It’s a funny scenario but it’s becoming all too common. Some developer knows full well he’s exploiting the National Treasure of our historic district and guts the building down to the studs.
But that isn’t the funny part. As a symbol of penance; he more than often as not has laid an historic brick sidewalk in front of the house.
Some do gutting because they actually believe they must to be signed off by the building inspector. They know that Massachusetts building codes are very strict and in fact, if Beacon Hill could get away with it; they would want the Stretch Codes to eventually apply to all construction not to just additions and new buildings. And they have said as much. What the Building Inspector won’t tell the developer is that the historic buildings of Newburyport are exempt from the current stretch codes and any other future strict codes*. In many cases, these homes are exempt from many of the current requirements of the building code. It is outlined in the Massachusetts Building Codes that houses that are ‘contributing’ to a National Register district are exempt. Our local ‘gypsy’ would rather be laced across the palms rather heavily than inform them they could save tens of thousands of dollars.**
Then, of course, other developers would prefer to ‘flip’ the house. Rip out all that old stuff, put in new stuff that is easy to install and won’t last but a few decades at that, and sell the redone house at a huge profit. National Treasure be damned. They know the newcomer to Newburyport more than likely couldn’t tell the difference between an historical house than a brand new house. Besides, they reason, most people drivel on about living in an old house but what they really mean is they want the exterior to be 18th, or 19th century and the interior 21st century. So the developer guts the house and leaves nothing old inside hoping the new owner won’t catch on until they are long gone. The developer will be off gutting another old home months later before the former owner realizes the value of his home is in the toilet because all the old architecture is gone.
Whether they are ignorant developers or grasping-for-every-dollar developers, they all know instinctively that Newburyport is a Heritage Tourism destination. They know that the Romantic Era should be highlighted in our architecture and in our historic places and that brick sidewalks add to the environment of an Old Historic Seaport. So as a means to pay for their sins, they contribute to the City’s overall benefit by laying down in the historic district what the City should have been doing all along for the last 50 years. Even those who put in new houses get the ‘message’ and sure enough, lay down the brick sidewalks.
See a house being gutted? It won’t be long before the stacks of brick start showing up in front of the building!
If they get it – why doesn’t the City get it? Historic brick sidewalks should be laid down in the Newburyport Historic District and New-England-weather-resistant concrete for the rest of the city.
IF THE PRIVATE SECTOR KNOWS THIS, WHY CAN’T THE PUBLIC SECTOR KNOW IT TOO!?!
* Except on the issue of lead paint.
** He made the statement before the Planning Board that he would not inform any permit seeker about the exemption unless they specifically requested it.