A mailer has been sent out by the city concerning the public hearing on Wednesday. To the average citizen who knows nothing about the Newburyport Historic District, it probably came as a surprise to see a diagram outlining a huge outline that would be covered by a proposed demolition protection area.
If relying on the Daily News and the Alice in Wonderland-typical editorials found on the opinion page; all would hear would be LHD this and LHD that and hear of the downtown and High Street.
And of course endless statements about the Waterfront topic, imagined and real.
So if you want to understand this concept of a National Register, one needs to understand that at one time, the Federal government actually had a book that listed protected properties. At that time, to be listed meant you were “in” the Register. After it became consisting of tens of thousands of listed properties, the “book” idea was abandoned and now, to be included, you are now “on” the National Register.
First thing to understand is that it means that some site has National historic precedence. It is actually quite an elaborate process to get on the Register if you are an individual building or landscape. It is not easy to do so and requires quite a bit of documentation and historical research. But once it’s done, there are many benefits which can branch out forthwith. If you are a contractor, developer or landlord, you can acquire tax credits to help pay for renovations to the historic building or buildings. It also paves the way for state tax credits for the same reasons. If you wish to put an historic preservation restriction on the property, the first condition is to be on the Register. Then to aide in the restriction, the IRS may provide tax credits which can be amortized over several years. If design review protection such as a local historic district ordinance is to be adopted by a community, the area covered must be on the Register. If the city or an individual building wishes to pursue Landmark Status, being on the National Register is also the first requirement.
The original intent by which the city took the time and effort to get National Register status for the Newburyport Historic District was to pave the way for varying degrees of protection whether commercial, private homeowner or for opening for Federal and state assistance in the future.
Now back to the printout:
Every property that is in that district is not necessarily historical but its outcome whether renovation or demolition will affect the general well-being of the district. As it stands now, any building built before 1930 is considered historical and “contributes” toward the District. Buildings that are “intrusive” are structures that are built more recently and thus are not subject to contributing to the district. The only concern is that if demolished, the new structure will not detract from the general streetscape of the neighborhood in sizing and proportion and location; its architecture does not have to be of a past epoch. In fact, according to the Department of the Interior, it should reflect the age in which it was built in, which would, in reflection, mean 21st century architecture. Phony pseudo-historic replicas are actually frowned upon in a National Register district.
The fundamental understanding is that a National Register is a baseline. It is not protection but it lays the foundation for protection. In the case of Newburyport, the community and individuals decide on a local level how much preservation is to be applied. If we do not value our history, then we will lose it – National Register or no National Register. If we care to preserve that history as a community, then we will have the foundation from which to build upon.
In other words, it is up to the citizens if they wish to continue intact the Newburyport Historic District.
Ask yourself the question, “Is it worth fighting for!?!”