One of the things that has been key to my happiness is making the point of not reading the anonymous commenters on the online opinion page of the Daily News. But I received a couple of alarming e-mails urging me to see the harmful things they were saying about my recent editorial comment. Well, I read them and when it came to personal attacks, they were mild but after reading about 30 of them, I couldn’t help myself.
I burst out in laughter. These people don’t live in real America.
If a little old lady who has paid her mortgage in full, living on a set income in some nondescript community doesn’t pay her taxes, the local government has the right to seize her property. And this is in our country!
“How could this be?” you exclaim. It all has to do with our mutual agreement to be under a social contract. Long before there were such things as Communists, Socialists and Libertarians; there was the understanding that everyone has obligations to society. We see it in such mundane things as jury duty, draft registration and obligations based on safety and the expectation to obey the law. And it includes the obligation to pay taxes.
We see this locally in the application of the Massachusetts Building Codes. My wife has ‘plans’ for our bathroom (groan!) and she was explaining to me that we must have the toilet a certain distance from the sink. I said, “Say what?” but there it is. The codes require it. And the thought of having the building inspector snooping around in my private bathroom just gives me the willies. But he has the right to do it if we move forward to remodel. The same goes with zoning – start modifying your property in a major way and if the change will affect your neighbors – they will be notified. My neighbors have a say in what goes on on my property? That’s because we have an obligation to our local community that we pose minimal impositions on fellow citizens.
The same goes with a local historic district. As the preservation lawyer was citing in the CPA Forum, the Supreme Court has ruled twice that restrictions for aesthetics is not a violation of your property rights and that a community has a right to impose those restrictions for the benefit of the entire community. Heck, private condo associations and shopping malls do the same thing to maximize the overall desirability for property values and shoppers. Newburyport that relies on both property values and shoppers for its economic health definitely has that right for the benefit of all the citizens.
And just like the little old lady – there are protections, restrictions and safeguards so those that are less fortunate can have a safety net. And so too, the local historic district can never affect the interior of the house (Mr. Calderwood certainly can!), never tell you what you can do with your property (the city can through zoning) and there are plenty of measures and programs available that can be accessed in case of hardship.
The anti-historic preservation movement has a fictitious mantra to rally around and this has lead to pure fantasizing. In the real world, any sensible citizen who wants to see every Newburyporter benefited, (not just a small group of developers and homeowners); ought to support the local historic district ordinance.