Category Archives: Planning and Development

Planning and Development, Newburyport, MA, urban planning, the design, construction and organization of Newburyport’s urban spaces, architecture and activities.

An Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District that Would Make it Pedestrian Friendly Sooner Rather than Later

I am relieved.

One of my many concerns about Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth District (SGD) around the Traffic Circle is that the goal is to make the area pedestrian friendly, and it is one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous area for any pedestrian in the city. There is no safe way to get from State Street over to the Train Station or visa versa.  There were some vague  promises that the area would be addressed, but there was never anything ever from MassDOT saying, yup, this is exactly what we are planning to do to remedy the situation and this is when we are going to do it.

Area in the Proposed Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District

Area in the Proposed Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District

Along comes Newburyport City Councilor Jared Eigerman with a proposed amendment, to temporarily put on hold a small area of the 40R SGD, to encourage the state to come to the table and improve that area of Rt. 1 so that it is finally SAFE.  Yeah!! I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this from Councilor Eigerman, along with the co-sponsor of the amendment, City Councilor Bob Cronin.

There are a couple of maps in this post that outlines the parcels/area in question.

And there is absolutely no reason not to do this.

1) This would not affect anyone’s property rights, as I understand it, the old zoning in that smaller area would apply, until the state made sure it was safe to get to the Train Station from that small but crucial area, and then the 40R zoning would kick back in.

2) It would not affect affordable housing, the 40R still has a bundle of space to build in, until this particular issue is addressed, and then it would be safe to get from the Train Station to State Street, so that it would then actually make some sense to build more housing units on State Street, because it would then be pedestrian friendly.

3) It would not jeopardize the 40R Smart Growth District in any way.

4) And this concept came from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so why in the world would the state not want to step up to the plate sooner rather than later, to make this whole area, their concept, happen in the way that it was intended.

Area in the Proposed Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District

Area in the Proposed Amendment to the 40R Smart Growth District

I wrote all of my Newburyport City Councilors and Mayor Holaday expressing my enthusiasm for this proposal, and except for a few responses, it’s been “radio silence,” which concerns me.

Below is the amendment drafted by Councilor Eigerman that went before the City Council and is now in committee.

“4. Intersection of State and Parker Streets. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Zoning Ordinance, until such time as the City’s Director of Public Services certifies to the City Council that U.S Route 1 has been rebuilt, reconfigured, retrofitted, or otherwise improved to ensure safe pedestrian access across U.S. Route 1 within the SGD and south of Parker Street, development of a Project pursuant to this Section shall not permitted at any of the following parcels located near the intersection of State Street and Parker Street: Parcel 34-5 (165 State Street); Parcel 34-6 (3 Parker Street); Parcel 34-9-A (4 Parker Street); Parcel 34-11 (163-165 State Street); Parcel 34-12 (161 State Street); and Parcel 34-13 (151-155 State Street).”

The different parcels are marked on the maps.

Is it possible for historic preservation to have gray areas? Not to be absolutely black and white?

Is it possible for historic preservation to have gray areas?  Not to be absolutely black and white?

The subject here is windows.

I’ve lived in old houses, and quite frankly old windows, in the houses I’ve lived in, were hard to get up and down. But the joy of looking through old pane wavy glass windows is remarkable. I’ve seen friends who did a beautiful restoration and put in new windows, their delight when they showed me how easy they were to put up and down was palatable.

When I talk to historic preservationists, the impression I often get is that keeping old windows is the only way to go. I found this article on the web, a website for old houses, and it discusses the pros and cons of keeping old windows.  And remarkably it is nonjudgmental.  It is one of the best and most balanced articles that I’ve ever read.

Window with pansies, digital image © Mary Baker

Window with pansies, digital image © Mary Baker

Restore or Replace? The Options for Old Windows

Many old homes boast their original wood windows, and in some cases, the architectural detail is magnificent. Unfortunately, the older the windows are, the less likely they are energy-efficient. Upgrading the windows means either restoring them to their original condition or opting for replacement windows.

Window Replacement or Restoration?

Deciding between window replacement and window restoration can be a tough choice. Study the pros and cons of each option before you make a decision.

Replacement Windows

•    Replacement windows can be well-insulated, cutting down on energy costs and noise.
•    You can open the windows with minimal effort, and they stay open, unlike old windows with no springs or pulley systems.
•    You can replicate the architectural designs of old windows, although extensive designs might become a bit pricey.
•    Efficient, thorough weather stripping is a given on new replacement windows.
•    You can install replacement windows quickly, which leads to less disruption for those who live there.
•    Removing the existing windows can damage the surrounding wallboards, stucco, or plaster and can lead to expensive repairs.
•    Replacement windows with pulley systems, bubbled glass, and other historic details necessitate a custom order and can become very expensive.
•    If you are seeking a landmark or historic designation, reviews of the window replacement details can take quite a bit of time, and might hold up the work schedule.

Window Restoration

•    The original materials and design are preserved.
•    Most historic windows were built of durable wood taken from large trees, and in some cases, those woods are now extremely rare–some species have died out or are not plentiful enough for new construction.
•    Any damage to the surrounding area during a restoration is minimal, and usually only cosmetic.
•    Unique, beautiful original glass details can be left undisturbed.
•    If the windows are in good shape to begin with, restoration might be surprisingly affordable.
•    If the historic windows are single-pane, simply restoring them provides no significant energy savings.
•    Restoration can take a great deal of time.
•    Old windows are often painted with lead paint and require costly, specialized removal.

Doing it Right

Professional installation for replacement windows is a must to ensure the full value of energy-efficient upgrades. If you choose to restore the windows instead, restoration professionals can make certain your windows are as secure and energy-efficient as possible while maintaining all the unique features so important to a historic home.

Whether you choose to replace or restore the beautiful windows in your old home, hire a professional to get the job done right!

About the Author
Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

77 Lime Street

77 Lime Street, a before and after comparison

77 Lime Street from Prospect Street, a before and after comparison (the before photograph is from Google maps)

The rancor over the renovation on 77 Lime Street mystifies me.

This is the deliberation from the ZBA meeting in June of 2014:

Mr. Ciampitti commented on the thorough and detailed presentation. He agreed that it is rare to see a historic structure renovation with a reduction in massing and scale. The proposed alteration will exacerbate non-conformities and increases open space. This is hard to do! He was prepared to support.

Mr. LaBay agreed. He commented that there were no neighbors appearing in opposition. Both Mr. Harris and Ms. Niketic noted the sensitivity of the owner to historic structures.

Mr. Pennington agreed. The presentation was well articulated. His only concern coming in was intense massing, and that was not the case. It will be a successful project in the way in the addition is distinct and not to be confused with the original historic structure. He was prepared to support.

A year later, a member of the ZBA had this to say:

Mr. LaBay was pained to have to say that this was not what he thought we were approving a year ago.

And someone speaking at that meeting had was, “angered and saddened driving by this rehab.”

I think for this particular project it was one of expectations.  The historic preservationists in town expected the renovation to be done a certain way, it was not done the way that they had expected.  It was done differently. There has been a renovation of a house on High Street that was done exactly the same way, the expectations of historic preservationists were “low,” I think, and I’ve heard good to great things about the results.

And as a btw, one of the many things that historic preservationists are upset about is that the windows on the third floor are not the original size. I asked, and that is because, if a renovation exceeds a certain percentage, code kicks in, and modern code calls for larger windows, that is why larger windows are on the third floor. And the windows are painted black instead of white (which is the new “thing” for windows), and I think the black color makes them look larger, although (and I asked), except for the third floor, they are exacly the same size.

I’ve put a side by side comparison of the before and after comparisons of 77 Lime Street from Prospsect Street, and I am by no means horrified by the results.

77 LIme from Lime Street, compare before and after

77 LIme from Lime Street, compare before and after, before image is from Google Maps

Editor’s Note: And I’ve just included the before and after comparisons of 77 Lime Street from Lime Street. The before image is from Google Maps.

And I’ve known Gus Harrington and his wife Sue for over 30 years.  Among other things Gus works at Historic New England, previously known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA).  Gus is the owner of 77 Lime Street and I’ve talked to him a great deal on my daily walks. I live in the neighborhood and take a walk through Newburyport’s South End every day, and 77 Lime Street is on my “route.”  I have been constantly curious about this project and try and ask questions and have a dialogue about the process. And because I know and trust Gus, maybe I’ve been more open minded.  I think an ongoing dialogue and “listening” on any project is important for community harmony, something that I strive for and is often difficult and at times down right impossible to achieve.  But we are a community, and I would much rather have constructive dialogue and an effort to problem-solve than community animosity.

Historic Preservation was once Revolutionary, Elegant and Sexy

Yup, historic preservation was once revolutionary, elegant and sexy.

When The National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966 (see previous post) it was revolutionary.  Historic preservation became the means of reclaiming America from the onslaught of bulldozers, reclaiming its past. Fighting the demolition of Urban Renewal became a noble and heroic act.

“We do not use bombs to destroy irreplaceable structures related to the story of America’s civilization. We use the corrosion of neglect or the thrust of bulldozers… Connections between successive generations of Americans are broken by demolition. Sources of memory cease to exist.” – Albert Rains, who helped prompt the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

And then there was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who when she was first lady, restored the White House to its former glory and saved Washington’s Lafayette Square from being replaced by ugly government office buildings in the early 1960s.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

And in 1975 Mrs Onassis stepped up to the plate and helped save Grand Central Station, a  symbol of old Manhattan, a city that her grandfather had helped build.

At a press conference for Grand Central Terminal she said, “If we don’t care about our past we can’t have very much hope for our future. We’ve all heard that it’s too late, or that it has to happen, that it’s inevitable. But I don’t think that’s true. Because I think if there is a great effort, even if it’s the eleventh hour, then you can succeed and I know that’s what we’ll do.”

Grand Central Station, NYC

Grand Central Station, NYC

And writing to the mayor of  New York City she penned, “Dear Mayor Beame…is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud moments, until there is nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters…”

Grand Central Terminal was saved.

The wonderful article that can be read here, describes her efforts as “subtle, genuine and classy.”

And we in Newburyport look back at the people who saved our downtown Newburyport in 1968 as heroes.

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from "A Measure of Change"

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from “A Measure of Change”

For years I’ve heard historic preservationists referred to as the “hysterical committee,” or some variation thereof (and recently I asked a person who used this term if it only applied to people in Newburyport, and what they said is, “No, preservationists all over Massachusetts are called that.”)  Somewhere along the way, historic preservationist went from being precieved as heroic and revolutionary, to being thought of as fussy and a nuisance, and quite frankly today, they/we are often on the defense, often losing, instead of on the offense and being identified as revolutionary and heroic.

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from "A Measure of Change"

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from “A Measure of Change”

(The photos of restoring downtown Newburypor are from the video, “A Measure of Change“)

In re-evaluating where historic preservation is in the 50th year of the passing of the The National Historic Preservation Act,  somehow historic preservationists need to get their Mojo back. We need a present day Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, on the local and federal level.  It sometimes feels as if we are right back in 1975 when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wrote, “Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters…”

Truman Nelson, Newburyport, Historic Preservation, a Lost Story

On one of the Facebook Newburyport groups Dick Sullivan (former City Councilor and mayoral candidate) mentioned that Truman Nelson had played a big part in the restoration of Newburyport during Urban Renewal.

My response was that I did not have a clue who Truman Nelson was.  Another member of the group said that he was on the video about Newburyport, “A Measure of Change.”

Truman Nelson from "A Measure of Change"

Truman Nelson from “A Measure of Change”

This is Truman Nelson, the photo is from “A Measure of Change.” I’ve seen that video a ton of times and had never questioned who in the world he was.

And it’s hard to find out information on Truman Nelson.  Going to Salem Deeds Online, Mr. Nelson owned 2 homes in Newburyport on Olive Street, 23 Olive and 15-17 Olive, both bought back in 1966, before Urban Renewal.  Dick Sullivan remembers Mr. Nelson’s family at 23 Olive and Tom Kolterjahn remembers going to Mr. Nelson’s house at 15-17 Olive to talk about how to renovate the old homes in Newburyport that people were working on.

23 Olive Street, Newburyport, MA

23 Olive Street, Newburyport, MA, Google Maps

23 Olive Street is described as, “One of the oldest homes in Newburyport; built 1699. Five working fireplaces,wide pine board floors, gunstock corners, beautiful moldings and trim. Full bath up half bath down.” The information is from Zillow.

15-17 Olive Street, Newburyport MA

15-17 Olive Street, Newburyport MA, Google Maps

15-17 Olive Street is the John Burrill House, c 1790, There is a write up on the Massachusetts Historic Commission, as well as on the Historic Surveys on the City of Newburyport’s website.

And in my hunt to find out exactly who Truman Nelson was, I found this writeup on Amazon, The Truman Nelson Reader:

“Truman Nelson (1911-1987) was a self-educated novelist, essayist, lecturer, and social activist. He never finished high school and supported himself in his early years as a factory worker, labor organizer, actor, and playwright. Encouraged by F. O. Matthiessen, he turned to writing and in 1952 published his first historical novel, The Sin of the Prophet, a study of Theodore Parker and the Anthony Burns case. That book earned him his picture on the cover of Saturday Review and designation as the magazine’s “Writer of the Year.” Two novels soon followed: The Passion by the Brook (1953), on George Ripley and the communal movement at Brook Farm, and The Surveyor (1960), on John Brown’s abolition efforts in Kansas. These three novels established Nelson as a major writer on the history of American radical thought. His later essays and polemical writings were influential in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when Nelson traveled, taught, lectured, and acted in the front lines of the struggle for racial equality.

In recent years, Nelson has been neglected by scholars, critics, and the general public, and many of his writings have been allowed to go out of print. The Truman Nelson Reader is intended to restore his voice and to prompt a reevaluation of his work. The collection brings together excerpts from Nelson’s published novels, selected essays, and a portion of his last, as yet unpublished, novel on John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Colony. Also included are essays on William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, John Brown, and W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as selections from the 1960s: “The Torture of Mothers,” written after the first Harlem riots; “The Right of Revolution,” reportedly found on Ho Chi Minh’s desk at the time of his death; and “The Conscience of the North,” a meditation on Theodore Parker’s meaning for the civil rights movement.”

The Truman Nelson Reader

The Truman Nelson Reader

And I found this reference to Truman Nelson on Martin Nicolaus’s website, where he refers to Mr. Nelson’s preserving his colonial-era home in Newburyport:

“One of the speakers at the Town Hall rally after the Cuba trip was Truman Nelson. He was a high school dropout who worked in General Electric factories until he was 40, but meanwhile educated himself during long hours in public libraries and began writing fiction. His first book, The Sin of the Prophet, was published by Little, Brown; it told the story of the abolitionist intellectual Theodore Parker. When I met him, Nelson had recently finished The Surveyor, a novel about John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry raid. He was fiercely interested in Cuba and was a strong supporter of Robert F. Williams. He had just bought a colonial-era house in Newburyport, a short drive from Boston, and was busy removing generations of old paint to reveal the beautiful old woodwork underneath.”

The Disappearing Newburyport Iconic Chimney

One of my most favorite small houses in the South End is getting a redo. As I looked inside, nosey person that I am, what was being taken out was the center chimney that ran up the middle of the house. And it was amazingly massive, as I walked by the next day and the chimney removing folks were still at it. They said that they were removing the chimney because it took up too much room in the new redo.

Newburyport, Chimney

Newburyport, Chimneys, Google Maps

And as I was taking a walk through Newburyport’s historic South End, I was looking up, and I began to realize that there were a lot of houses that no longer have chimneys. And one of the other things that I began to realize, is that in the Fall there is rarely that chimney smell, the smell of burning wood, that I used to notice when the weather fisrt started to turn chilly.  For a whole lot of reasons the Newburyport iconic chimney is beginning to disappear from the city’s street scapes.

Chimney, Newburyport

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

For me the chimney has always been a symbol of warmth, family, hearth, home. Houses with chimneys were in drawings by small children when they drew a picture of a family house, with the smoke going up the chimney. Santa comes down the chimney. Chimneys are a big part of what is important to historic preservationists and folks who love old towns and old homes, for a good reason, they are iconic.  Iconic New England historic houses have chimneys.

Chimney, Newburyport

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

The new heating systems no longer need chimneys. Chimneys take up a lot of room in a house.  Instead of creating ambiance, and being valued, they now seem to be a nuisance.  Chimneys are often in the middle of a house, which now gets in the way of a family having an open concept.  And compared to wood fireplaces, gas fireplaces are less  trouble, they might not smell as homey, but they are a whole lot easier — just a flick of a switch. Gas fireplaces can be put in a whole lot of places, and they don’t need chimneys. And not a whole lot of people cook in a fireplace anymore (oh, how I love those huge fireplaces in some of the old homes in Newburyport where people once cooked their meals). Times have changed and are changing.

Chimney, Newburyport MA

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

People who do renovations, a gut and redo, every now and then put up a “fake” chimney where the real one used to be.  These folks are often made fun of, but I would far prefer that, which is at least an attempt to keep Newburyport’s story, than many of the candy cane exhaust systems that I see sticking out of houses now as I walk around the South End.

New heating system, instead of chimneys, Newburyport

New heating system, instead of chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

The new heating systems, although wonderful in their efficiency, are one more thing that is slowly changing the historic city scape of Newburyport.  This change is fairly recent, when the Federal Street Overlay was created, not too long ago, chimneys were a “must have.”  Every home in the Federal Street Overlay has chimneys. Chimneys are no longer a “must have,” they have become an inconvenience.

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport MA

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport, Google Maps

And sometimes with these small incremental changes, it feels as if the historic fabric of Newburyport, Newburyport’s story is being shredded by a thousand papercuts. What is a historic preservationist to do?  How can we who love old homes and historic cities, inspire people to keep that part of the story, while also appreciating the practical reasons why this change is coming about.  More hard questions with no easy answers.

Keeping Historic Preservation Relevant, Re-evaluating the Mission of Historic Preservation in Newburyport

Madison Street, Newburyport

Madison Street, Newburyport, Google Maps, a modern addition to a historic home

I’ve thought about this a lot, a whole lot (see many previous posts). The Newburyport Preservation Trust has standards that are a 10. My standards are a 2 hoping for a 5. And I have been thinking, that the The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for historic preservation, that is the standard for historic preservation in the United States, may need to be re-thought and re-evaluated for our city, Newburyport, MA – heretic that I may be.

And I’ve been thinking that the mission of historic preservation in Newburyport might also need to be rethought and re-evaluated.

Alex Dardinski has pointed out that every historical house in Newburyport went through a process of adaption when indoor plumbing became available. Alex has pointed out that, “It was a modern amenity that changed domestic life. And I am sure that none of us want a home so historically pure that we have to pee in an outhouse.” And his thought is that,  “Ultimately, houses must remain relevant,” and that we are in a cultural sea-change that is the equivalent to the advent of indoor plumbing.

Alex’s other thought is that it would be a mistake to lock homes into one era of history, which is what the The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards calls for. For historic preservationists, this would be a radical way of thinking.

I like houses in Newburyport that have been added onto, that are a mixture of different eras, because it tells the story of not only the house, but of the people in Newburyport who inhabited that house.  And I like the idea that a modern addition to a house, if done thoughtfully, is adding to the story, not destroying the historic integrity of the home.

My first draft of a new mission statement for Newburyport’s historic preservation might be, “A thoughtful renovation that honors the past, makes a property relevant in the present, and preserves its story for future generations.”

The National Historic Preservation Act is Celebrating its 50th Anniversary – Something that Newburyport’s Urban Renewal benefited from

The National Historic Preservation Act is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, I had no idea! This is something that Newburyport’s Urban Renewal benefited from! http://www.nps.gov/subjects/historicpreservation/NHPA-50.htm

Newburyport, State Street

Newburyport, State Street

“After World War II, the United States seemed poised at the edge of a limitless future, and its vision of progress was characterized by the sleek and the new. Urban renewal was seen as a way to clear out the slums, get rid of “obsolete” buildings, make space for an exploding population, and accommodate the burgeoning car culture. Wide swaths were demolished: entire blocks, neighborhoods, business districts, all razed to make way for the new. By the 1960s, urban renewal had changed the face of the nation’s cities.

But out of this wholesale erasure of the old grew the most important law governing how we treat those places that define our past: the National Historic Preservation Act. It was the first national policy governing preservation and it would shape the fate of many of our historic and cultural sites over the next half-century. There had been earlier measures to foster preservation—the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Historic Sites Act of 1935—but none were as sweeping or as influential as the National Historic Preservation Act.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a special committee on historic preservation. The committee studied the dismal situation, then delivered a report to Congress. Their report, called With Heritage So Rich, became a rallying cry for the preservation movement. Up until that time, the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) had documented 12,000 places in the United States. By 1966, half of them had either been destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The HABS collections, the committee wrote, looked like “a death mask of America.” The federal government needed to take the reins, said the authors. Federal agencies needed to make preservation part of their missions.

Before the year was out, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act. It was the most comprehensive preservation law the nation had ever known. The act established permanent institutions and created a clearly defined process for historic preservation in the United States.

Historic structures that would be affected by federal projects—or by work that was federally funded—now had to be documented to standards issued by the Secretary of the Interior. The law required individual states to take on much more responsibility for historic sites in their jurisdictions. Each state would now have its own historic preservation office and was required to complete an inventory of important sites. The law also created the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Register of Historic Places, an official list not only of individual buildings and structures, but also of districts, objects, and archeological sites that are important due to their connection with the past. Federal projects—or those using federal funds—were now subject to something called the Section 106 review process: Determining whether the work to be done would harm a site and if so, a way to avoid or minimize that harm.

With the passage of the act, preservation in the United States became formalized and professionalized. The National Historic Preservation Act was tied to a growing awareness of the past and of community identity. Many communities realized that there was an unexpected economic force behind preservation. The act helped foster heritage tourism, attracting visitors who wanted to experience the past in ways that no book or documentary could match. The distinctive character of old architecture and historic districts became a powerful draw for many Americans, and antidote to anonymous suburbs and strip malls.

The 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act is an opportunity to reflect on the significance of this singular piece of legislation. The law is perhaps the nation’s most important advocate for the past. Buildings and landscapes that serve as witnesses to our national narrative have been saved. The quality of life in our cities and towns has been improved by a greater appreciation—reflected in the law—of such intangible qualities as aesthetics, identity, and the legacy of the past.”

http://www.nps.gov/subjects/historicpreservation/national-historic-preservation-act.htm

Newburyport Historic Preservation – Old Growth Wood vs Massachusetts Lead Paint Laws

In my mind many of the “new” regulations and laws have created a problem for historic preservation.

People who love old houses often talk about why wood in old homes is so important. There are also the Massachusetts lead paint laws. Lead paint often covers this wonderful old growth wood, which is one of the reasons that so many houses are gutted. I thought I would put both an article on why “old-growth” wood lumber is so valuable which is, or has been found in the old homes in Newburyport, along with a summary of the Massachusetts lead paint laws.

Old and New Growth Wood

Old and New Growth Wood from Alamo Harwoods Inc

Old Growth Wood

Why Old Growth Wood is Better, by Scott Sidler of the Craftsman Blog

“Old-growth wood is lumber that was grown naturally in vast virgin forests. The forests of nearly every continent have some areas that are still untouched where trees haven’t been harvested for our use yet. These trees grew slowly due to limited light and competition from the other trees. Because of this slow growth rate the growth rings on the trees were packed very tightly together which gives the wood some big benefits which I’ll discuss in a just a minute.

In America we began seriously depleting these virgin forests during the industrial revolution and by the 1940s most of them were gone. Lumber prices began to spike as Americans looked for substitutions for our lumber addiction. Enter second-growth and new-growth wood.

Tree farms began to produce lumber for the growing demand and the fastest growing species like Pine were selected for this reason. The trees grew in open areas with little to no competition for sun which caused them to grow very quickly so they could be harvested in 10-20 years as opposed to old-growth wood which may be from trees as old as 200-300 years old before being harvested.

Let’s look back at the picture above. The old-growth siding has 29 growth rings in this 3/4″ thick sample compared with the new-growth piece that has only 7 rings including the pith (the center of the tree). That’s a much faster growth rate, so lets see why this fast growth may not be as good as the slower growth of old-growth wood.

Benefits of old-growth lumber.

1. More Rot-Resistant – Sure we have woods like Pressure Treated and Accoya (which I use often) but old-growth wood is the original rot-resistant wood. The slow growth process creates greater proportion of late wood (summer/fall growth) to early wood (spring growth). Late wood is the good stuff that adds this rot-resistance. Also, older trees develop heartwood at their center which is not only beautiful to the eye, but it is extremely durable and resists rot in ways that other wood can’t.

2. More Stable – Wood moves. It contracts when it’s dry and expands when it’s wet. This can cause joints to open up, paint and finishes to fail prematurely and a host of other issues. But old-growth wood (due to the tight growth rings you can see in the picture above) does not move nearly as much as new-growth. It is immensely more stable and therefore keeps everything where it needs to be from siding and framing to windows and doors.

3. Stronger – The denseness of old-growth wood makes it a much stronger wood able to carry heavier loads across longer spans. The span rating for framing lumber continues to fall each time the lumber industry revisits it. Wood is getting softer and weaker as the years go by so old-growth is definitely worthwhile option especially if you already have it in your house.

4. More Termite-Resistant – Termites don’t like hardwoods. Don’t get me wrong here, termite-resistant is not the same as termite proof. Termites will still eat old-growth wood, but they prefer soft, moist wood (read: easy to chew). Old-growth wood is harder and drier than new lumber and it does not make as tempting a meal for termites.”

Lead-Based Paint by Bart Everson on Flickr

“Lead-Based Paint” by Bart Everson on Flickr

Massachusetts Lead Paint Laws

“Massachusetts enacted one of the nation’s first state lead poisoning prevention laws in 1971. The original statute embodied the principle of primary prevention, which remains at the heart of the current law. Since 1971, Massachusetts property owners are required to permanently control specified lead-based paint lead hazards in any housing unit in which a child under the age of six resides. The 1971 law provided for enforcement of this duty by both a newly-created state Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program within the Department of Public Health and by local boards of health. In addition, the law enlisted the help of the tort system for enforcement by providing that property owners would be “strictly liable” for damages resulting from failure to make a child’s apartment lead-safe. (“Strict liability” means that owners are liable even if they didn’t know that lead-based paint hazards were present.)

The law was revised in 1987 in three ways. First, the amendments sought to improve the quality and safety of abatement work by requiring use of trained and licensed contractors, relocation of occupants during abatement, and daily and final cleanup in units undergoing abatement. Second, the amendments were designed to substantially increase the number of units brought into compliance by providing financial assistance (a $1,000 state income tax credit and a grant/loan program) and mandating that prospective purchasers of residential premises receive notice about the lead law and have the opportunity to get an inspection. Finally, the amendments embraced the principle of universal blood lead screening, mandating that physicians screen children and that health insurers cover screening costs.

In 1993, the law was amended further still. Compliance costs were lowered by allowing owners to use interim controls for up to two years before permanently containing or abating lead-based paint hazards. Other cost-reducing provisions allowed the use of encapsulants and eased safety precautions when children would not be endangered. Owners were provided with a larger state income tax credit ($1,500/unit), and a new state fund was set up to provide funds for lead hazard control. Finally, owners who obtain certification from a licensed inspector that interim controls or abatement have been performed are no longer held strictly liable, and insurers are required to provide coverage for any negligence claims (short of gross or willful negligence) that may be brought against such owners.”

(This is just a summary of a very complicated law.)

From the National Center for Healthy Housing

The Massacussetts Lead Paint Laws can be seen here, and here, What Does the Massachusetts Lead Law Require.  “The Lead Law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 where any children under six live. Lead paint hazards include loose lead paint and lead paint on windows and other surfaces accessible to children. Owners are responsible with complying with the law. This includes owners of rental property as well as owners living in their own single family home. Financial help is available through tax credits, grants and loans.”

In the Property Transfer Lead Paint Notification one of the things that is required is to, “Tell the buyer that, under the Lead Law, a new owner of a home built before 1978 in which a child under six will live or continue to live must have the home either deleaded or brought into Interim Control within 90 days of taking the title.” 

De-leading a home is expensive, so it is understandable why a homeowner, even though they might not have a child under six, who will eventually want to resell their home, might not want their home to contain any lead paint. It is also understandable why a developer who is building a home that potentially could be used by a family, would not want that home to contain lead paint.

What is Historic Preservation in Newburyport in the year 2015

What is historic preservation in Newburyport in the year 2015?  This is a question I now ask myself.

112 High Street, one of my favorite dwellings in Newburyport is for sale. It is the grey house on the corner of State and High. It is a double house, and the part that is for sale also goes along State Street.

112 High Street, Newburyport

112 High Street, Newburyport, photograph from Coldwell Banker

This is the description:

“First time for sale in over 45 years! The Grand Pope-Mosely House c. 1855/1894. This landmark home is one of the finest examples of Colonial Revival with Georgian influence in Newburyport. With its exceptionally fine architecture, gambrel roof, roof balustrade, faux Palladian window, oversized curved windows, 7 fireplaces, heavy crown moldings, 10+ ft. ceilings, elegant circular staircase, back stairway, pocket doors, pine floors through-out all 3 levels and many more classic historic features throughout the home. Private “Beacon Hill” style Courtyard; off-street parking for 2 cars. This prime, in-town location offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the Newburyport lifestyle. The property is in need of exterior/interior renovation back to its grandeur of yesteryear. Property being sold “As Is”.

It is 3,518 square feet. It is on the market for $699,000.  There are “modern” houses in Newburyport’s Historic District selling for much, much more.

I haven’t been inside, but I’m guessing that it lacks some crucial modern amenities like lots of large bathrooms and walk-in closets and an open concept.  From the photos online, the floors look painted, which is how they were 45 years ago, and are, in my mind, charming. I’m sure it is loaded with lead paint, a now selling nightmare-panic.

And it is absolutely stunning.

Ten years ago, this amazing home would have been a “catch.” Today, it is being sold “As Is,” with a caveat that is full of apologies.

110-112 High Street, Newburyport, Historic Survey

110-112 High Street, Newburyport, Historic Survey, courtesy of the Newburyport Historical Commission

I talked to one/many of our local, very knowledgeable real-estate brokers, and what they tell me is that people coming into town now want a new house in an old shell, to quote one broker, a “faux antique.”  And, yes, they are right.

To go back to Alex Dardinski’s guest post where he has this wonderful comment, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”   How is that done with a property like this one in the year 2015, with the lead paint laws and the HGTV must have list (see earlier entry) :

1) Walk in closets
2) Spa bathrooms
3) En Suite bathroom
4) Open concept
5) Large kitchens with an island
6) Gas fireplace with a place for a large flatscreen TV over it
7) No lead paint
8) Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, insulated, no drafts
9) Windows that go up and down easily
10) Up to date wiring (no knob and tube wiring)

This is a question that I ask myself, and I have no answer.

Newburyport Election Results 2015

Newburyport Election Results 2015

Ward 1
Edward Waldron
Sharif Zeid

Winner:
Sharif Zeid

Ward 4
Charles Tontar
Sean McDonald

Winner:
Charles Tontar

Newburyport City Council-at-Large

Lyndi L. Lanphear
Gregory D. Earls
Sheila A. Mullins
Barry N. Connell
Laurel R. Allgrove
Bruce L. Vogel
Robert A. Germinara
Joseph H. Devlin
Edward C. Cameron, Jr.

Winners:

Gregory D. Earls
Barry N. Connell
Bruce L. Vogel
Joseph H. Devlin
Edward C. Cameron, Jr.

Unofficial Election Numbers

Council-at-Large unofficial 2015 election results

Council-at-Large unofficial 2015 election results

Ward 1 unofficial 2015 election results

Ward 1 unofficial 2015 election results

Ward 4 unofficial 2015 election results

Ward 4 unofficial 2015 election results

School Committee unofficial 2015 election results

School Committee unofficial 2015 election results

(With thanks to Joe DiBiase for the fancy graphics!)

 

Election 2015 Results (unofficial)

Election 2015 Results (unofficial) from the Newburyport City Clerk

Election 2015 Results from the Newburyport City Clerk (unofficial). Thank you so much Richard Jones!!

 

Newburyport Election Day 2015

Newburyport Election Day 2015

A collage of Newburyport Election Day 2015, for a link to the entire album please press here.

Voting for Newburyport City Council Candidates

Be sure to VOTE!!
Election Day:
Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ward 1

Edward Waldron III
Sharif Zeid

Ward 1 has two very bright men running for Newburyport City Council, both love their city, both are willing to step up and serve Ward 1.   They have different styles, and differing views on some of the issues.  After the Ward 1 primary “Meet and Greet” it was my impression that it was Sharif Zeid’s race to lose.  However, Ted Waldron has been working very hard.  I will be very interested to see who the good people of Ward 1 choose to elect on November 3, 2015.

Ward 4

Charles Tontar
Sean McDonald

I cannot imagine why the folks in Ward 4 would not re-elect Charlie Tontar.  Charlie works hard, shows up, pays attention, communicates with his constituents, is accessible (he holds his “office hours” for anyone who wants to talk to him, every Saturday at Riverside Cafe), understands budgets, and really wrestles with issues before he votes on them.

Sean McDonald has a different view of some of the issues before the city.  Sean has started to blog, and whether he wins or loses, I hope that he continues.

 Newburyport Candidates-at-Large

Instead of endorsing anyone, I’m going to take the unusual route and talk about why I am NOT voting for 3 of the candidates and why.

A) Robert Germinara

When I went looking for a website for Mr. Germinara, I discovered that he had been arrested for assault. I’m not going to link to the information, I think the Mr. Gerninara and his family have enough to deal with. Civility and an ability to have a dialogue (see an earlier entry) are important to me in a City Councilor.

B) Lyndi Lanphear

Ms Lanphear called me a Nazi (you bet I have a hard copy of that comment). Civility and dialogue are big on my list for City Councilor.

Ms Lanphear also made this unfortunate post on a Facebook page forum:

Lyndi Lanphear: “Fyi. Do you know that a big section of lower merrimac st is without water and apparently has been since yesterday. They called the city to complain but no one’s going to fix it until tomorrow. So much for our excellent infrastructure that can support 500-600 new apartments! Fix what we have first !”

Ed Cameron, who has is also running for City Council replied in a calm and constructive manner with all the facts.

Ed Cameron: “My understanding in talking to the City’s DPS is that there was a water break late Friday night on Merrimac Street. The break was fixed, service was restored with the exception of one household which requires more extensive repair from the City’s water main to their house. That household now is using water fed from a hydrant so they do have some water service. The more complete repair will take place tomorrow.”

(Yes, Ed Cameron definitely has my vote.)

Constructive dialogue and getting the facts right are very big on my list.

C) Laurel Allgrove

I cannot find anything out about Laurel Allgrove.  In this day and age I think that it is vital to either have a Facebook page or a website as a way to communicate with your possible future constituents. Again, dialogue and in this case information is important for me as a City Councilor.

Here are the rest of the Newburyport City Councilors-at-Large who are candidates.  On November 3, 2015 Newburyport citizens will be voting for 5 seats.

Ed Cameron, 17 Oakland St, Incumbent
Barry Connell, 36 Woodland St, Incumbent
Greg Earls, 25 Milk St, former City Councilor and mayoral candidate
Sheila Mullins, 7 Parsons St
Bruce Vogel, 90 Bromfield St, Incumbent
Joseph Devlin, 3 Dexter Lane

Here is a list of all the candidates running for City Council and Newburyport School Committee with either their website and or Facebook page.

Here is a link to a list of video interviews of all but 2 of the Newburyport City Councilors that are running, both in Ward races and At-Large races. The videos have been produced by Citizens for Environmental Balance (CEB) and they are very informative.

And here is a link to the Newburyport City Councilor-at-Large debate held on October 20, 2015. The sponsers were The Daily News of Newburyport, the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, WNBP radio, and Port Media.

Newburyport Local Pulse podcast with all 9 Newburyport City Councilors-at-Large.

WHERE TO VOTE on November 3, 2015

Where to Vote

Where to Vote

Voting is a privilege, we are so lucky to be able to vote.  And these candidates, all of them, have done the difficult thing by showing up, and all of them are willing to serve this wonderful city.  They all deserve the dignity of people getting out to vote.

And if you do not know where to vote, there is  a very cool tool to find out where to vote in Newburyport, Tuesday, November 3, 2015.

You just enter your street number, the street’s name, and your city or town, or your zip code, and it tells you exactly where to go (it even tells you which ward you are in, and how to get in touch with the City Clerk). It can be found here.

Ward 1 — Methodist Church, 64 Purchase Street
Ward 1 Plum Island — Plum Island Boat House, 300 Northern Boulevard, Plum Island
Ward 2 — Brown School, 40 Milk Street
Wards 3 and 4 — Hope Church, 11 Hale Street
Wards 5 and 6 — The new Senior Community Center, 331 High Street  (In the past, these wards voted at the Bresnahan Elementary School.)

_____________________________________________________________________

The Order for the Newburyport City Council-at-Large candidates as they will be on the ballot.

Councillor-at-Large 2 YEAR TERM

(9 CANDIDATES FOR 5 SEATS…IN ORDER ON THE BALLOT)

Lyndi L. Lanphear
Gregory D. Earls
Sheila A. Mullins
Barry N. Connell (Candidate for Re-Election)
Laurel R. Allgrove
Bruce L. Vogel (Candidate for Re-Election)
Robert A. Germinara
Joseph H. Devlin
Edward C. Cameron, Jr. (Candidate for Re-Election)

Newburyport 2015 ballot

The Absentee Ballot which looks like the November 3, 2015 ballot

The Newburyport Absentee Ballot which looks like the November 3, 2015 ballot. This is the Ward 5 ballot, all the ward ballots will look different.

City Councilor-at-Large Debate, Tuesday, October 20, 2015

City Councilor-at-Large Debate, 2015

Newburyport City Councilor-at-Large Debate

Tuesday, October 20, 2015
7:00 p.m.
The Nock Middle School Auditorium

(90 minutes long)

It will also be carried on Port Media, the city’s cable TV station.

The sponsors are The Daily News of Newburyport, the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, WNBP radio, and Port Media. The debate will be moderated by WNBP’s Peter Falconi. Panelists will be Daily News Editor John Macone and Chamber Legislative Affairs Committee Chairwoman Mary Anne Clancy.

The election is Tuesday, Nov 3, 2015

A list of the candidates running for Newburyport City Council and Newburyport School Committee with website and Facebook information.

And here is a link to the Newburyport City Councilor-at-Large debate that was held on October 20, 2015.

Newburyport Local Pulse podcast with all 9 Newburyport City Councilors-at-Large.

This is what Distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process (and it’s not what you think)

This is what distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process.

By sinabeet on Flickr, "Hand say Hand Listen, Creative Commons License

By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

The problem is with the citizens of Newburyport who are not paying attention, not with the elected officials and folks on volunteer boards who made the Smart Growth 40R District happen.

1) This is not new.

The 40R was first proposed way, way back in 2004.  This idea is not new to Newburyport. People are presenting this new zoning law as if it just came out of the blue. They are wrong.

2) No one was paying attention.

  • If people had been paying attention to the 40R as early as January 2014, things might have turned out much differently.
  • I was blogging about it since January 2015, and no one was listening, and I couldn’t get anyone to listen.  I actually went around and talked to people explaining that this was probably one of the biggest long term projects that Newburyport was looking at, and it would affect everyone.  I actually had people turn their backs on me and walk away while I was talking in mid-sentence.  No one cared.
  • I talked to at least one city councilor who had reservations about the project, and they couldn’t get anyone to listen either.  We both agreed that trying to get people to pay attention was like talking to a wall.

3) Do not complain after the fact.

If you do not show up and pay attention EARLY in the process when things are being decided and problem solving is taking place, do not complain after the fact.

4) Pay attention NOW.

This is a multi decade project that will go through multiple administrations and planning directors. The 2 things that are on the docket now is the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.

5) Stop making excuses.

If you really care about this project, and just don’t want to complain about it, follow those 2 initial projects, the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.  If you cannot make it to meetings, talk to city councilors and other people who do attend those meetings.  You can find out who is interested by asking around (I do), or reading the minutes (I do), which are online on the city’s website, see who shows up and contact them. Reading the minutes of the meetings helps too.

6) Stop throwing people under the bus because you think that they are not listening to you.

The time to get elected officials and volunteer boards to listen to you is in the BEGINNING of a project when decisions are being made — not after all the work has been done. Stop throwing elected officials and volunteer board members under the bus, because you were not paying attention when this 40R Smart Growth District was being worked on.

Things I Look for in a Newburyport City Councilor

Gandhi quote: You must be the change you wish to see in the world

You must be the change you wish to see in the world – Gandhi

There is a local Newburyport election coming up on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 for Newburyport City Councilors at Large, and City Councilors in Ward 1 and Ward 4, as well as Newburyport City School Committee members (for a list of candidates please press here).

There are a number of issues on people’s minds — the Waterfront, Schools, 40R Smart Growth District, Historic Preservation, seem to be the 4 that come to my mind. And each of the two Ward races have their own specific issues.

There are 2 characteristics that I look for in a City Councilor, whether I agree with their stances on certain issues or not.

1) An ability to have a dialogue with their constituents. Not to give the people that they represent their “spiel” on their stance on certain issues, but an ability to truly listen to the people that they speak for.  And also an ability to explain how they feel on a particular issue at that moment, which is different than a spiel — it assumes that City Councilors are problem-solvers, not people who proselytize. I think one of the worst things for a person talking to a City Councilor is to feel ignored, to feel invisible and to feel as if their insights are insignificant.

The issues in front of the city are all complex, and often have no easy answers, because life, people and civic issues are complicated. And to come to a conclusion on how to solve problems as a civic leader is not an easy one, and at the end of the day decisions are made.  And as a caveat to Newburyport’s electorate, it helps to get involved at the beginning of whatever issue/process is at hand.  To show up on the Newburyport City Council floor for the first time, at the second reading (which is the last reading of when something passes) with a short tempered opinion, is not part of a problem solving approach. In civics, it is a two way street.  Show up and pay attention early, and then tell what you believe to be the truth about an issue that you believe in, but show up, pay attention and get the facts first.

2) Civility. I think that this is a very important characteristic, and vital in having the ability to have a dialogue, build trust and problem-solve.  If someone, in the course of my civic involvement, has called me a “Nazi controlling zealot,” which is their right in a society that values free speech, it is difficult for me to imagine that person being capable of a civil, problem-solving dialogue as a city councilor.  It is also hard for me to imagine voting for a city councilor who has been arrested for assault. I believe in second chances, but this would give me pause in voting for someone as an elected official (although it has been pointed out to me that we had a mayor run the city from jail, and that the city named a bridge after him).

And another caveat to the Newburyport electorate. It would be great if civility worked both ways. The abuse that city councilors can get from the people that they try their darndest to represent, is often astounding and just downright mind-boggling.

Slouching towards Bethlehem, Newburyport’s Smart Growth, 40R District

Seal of the City of Newburyport

When Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth District passed on the second reading by the Newburyport City Council on Monday night, I had sort of a sinking feeling, a slight feeling of foreboding.  Not necessarily because I think it might not work, and that really smart people, who care a great deal about our city, did their very best to create it over an 11 year period. My guess is that as a city we will “Slouch towards the 40R Smart Growth District” over the next couple of decades, parts of it working, parts of it sort of working and parts of it, not so much.  10-20 years from now, the city will have some idea if this was the “best of ideas,” or the “worst of ideas,” or something inbetween.

(And for all of you who are up in arms about the 40R District, the next actual concrete thing on the Smart Growth 40R docket, is when the Minco building comes up in front of the Planning Board for review (which is probably pretty soon) — if you cared enough to sign a petition about the 40R, please be there and speak up about it!!)

My foreboding, as I think and mull on it, is the feeling of “backlash” and “hysteria,” about what this project represents to I would say to a good 85% of the people that I talked to.  What I hear over and over and over again, is that there is so much happening in the civics/political world of Newburyport, the Smart Growth 40R District being the most recent, that people feel overwhelmed by it all and feel that things are out of control.  And they feel this very, very strongly.  Notice the use of the verb “feel.”  As a friend of mine says, “Feelings are not facts.” But, when it comes to the world of local politics, especially 4 weeks out from an election for Newburyport City Council (see earlier post for the candidates), the feeling/fact thing is important, and could (we will find out) be a motivating factor in the election.

When I talked to people yesterday and the days before that, yesterday being the primary election for Ward 1, one of the major things on folks’ minds, aside for the smell from the Water and Sewer Plant, you got it, the 40R Smart Growth District. And who did they vote for (I am sure there are many other reasons as well, I’m not saying that this is the only one), they voted for Sharif Zeid , an incredibly bright and engaging young man, who at the Ward 1 Meet and Greet, talked very eloquently about his reservations about the size of the 40R District. I was sitting at the back of the room at the Emma Andrews Library and Community Center, and you could almost see peoples’ heads going up and down in agreement.

(Just as a btw, the fact that a mere 10% of the voting population showed up to vote in the Ward 1 Primary for City Council is a bit discouraging, voting is a privilege, and who you vote for has consequences.)

This upcoming City Council election on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 is important for all sorts of reasons. Be sure to vote.  Make sure to vote with your head and your heart, and not with your panic button.

And as a PS

Ward 1 Primary Election Results

Sharif Zeid 143,  Ted Waldron 98,  Mike Ferrick 33
Mainland:  Sharif Zeid 130, Ted Waldron 65
Plum Island:  Sharif Zeid 13, Ted Waldron 33

Are Historic Homes in Newburyport Obsolete?

Rotary Phone

Rotary Phone

Historic preservationist, you are up against a cultural wall that has not been there before. Somehow you all need to take that into consideration.

For historic preservationists — think on this analogy. Once you’ve had an iphone, would most people ever go back to an old rotary phone.  The answer for 99.9% of people is NO.

And that is part of what you are up against. The old rotary phone probably still works, and it is made really well, but nobody cares, it was archaic decades ago.  Touch tone phones and now smartphones — and once you got a hold of a smartphone, everything else seems obsolete. And that is a little bit of the way historic homes are regarded these days, antiquated and obsolete. Yes, that is the awful and terrible reality.

It was not that way even 10 years ago, but it is that way today.  Ten years ago a historic home was assessed at a much higher rate than a new or “newly restored” home. That has changed. An older home on High Street that needs “remodeling” (which many historic preservationist would think is gorgeous just the way it is),  is probably assessed at 1 million dollars less than a “down to the studs reno” job that has been “updated.”

And when these new homes are staged, a realtor probably would tell you to get rid of that antique furniture and the oriental rug, that is if you want to sell it. They are gone with the wind too.

I do not know what historic preservationists do with this “new reality,” and whether it is a Newburyport thing or a larger nationwide thing. It’s not as simple as “the building inspector” as my buddy over at Brick and Tree hopes. I think it is much, much bigger than that.

Smartphone

Smartphone

Is Newburyport no Longer a Place where the Middle Class are Welcomed?

money

Within the last year I’ve had two experiences that I hope, hope, hope are not indicative of a trend.

I need some things done around my reasonably modest dwelling, and I went looking for quotes.

For the first undertaking, I got one quote from a young man, who was highly recommended, it was 7.5 to 5 times higher than other quotes.  This was a young man in his 30s. Apparently he felt that, if I was willing to pay such an exorbitant price, it was gravy for him, otherwise he wasn’t interested.  I said no, and told everyone about him, and everyone I told was pretty shocked.

It happened again, about 10 months later, a completely different sort of task.  Another young man in his 30s. This time it was only 4 times the going rate. And when I asked if the person would accept a lower price, because it was so outrageous (and I was very, very tactful), the reply I got, “It just doesn’t make sense for me to spend anymore time on this so I’m going to pass on the job.” Believe me, as a consumer, I am allowed to asked questions, get quotes. I’ve never before felt as if I’d been “fired” by someone I asked whether or not they might be able to assist me.

If I lived in Salisbury or Amesbury, would I have gotten this same treatment? I’m guessing, probably not. But then again, if I lived in Salisbury or Amesbury, they might not have even bothered to return my phone call, because apparently so much money can be made off of the people who now live in Newburyport, MA.

I was talking to a friend about the “chutzpa” (shameless audacity, impudence) and dismissiveness, and they said, it’s probably because of the kind of people moving into Newburyport now.  There is now a gorgeous multi-million dollar home within sight of where I live (it was not a multi-million dollar property before, see earlier post), a middle class family is not going to buy that one.

It feels as if Newburyport has gone over a tipping point. It feels as if this is not a place for the middle class, i.e. teachers, nurses, accountants, middle class professionals to find a home anymore. There was once a spot where there was a balance of the “old guard/natives” and the new arrivals. The carpetbaggers had come in, but they were teachers, nurses, accountants, people with small businesses, artists, craftsmen, writers, even some doctors and lawyers. It feels as if Newburyport may soon no longer be hospitable to those folks either.

Are we going from gentrification, which has been described as “the conversion of working class areas into a middle-class area,” to an exclusive, luxury municipal location that only the very wealthy can inhabit–what Nantucket has now become? And Stephen Karp hasn’t even started to build yet.

Newburyport, The Stretch Code and Historic Preservation

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Jerry Mullins over at Brick and Tree is on a tear about the city’s Stretch Code.

Jerry is right, the Stretch Code does not apply to historic buildings in Newburyport. This is from the Q&A from the Green Communities Grant Program (page 4):

12. Does the stretch code apply to historic buildings?
Both the stretch code and the base energy code exempt historic buildings listed in state or national registers, or designated as a historic property under local or state designation law or survey, or with an opinion or certification that the property is eligible to be listed.

According to Jerry this information is not being explained in a comprehensive manner by the folks responsible at City Hall. And unlike Jerry, I am unwilling to throw the mayor and the building inspector under the bus, because I think that it is more complicated.

The EPA has a pamphlet on “Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes,” in which they give great advice and information, and also talk about “comfort levels.”

When I bought my first home in Newburyport in 1981, a historic home, it never occurred to anyone I knew to take an old historic home down to the studs. We did a lot of things recommended by the pamphlet by the EPA, but we were also willing to live with a lower “comfort level” for the privilege of living in a historic house. Yes, the houses were drafty* but that was just part of the deal, and also the codes are very different today, then they were in 1981.

My impression is that folks who are buying homes today in Newburyport want a 100% “comfort level.” It’s not just what the building inspector may or may not be saying, bottom line, the people moving here now often want a new home inside an old shell, (please see a previous post about other things that folks want, and Alex Dardinski’s very thoughtful reply). How to balance historic preservation, and all the regulations and expectations in the year 2015 in Newburyport?? I do not think that there are easy answers to that question.

Alex Dardinski articulated his point of view, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

*This is from “Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes”

“Walls: To insulate or not to insulate?
Wall insulation can be problematic in historic structures as it is difficult to install properly due to the unpredictable nature of historic walls.
• There may be old knob and tube wiring in the wall which would present a fire hazard.
• Blocking, fire stops, or forgotten or obsolete chases will result in cold pockets. Anywhere the insulation does not or cannot reach, such as the junction between the exterior wall and the floor joists, can create thermal bridging. These cold pockets and thermal bridges set up areas where moisture can condense. (Imagine a cold glass on a hot day and the beads of water than form on the glass to understand this concept.)
• Any time you have moisture in the wall, the possibility of decay and mold increases.
• Pumping in dense pack cellulose insulation in the walls can cause the keys that attach plaster walls to the supporting lath can be broken, necessitating repairs.

The trouble and expense of insulating historic walls may not be the best bang for your buck. Once you have air sealed and insulated your attic, tuned up (or replaced your furnace), and completed some of the higher priority energy saving techniques you might then consider insulating your walls but get advice from an expert. By undertaking these other energy-saving measures first, you may find that your comfort level goes up and your energy expenses go down significantly without the need to insulate the walls.

Tip!
If your home dates to the 1850s or earlier and its frame is made of wood, there is a good chance that is has post and beam construction rather than balloon framing. This is an important consideration if you’re thinking about adding insulation in the walls.

Without modern vapor barriers and insulation, air and moisture in the house moved more easily between inside and outside. Adding insulation to the wall cavities without understanding how the house functions as a system and without establishing new ways to circulate air through the home can cause moisture to accumulate. High moisture levels can result in mold and rot, creating serious problems for the homeowner as well as unnecessary expense.”

Newburyport’s Future, Balancing the Love of New with the Love of Old, Historic Preservation

This is Alex Dardinski’s reply on Facebook to an earlier post of mine, “Newburyport is Losing its Patina, and Historic Preservation.”

“I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”

House before renovation © Alex Dardinski

House before renovation, photo courtesy of Alex Dardinski

I think about this concept all the time in my work life designing products,  as well as my personal life, restoring a historic Newburyport home — how to balance the love of new with the love of old? The term I always come back to is “palimpsest,” which in architectural terms would be the traces of the many years of use and reuse upon a facade or plan.

I struggle with the notion of doing a perfect museum grade restoration for many of the reasons that you have stated. I have lead paint concerns with my young family. I want a more open plan than the carpenters of the 19th century could provide. I want to have some modern conveniences too. I also want my house to have some patina, some soul. A connection to its past with real quality materials that were crafted when the house was built.  The best find I ever made in my house was evidence that my house was “converted” from a square 2 story box into a stately 3 story second empire victorian by the Caldwell Rum family. That was an earth shattering revelation. I wonder how controversial that was at the time. It was a pure case of gentrification, circa 1870! But that is my favorite detail about my house and that part of its history makes me love it even more.

We MUST have some essential historic protections and zoning that keeps the character of our city intact. But I don’t want to live in Williamsburg either, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.

The first room I renovated when I was 25 years old was truly in need of a gutting. It was heavily water damaged and the horsehair plaster was falling off the walls. I took out the plaster, accidentally destroyed most of the trim, then went the lath, then I added modern insulation and rewired it all. It was 100% new. Now that is the most soulless sheetrock clad room in my house.  So since that overreach, I have tried to fix real problems more surgically. Leaving many traces of the past as I go, knowing that in 100 years the work I do today will be part of the historic archive too — that the work of every tradesperson that will have touched my house adds to the “palimpsest” of the house.

On a larger scale, that is the story of Newburyport. The first period houses sat far apart from one another on large tracts of land. You see houses that once fronted the river, but now are 2 or more blocks away from the banks. They might face the wrong way from the street and seem odd until you close your eyes and imagine the wide open acres that separated these early structures from one another, long before the streets were fully laid out.

Second period houses came and filled in the density of our historic neighborhoods. That early construction boom must have come as a shock, but it makes the density (and one could argue the sense of community we enjoy is because of it) of our little city. Mid century Italianates then Victorians that must have seemed like modernist heresy to the purely colonial streetscapes of the early 1800’s.  But in retrospect where would we be without them today? They add such color to the fabric of the town.  In the period following the depression and post industrial Newburyport, many bad architectural choices were made, largely out of poverty, and so many of them have been erased in our city’s recent evolution.

So I guess my image of “the right thing to do” on my house of for the town in general is also still evolving. But I know that every change came with controversy. We must recognize that the best changes stand the test of time and the worst most often do not.  We won’t be a town of vinyl siding in 100 years. The good choices will stand and the McMansions and the other the hasty choices will be largely edited away.  We will still be a historic town, a beautiful town. And the things happening today even if controversial will be but one part off the palimpsest of the city’s history.

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Alex Dardinski for his thoughtful, informative and optimistic addition to The Newburyport Blog.

House after renovation

House after renovation

Three Young Men that Give me Hope for Newburyport’s Future

What these three young men have in common, to paraphrase President Kennedy, is, “Ask not what Newburyport can do for you, but ask what you can do for Newburyport.”

And for me, these three young men honor Newburyport, they link the stories of Newburyport’s past to what will be the story of Newburyport’s future.

Tom Salemi

Tom Salemi

Tom Salemi

I first got to know Tom Salemi when he became a fellow Newburyport blogger, the editor of The Newburyport Posts.  Tom had been a reporter for the Newburyport Daily News in the early to mid 1990s, left Newburyport and then returned to our wonderful city.

Much to my surprise (and I was somewhat alarmed for his sanity), Tom jumped in feet-first  into the world of Newburyport civics, and became a member of what I think of as Newburyport’s most toxic committee, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA).

Tom became a member while the NRA was exploring the possibility of putting some buildings on Newburyport’s Waterfront.  The chaos and hostility that ensued was mind-boggling, I was sure that Tom would step down.  But Tom Salemi did not, instead he became chair of the NRA (I worried for his sanity), and has throughout his tenure conducted himself with grace and dignity, listening to the overall call for the Waterfront to remain “open,” and withstanding the onslaught of Citizens for an Open Water Front (COW) and calls by members of the Newburyport City Council for the NRA to disband.

You got to really love your city to preservere and work as a member of the NRA and to look  for a solution that has alluded the city for 50 years. This young man, Tom Salemi, self deprecating, funny, and without a hint of entitlement, gives me hope for Newburyport’s future.

Jared Eigerman

Jarred Eigerman

Jarred Eigerman

I first got to know Jared Eigerman during the push to have Newburyport have a Local Historic District (LHD).  And then, much to my delight, Jared decided to run for Newburyport City Council for Ward 2, and he won.

Jared was born in Newburyport, left our city and has now come back. He is a native son. Jared is one smart cookie, and again, self deprecating and without a hint of entitlement.  He wanted to become a city councilor not for power or to one day become mayor, but, in his words to me, “to write good laws.” And the first law/ordinance that Jared sponsored, was to protect downtown Newburyport and Newburyport’s Historic District, something that people had been trying to do for 50 years. It passed the Newburyport City Council unanimously, with the support of the “No LHD” folks and the “Yes LHD” folks.  No small accomplishment.  Yes, Newburyport historic preservationists still fight on, and people find ways to maneuver around the ordinance, but still, what an accomplishment.

Jared Eigerman honors Newburyport’s past, its stories, and wants to make sure that its history is intertwined with the story of Newburyport’s future.  And Jared Eigerman is one of the young men in our historic city that gives me great hope for our future.

Alex Dardinski

Alex Dardinski

Alex Dardinski

I don’t really know Alex Dardinski except through Facebook and talking to him while he takes his young son in his very cool bike, riding around our historic city.  Alex was born and raised in Newburyport, his family moved here in the early 1970s when real estate could be bought for $9,000. Alex has witnessed the change in Newburyport and can envision its future. And Alex is passionate about a vision to make Newburyport more walkable and pedestrian friendly, and reducing a reliance on the automobile.  He is involved in Newburyport’s Greenway and Newburyport’s Open Street Event.

Alex has also written a very thoughtful post for The Newburyport Blog on historic preservation in Newburyport, and his own personal experience of renovating an historic home.

As many people know, I love walking in Newburyport. I do it every day, and I also love historic preservation, and that may be why I resonate with Alex Dardinski so much.  And Alex is one of those people who links the stories of Newburyport’s past to what Newburyport’s story will become, and he gives me great hope for the future of Newburyport, Massachusetts.