Newburyport has had a long history of developers and self-centered homeowners who made promises of what they plan to build or renovate and then went on ahead and did what they wanted anyway. The City government on its part would claim it didn’t have enough resources to even notice what was happening, or if they did – it usually amounted to them doing nothing more than to execute a wrist slap.
This has all come about because of Newburyport’s rather 20th-century poverty-stricken history – the mindset is to drool over the shoes of anyone who would actually do ‘something’ in the city no matter how obnoxious or inappropriate – so what if they stepped on our necks and spit on our future – let’s all grovel together in gratitude!
In fact, in the building industry, Newburyport has long been known as Suckertown.** In fact, I have witnessed it myself sitting in on city boards and commissions. The applicants come in with sheer arrogance, spilling over with impatience, not even hiding the fact they are ‘playing the game’ and preparing themselves to do what they want anyway.
Our building inspector, of course, has had a history of playing along too. (unless those who he actually respects gets wind of an over-reaching abuse) You can see this on the Hancock & Pine Streets debacles. No finger lifted when the Hancock owner (who was determined to tear down the house) left the windows wide open to the winter elements; nor to Pine Street when the ‘exploratory’ became a total exhibition of a building skeleton.
Lawsuits have been a very powerful historic way to stop all this municipal powerlessness as I have documented in a previous post. Contrary to the anti-historic preservationists, it is not the natural tendency to do ‘what is right’ in our city. Most who come arrive from the rest of America and the general tendency to tear down or destroy the old for the ever-desirable ‘newest’ thing is the prevalent mindset. The recent applicant from Water Street reflected it recently. Get the option to take down all those small cramped historic buildings so new and larger accommodations can be built. Unfortunately, this mindset is the recipe for a disastrous future for Newburyport.
Consequently, if the city refuses to institute protections, then a lawsuit is often the only course of action.
The neighborhood around Pine Street tried to stop this Suckertown mindset and were told to get lost. Now, it will be their turn to shape our future and hopefully set more precedents for protection in Newburyport.
Yes, LHD’s help protect, Preservation Easements and Neighborhood Conservation Areas amongst other things can do the same but in the end, and sadly, in Newburyport’s history; the lawsuit has ended up the second* most effective tool for historic preservation!
-P. Preservationist www.ppreservationist.com
* poverty is the most effective tool for historic preservation. (too poor to tear down the building!)
** This is not hearsay, I was involved in the construction industry in the 90’s.