I was shocked when I saw anti-historic preservation people still using the same flyer as they used a few months ago. The intent of this very cleverly-worded document is to give a ‘sense of loss’ that somehow if we enact the local historic district ordinance, we will ‘lose’ Newburyport as it is today. The sad thing, if this ordinance is not passed, we will actually end up losing the Newburyport we now so love. It also cleverly intonated that Newburyport has always been a lovely place. This statement is to appeal to the many newcomers who have never known a Newburyport that was steeped in poverty. (unless they visit the Library archives or the Historical Society’s pictorial records or buy the Port in Progress book at the Daily News.) Not only does this document contain over fifteen lies, it’s whole vicious intent is to deceive. It also hints that the LHD guidelines and rules are set in stone. The study committee isn’t even done with it – we still have the city councilors who will want to tweak it!
You may be against the LHD in principle but don’t use lies and deception as your chosen tools of advocacy!
Here is the horrid document:
We are writing to you because your home may become part of the proposed Local Historic District (LHD). The way it is presently constituted, you will not be able to vote on this, as this is planned to be voted on by our City Council. We think it is important that you be aware of the ramifications should such a district be established. This will change the fabric of Newburyport forever! (First Lie, Fifteenth Lie – the exact opposite is true. The LHD is designed to keep the fabric of Newburyport forever.)
We all love Newburyport and its historic charm. Over the last 30 years our city has seen a tremendous revitalization with the creation of high quality renovations and new construction reproduction period homes. All of us live here because we love the character and take pride in our homes. (Second Lie – People from the Merrimack Valley and Greater Boston made a point of avoiding Newburyport back in the sixties. Afterward, people came here because historic preservation restrictions had made the Downtown highly desirable and which made many come and move here and add value to their homes.)
The LHD will be comprised of 7 members and 3 alternates serving staggered terms. Of this number, it is required that only 2 members be residents within the district. (Not Now) The LHD’s power will be to regulate the construction, repairs (Third Lie – The truth is if you are repairing what is already there, you will not need to go to the LHD though you may still need a building permit)and alteration of structures within the district. The LHD will have the power to change the rules, regulations, requirements, fees, hearing procedures and “other matters”, including guidelines for certain exterior architectural features as they see fit, (Fourth Lie-the commission must receive 2/3rds approval and go through an elaborate (public hearings) process to make changes.) changing the rules with a vote of the City Council.
Committee members of the LHD claim you will not fall under their jurisdiction unless you require a building permit. (Fifth Lie – as already indicated, a building permit does not automatically trigger review unless the building inspector sees that it is a change not just a repair) The following is the requirement of the City of Newburyport Building Department pertaining to permits:
“THE MUNICIPAL BUILDING CODE prohibits the erection, conversion, repair, alteration, or enlargement of any building or structure-or the installation, alteration or enlargement of any of the mechanical service equipment (electrical, plumbing, heating, gas systems) without first obtaining the necessary and required permits”
If adopted, no construction, alteration, moving, demolition or removal of a building, structure or exterior architectural feature will be permitted without a Certificate of Approval from the LHD Commission. Before doing any work to your home you must receive a Certificate of Appropriateness. If your application involves exterior architectural features, and the commission does not approve, a public hearing must be held. (True! – which is why it is nice they are offering informal meetings to see if it even needs to be seen by the LHD, or to give recommendations.) At the home owners’ expense, you will be required to notify by mail all owners of all adjoining properties of your property as well as those deemed “materially affected” and “entitled to notice” by the LHD. (Sixth Lie – This lie is based on the assumption that the city will pay the expense for all applications appearing before the Planning Board, ZBA, etc..)(You want to do a project and you want the city to pay the expense to have it permitted!?!)
If your proposal is denied, at your expense, (Sixth Lie) you can redesign your plan to meet the needs of the LHD.
The LHD will have the authority to hire a consultant at your expense. (Seventh Lie – they will not arbitrarily hire a consultant.) If you and the Commission cannot agree, you will have 20 days to file notice with the City Clerk, and then accept the final decision from the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission. If you wish to appeal, your appeal will be heard at the Essex Superior Court, at your expense. (Sixth Lie)
The LHD may determine you are in violation. Violation can be determined as a result of a “written complaint of any resident, or owner of property, or upon its own initiative”, and the Commission will institute appropriate action or proceedings. Violations are punishable by fines determined by the Commission up to $500.00 per violation per day. (M.G.L. 40C, Section 13) (Eighth Lie – rarely do fees get issued – but it will be the city council that will determine what the official fine amounts will be just like all the other boards and commissions. Fines are added for the worst case scenario – someone who is an applicant who simply does not care. The purpose here is to feed on the ignorance of the average citizen on how local government functions.)
The people on this board will be appointed by the Mayor and not all have to live in Newburyport.(Ninth Lie – this was a lie against state law!)
The Local Historic District Ordinance outlines the Map of District which is available on line, and includes homes from the Atkinson Common to Marlboro Street. They have now agreed to a phased in approach(Tenth Lie-‘they’ would be true if ‘they’ were the citizens of Newburyport), because they (Eleventh Lie – ‘they’ would be true if they listened to me but the LHDSC will cease to exist once this NLHD is passed and will have no say afterward because they won’t even exist.)would like to eventually include all 2,800 homes which were in their original plan.
There will be added costs due to time delays, architectural fees, historic research, consulting fees, restoration vs. new materials expense, and legal fees, at your expense. (Twelfth Lie-this is assuming extra costs were due to an LHD requirement. Just living in an historic district is automatically more expensive than living in mass-production suburbia – the price to pay for a high quality of life and an awesome and unique historic neighborhood.) Designs must be approved and materials will be specified for all exterior work. Restoration of old windows and doors must be performed by restoration specialists.(?) Slate roofs must be replaced with slate roofs. (Not Now) Homeowners will not be permitted to stucco over or remove chimneys no longer in use. Sealants, waterproofing, and water repellants are forbidden on chimneys and any designs on them must be retained. Skylights will not be permitted on the first floor. The proposal presently includes but is not limited to “helping“you choose shutters and hardware, and all fences.
Remember, the LHD Commission has the right to change the rules as it sees fit. (Fourth Lie)What is not under their jurisdiction today could very well be under their jurisdiction tomorrow, (section 6:6.2) subject to the City Council vote. (True! If the Mayor chooses a new Local Historic District Study Committee to add to the district – great! This is a good thing to preserve Newburyport!)
Newburyport residents have proudly maintained and restored their homes for 3 centuries without this type of oversight. (Thirteenth Lie – have you seen the old pictures!?! Often they were too broke to fix their buildings.) Yet, the LHD Committee, funded by $20,000 of your taxpayer money, has been quietly meeting (Fourteenth Lie- these were publicly-posted, public meetings from the start. Many a ruling has come from the Planning Board and other volunteer committees complete with public hearings and then the cry has gone out, “We were never told” It is the responsibility of citizens to be informed on what is going on in local government!) over the last 4 years, crafting rules and regulations which will impose significant controls over your private property, drastically impacting your rights as a homeowner. This will change the fabric of Newburyport forever. (Fifteenth Lie-On the contrary, it will preserve the fabric – that is what an LHD is designed to do!!!)