City address Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

Editor's note: The agreement signed by city and bank officials will seek Land Court's approval to dismiss the bank's lawsuit with prejudice, which means the suit cannot be refiled.

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

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