BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Massachusetts Historical Commission has raised questions about the architectural merits of the proposed 442-seat Merrimac Ale House envisioned for the corner of Merrimac and Green streets.
Its reservations do not mean the bar-restaurant can’t be built, but it indicates that state officials are concerned that current building plans are not in accord with historical norms.
In a July 11 letter, a top MHC official wrote, “The MHC feels that it is clear that the partial demolition, the extremely large, incompatible new construction with a glass addition and dormers, removal of the chimney and other features, will have an ‘adverse effect’ on the (existing) Drown building and the Newburyport Historic District.”
The Drown building, at 40 Merrimac St., is the dominant structure on the property. The red brick building formerly housed Davis Auto Parts.
The MHC letter expressing concern was from Brona Simon, executive director of the historical commission, to Alex Strysky, of the state Department of Environmental Protection Agency. He is hearing officer for a Chapter 91 (state) license.
The MHC’s close attention appears to have been stimulated by letters sent this spring by the members of the Newburyport Historical Commission and by the Newburyport Chapter 91 Citizens’ Committee, a small watchdog group led by Bill Harris, a veteran waterfront lawyer, and Larry McCavitt, a one-time city councilor here.
Simon’s letter said, “The currently proposed design is overwhelming and incompatible ... new construction should always defer and speak to the historic fabric with which it abuts.”
Ale House developers have cleared numerous zoning and architectural hurdles in the past year, and a spokesman said they will respond to the concerns of the historical commission.
Building owner Joseph Leone, who is attempting to develop the venue, could not be reached for comment.
But Douglas Trees, an architect for the project, said in an email, “We are in receipt of about a dozen letters that were submitted to DEP as part of the Chapter 91 permit process and are in the process of responding as DEP has asked us to do.
“Among the letters is one from Massachusetts Historical Commission that is not complimentary about the massing of the building and we will respond to that letter, and the others hopefully by the end of this week.”