The Slippery Slope of Sliding Scales

sliding board  Now anyone who knows anything about the National Register of Historic Places will notice immediately that I did not previously mention when the Newburyport Historic District was actually added to the list.

That momentous date was 1984.

Based on that date, anything before 1934 would be considered ‘contributing’ and anything afterward would be considered intrusive.

Now, if the City of Newburyport had gone ahead and posted the local historic district for a large area of the National Register district; according to the set rules established by the Local Historic District Study Group; the date of 1984 would have been set in stone.      No new homes would have been added as the clock of time progressed.      And this would have been fine.     Our Heritage Tourism is largely dependent on celebrating the architecture of the 18th and 19th century and early 20th century.       Homes before 1934 would have been protected and anything afterward would not be.       It would be that simple.

Sliding board - a long oneBut the city did not adopt the LHD except for a small city block; which means that the Newburyport Historic District is still under the rules of the National Register.      As time progresses, more homes are then added to the contributing category – and they are added automatically.      There is no need for the state or the federal government to ‘certify’ them or officially ‘recognize’ them.

This is clearly indicated in the District Data Sheet attached to the official survey document in 1984.     It states, “Finally, those structures built after 1930 have been designated as intrusions [INT]; included in this last category are a number of buildings which may be re-considered as contributing structures once they achieve the age of fifty years.”

According to the DCOD, XXVIII-D, 4, b,

a building or structure located within the DCOD shall be added automatically to the list of historic buildings or structures subject to this section upon such property’s being added to the National Register in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, either individually or as “Contributory” to an historic district.”

Therefore, there are many more homes that may seem ‘fair game’ for demolition but are now automatically added to the National Register listing – this would mean that properties that were built from 1930 to 1965 are now “contributing” and should be under the jurisdiction of historical homes.

What is also clear, the City of Newburyport through the Planning Office, has the obligation to notify any property that has been newly designated as “contributing”.

According to the DCOD, XXVIII-D, 4, c,

Notice of change in historic status: No later than seven (7) calendar days after the office of planning and development or the historical commission receives written notice of the removal or addition of any building or structure from the list of historic buildings or structures subject to this section, the office of planning and development shall provide written notice of such change to all of the following: (i) the owner of the relevant building or structure; (ii) the historical commission, (iii) the building commissioner, (iv) the zoning board of appeal, and (v) the planning board. The office of planning and development shall keep on file a copy of the relevant documentation, which shall remain available for public inspection.”

sliding board - a mega oneNot doing so could make a hearing on the fate of that property subject to an appeal.

In other words, unlike individual building listings which involve a separate documentation process through the local state historic commission (Mass Historic); if a property is inside an historic district, a building becomes “contributing” as soon as it reaches the fifty year old mark.        When that happens, the city according to the DCOD need to notify that a change has been made to satisfy the zoning requirements.        This, of course, is rather awkward to be sending out notices when a great number of Newburyport citizens don’t even know they own a “contributing” piece of property.

Hence the term, “A Slippery Slope”.

-P. Preservationist

PS. There are exceptions to the ‘automatic’ addition – if a structure has no redeeming architectural features to it (like a garage, or that hideous concrete addition presently attached to the future Ale House Restaurant), or the majority of the citizens vote that no more buildings should be added. (unlikely, unless someone has a bee in their bonnet to have that question added to the ballot.)


This entry was posted in Architecture, Education, Heritage Tourism, History, Open Space, Preservation, Preservation History, Zoning. Bookmark the permalink.

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