Having two applications placed before the Community Preservation Committee, one from the Newburyport Preservation Trust and another from the Parker River Clean Water Association; it is inappropriate for me to say anything negative or positive about my fellow applicants. (Believe me, I have my strong opinions!)
But in the process of doing the grant research, I have found a powerful truth about our city – the good times will soon be coming to an end.
The ‘end’ won’t come with a flood as some claim, or due to some national or regional economic or natural disaster – it will most likely occur with a whimper.
Silent, anxiety-ridden and demoralizing.
“In Newburyport, Massachusetts, the local government tried unsuccessfully to fund a preservation commission to monitor and protect the second largest single community of Federal style architecture in the United States. This community of 2,600 homes has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. Despite placement on the National Register and local efforts to protect the community, demolition, development and period inappropriate alterations and additions have effectively replaced one third of these historic properties.”
This demolition, development and period inappropriate alterations and additions have been occurring ever since the National Register district was certified by the United States Department of the Interior. Every year; contractors, developers and ignorant homeowners have been gutting, stripping and in some cases demolishing our historical buildings totally oblivious that this slow, steady, incremental destruction will eventually come to a tipping point. Other communities have made the same mistake and have seen their property values plunge as their historical homes have lost their neighborhood streetscapes. Even those who have taken on the expensive task of a preservation easement can ‘lose’ that protection when their neighborhoods become degraded.
In my next post, I will show you some of the destructive new construction that is damaging our Newburyport Historic District. Sometimes having the right to do something does not mean it is right to do. As we receive an ever greater influx of New Gentrification residents; more and more of our historic buildings will be lost.
But there is a greater threat.
The Stretch Code will soon be morphed into the Massachusetts Building Codes. The State has long had this plan in place as part of the Green Communities Act. No historic building can be approved for residency using the present regulations and definitely not in the future codes. Thankfully, our historic buildings are exempt and will continue to be exempt from these suffocating rules.
But it is our standard policy in Newburyport not to inform homeowners and the construction industry of these exemptions.
Therefore, our city government has flatly refused to protect the Newburyport Historic District by invoking and promoting these exemptions. They willingly ignore them so they can get the ‘money’ from the building industry in permits and fees.
But eventually, it will all come back to bite the city in the ass! And the biggest loser will be the taxpayers who will have to compensate as equity and property values begin to plunge.
This isn’t an unsubstantiated assertion. We take it for granted that our property values are stable but it’s only because of the great value of our Newburyport Historic District. Surrounding communities even as close as Amesbury and Newbury have seen their real estate plunge in value. And their citizens see it in their ever rising tax bill.
It is not a coincidence that Newburyport has the lowest tax rates in the region and this with a tax and spend city council and mayor!
All I can say is, if the city doesn’t turn around at the polls in November and the citizens don’t mobilize as a community to protect our historic assets,
“Enjoy it while it lasts!”