NEWBURYPORT — The proposed Local Historic District has become one of the most hotly debated issues in Newburyport in recent years. A public hearing last month demonstrated there’s significant community interest surrounding the idea of establishing rules for properties in the historic heart of the city.
It will be up to city councilors — not residents — to ultimately decide the proposal’s fate. Councilors will get the final report and proposed ordinance from the Local Historic District Study Committee in the coming weeks. The proposed measure will then be directed to a council committee and it is likely public hearings will be held.
While the vote is still several weeks off, we asked city councilors for their thoughts on the issue and how they plan to vote.
Council President Tom O’Brien, Ward 6
“I am going to vote against. I have lived here for 65 years, and I think the people in the district have done a good job with their houses. This proposed measure would be taking away the rights of property owners, and I think homeowners should be able to do what they want to their house. I don’t think we need it.”
Edward Cameron, councilor at-large
“There are over 200 LHDs in Massachusetts. Some of these have been in place since the late 1950s. Because these districts have been created at the ‘local’ level, each is different — some do not impose what I would call onerous hardships on homeowners and some are quite reasonable.
“Because of the way in which ours is being crafted, I think there will be a positive impact for homeowners in the proposed district and a community-wide benefit for those outside the district. The current iteration is very limited as to the items subject to review; I’m also pleased that the members of any LHD Committee would mostly be from the district.
“The mail and email I’ve gotten from Newburyporters about the LHD has been about 10-1 in favor. They recognize that Newburyport’s historic architecture is not at risk of imminent peril, but over a period of time, historic structures gradually have and will continue to be lost, usually not because of the conscientious homeowner but because of profit. The LHD applies a slight braking effect so that our historic landscape can be preserved. I think most people are seeing this as a case in which if they each give a little, they gain a lot.”
Barry Connell, councilor at-large
“I haven’t seen the final version, but generally I am not opposed to a LHD because I think it can be a useful tool for a community. In my house-to-house visits last fall (during an election campaign), I heard very strong support for the creation of an LHD. We haven’t seen a final version from the study committee, and it may be modified after it gets to the council. We’ll hear more when it actually arrives.”
Ari Herzog, councilor-at-large
“I am generally in support of a measure, but I am also cognizant of the fact it is constantly changing. And it could go through more changes. I have talked with many residents on both sides of the issue, and I look forward to the study committee sending it to the council so that we can have our own public hearing sooner rather than later.”
Kathleen O’Connor Ives, councilor at-large
“Now that the study committee has completed its work, the proposal will be sent to a City Council committee where residents will have multiple opportunities to express their view to council members. We’re entering a phase where councilors will study the proposal in detail as a starting point, but it’s also important to keep in mind we can also offer up changes to the language or alternative legislation.
“I take this responsibility very seriously because residents are passionate about both the preservation of Newburyport’s architectural heritage as well as the expenses and rights related to home ownership. I’m optimistic that we can find some common ground.”
Dick Sullivan Jr., councilor at-large
“Right now, I am going to vote no. I think there is a small group of people that wants to control what people can do with their properties, and I am against that. I grew up here and remember what the city looked like in the ’60s and ’70s. I don’t think we need it.”
Allison Heartquist,Ward 1
“I have met with both pro-LHD and anti-LHD supporters and will continue to do so until it is voted on by the council. I am maintaining an open mind and I am patiently waiting for the council to receive the proposal so the subcommittees/committee of the whole can hold meetings where councilors and interested parties can have meaningful ‘round table’ discussions.
“So far, the public meetings haven’t allowed for that. Both my constituents and myself have questions and concerns and I am looking forward to having an informative and open-minded discussion.”
Greg Earls, Ward 2
“I am going to wait for the final report and to continue to listen to the debate. Both sides of the issue have good points, but the final report has not come in. And there will be hearings at the council level and there could be recommendations to make changes to the study committee report. I have an open mind at this time.”
Robert Cronin, Ward 3
“To be fair, the LHD draft has not yet been submitted to City Council. Once submitted, there are several actions available to the council. The draft will be referred to committee, which can then hold public hearings.
“Therefore, it is unreasonable for me to take a position on an ordinance proposal that isn’t yet in final form. However, I have questions and undoubtedly many follow-up questions for the study committee. I have met with parties on both sides of the issue to listen and will continue to do so until the proposal is presented. Once presented by the study committee, I can then proceed in a fact-finding mode.”
Tom Jones, Ward 4
“I will wait for the study committee to provide its best effort in terms of a final report. I will read it and do my own research before coming to a decision. This has been the single most-controversial issue that I have been involved with in the eight years I have been a councilor.”
Ward 5 Councilor Brian Derrivan
could not be reached for comment.