As I‘ve walked around Newburyport since October 2011, when either I run into people I know and/or people that I know vaguely, I ask them what their thoughts are about Newburyport’s proposed Local Historic District (LHD).
I’ve run into two people, that’s all, who are strong property rights folks, and are against it. Both conversations were very rational and informative.
Mostly I run into a lot of people who say, “I don’t know, I think I’m against it.” And then we have a conversation.
I have asked folks what specifically in the proposed guidelines and the draft of the ordinance they may not like, and it has emerged that the folks that I’ve been talking to haven’t looked at the information. So I started talking about some of the things that are in the proposed LHD, and most of the time folks say that’s not problem, but what about this. Sometimes I can answer the question, a lot of times I cannot. Usually the conversation ends with whoever I’ve talked to, saying that they want to find out more about the proposed LHD, and I tell them where to find the information on the City of Newburyport’s website. I ask them to go to the public hearing on the LHD, when it is scheduled, where they can ask questions and express their concerns.
And then I run into people who are for the Local Historic District. When they tell me that they are for the LHD, I usually spontaneously give them a hug.
My hope is that somehow as a city we can find a balance between honoring people’s property rights and protecting our historic assets. And the process is just in the beginning stages. The city has conducted 2 informational meetings, sent the proposed draft of the LHD ordinance to the Massachusetts Historical Commission for review. Now there will be (not yet scheduled) a public hearing, where hopefully people will have educated themselves about the particulars of the proposed LHD ordinance (and not just scream, “NO”), and ask questions and express concerns. And then it goes to the Newburyport City Council, where it is expected to go into “committee.” And then there will be more meetings, and hashing out of what would work in the proposed draft of the LHD. It all depends on how the City Council decides to run those meetings. Sometimes, in fact a lot of times, the public is allowed to give feedback. And then, the final draft of the LHD ordinance comes up for a vote in the Newburyport City Council.
So now it’s time to learn as much as possible about the proposed draft LHD (which has already been “tweaked” in response to initial public input.) And the hope is for a civil, rational, constructive and productive public dialogue on this very important issue.