NEWBURYPORT — Confrontation over a proposed Local Historic District escalated Tuesday night, when close to 20 residents opposing the measure spoke at the City Council meeting urging a “no” vote.
The appearance of the opponents was in contrast to the council’s meeting two weeks ago, when about the same number spoke in support of a new ordinance creating an LHD.
Before Tuesday night, it might have appeared that opposition was subsiding, but Dick Hordon, who heads a group dubbed “Say No to LHD,” said that opponents are more energized than ever.
“We didn’t appear two weeks ago because it was our understanding that residents would not be able to speak,” said Hordon. “But we are still very much opposed.
“We are the silent majority. A growing number of residents are against it and our appearance at the council meeting should demonstrate that there is much opposition.”
Hordon and his team produced a loose-leaf notebook outlining their opposition, a document that appeared large enough to explain and annotate the Manhattan Project.
In addition to position points, the notebook contains petitions with signatures, and it lists names and addresses of “vetted” residents who are against a new ordinance.
“We have an email list of more than 1,000 who oppose the LHD,” said Lyndi Lanphear, also a resident opposing the LHD.
The Local Historic District Study Committee recently submitted its final report to the City Council, which includes a proposed ordinance that would create a district that encompasses nearly 800 buildings. The district includes all of High Street, plus about six blocks in the downtown area between Route 1 and Federal Street.
Among the points of the new LHD would be a measure to regulate the demolition of historic houses and the creation of a commission designed to preserve the architecture of houses and buildings in a proposed historic area.
The council recently sent the measure to the Planning and Development Committee, and chair Barry Connell said his committee and the Council of the Whole would hold a public information session Thursday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. in the City Hall Auditorium.
Connell said, “All city councilors may participate in the meeting, which will be moderated by the chair of the P&D Committee. The meeting will be open to the public, and we will solicit comment from any resident who wishes to speak.
“Any councilor who attends will be able to ask questions. At the close of the public comment period, the members of the City Council will discuss what they’ve learned about the LHD proposal, after which the members of the P&D Committee may vote to issue a favorable recommendation, an unfavorable recommendation or no recommendation at all.
“The process is governed by the rules of the City Council and the City Charter. These are the same procedures we use with zoning issues or other issues with wide public interest.”
Hordon was among those who addressed the council Tuesday night, but he said his full statement was abbreviated because each speaker was allotted by council President Tom O’Brien only about a minute (as had been done two weeks before).
In a written statement to councilors in the loose-leaf binder, Hordon said, “We have talked to residents from every neighborhood, from the West End to Plum Island, and we have collected signatures from hundreds and hundreds of citizens.
“The overarching opinion is that Newburyport is not broken, that homeowners have been caring for their properties for the past 300-plus years on their own without government intervention, that pride of ownership is visible on every street in this city, and that homeowners are not willing to relinquish control over their homes now — or in the future.”
Numerous speakers at the council meeting Monday night said that their key concern is that the LHD would be an invasion of the rights of property owners.
If appearances at the past two council meetings have indicated a continued difference of opinion, the lawn signs that appear on homes on High Street and other areas appear to confirm that disagreement is still present.
Several months ago Mayor Donna Holaday asked that both sides take down their signs. The leaders of the pro-LHD side complied.
But numerous pro-LHD placards have reappeared on lawns on recent days, suggesting that proponents realize that the battle is still ongoing.
Most of those opposing the LHD did not take down their signs.
Making the decision on the LHD will be the City Council, and a super-majority of eight votes is necessary for the measure to pass. City officials say several more hearings will take place before a final vote can be taken.