Property Rights & Historic Preservation–The Truth

The entire argument on the anti-historic preservation side is based on a fallacious concept of property rights. What you saw today in the Daily News is just rhetoric to justify their pre-disposed stands.     This is why I call opponents one-dimensional and their tactic a simple, “Repeat the lie over and over again until the average citizen accepts it as fact.”    

Fortunately Newburyport is not Yahoo Town and is not filled with simple-minded hicks.   We may have a lot of fixed income residents and yes, the ‘poorer’ elements in town (and that include me) but this doesn’t mean we’re stupid.   We have a great number of educated citizens who know a lot and more importantly, think.    And yes, boy was I impressed with today’s editorial submission.     And yes, the follow up comments online were even intellectually stimulating!

The fact is that instead of ‘getting their way’, they have resulted in many who typically do not get involved in ‘politics’, becoming re-awakened, concerned for their community and eager to express their views.

And the result is a clearer understanding of private property rights and the joint need for citizens to come together to benefit our local community.

That is why the real message is:

Protect Your House Protect Newburyport

But I know that the persistence of these ugly red signs will demand that we put to rest this false concept that a local historic district takes away your property rights.

There are over 1,700 of these local historic districts nationally and more than 200 in Massachusetts alone.      The local, local historic district ordinance has been well vetted legally and is VERY CONSTITUTIONALLY SECURE.


Federal Level

The constitutionality of local historic preservation ordinances was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Penn Central Transportation Company v. New York City, which was decided in 1978. Some people feel it is illegal for a city or village to tell them what they can or cannot do with their property, other than to insure healthy and safe conditions. However, the Supreme Court decision upheld the concept that a city can enact land use controls that preserve the aesthetic features of a city, including the areas that have special historical, archaeological and architectural significance. The court ruled that such laws do not constitute a “taking” of a property as long as an owner may still get a reasonable return from his property and the restrictions are closely related to promoting the general welfare of the citizenry.

State Level 

Massachusetts facilitates the establishment of local preservation legislation by providing for strong “Home Rule” through which local communities can utilize their general municipal “authority” to designate groups of historic or archaeological properties, usually called “historic districts,as zoning overlays. This means that the legal use of the land does not change, but that an additional designation of historic “zone” is identified.    An entire section of Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 40C, now directs the establishment and administration of a local historic district in the Commonwealth.

Local Level

What the Supreme Court decision means to communities in Massachusetts is that the legal foundation for local historic preservation legislation is firmly upheld as long as there are well-thought-out criteria and standards, good hearing procedures, well-documented records and sound administrative oversight and as long as decisions are consistent and serve multiple public goals. Detailed minutes must be kept, historic sites and districts must be carefully researched and selected throughout the community, and design review decisions must be consistent and based upon sensible design guidelines which are readily understandable and available to the public.

Of course, the city councilors will be doing just that in the next couple of months as they examine and hold public hearings to make sure that when the ordinance is instituted, it fulfills the full and measured spirit of what it is intended to do, protect our community including the individual homes and our commercial district.

-P. Preservationist

This entry was posted in Downtown, Economics, Education, Local Historic Districts (LHD), News and politics, Preservation, Preservation History, Real Estate. Bookmark the permalink.

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