In the English language, there is a big difference between a tragedy and an atrocity. A tragedy is some misfortune that occurs from natural disasters, or an accident that was at no one’s fault. Things like Snowmageddon, nor’easter, earthquakes, tsunami’s, etc. An atrocity occurs because of terrible events and more often than not deliberate actions by individuals, organizations or governments.
A longstanding atrocity that is occurring in Newburyport happens to do with the deliberate ignoring of the National Register Newburyport Historic District and the deliberate misinterpretation of the Massachusetts Building Code. The short term reason for it is to make some money for the city; the long term result is the eventual loss of the Newburyport that we all know and love.
Part of the Building Code specifically deals with existing structures, this is 780 CMR 34.00: Building Code for Existing Structures. Within that heading is an area that Newburyport as a city should be most concerned with observing: 3409.0, Building Code for Historic Buildings. As I have indicated in a previous post, an historic building can not be brought to code. It is inherently impossible. And to make matters worse, the much vaunted Stretch Code makes it impossible for any historic building ever to obtain an occupancy permit. Eventually, plans are in the works to make the Massachusetts Building Code morph into the extremely stringent requirements of the Stretch Code.
For the misinformed, and at first look; it would seem that antique buildings are doomed in Massachusetts, a state that has a very high disproportionate percentage of 50 year old homes and older than many other states. Which is why 3409.0 is vitally important. And I might add, the Stretch Code clearly states that historic homes are exempted.
It is not small businesses that has made Newburyport affluent, it has not been our eco-tourism or our marinas that has made us prosperous. (these areas of economy came later) It hasn’t been our ‘trinket’ shops that have brought the big bucks to our city; nor have the new demographic of citizen come because of a bunch of funky art galleries. Everything about Newburyport has to do with our history and our historic architecture. The historic preservation of what was left of our downtown has spread to the dilapidated Newburyport Historic District and as it has been restored has put our city on the cusp of affluence.
So it stands to reason that if the city wants to continue being a prosperous community, it needs to do everything it can to protect the architectural assets of the Newburyport Historic District. That is why our downtown has been rezoned to protect the initial spark that led to us ceasing to be a Lawrence to being the very symbol of a high quality of life. That is why the majority of the citizens advocated for a local historic district, which is why candidates who favored historic preservation swept into the majority on our city council* in the last election and why recent actions by the city council, the Mayor, and the Planning Board resulted in the passing of two important zoning districts and a push for a comprehensive zoning to protect the buildings.
And yet, with all that momentum; we still have historic structures being demolished. We still have the gentrification of the city occurring as smaller buildings are being swept aside or ‘bloated’ to jack our tax levels ever higher, and we still have our historic buildings gutted to the studs in an attempt to achieve the impossible.
As I indicated in the last post:
“As you can see, the City of Newburyport’s past history since 1984 of ignoring the National Register has bordered on criminal negligence, and has caused developers and tax-paying citizens un-necessary expense in a vain attempt to comply to ‘code’ when it pertains to an historical, contributing structure. The end result has also severely damaged our heritage tourism by forcing renovations that ‘gut’ to the studs historical buildings in an effort to attain the unattainable*. It has also contributed to the conclusion by a growing number of developers of demolishing the historical property so current code can actually be attained.”
The reason for this has centered around the Building Department. Unless something is done to remedy the policies being practiced; we can see increasingly an unrecognizable community in less than a decade.
Therefore, we need to focus on the Building Department policy on the treatment of historic buildings. Next post on this issue is a closer examination of 3409.0.
* Let me give you a little political tip: for those who wish to topple Mayor Holaday in the next election (Still a long way off, I might add), it will not be on the open waterfront issue, you had better jump on the historic preservation bandwagon or be doomed to failure. Period. And I assure you, she sleeps well at night knowing who opposes her!