There has been such an onslaught against the Newburyport Historic District; that it may seem to many of us trying to save our neighborhoods to be tempted to cry out as Elijah did in the Old Testament, ” [we] alone am left; and they seek [our] life, to take it away.” God answered him by letting him know that thousands still stood for righteousness. Well, when it comes to Newburyport, there are hundreds of people, perhaps thousands who completely understand what this place is all about. They understand that historic preservation is vital for the future of our city. They may not know when to show up at meetings or what to say or how to stop the destruction of our historic neighborhoods; but they understand and given the challenge will stand to protect our city. They know if the continuing trend is not stopped, their [quality of] life will be coming to an end.
In other words, there are a lot of good people in Newburyport who want to see our city rise up for everyone’s benefit. (not to fill their own bag with money and go live somewhere else)
One of the unexpected hero’s is Nick Cracknell. Formerly a Planning Director under Mayor Lavender; he was basically sacked by the dark sider, and anti-city planning, Mayor Moak. But he was here long enough to catch the bug that most get when they encounter Newburyport for the first time; he fell in love with this community. Though now the Planning Director for Portsmouth (I can tell) he has been assisting as a consultant with good (yes, they exist!) developers who want to leave a good impression in the neighborhoods where they will build or renovate. The beautiful work done at 386 High Street is a tribute to his influence. He is also doing a masterpiece that will enhance (yes, it’s true) the property values and benefits to a neighborhood at 8 Oakland Street. He is also working on doing the same magic at 9 School Street.
Instead of leaving a horror show that we all too often have seen in shapeless hulks stripped of their history and architectural features with little conformity to the surrounding neighbors’ structures (such as on Bromfield, Hitchcock, Pine and Kent Streets); the entire goal of his efforts is to actually leave each neighborhood better than before the work was done.
He seeks out a house with an adjacent empty lot. Seeks for the original building to obtain a preservation restriction granted by Mass Historic for perpetuity administered by the Newburyport Historical Commission. He then seeks to build an adjacent structure that conforms in mass and dimension with the surrounding buildings. He tops it off by putting in the Newburyport distinctive brick sidewalks and adds historical details to the new and old building and adjusting the structures to conform to zoning.
The result is a big change in comparison to house flippers who come, strip the houses of sustainable material, discard the history and the mystery of the ages; and fills the structure with cheap crap that will have to be thrown in the dumpster in 20 to 30 years. (or less) and, with final insult – sells the renovation at an outrageous price.
Mr. Cracknell has shown us the way! We can attract developers who care about more than quick profit. They wish to leave a project that will have greater benefit for not just them but for adjoining abutters and yes, even for an entire city block of our historic neighborhoods.
We need more of this type to be encouraged to work in Newburyport rather than slimy, exploiters led in with demo-lawyers.
I look forward to finding more people like Nick who care about what they leave behind as their legacy. If you read this post, let us know of conscientious architects, craftsmen and developers who come and after they are done, leave a good taste in your mouth!
We need to locate and encourage these craftsmen and developers!
PS. Shock the ZBA on May 26th, by showing up in strong support of the 9 School Street project. It is being done by a quality developer, Mark DePiero. Reinforce it by coming down to the Planning Office and peaking at the plans, then write a letter in support. They may have a heart-attack when they see historic preservationists supporting a project instead of attacking it. (Like the 77 Lime Street disgrace coming out that same night!)