NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 29, 2012

Compromise LHD, anti-demolition ideas floated

City Hall Notebook Dyke Hendrickson
Newburyport Daily News

---- — The next installment of the debate on the proposed Local Historic District is scheduled for tomorrow night, and one question is whether committee members will offer amendments at that time.

The Planning and Development Committee and the Council of the Whole last week hosted a public meeting to provide answers to questions about the proposed ordinance that would produce a LHD — and a new seven-member commission to administer it.

The auditorium at City Hall was packed, but few actually asked questions. Rather, scores declared their positions and why they were for or against the ordinance.

Your Scribe would not attempt to characterize the political rhetoric, but at times it did seem like Ayn Rand vs. Ralph Nader.

When the committee meets tomorrow at 7 in the auditorium, committee members — not the public — will be speaking.

City Hall insiders say the measure will not get the required eight votes to pass in its current form, and the prospect of compromise is in the air.

One middle-ground position was forwarded by Mayor Donna Holaday, who suggested that the scope of the LHD be scaled back to include simply the local business district.

Another issue that could be the focus of compromise is the possible creation of an anti-demolition ordinance.

Municipal leaders say the community’s authority to prevent the razing of a historic structure expired in 2006, and one can envision a councilor saying, “I don’t like the idea of a commission, but I will support creation of an anti-demolition measure.”

The prospect of an amendment raises the question of which councilor will want to step forward in a leadership position.

The structure of local government here stresses committee work; it is rare when a councilor stands and delivers to outline a new idea or initiative.

Most City Hall observers think that the measure, as is, will be defeated since a super-majority of eight votes is needed.

The handicapping is that the following councilors are in favor of the LHD: Ed Cameron, Barry Connell, Greg Earls, Allison Heartquist, Kathleen O’Connor Ives and Ari Herzog.

Against are Brian Derrivan, Tom O’Brien and Dick Sullivan Jr. Leaning against appear to be Bob Cronin and Tom Jones.

Well, leaning against this version, at least.

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Random quotes from the LHD meeting: From Leslie Eckholdt: “If we own a Rembrandt, we can’t change it or throw it away — a property right can be superseded by a community right.”

From Leon Friedman: After expressing concern about the presence of false information in the debate, Friedman said, “In my three minutes, I plan to discuss ....” The audience chuckled, with several correcting him by noting that each speaker was allotted just two minutes.

Then Derrivan, unofficially keeping time, chirped up, “Now you have one minute.”

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Also taking place at City Hall last week was the regular meeting of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, which heard a traffic study report from its hired consultant.

John Burke, former parking director of Portsmouth, N.H., stated that there is enough parking in the downtown to absorb the development of two commercial buildings that could include 30 to 35 condominiums.

The city would be losing some spots if park area is increased and structures on either side of the Firehouse Center for the Arts are built, but right now the city’s parking space is underutilized, Burke said.

The statement might have seemed counter-intuitive to those who seek a spot on a warm summer Saturday, but those who walk by the Merrimack River say that many spaces are empty on all but the busiest weekends.

Burke added that city officials should continue to seek more parking away from the river, perhaps through use of a (much-discussed) parking garage.

At the same meeting, waterfront watcher Bill Harris raised a point that might be as important as parking concerns: environmental permits.

Municipal historians say that the 4.2 acres of NRA-controlled waterfront once served as a transfer station for coal products. Before that, it was the recipient of numerous genres of refuse.

Harris, a onetime opponent of commercial development on the waterfront, urged the NRA to get in touch with environmental officials so that the appropriate studies can be undertaken.

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The following meetings are scheduled this week and open to the public:

Tuesday

School Committee retreat, 6 p.m., Institution for Savings

River Valley Charter School Accountability Committee, 6:30 p.m., 2 Perry Way

Planning and Development Committee and Committee of the Whole, 7 p.m., City Hall auditorium, Pleasant Street

Wednesday

Solarize Newburyport, 3 p.m., City Hall Auditorium

Jetty Repair Information Session, 7 p.m., PITA Hall, Newbury (postponed from Monday night)

Thursday

Commission for Tolerance and Diversity, 4 p.m., City Hall

School Building Committee, 6:30 p.m., City Hall

Open Space Committee, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

Historical Commission, 7:30 p.m., City Hall

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Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-462-6666, ext. 3226, or dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.