Newburyport, Preserving Our Historic Assets

I’ve just read the editorial in the Newburyport Daily News, March 14, 2007 on the beginning of the process of protecting Newburyport’s historic heritage, the appointment of a Historic District Study Committee.

The Historic District Study Committee was appointed by Mayor John Moak and was (as I understand it) unanimously passed by the Newburyport City Council this Monday, March 12, 2007. Good for the Newburyport City Council and good for Mayor John Moak.

By law the Historic District Study Committee has to be diverse. (If you Google “Massachusetts General Law 40C,” you will find it, and you will find out that, yes indeed, this is a long and thoughtful process with gobs of public input.)

The Historic District Study Committee by law has to consist of 3-7 people. The Study Committee has to include an architect, a realtor and a member appointed by the Newburyport Historical Commission.

The idea here, as I understand it, is not to scare everyone into thinking they are going to live in a museum and have no say on their property rights. That’s the old fear laden concept that has kept us from protecting our historic assets lo these many, many years.

The idea here is for the Historic District, if it ever comes about, to be “user friendly” for goodness sakes. (And NOT doing anything silly like dictating paint color, good grief!)

And just for giggles this is from the website of the The National Architectural Trust.

“In Newburyport, Massachusetts, the local government tried unsuccessfully to fund a preservation commission to monitor and protect the second largest single community of Federal style architecture in the United States. This community of 2,600 homes has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. Despite placement on the National Register and local efforts to protect the community, demolition, development and period inappropriate alterations and additions have effectively replaced one third of these historic properties.”

You read correctly. According to The National Architectural Trust we have lost one third of our historic properties since 1984.

Think what will be left if we continue that nifty trend.

So, I really, really did not appreciate the editorial in the Newburyport Daily News, March 14, 2007. We can do Historic District “user friendly,” for goodness sakes.

And I don’t think anyone is against energy efficient houses. And somehow I think that the realtor and the architect on the Historic Study Committee will take into consideration people’s property rights.

So let’s get out of the terrified, fear-ridden, preservation dark ages, and get into the preservation light-filled present.

By law, this is a long and thoughtful process with gobs of public input and has to be passed by two-thirds of the Newburyport City Council.

Let’s not jump to panic ridden conclusions here.

Instead, let’s give all the parties involved in this one a round of applause.

Mary Eaton