How I Feel About a Local Historic District

This is a barn door.
Photo by snapdragon.

I don’t know about you, but the comfort and feel of my apartment as a structure itself was the last item on my checklist of places to live. Rather, near the top of the list were desires to live with available parking spaces, walking distance to downtown, friendly neighborhood residents, etc.

Maybe your checklist is similar.

If you moved into your home as a young couple with a toddler, you may have wanted to first confirm the school district was well-run and produced high-grading students, or maybe you wanted to live so many miles from a fire department, or maybe you wanted to double-check there was no flashing street light within so many feet of where you wanted your bedroom.

Fact is, as scores of residents have confirmed to me, you likely moved into your home — after first going down earlier items on your list — with the home itself being the last consideration. If the school system was poor, you looked somewhere else. If the fire station was too far, you looked for a closer neighborhood. If the fire hydrant looked rusty, you chose a newer-looking one. Agreed?

Is it therefore surprising to you that after the Local Historic District Study Committee mailed 2,245 surveys in the summer of 2008 to property owners throughout the city’s national register historic district, 896 people responded (which at 37% is an awesome response rate if you’ve performed mass mailings like I have, accustomed to averages of 7-15%) — and 72% of those respondents believed they lived in historically-significant homes and supported preservation initiatives?

When specifically asked if they’d agree to the creation of a local historic district commission to review plans for new additions on their property or their neighbors’ properties with the intent to retain the historic character of the neighborhood, 48% responded yes, 35% responded on the fence, and 17% responded no.

Using this methodology (and you can view the complete survey and responses here) and further based on questions, answers, and feedback I heard at a recent hearing of the study committee, I support establishing a local historic district to comprise some 800 homes and businesses downtown and along portions of High Street.

I respect homeowners who don’t want an additional layer of government bureaucracy — for nor do I. But creation of a LHD would not create additional government layers; rather, instead of the historic commission being asked to approve today, properties in the proposed district would fall under a special district historic commission.

Paint your house without approval.

Repair your driveway without approval.

Renovate your floors or basement without approval.

But if you want to build, add, or remove the view of anything structurally-seen from the street and your property is at least 75 years old, when you request the building permit, the district commission would be asked to step in — only when the building permit is pulled.

If you moved into your home because the neighborhood ranked higher up that list, then why wouldn’t you want your neighbor to maintain his or her historically-significant home to preserve that neighborhood? Are our feelings all that different?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. Lyndi Lanphear says

    Dear Ari:
    Your link for viewing the complete survey and responses does not work. I have a copy of the survey, but the only responses I found were the group’s interpretation of the already slanted survey. Also, I suspect, many people answered the question, would you be interested in a historic district, not knowing what it entailed. I know I did not know anything about the group when I filled mine out, and was only trying to be open minded and interested in learning more. It was NEVER an approval. Also, the list you gave about what you can do in a historic district does not even mention that “nothing is written in stone” and as was mentioned several times by Sarah White herself. Please rethink your position. Also, do you know who paid for this survey, and could I please get a copy of the actual responses? Thanks, Lyndi Lanphear

    • Ari Herzog says

      I do not have a copy of the original responses; but you can contact the study committee directly for that. Their email address is lhdsc@cityofnewburyport.com.

      Granted the 2008 survey was not intended to be an approval for anything, but the responses served as a backdrop for the past three years of study committee meetings and agendas. I’m curious if you attended any of those meetings to share your objections then.

      And, the links work fine for me.

      • Lyndi Lanphear says

        I already asked Sarah White at the last meeting for this information and she told me it was on their web site and/or I could get the information at the city hall. I could not find it at either place. I did not attend the meetings because I was never informed or invited to these meetings. The last two meetings were only advertised at the city hall, and believe it or not, very few people check the city hall on a regular basis. I did receive an “invitation” in the mail for the past two meetings. I never received anything before that. I feel this was done in secret, and so do many other people. Meeting at the Police Station was a smart ploy, because legally they can say the meetings were open because the station is open 24/7. Why isn’t this issue being put on a ballot if they are so sure everyone wants it? the link still does not work for me, could you send it to my e-mail Llanphear@comcast.net? Please.

  2. Lyndi Lanphear says

    Thanks for keeping everyone in Newburyport up to date with what is going on at City Hall. I may not always agree with you, but I respect your attempts to be fair and open.

  3. Clare Keller says

    I just returned to your comment, Ari, to see if the link brought me to the survey. It did with no problem, except that I found I needed to use my mouse wheel to scroll down page by page, rather than putting the cursor on the down arrow at the right side. Thanks for this information. We did not receive a survey, probably because we rent rather than own our house. In the eyes of some Historic District Supporters, this makes our opinions unimportant, but we support the LHD because we choose to live in this beautiful historic city and so we pay for it. Thanks for your good work for us on the Council. Clare

  4. Ernie Pigeon says

    Ari,
    Thank you for getting back to me following my e-mail in opposition to the LHD. I feel comfortable looking at history: we’ve done well without the LHD. And I’m uncomfortable with the uncertainty of Big Brother restricting us even more in future. I doubt we would be where we are today, with a beautiful city of wonderful homes, had we these restrictions 30 and 40 years ago. Those of us who own antique homes, and accept the burden that already carries, do so because we love them. Help us to carry forward without an additional burden, one that may be imposed and enforced largely by those who are not as directly involved, and please reconsider your opinion.
    Ernie

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  1. […] for a stance during the at-large councilor debates last fall, I wrote that I supported the LHD proposal — and I noted in subsequent interviews that a proposal is just that and has the ability to […]

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