The reason it is so important that the Newburyport Historical Commission, the Preservation Trust and the LHD Study Committee stress education is because there are a lot of strange misconceptions about local historic districts.
The first is the static concept. Here you are driving through bustling Ipswich and you take a turn onto High Street. High Street is a back road lined by beautiful protected historic buildings but it’s dreadfully quiet. Almost too quiet and if you go to many a town or city with an historic district, the impression is that the buildings are stuck in some type of time warp, frozen in place. You then come to the mistaken conclusion that if we had something like that in Newburyport, we could eventually see the city die.
It’s patently not true. Historic Districts are dynamic. Since the permitting process is well-defined and the limits established, renovations and restorations become the very life-blood of the district. Haverhill was dying and they put in an historic district on the west part of the city and their business district has sprung alive! Lawrence and Lowell can tell the same story. Portsmouth, NH is hot property and the real estate value is still going strong even in this economy. LHD’s are lively communities in many an historic city and are protected enough that financing can be confident in investing.
The second false concept is restrictive. The idea is that making changes to an historic home is like scaling a mighty wall using a hand claw. On the contrary, the interior is not protected and if changes need to be made as long as they don’t affect the exterior the person to talk to is the building inspector, period. External additions are not excluded as long as they are not visible from the streetscape. It doesn’t take even a half a block walk in Newburyport to see the multitude of additions in the back of historic homes. This will continue. Air conditioner units, dish antennas, etc. will be excluded from control. Remember, the intent of the LHD commission is to protect the architectural integrity not give blow-by-blow instructions. The commission will be manned by citizens who must live under the same rules and there will always be ways to mitigate for the benefit of the city and the homeowner.
The third false concept is the loss of property rights. Local historic districts do not control how you are going to use the building though normal zoning will have a say! Local historic districts have no control over the interior of the building. Local historic districts do not control buying or selling or impose any easements (restrictions) on the deed. As long as the homeowner is in accordance with the building code, local ordinances and zoning and pays his taxes, he is free to improve his property, do what he wants and sell his property. And believe it or not, the Constitution of the United States and the Massachusetts General Laws are still in effect. (A little sarcasm)
The LHD is not the bugaboo assigned to it. It will be a tremendous asset to the City as our property values stabilize and may even go up. The rock solid protection will ensure that the historic neighborhood that you moved to and live in will stay the historic neighborhood and will not change into something undesirable years down the road.