Fox in the Hen House

Have you ever wondered about the story behind the First Religious Society of Newburyport?     Recently, the church sponsored an absolutely well-documented history – but it only goes up to the American Revolution and then stops.       During that time covered by the book, the members played important roles in our country’s history and especially in its birth.       Theophilus Parsons, a member, coined the phrase, “The Bill of Rights”, advocated for it vociferously and pushed hard for “Checks and Balances” in our U.S. Constitution.     Other members were outstanding in the cause of liberty.        The book is called, Where We Stood: A New England Church and the American Revolution 1764-1783, Historical Committee, Newburyport, MA, 2012.

But, how did they go from being a Christian church to a Unitarian-Universalist religious body?

It all started by that old saying, “Don’t let the fox guard the hen house!”

The Unitarian Movement was started in America as a direct re-action to the Great Awakening.        The face behind the Great Awakening was in fact, Rev. George Whitefield.    It first started in England as people packed his church to hear him in London.     Later, he visited America.     But he really began the Movement in 1740 when he arrived in Newburyport which at that time was the fifth most important city in the colonies.    He stressed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a person’s primary means for salvation and declared the resulting indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the means for learning and empowerment.     He was heavily critical of the standard minister’s stressing of ritual and form in worship as a means of attaining “religion”.     He also firmly held the literal interpretation of the Bible and believed in its doctrines.

After getting off the ship, the first place he preached was at the First Religious Society of Newburyport.     Their building at that time was in Market Square.      The Rev. John Lowell was the pastor.

But when Rev. Whitefield returned back that way from travelling across the colonies, the church’s doors were firmly shut and he was informed he was not welcome. Turned out, John Lowell had been insulted, slighted by Whitefield and was deeply offended by the ‘enthusiasm’ exhibited by his preaching and was alarmed at the attitude of the congregation. It didn’t help that the “First Lights” left by the hundreds not just from his church but from the churches in the area to start the Third Society of Newburyport. (Old South today) He was not a Unitarian but did not believe in the strict interpretation of the Bible and a couple of ministers continued with that stance that followed after him.     Many were Arminian in belief or stressed Natural Theology which believed that people would automatically do the right thing and naturally believe in a moral God. (Which was easy since the society was highly Judeo-Christian in moral practice and structure.) As well-documented in the Newburyport Library archives, hundreds came to Christ during the Great Awakening right from the pews of the First Religious Society. But they had no Sunday School and there was a heavy reliance on the leadership of the pastor.

Regionally, a shift toward Liberal Theology and Unitarian beliefs were beginning to take hold.

As I indicated earlier, The Unitarian Movement was started in America as a direct re-action to the Great Awakening.

At that time, Harvard University was slowly being taken over by Unitarians who embraced the belief that a person would naturally be drawn to do good works and believe in a higher God. In 1805, under their new President; they officially became Unitarian, and when the Divinity School was established, it was firmly Unitarian in principle and stayed that way until the late 19th Century. President Charles William Eliot took the reigns right after the Civil War and started turning the Harvard Theological Seminary into a purely secular teaching institute based on the concept of comparative religions.   And it has stayed that way ever since.

Since graduating from Harvard was a great badge of honor, Unitarianism spread like wildfire as trainees went out to fill churches throughout New England and the country. Writers began to codify the movement such as Jared Sparks and William Ellery Channing. Literarily and philosophically, it was championed by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The belief by the way started in all places in Transylvania, spread to Poland and then to England where it really took off. A great many of the upper class embraced it and colleges were established to spread its doctrine. Of course, hostility toward such anti-Trinity ideas caused some to flee to America and one of the advocates as the idea spread was Benjamin Franklin but he was just one among many. Not to get side-tracked but one of the most famous Unitarians was Neville Chamberlain. It was probably his firmly held belief in the inherent goodness of Man that made him unable to cope with Adolph Hitler who was trained in a Christian School and well-knew all the doctrines of Christianity.

Meanwhile, the First Religious Society was starting to drift away from the Bible.

A large group of members began to realize what was happening and left the church in the early 1800’s when a Rev. Andrews was there and started the North Congregational Church which for a time being stayed strictly Calvinist.    It is now called the Central Congregational Church.

The big tip off that the fate of the First was sealed was when a Harvard Graduate, Thomas B. Fox, an avowed Unitarian, took the reigns in 1831. Most of the other ministers in town flatly refused to attend his official ordination into the First recognizing his anti-Trinitarian belief system.

You would think the church would have been in trouble. But instead, Rev. Fox was a prolific advocate of education, philanthropy, political advocacy and most of all a powerful and effective preacher. He established a Sunday School that was very popular, pushed and achieved the first Women’s High School (first in the nation) on Washington Street. The attendance at the church grew to an astounding 1,800. After he firmly established Unitarianism, he left in 1845 and went on to a successful career in Boston and was very influential on many fronts in the nation.

As a passing note, and based on my personal experience dealing with Unitarians; the doctrine is very popular with highly disciplined, highly moral business people. They consider their highly ethical practices as derived from a natural form of inherent goodness and firmly believe that every person when given the right opportunity would do the same. These high achievers also have a real difficulty with Christian doctrine that pictures them as sinners, and therefore, in need of salvation. As Jesus said in Mark 10:25, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”

In 1961, the Universalists merged with the Unitarians and now they believe basically the same as they have always held except now it is not even necessary to believe in God to be a good UU member. According to their belief, there is no such thing as absolute truth and the purpose of man is to revel in the process of seeking truth always remembering that you’ll never actually ever achieve it!

And that background is why the FRN is Universalist-Unitarian today.

-P. Preservationist
http://www.ppreservationist.com

Arminianism is a teaching regarding salvation associated with the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). The fundamental principle is the rejection of predestination, and a corresponding affirmation of the freedom of the human will.

Calvinism – (also called the Reformed tradition, Reformed Christianity, Reformed Protestantism or the Reformed faith) is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice of John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians.

 

 

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The Sunday School Movement & The Old South

Robert Raikes Founder of the Sunday School MovementBeing such an ancient church, the Old South on Federal Street has faced conditions that frankly most of us in today’s world; would be totally unfamiliar.      The Industrial Revolution was beginning to take hold in America.    If you study the building on 29 Federal Street, it is a mixture of ancient first growth logs literally shaped by axes and adzes into massive beams.    But by looking around the building, you can also see the smooth boards and timbers made by steam and water powered mills that were located along the Merrimack River.

The Industrial Revolution was an explosion of manufacturing that brought about natives actually having some money jingling in their pockets and the idea of weekly wages began to be a powerful draw attracting workers from the surrounding countryside and city.   As factories sprung up across New England, farmers and poor fishermen would often send their children to be employed in the city’s mills from Monday to Saturday.         Their work hours were often 12 plus hours a day and very little time was left for the parents to even teach the basics of education.   Robert Raikes (1736-1811) from Gloucester, England started the Sunday School Movement to reach out and try to teach these children who were already suffering this type of life in England.        The main thrust was to educate them on a Sunday before services using the Bible and other literature.

In America, the idea of Sunday Schools was started in Philadelphia among the Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other reformed churches in 1824.    To avoid denominational strife, the Bible was stressed as the ‘curriculum’ and not church catechism.  The group formed the American Sunday School Union that year and sent 49 missionaries out to establish these Sunday Schools in churches all across the country but especially on the Frontier.       The Old South, often called the Third Religious Society of Newburyport were pioneers in Christian Education and started the fourth sunday school in the country!

It quickly became a tradition by working class parents, even parents who didn’t attend church; to bring their children to sunday school.   They knew their children were going to get a good education!   Not only learning Scriptures, they would learn ethics and morality and good citizenship and often would learn basic traditional studies.

As public schools began to be mandatory in the 1870’s in America, the sunday schools began to turn their focus back to training up believers in the faith.   According to the Bible, studying the Scriptures daily is supposed to be a necessary part of a believer’s life.      Unfortunately,  the practical reality is the cares of making a living, and raising families and doing civic duty; chokes out most who are not given to extreme discipline or a habit early formed when they were young.     Great many ‘believers’ haven’t the faintest notion of what they are supposed to ‘believe’.     Many a church has gone apostate simply because it was way too easy for a demagogue minister to steer them away and there were simply not enough in the congregation to stop him!     Sunday schools have endured as a great way to strengthen the typical Christian church and avoid a congregation full of ignorant followers easily swayed by con men, extremists and flim-flammers.     In addition to stopping this great danger, the training time has allowed for a great resource of  students who would learn to be teachers themselves and thus guarantee sound instruction continuing in the congregation in the future.

Whenever you see the words, Sunday School, posted on a church marquis; that is a lasting tribute to that effort that was so powerfully needed in the past.    It was an effective solution for the rather deplorable state suffered during the 18th Century in England and especially in America, during the early years of the 19th Century.

-P. Preservationist
http://www.ppreservationist.com

 

 

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Pollyannaish Newburyport

My last post produced some rather interesting responses that were very troubling, at least to me.      This city used to be a hot bed for politics – one side debating against the other with both doing (if they had a case) a fine job passionately debating the issues with pro’s and con’s, supporting facts and often with painful compromise.

Our Central Waterfront is a fine example of this where democracy works.      Yes, I know, hard to believe, but it works.     It’s messy but that’s the way things get done in a free society.

You’ve probably heard many cry out that there is no resolution – but wait.     If you look at the dilapidated  construction site in 1970 pictures, you can clearly see compared to the present – that much has been done!      There are gardens, and memorials, park land and trees, and along the water there is a boardwalk and more memorials and more gardens and art sculptures all set in lovely landscaping.       And though we’re stuck with parking lots, there are regular spaces for the cars, and lovely public ways to the water.

All that discourse produced what we see today.      Yes, there is figuratively blood spilt for every step we take on the waterfront; but that is not what our visitors see or our locals enjoy.

So I was very grieved when my blog produced the accusation of being salacious.      In essence, salacious is sexual conversation with lots of lewd detail not appropriate in public discourse.       In my blog, I cited many reasons why there should be a replacement for the Mayor with many supporting points.     In essence the reader is saying, “Shut up, I don’t want to hear it.”

What the reader and those similar in response are saying is that we don’t want to hear anything negative.     We want to go on without question, always looking for the positive; always assuming the best intent in anyone’s actions.      Not capable of thinking evil, they assume no one else is doing evil.     And if someone brings up something unpleasant no matter how true, they turn away.

By these, demagogues and tyrants thrive.

Today, being Pollyannaish means someone who is absurdly optimistic and good-hearted believing in a good world where everything works out for the best all the time.    It is derived from Eleanor H. Porter’s famous novel, Pollyanna, published in 1913 and later turned into a Disney movie.     The character, Pollyanna had an outlook on life of absolute optimism and whose problems were always straightened out in the end.

Unfortunately, in the real world; it takes a lot of effort with setbacks galore to get things straightened out and often times the end is just ever beyond the reach.

The Bible says that great evil comes from the love of money and that is what is being displayed today in Newburyport.      Facing this legion of money lovers are the citizens of Newburyport who value quality of life.      This great war has many battles won and lost and has been going on since the Sixties.

But the lovers of money are very clever and are counting on Pollyannaish citizens who want to hear nothing but happy thoughts.       These residents are not evil in themselves, in fact, far from it – but by their turning away from the real issues facing our city, they become an accessory to the evil acts.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

                                                                        -Edmund Burke

-P. Preservationist
http://www.ppreservationist.com

 

 

 

 

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Now is the time to pick a new mayor!

If someone is going to be a viable opponent to Mayor ‘Bulldozer’ Holaday; they need to begin the process now.      It will be too late in the spring and a losing proposition in the summer/fall.

This, of course, is obvious to a political wonk.    So why am I writing this article?

BECAUSE WE MUST BE CAREFUL NOT TO PICK AN ANTI-DEVELOPMENT MAYOR!

Mayor Holaday started off pretty good – politically daring, and known now to really get things ‘done’.         The person in the Corner Office has brought about a new Senior Center, one new school and another refurbished.        That same person has pushed for resolution on the waterfront, and a parking garage and a means to pay for sidewalks and park improvements.         We now have a Parks Department, standards for our highway department and many infrastructure upgrades in our downtown.    We’ve seen and will see new stadiums and track fields.     We have a new extension to the popular Clipper City Rail Trail coming soon as well as a new Harbor Master Headquarters.

But she has also pushed for the destruction of the Newburyport Historic District through the demolition and gutting of historic buildings even though they are exempt from strict ‘green’ standards and the stringent Massachusetts Building Code.    She is pushing for the Ale House without adequate parking and to the extent of giving a private land owner ‘public’ land and even having taxpayers paying for the foundational work by re-routing storm drains.  She initially pushed for condo’s on the waterfront and again, the citizens have had to push back.     She tried to force development of the Brown School by seizing the playground, and was only stopped by significant pushback by the South End citizens; and by a prior wise city council that had Beacon Hill designate that area as park.     She is now trying to seize public land for a private developer in order to destroy the vast majority of citizen’s quality of life by eliminating access to the Library for a behemoth of a building.      Even though the homeowners pay almost all of our city’s bills in one way or another, many in the business community have fled to Amesbury where non-retail industry is better treated.      Before that, we’ve had non-profits and retail businesses leave our city due to this mayor’s policies.       The Mayor is pushing hard for a future community in which lower middle class and the poor are forced into subsidized housing while the rich upgrade and live in the fine housing all around town.       The middle class are increasingly looking to move out and leave this community because of this disparate and expensive future state.

Even as the city has established a Cultural District, and the city council has reinforced the strict zoning for our downtown and the Newburyport Historic District; there is a pervading sense in the city that we are losing our cultural distinctiveness and our history.       It is literally draining away like pouring water on a sand castle.

Visitors will pull into the city and see sharp looking houses like Disneyland’s Main Street and yet, can sharply feel the loss of history.        The locals can feel it in the air and all around them.    Retail business downtown is increasingly not reflecting our culture and even today, are largely unaware of our city’s history.        Under a real estate boom; our city is filling up with street after street of residents ignorant of our culture and our history.

The natural reaction at such losses is to choose a candidate that will ‘stop’ this erosion.     Mistakenly, they will push for policies that favor locals.     They will cry for a ‘stop’ to all this construction, weary of the rising taxes to support the new infrastructure and which tightens the personal budget.     They will cry to ‘stop’ the influx of visitors to our city and to have a new Mayor who chases them away.    The natural desire is to rise up an ‘anti-bulldozer’ mayoral candidate.

But not only will it be a bad mistake; it will be destructive to our town.       There is a thing called ‘good development’ which results in mutual benefit to our citizens.      There is such a thing, easily obtainable through our well-staffed planning office of thoughtful, productive city improvements that will guarantee Newburyport being a regional leader.    As I have often indicated, our economy is based on living off our visitors, directly and in many cases, indirectly.        We also have a culture that focuses on quality of life.      People are moving here and paying taxes here, and spending money here because of it.       We also have a city that has a huge fountain bursting forth called ‘history’.        Visitors come to soak it in, to discover it and to enjoy its presence.         Our old churches, old and vibrant museums and old, historic neighborhoods are like giant magnets that saturate the residents and visitors in ‘real’ culture.      Our ecology is breathtaking and surrounds us as bald eagles and migratory birds fly over and around our city.

We need a Mayor who understands all this and is not the slave of developers and greedy homeowners whose’ only desire is to satisfy themselves rather than benefiting the community as a whole.    We need a mayor who will look at the long term benefit to the citizens rather than short term tax benefits.       It takes a mayor who has the vision to transform Newburyport into a gem, which will generate profits for a very long time,, not use it up as an over-packaged snack food to be discarded in the trash after it is all used up.

Using Newburyport as an historic lesson; this was done before.      Byron Matthews did a lot of good things for the city; but his ‘bulldozer’ mindset became a long-lasting poison.     He had lots of crazy ideas to ‘benefit’ the city.   He also was a slave to the ‘popular’ development theories of his day.       Some were thankfully shot down and unfortunately, we have to live with those he managed to enact.

The citizens elected Dick Sullivan, Sr as the new mayor.      Under him, though he was certainly not perfect (who is) the city was able to settle down, focus more on quality of life and the serious business of culture.      It was this period of time where affluence began to seep into the city and began to prosper.     Under him, the Newburyport Historic District was established and strict standards for the downtown were cemented.        He had an uphill battle because the waterfront Federal warehouses had been demolished and the area was a construction pit; Merrimack Landing, under the insistence of Byron, didn’t blend into the downtown and was a money loser; and the waterfront was mired in lawsuits; and everyone had to stare at the horrible Sullivan Building which was too high and resulted after 30 plus historic houses were demolished.

But the city recovered and prospered.

We too, next November – need a mayor who is a wise holder of all that is precious about Newburyport and who will focus on making it better, not replace it with the ‘shiny and new’.

Who will it be?

.-P. Preservationist
http://www.ppreservationist.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Art & Culture, Businesses, Demolitions, Developers, Downtown, Eco-tourism, Ecology, Economics, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, Historic Demolitions, History, Infrastructure, News & Politics, Planning, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Streetscapes, Taxes, Tourism, Waterfront, Zoning | Leave a comment

Tour Reminder – Little River Trail System

Cooper North PastureThis Saturday, at 8:30, at the entrance to the Cooper North Pasture Nature Trail (in view of the iconic Kestrel birdhouse and short jaunt through this magnificent pasture pictured above and easily visible from Hale Street), a tour will begin.

The former president (and active board member) of Parker River Clean Water Association, George Comiskey, has this to say about this trail network:

“I was really impressed with the new trails that have been created this year.  It shows what a diverse landscape that cannot be replicated by other trail systems in the Newburyport area.  Not in Mosley Woods or Maudsley State Forest and certainly not the inner city bike trails.”

And though PRCWA didn’t get funding from the Community Preservation Committee which was drowned by other applicants; they had this to say about the Little River Trail System: (We’ve been grateful to receive funding twice before.)

‘This is a worthwhile project and I believe that the Committee would like to encourage you to continue to develop and refine the project scope and budget so that it may be considered in the future.”       -Mike Dissette, Chair, CPC, July 29, 2016

And the refinement is on going!      Already paths have been re-routed, widened and marked with trail logos.

But most of the citizens who live in the Greater Newburyport Area are still clueless at this fabulous resource.       An open area of wetlands and forest and yet surrounded by urban development on three sides.      A visitor feels like he is in in a deep wild area and yet; if thirsty can hike up a trail to an inconvenience store in a few hundred yards!     This area is vital for preventing devastating floods and is also a potential water resource at the same time.     An area for bird watchers, dog walkers and nature lovers and easy to access at five convenient trail heads.

When I can finally get someone to come out, they return with their eyes wide with amazement.       Be sure to show up – and let your eyes absorb this environment and hear from your guide, Jerry Mullins, about the history, the ecology and the wildlife located here.

Only a 1 mile walk from Downtown Newburyport!

-P. Preservationist
http://www.ppreservationist.com

 

 

Posted in Agriculture & Farms, Conservation, CPA, CPC, Eco-tourism, Ecology, Education, Environment, Flooding, History, Landscapes, Open Space, Parking, Parks, Preservation, Quality of Life, Recreation, trails, Watershed, Wildlife | 1 Comment

The Smuggling Tunnels – a Compendium

I have tried to show, with out exasperating the reader, as well-documented as possible, a treatise about  Newburyport and Smuggling and how the practice indeed opened the way for the building and financing and sustaining tunnels under the city.

Next Saturday, I will finally satisfy the cries of my readers by putting in one post, all the information on the tunnels that is known as of 2016.

There is a standard narrative based on legend that there are three major tunnels, and that at least one of them goes into the Oak Hill Cemetery.        The fact that many tunnel entrances are found in some of the houses in the city does not necessarily support the narrative.      Most of the streets were muddy, partially consisting of sewage, horse manure and when dry season, clouds of dust.       Many wealthy merchants may simply have wanted to get to the docks without the bother of mingling on such roads or wanted to get to the docks before the competition did since no one knew what would be listed in the ship’s hold.       Or, the smuggling was not coordinated and there may just be a little family of them scattered across the city coming from the richest merchants.         And of course, there is a great hamper in that the city and its residents wanted to distance themselves by walling them up or blocking them, or hiding them.        Now, here in 2016; we also have the long stretch of time and how it affects the elements to also contend with as these tunnels are examined.

But the point of these posts is that the argument that such an expensive and involved project could not be possible; has been dashed to pieces once and for all.      Money and Motive are soundly documented historically and that is the main point of this series:

There comes a moment though when the arm-chair researcher and the dusty books of the Library must be left behind for actual field work.          Theories must be tested, facts extracted and there is danger: bureaucratically, financially, legally and socially which must be grappled.

And that takes daring and time!

-P. Preservationist
http://www.ppreservationist.com

Smuggling – Newburyport’s Pre-eminent Industry

Tunnels: Part One – Newburyport became rich from smuggling

Tunnels: Part Two – The Relevance of Smuggling Today

Tunnels: Part Three – Smuggling was the original cause of the American Revolution

Tunnels: Part IV – How did Newburyport become rich through smuggling?

Tunnels: Part V – Transporting the ‘Product’

Tunnels: Part VI – As vital components of trade – Some questions answered

 

 

 

 

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Improving sidewalks is a cheap way to boost equity and property values!

The IRS has actually codified this jump in values.    They have found that improving the public sidewalk that runs adjacent to a homeowner’s property will boost the appraised value of the private property.       They also found that installing historic brick sidewalks within an historic district can boost the value from 10% to as much as 30%. (Assuming you take care of them, of course with proper maintenance.)

Considering the cost of doing so usually ranges from less than $5,000 to $10,000; and the average home value in Newburyport is $375,700; even a moderately priced home can see an inexpensive way to raise its value considerably.

So why would the mighty Internal Revenue Service even care about this phenomena?

Because giving donations to your local municipality is tax-deductible.      In particular, in a situation where the sidewalks are not taken care of properly as is the case in Newburyport, many responsible citizens especially local ones have taken it upon themselves to improve their street frontage.      As historic districts become common throughout the United States; many of these taxpayers have taken their contributions to the city property as a deduction.

But the IRS feels that if you are actually getting a huge benefit out of doing so; you have no right to request for it.

They have felt so strongly about it; they took some claimers to court and in two separate cases; won them both: , Myers vs US, 1980 and McConnell vs. US, 1988.         The net result has been that if you do put in brick sidewalks within the Newburyport Historic District; you will get that exhilarating boost in your equity and property values.       You will just have to settle with the fact that you are helping the City of Newburyport as a good citizen as well.

So, if you live in the Newburyport Historic District (check the street listing) and want to boost your property values in a cheap way and help the city in boosting heritage tourism; this is the procedure.           Hundreds who “get it” about Newburyport are doing it, and more and more wise owners are enjoying the benefits.       If you already have brick sidewalks in front of your home, historic or not (doesn’t make a difference as long as you’re in the district) and are enjoying the benefits; be sure to take care of them and repair them to a smooth surface (Its cheap to maintain them too!) to sustain that property boost.

So what about those who are outside of the historic district?     Fogettaboutit!      The IRS says you get a big boost out of improving the sidewalks, perhaps not as much as in an historic district but significant enough that you are not eligible for a tax deduction either.

Therefore, the whiny homeowners balking at improving the adjacent sidewalk and street trees are not only selfish, and irresponsible citizens*; they are clueless on the benefits of obeying our present ordinance!

-P. Preservationist
www.ppreservationist.com

  1. For the Nitpickers; I spoke to Rick Taylor, IRS Agent, Special Research Division, Denver, Colorado in 2013, who confirmed this information. Pertaining to this subject, I recommend the following reading material:

IRS Publication 530 – Tax Information for Homeowners – very interesting section on tax deductions for National Register property!

IRS Publication 526 – Charitable Contributions

IRS Publication 561- Determining the Value of Donated Property

Form 8283-If non-cash donation is over $5,000 – if incorrectly calculated, 20-40% penalty

A Cheap Way to Raise Your Property Values, Brick& Tree Blog, July 8, 2013.

* I firmly believe the balkers against our current ordinance who are pushing for this odious ordinance are actual developers and the Mayor and a select group of city councilors are using this scenario as a cover.      Just my opinion, firmly held.

Posted in Developers, Economics, Education, Infrastructure, News & Politics, Restoration, sidewalks, Streetscape, Streetscapes, Zoning | Leave a comment