A little while ago I had the privilege of seeing one of the brick houses on Federal Street that was saved and preserved because of the Federal Street Overlay.
The Federal Street Overlay has been much maligned. It has been called “Disney Land Architecture” and criticized for its density and the high prices of some of the homes within it.
People forget that what would have gone in there was not up to the City of Newburyport, but rather up to the Archdiocese of Boston, the Catholic Church, who owned that huge piece of property.
And the Catholic Archdiocese could have easily picked a huge 40B project. Instead they picked a project that preserved and protected the William Bartlett House and the William Johnson House and tried to keep the area in keeping with the historic neighborhood character, actually rebuilding what had been destroyed in another era.
The William Bartlett House and the William Johnson House had been nominated by Preservation Massachusetts as one of the 10 Endangered Resources in 2001.
The project also contains affordable housing. Something that I’d like to see a lot more of (a subject for another post altogether.)
The Federal Street Overlay had to be approved by the Newburyport City Council by 8 votes.
As I recall, there was an open house for everyone, but especially the Newburyport City Council, so that the members of the Council could see the two historic houses that could be saved by their vote.
As I remember it, there were a lot of poker faces among Councilors that day and for the life of me I couldn’t get any read on how they would vote and whether or not these properties would be saved.
It ended up that the Newburyport City Council voted unanimously for the Federal Street Overlay and the William Bartlett House and the William Johnson House are preserved with deed restrictions no less.
So when I had the privilege of seeing one of these houses, I wanted every Newburyport City Councilor who had cast their vote that evening to see it too. To see what an incredible difference they had made to Newburyport, MA. To see a piece of our historic heritage that without their vote would have been lost. And for them to see how they had contributed to the very heart of what makes Newburyport, MA such an amazing place in which to live, work, visit and play.