NEWBURYPORT — Differences of opinion still exist among supporters and critics of a proposed Local Historic District, and both sides are expanding their methods of communication to advance their positions.
Opponents in recent days have been putting up "Say No to LHD" signs in front of their homes and gathering signatures in public places from those who object to a historic district.
Backers have scheduled public discussions next Monday and the following Monday, at which authorities with experience in historic districts will make presentations and answer questions.
Though the final report of the Local Historic District Study Committee will not go to the City Council until late spring, discussion of the merits of the LHD are accelerating. The 11-member City Council will decide whether to enact the district, which will include all of High Street and a six-block area around the downtown. Old homes within the district will be subject to new rules regarding exterior changes and renovations.
"We've just started putting the signs up, and we've been continuing our collection of signatures," said Lyndi Lanphear, a leader of the opposition.
"When we started collecting weeks ago, I'd say about a third didn't know much about the issue, a third didn't want to sign and a third signed. Recently, about 75 percent signed, and I think that shows more people are supporting our position."
The Local Historic District Study Committee is still in the process of getting feedback as it prepares to craft a final report and a recommendation to the City Council.
The council will then likely have public hearings and will have authority to alter any aspect of the proposed ordinance that the committee advances.
An LHD ordinance will require a super-majority of affirmative votes, meaning eight councilors must vote for the ordinances.
On Monday, the committee is presenting a panel with a moderator and speakers to discuss the value of an LHD. Title of the event is "Ask the Experts," and it will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at City Hall Auditorium.
Participants include arbitrator Nancy Peace, architectural instructor Marilyn Fenollosa, preservation specialist Gretchen Schuler and local government specialist Chris Skelly. Peace will serve as moderator.
Peace, a onetime professor at Simmons College, has been a registered member of the Massachusetts Board of Conciliation. She is currently a sole practitioner of a mediation, arbitration and training agency based in Newburyport, and organizers say she is appearing for free as a community service.
The Nancy E. Peace Action Against Prejudice Award, created in her name, is given out yearly by officials of the YWCA.
Fenollosa is a preservation attorney and consultant in private practice and an instructor at Boston Architectural College. She has served as Community Preservation Program manager for Historic Massachusetts. A native of Lexington, she serves on the Historical and Historic District commissions and the Community Preservation Committee in that community.
Schuler was co-author of the Newburyport Reconnaissance Report for the Massachusetts Heritage Landscape Inventory in 2005.
Skelly is director of local government programs for the Massachusetts Historical Commission, with experience that includes tenures as a neighborhood planner for the City of Lowell and transportation planner for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
Residents in the proposed district are encouraged to send in their queries to firstname.lastname@example.org beforehand so that guest speakers can prepare answers.
The second forum will take place on Monday, March 26, also at City Hall Auditorium, beginning at 7 p.m.
Organizers say it is structured to "encourage information discussion between residents and study committee members."
There will be conversation in small groups with no formal presentations. Briefing materials have been mailed to property owners in the district, organizers said.
"It's important for us to provide information to those in the city and, especially, to residents in the proposed district," said Doug Locy, vice chair of the study committee.
"The mayor and others have suggested that we have some outside expertise, and we will be bringing in people who are experienced and will be available to answer questions."