Thursday, March 14, 2013

Recent Survey: Local Historic District

Okay, here’s the context of the survey, pretty much exactly as I said in the previous post…
On January 29 of this year, I sent an email survey to 426 Newburyport citizens asking them for their feedback on a variety of topics: the Waterfront, Historic Preservation, Parking, the Mayor and the City Council.  

Today I'll share the results concerning an oldie but a goodie, formerly the hottest topic of the day: the Local Historic District.

I don't claim that these 426 are representative of Newburyport but  then again they might be;-)  A few of them I know well, but most of them I wouldn't know if I passed them on the street.  These are people I've gotten to know because they have emailed or phoned me about schools, taxes, snowplowing, sidewalks, historic preservation, Crow Lane, and all the other exciting issues we have here in Newburyport.  I wouldn't classify this group as 'friendly' to me; many of them really don't like some or most of the stands I've taken over the last few years.

109 (or 25%) of these folks responded to the survey.  Again I make no claim as to this being a statistically valid sample but it's probably as valid as reading the tea leaves of the Letters to the Editor of the Newburyport Daily News.  

I did ask for names, so as to avoid the one person answering multiple times, and I did tell people that I would share the results in aggregate but that I wouldn't link their answers to their name.

Here's a little bit about the people who responded:
What is your age category?
Answer Options
Response Percent
Response Count
18-24 YRS
25-34 YRS
35-44 YRS
45-54 YRS
55-64 YRS
65-74 YRS
75+ YRS
answered question
skipped question

Here is how long people have lived in Newburyport:
How long have you lived in Newburyport?
Answer Options
Response Percent
Response Count
0-5 years
6-10 years
11-15 years
16-20 years
21-25 years
25 -30 years
more than 30 years
answered question
skipped question

Okay, here’s what respondents think about the LHD.
What was your opinion on the proposed Local Historic District that was recently under discussion by the City Council?
Answer Options
Response Percent
Response Count
Strongly Oppose
Strongly Favor
answered question
skipped question

So, doing the math, 23.1% opposed the LHD, 55.8% favored the LHD, and 21.2% were undecided.

By the way, the ‘oldtimers’ were in Favor but not as strongly as All Respondents:
Lived in NBPT more than 30 years
All Respondents
All Opposed
All in Favor

The all important question “Why?”

Those Strongly Opposed:

  • Too many reasons, but a few would include too much government on issues that do not affect health and safety and having a mayor assign people as the LHD to make decisions is very tricky. New mayors, new people? friends? qualifications? Also, the back log and money just to make sure the owner follows what someone else deems appropriate for their house. Too much. I don't want Newburyport to become the City where only the 'rich' can afford. There are more reasons, but too much to type.
  • I am a Newburyport native, and I do not appreciate the efforts of the new gentry to turn my home town, let alone my home, into a museum. If they want to live in a museum instead of the residential community that Newburyport is, then I invite them to move to Williamsburg, VA. I certainly agree that something needs to be done to prevent atrocities like the development at High Street and Woodland Street, but a LHD wont do it. A radically revamped zoning ordinance might, but only if the city insists on making the ZBA clamp down on developers doing as they please. You know as well as I do that the ZBA gives developers anything they ask for because if they don't the developer will sue and the city absolutely will not defend the suit. Therefore the developer always wins. The woman who owns the property at […….] has had two lengthy opinion pieces in the Daily News on the subject of the LHD. I know that property well, as I once lived there. I agree with her completely. I also remember […….] taking a hissey fit because a nearby neighbor on […..] Street replaced a rotted window with a new Marvin window. Marvins are made to order and the highest quality available. That's what you can expect with an LHD.
  • The city already has allowed too much infill and other development in the subject area. The recent proposal simply was too late. additionally, in many instances, it would have unfairly imposed added time and costs on many homeowners.
  • I opposed it because of the size. Much too vast. I also have feelings about decisions being made by someone or group other than the name on the mortgage or the name on the deed,
  • i think that if we cleaned up the laws that are already on the books re: development we might not need this additional layer of bureaucracy. moreover, since so much of the work by the proponents was done behind the scenes for so many years, i don't trust anything they come up with.
  • I have a lot of experience with LHD type commissions and rules from a previous residence.
  • The LHD was, in my opinion, an attempt to impose yet another layer of city government upon the population and negatively impact personal property rights. While preservation of historic property is a laudable concept it should be exercised through voluntary action of the property owner and not through the imposition of regulations imposed by an unelected board. If a man home is his castle then it is also his right to do what he wishes with his property insofar as he does not compromise safety or public health. While the demolition of "historic" property is indeed tragic, unless and until the City is willing to either purchase the property or work with the owner to subsidize those repairs which it believes are consistent with historic preservation, the City should have no role in deciding whether or not a homeowner elects to make changes to his historic structure or even raze it.
  • Really felt that there was an elitist element to the bill...I am also of having a non elected board govern it...and hope that the city cache use zoning and planning too gain the same affects

Those Opposed:

  • I felt that the LHD was unfair in focusing on only a portion of the historic homes in Newburyport. I was also concerned about the potential cost of any work I might need to do. However, I would support Kathy Ives idea of a downtown historic district (commercial only) and a demolition control ordinance.
  • these commisions have too much power. their intentions start off great and have a very reasonable functionallity. however they seem to quickly become an iron fist of burocracy. they don't tell how to paint you house yet but it will come. this is evedent fy the power of the tree commision randomly planting trees in front of houses whether they are requested or not.
  • I am not convinced the rules could be developed to be consistently applied. We see this far too often. I agree that there needs to be some control so we don't lose the character of our town but adding more bureaucracy does not make sense to me.
  • I think homeowners have enough restrictions and the historic quality of Newburyport residential properties has been successfully self regulated. The downtown business district should be regulated.
  • I feel a man's home is his castle and it is one of the few places left in the world where I can make my own decisions without bureacracy.
  • I think that when people pay big bucks for a home they are going to have taste in what they are going to do with it and it should be their decision
  • There needs to be a way to do this such that the rights of current property owners are grandfathered. I realize the state makes it difficult to attach something to a deed transfer, but I don't see any other way of preserving Newburyport's culture and historic value and the investment of those who bought without the oversight of an LHD.
  • It would have imposed an unneeded layer of bureaucracy.
  • I wrote a published article which I don't want to summarize here.
  • Why is it necessary? People need to go before a planning and zoning board before they proceed with a project,why should they be forced to have something not their way? When someone else pays their taxes and can prove the reason it's a good thing-then I'll think about it!

Those Undecided:

  • I am in favor of helping provide home owners with the technical knowledge to help protect the historic integrity of their home but I am a little concerned that some would like to take this to an extreme. There are many new technologies that look almost identical to traditional products and I have spoken to some who believe that they should not be allowed. This would include windows, siding etc. The devil is in the detail. In addition, many historic homes have had period appropriate additions to them. I do not have a problem with attempts to protect historic homes from reckless owners but I believe the carrot will work better than the stick in maintain these homes.
  • Hard to get to the facts with all of the noise
  • It seems very large all of High st and info on how it would actually work, the reviews, what's included specifically was not talked a bout much.
  • I agree that we should work to preserve the beauty and historic nature of our downtown area and certain important streets in the city, like High Street. I do understand the concerns of homeowners, though, who feel like it would be unfair to them to govern what they do with their homes.
  • It appears to me that the issue was compromised, and nothing resolved.
  • I think it's a good idea, but not sure the actual wording of the proposal was good.
  • I agree with preserving architecture especially since this is one of Newburyport's greatest assets. Are there other model cities or towns we can follow that would be more acceptable? Can individual homes be named historic and have a plaque based on the owners desire and not imposed upon them?
  • I originally was all for it, but as the issue was debated in the paper I realized that there may be some details that I needed to know to really understand the issue. Since I was not going to vote on it, I frankly didn't bother trying to understand the details. Most likely I would have been for it though.
Those in Favor:
  • I had been undecided until it was pointed out that many communities had a LHD, e.g. Strawberry Banke and that the rules weren't as restrictive as I first thought.
  • I view the historic beauty and resources of our town a gift of which we are stewards while we are here and as suh I think the greater good should govern over the potentially self serving short sighted views of the individual.
  • I think the town has an interest in preserving one of its largest assets... It's historical buildings. I would have supported many variations of the plan, and I do think that individual home owners have rights, and should have choices regarding their home, but I think it is devastating to see Newbury loosing some of their historical properties. From what I read, historical districts have been successful in other towns, specifically Savannah Georgia, and I hope that Newburyport does not abandon this important work... Hopefully the result would be something that most people feel good about. For now, I definitely support a demolition delay, and I would like to see zoning laws enforced firmly, and consequences dealt when the laws are not followed.
  • I believe only luck and chance have protected our historic buildings to date. I don't have faith this will continue.
  • I think it is important to preserve history and some guidelines are important to adhere to. Although, who would enforce these restrictions is questionable.
  • Hate all the "In-fill" taking place in Newburyport neighborhoods--including Merrimack/Oakland Street corner.)
  • I think we need something in place to help protect our historic structures.
  • We must preserve what we have. Once a property is torn down it cannot be replaced. I refer again to my comment on New Jersey and the change in the area.
  • The town is a prime and rare example of the wealthy, thriving early United States at its inception as a country. We have something unique. We are on the national Register but have no protections? That being said, the formula should be purely punitive. I do strongly think tat the town could offer more for residents that want to do the right thing with there homes. If you want to make historically accurate changes to your house, there should be incentives. Tax breaks, a program that connects you to resources. A building department that highlights your options and exemptions if you are working with a historic home. I have accurately restored my historic home, and it all came out of my pocket. No incentives, no help, no resources of any kind. This could be improved and it would somewhat quiet the "property rights" crowd. thanks for the chance to comment.
  • I thought the proposal to start with a smaller district and to build from was a good strategy -- too bad it was too late. The beauty of this city are its historic properties. We don't want to lose that. There was a lot of scuttlebut out there though about this would dictate even minor changes you'd like to make to your home.Needed better education/PR, but in this town -- they're a tough audience to handle change.
  • I like the general idea but the district was far too wide ranging in it's geographic size and the relatively recent age of the homes being protected.
  • There seems to be little or no enforced zoning in Newburyport. Historic buildings are torn down so developers may squeeze houses in. Squeeze is the operative word. Why is there no strictly enforced zoning in this city? And if there is, why does it seem certain people get around it? Locals tell me it's who you know that determines what gets built, where.
  • I think it would help reinforce the qualities that make Newburyport a special place. Some of the recent developments on High Street, while seeming to look like they fit in, are obnoxious I find. They squeeze out their neighbors behind them.
  • The original proposal was too broad in its geographic reach, but appropriate in the scope of review. The "compromise" at the end of the process was just weird.

Those Strongly in Favor:

  • need to prevent stupid, irreversible property decisions by narrow-minded and short-sighted people (like the recent barn demo and imminent development in Newbury, near Olde Town Hill...
  • I feel the historic character of the buildings is an asset that has a value to the community as a whole, not to anyone individual property owner and thus it should be protected through regulations which are not too limiting.
  • i believe that we are fortunate to live in an area so rich in architectural history, and think it is irresponsible to not outline protection for that which cannot be replaced....and naive to put all into hopes & prayers that the "right" people will be the purchasers of such properties, especially when there have been sad examples that isn't always the case.
  • If one values the historic cityscape and believes it is under continuing assault, as I do, then an LHD is the best way to control that; not a perfect way, but the most workable of the several choices.
  • It is our gem. We have lost many beautiful buildings with no control. We ourselves live in one and we are trying to protect it as best we can.
  • To preserve the character of the city and to prevent developers from changing it at will, again only to profit the few.
  • Newburyport's unique historic character and "sense of place" is the reason for its economic and intellectual vitality. If it is diminished, the first to go will be small long-term private investors (individual homeowners). As neighborhood properties devalue in real terms, so will assessments and tax revenue. Even if we maintain only a "cute" downtown, that alone will not sustain the city for long. Then the downtown, too, will deteriorate.
  • Newburyport should not take for granted the good will and good intentions of residents and developers, or the beautiful historic architectural heritage that is ours. WE NEED TO PROTECT THE CITY BEFORE IT IS ALL CHIPPED AWAY!
  • Because 1) historical buildings are a tourism draw and 2) everyone's property values are linked.
  • This is a no brainer but I will tell you why I think it is important. Newburyport is a city that is unique in America for the extent of intact, original historic architecture that we have here. Not just a few streets of history (like Portsmouth, for example), but street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood. It is one of the main reasons that most people give when they say why they live or visit here. The important thing is that we have the real thing, not replicas, which you can find in any town anywhere. There is something wonderful in walking into a home that has the old timber framing or better, the original wainscot and moldings that were cut from old growth lumber and created using all hand tools. The house on Ship Street that was just voted the demo delay on was built before the American Revolution! And somebody wants to throw it in the dumpster?! It is very sad. Our current ordinance barely slows people down, they just work it into their schedule - people come before the NHC who actually say, just vote right away for the delay so that we can get the clock ticking and then I can do anything I want. When we lose these, even only a few a year, the result will be that in a generation's time Newburyport will be just another town full of replicas.
  • I strongly favor a local historic district. Again, another historic home/barn was just demolished in Newbury. We need to protect the character of this city. Communities all over Massachusetts and the country have local historic districts. Most communities want lhd's. As I stated in an email to city councilors, an lhd is an asset to a community, not a hindrance.
  • Our history is what makes us unique. We lived in an historic district in Boston (South End) and it sent our real estate value sky high. It was not difficult to live with. I loved the beauty of our neighborhood, and that was preserved.
  • Again, I grew up in Chicago, in a neighborhood designated as historic way back in the 1960s and 1970s and the area has done nothing but benefit from it.
  • Individual owners can not be trusted , in this economy, to invest in history and culture. Many examples abound. (282 Water Street is just one.) We need city government to ensure that we as a community protect our valuable buildings. Can you imagine anyone coming to Newburyport to enjoy the all the NEW CONSTRUCTION and ALL the mall-like shopping opportunties? Our history and architecture are the things that make us a destination, and keep our property values high. It makes no sense to sacrifice a historic building and replace it with an ersatz oversized replica of an 18th century building. McMansions can be found in any suburb in the country, but Newburyport is unique- at least for now.....
  • We need to protect the historic homes in Newburyport or they will be gone with the wind. The LHD as proposed was very easy going. I hope we will find a way to keep more homes from being demolished and more importantly, I hope we can make the downtown a LHD.
  • Our historic buildings are a precious resource. We owe it to future generations to protect them.ONce the original fabric is gone, it is gone forever.
  • We cannot rely on the altruism or other good-hearted reasons that motivate historic property owners to do the right thing when fixing up or selling their properties. Deed restrictions do not control streetscapes and may not even do the right thing for the property. An LHD is minimal control for maximum benefit. A property owner who truly believes in historic preservation would (should) have no qualms about such a regulation. Finally, an LHD Commission would provide the necessary resource for property owners' education and assistance. I also believe in the economic and cultural benefits that the entire city would gain from an LHD. What a lost opportunity!
  • We're losing too much of the architecture that makes Newburyport unique and special.
  • to keep the uneducated mob we call my fellow citizens under control. otherwise they will destroy everything.
  • Better than nothing, but I would have preferred a district large enough to protect both the South End and the North End to Oakland Street. I would have preferred more protective language. It's so important to protect the character of the city.
  • Because Newburyport is the homeplace I longed for (without knowing it) all my life and found late in life, a place rich in history that is visible throughout the city. Fake Federal houses do not "do it" for me. I know that I'm not alone in treasuring a place as uniquely rich in location and inventory of homes over 200 years old. I studied the report of the study committee to the extent that it was made available to the public, and did not see any onerous impositions. The argument about property rights is a shibboleth to which I do not consent. If someone wishes to be completely free to enjoy his own property, he/she should live in the middle of the desert or in unreachable mountain fastnesses or on his/her own island. Supposedly they would still have to pay taxes. I feel that the argument for the increase in property value in a community that adopts and LHD is a valid one, but that was the least important argument. It breaks my heart to see happen what we have seen in Newbury twice in the past year. I knew none of the people involved, but enjoyed from a distance the presence of those historic homes and barn now gone forever: and for what? GREED
  • NBPT's history is its main draw, along with the waterside location, and we must protect both for our continued quality of life. The tear-downs that have occurred in Newbury in just this past year are deplorable, and now that the LHD has failed, the tear-downs will certainly happen here. It is just a matter of time. I strongly hope that the powers that be will be able to figure out a way to preserve our historic architecture. Perhaps use the Fruit St. model, and go neighborhood by neighborhood. As a resident of Joppa, my only disappointment with the proposed LHD was that it didn't include our area!
  • Newburyport has authenticity, which is key to our quality of life and future economic well being. The LHD would help protect that.
  • Protect our historic assets.
  • don't trust private market not to destroy important historical feel of newburyport, in order to maximize profits. this is a common good that enhances our experience as residents, promotes tourism, improves property values and cannot be left entirely to private decisions. I come from boston where the beacon hill, back bay and south end architectural commissions, while much more ambitious and inclusive than the LHD, have met those goals of building property value and enhancing resident and tourist experience, and preserving history
  • This is simply common sense. I grew up in a state (Vermont) where most towns have them in place. It has become a way of life. The plan developed for Newburyport was minimal and for the most part non-intrusive. I felt that the opposition used scare tatics filled with out right lies and their personal assaults on those that worked and/or supported and LHD were disgusting. I am a Republican but I have found that those ingrates that call themselves Republicans in NBPT are actually just Tea Party fools who have no distinction between right and wrong and the time when compromise needs to take place.
  • Look what is happening in Newbury. All it takes is one developer or wealthy person who doesn't care for history and it is gone> Not to mention all the little asaults on historic houses commited by howm owners.
  • Historic preservation saved our city from being a slum.
  • I've lived here for 36 years .I love the way the historic houses look, but I 've also seen changes made that aren't in keeping with this look. I realize that the zoning and planning board have some restraining power,but I'd like to see it done also by people who love the history. of the city.
  • Zoning experiment started in 1940. Over 72 years we have proof it does not protect historic structures or neighbrhoods. City lost 38+ % of all pre-1930 buildings identified in 1940 over next 72 years. LHDs protect against needless losses of architecture, tradespeople skills, jobs, and neighborhood property values. Also better at conserving energy. Newburyport had the highest proportion of early historic buildings of all Mass coastal communities as of 1940 Census of Housing. We are losing historic buildigs at a faster rate than most other coastal communities. Can't our elected officials do better? If LHD cannot pass w/o significant changes in City Council election outcomes, try to pass a Demolition Control District under Home Rule powers. Could be enacted by 6-5 vote. Those who claim there is no problem are either oblivious to historic buildings losses or do not care. We have no duty to protect "right" of developers and speculators to "flip" lots with historic sites by demoing them and harming cultural and financial values of entire neighborhoods.
  • The amount of misinformation circulating was unfortunately staggering. To any other community with an architectural treasure like Newburyport, a LHD would have been a given, but once again the community can't get out of its own way. The lack of protection will have severe consequences - increase in demolitions, infill, and out-of-character additions that will forever alter and destroy the city's unique architectural legacy. These buildings are the heart and soul of this community and it's about time that we recognize them as such (I live in the proposed district).
  • The LHD proposal should/could have started out smaller covering the downtown areas - Market to Federal, High to Water/Merrimack but the committee followed the survey results. There are hundreds of examples including in Newburyport of destruction/demolition of historic properties and character that directly has effected the city/town's attractiveness, historic value, and business and economic health. It's effecting Newburyport......... Politics and extreme fear won.
  • Must control demolitions
  • I think an LHD is the logical next step to protect the architectural character of the City, one of the reasons visitors, businesses, residents, are drawn here. The architecture here is an endangered species.
  • Just makes sense. You know that. Tear-downs and in-fill with awful architecture affects all of us.
  • I have recently moved to Newburyport. I am a prior resident of the historic district of Concord. I think we all can agree that Concord leads the way in preserving the historic character of a New England town, as well as open space. When living in Concord, there was very little discord over the historic district. It functioned very smoothly, the vast majority of people were not antagonistic toward it or the commission that made decisions on people's construction requests, everyone was reasonable, and most citizens were very proud to live there and be a part of it. The overall attitude was collaborative. People understood it was necessary to protect a national treasure.When I moved to the downtown area of Newburyport, I assumed I lived in a historic district! I was shocked and dismayed when I found out I didn't, and that the character of my neighborhood and this entire area is not protected. I couldn't believe it.I understand we have an extremely polarized political climate right now. For the most part, Democrats see the benefit in certain regulations that Republicans seem allergic too. But I really do not feel the whole "nobody tells me what to do with my property" argument is best for Newburyport. And I have lived in a town where people have learned how to work things out for the benefit of all.I support the creation of a Local Historic District in Newburyport, and I hope I will soon live in one!


chip wyser said...

I still strongly support an LHD for most of the historic downtown.

chip wyser

Cuentos del Camino said...

Thanks for this, Ed. It is very interesting. Too bad we can't agree on much as a community, though I do love living here.

Christina Bellinger said...

Thanks, Ed. It is interesting to read the comments. I am a strong supporter of LHD, because I love the historic architecture of Newburyport. Coming home along High St. used to be such a pleasure. Now I see the older homes crowded out by over-buidling.
It is true that much of this could be prevented by better zoning laws, but there seems to be no interest on the part of city government in addressing the zoning laws. The last time I remember anything being done in that area was when the City Council tried to tackle the question of additions to existing structures.