The nice thing about these cram sessions conducted by the ZBA; you get time to read, take notes and contemplate the struggle that is going on about you. I was not surprised at the attitude of the members of the Zoning Board of Appeals. It is odd to see so many volunteer bureaucrats assembled in one place. Odd that they’re being asses without getting any financial compensation and odd that they feel they must play ‘theatre’ before those who come out to attend. You can sense that agreements have already been made, hidden deals have been struck and an ‘old boy’ network sustained. To see it is to recall the old SNL Bad Conceptual Theatre. Of course, that was at least written by monkeys.
The ZBA has for years denied their job is to protect the quality of life in Newburyport, denied for years their role has ever been to make decisions that actually benefit the city or the citizens. It’s all about following the ‘rules’ set down by some mad geometry teacher back in the 20th century. Even though the Demolition-Control Overlay District has finally taken effect, I am suspecting that nothing short of legal appeals and political havoc will make them change their ways. A whole swath of citizens from High Street to Tremont last night got to see this in action in all its disgusting glory. The highly skilled Demo Lisa found a crack* in the overlay and it was the old ZBA returning to terrify our community all over again.
This didn’t surprise me.
What surprised me was how seriously the Zoning Board of Appeals has treated the new overlays. Even they can sense a sea change coming, and have settled in rather well with the new procedure. I can see some of the members uncomfortable under the new rules and it was especially delightful to see Jamie Pennington squirming, he who hates historic preservation so thoroughly.
And no, I have not put on rose-colored glasses and see a new dawning of protection for our much beleaguered historic properties. We still have a hostile Building Inspector, a Mayor who allows his conduct to continue, a ZBA that doesn’t want to leave the old ways behind and we have a host of demo-lawyers and misguided developers who are going to try to find new cracks in the overlays and clever more ways to get around them. As the Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” and many a pocketbook out there is looking lean and ravenous.
Historic preservationists need to be alert. Unfortunately, laws are designed to be observed by the law abiding. If you are lawless, you can find a whole host of ways to subvert and get your way. In a new post (not necessarily the next one), I will outline some of the danger points in the DCOD that concerned citizens need to spot and compensate successfully if possible.
C.S. Lewis had great difficulty as a writer putting himself into the mindset of a devil in Screwtape Letters:
“it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke …was all dust, grit, thirst, and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it.”
This future post will be difficult for I must think through the eyes of a ‘devil’, but will be necessary this one time so we are prepared as the city works through the DCOD.