What would happen if one day you woke up in your comfortable house, looked outside and found out that overnight, the area around your home had been designated a national park! No one told you; I mean you saw the pristine forests and the lovely meadows and felt the fresh air and said, “Man, what a great place to put my house!”
Now, you’ve got to get permission whenever you have to build something, and your neighbors (who knew they were living in a national park) start fussing every time you even disturb how things look outside!
I’d say you’d be pretty upset. “Nobody told me,” you would cry. “The real estate agent never gave me a hint!” you would howl. “I didn’t buy into this!”
So, now you can begin to understand a little of the mindset of the anti-LHD crowd; many grew up when Newburyport was a grungy little factory town; and others were upset who fancy the city as a great near-the-beach location – much more focused on our commercial and recreational features than how the neighborhoods look.
So, how did this situation occur when Newburyport is all about historic* and historical** houses and historic landscapes and historic neighborhoods!?!
No, I’m not talking about George Orwell’s 1984 though to some it might feel that way. When, under Mayor Sullivan, an effort was made to establish a National Register historic district that would cover from Atkinson Common all the way to the Newbury Border, from Joppa all the way to the bottom of Ashland Street. The purpose was to be a fore-runner for local historic district’s to be established in certain sections of the most vulnerable areas. This is how Haverhill, Lawrence, Portsmouth and other depressed communities were able to resurrect their beleaguered downtowns and neighborhoods.
And with much support from City Hall, the entire area was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. This did not provide protection but it laid the foundation if protections such as local historic districts or preservation restrictions were needed.
In a happy, celebratory letter, the Department of Interior’s division declared the recognition. But they went one step further, they recommended that signage be posted at the border’s so that everyone would know they had the opportunity to take advantage of all the benefits that such a designation would offer.
And the city failed to do it.
Well, sure enough, the historic restoration of the downtown began to have its affect and Newburyport has risen from obscurity to becoming a regional leader, an envy for all those around. So much so that our community has been flooded with newcomers attracted by our high quality of life.
We are now in which well beyond half of the population have been recent arrivals since those fateful years so long ago.
And there hasn’t been a whisper of the Newburyport Historic District. It wasn’t brought up in the halls of City Hall, it wasn’t discussed from the Planning Board to the ZBA and most real estate agents knew nothing about the it. In fact, even in recent years, members of the Planning Board, the ZBA and the Planning Office still misunderstand, either through ignorance or willful stubbornness the whole idea. In fact, the Historical Commission, consisting of volunteers from our community, have consistently refused to understand the concept and the guidelines of the Newburyport Historic District. This even during the LHD debates!
It could have all been nipped in the bud back in the eighties if we had just posted signage. It would be a reminder, always in the back of the mind, to our businesses, to our real estate agents, to our residents and yes, to City Hall; that the National Register existed.
No wonder the shock when the local historic district was thrust upon the community, largely unaware of the register district’s existence!
Fortunately, beginning ever so slowly, this issue will be resolved this spring as signage will be placed at the borders of the Newburyport Historic District.
It’s just the beginning – we’ve got a long way before the city gets up to speed. The question is, “Will the average citizen absorb and begin to understand it?” Let the discussions begin.
* Of significant historic importance.
** Over 50-75 years old and part of a National Register district.