The anti-historic preservation group has tried to paint the effort to preserve old historic buildings as the playground for power-hungry fanatics. This hyperbole is great to engender alarmist hysteria but it has no place in Newburyport. As these antagonists decry that we don’t trust them, they in turn don’t trust their neighbors. It is the guy next door that will be manning the LHD commission just like other neighbors who staff our many volunteer committees and commissions in town. That’s why they call it a LOCAL historic district commission.
But when it comes to protecting from the unfounded zeal of a citizen’s board, we have the guidelines which are extremely minimal in the present draft document that will soon be presented to the city council.
But this is where the concept of historic preservation’s rubber hits the road.
If you own an old house in Newburyport, you should make it a priority to do “best practices” for your own benefit, for saving money and for maximizing the overall benefit for the entire community. These best practices are expressed in the The Secretary of the Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. They are just ten principles to uphold but by doing so, you can enhance the value of your old home, keep it well within the limits of the LHD (So you don’t even have to appear before the commission or fuss with them except to acknowledge you’re doing something major.), and best of all, to foster predictability so the architect, the building inspector, the financier, the contractor, the craftsmen and workmen know exactly what needs to get done. Talk about saving bucks and time! And to translate those standards, the Secretary of the Interior has preservation briefs to give further guidance. (Don’t you love the convenience of the Internet!)
The Local Historic District Study Committee has added a minimum of these principles as set guidelines but they also included for anyone who wants to do things right some suggested guidelines. If you want to do your house right, then it is best to focus on these ‘best practices’. As for the future LHD commission, they will be restricted to only the set guidelines and only to the set guidelines.
The commission will have these to foster predictability (a killjoy for expensive consultants and lawyers) and it will also encourage fairness. They will also have the extra duty of encouraging ‘best practices’ but only in an advisory basis much as the Newburyport Historical Commission has done for years and will still function for those areas outside of the local historic districts.
Local residents, doing oversight much as other residents have volunteered to do so in all our other committees and commissions: without pay and with no compensation for their time doing the dedicated work to make our local community a better place.