NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 14, 2012

More changes proposed to historic district

Hearing slated for next week

By Dyke Hendrickson
Staff Writer

NEWBURYPORT — The Local Historic District Study Committee will be holding a public hearing next week to discuss its final report and a proposed ordinance that members will submit to the City Council, and municipal officials note that changes in the draft have taken place in recent weeks.

The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, June 21, at the high school.

The controversial plan calls for creating a historic district in which alterations to buildings built prior to 1930 would require city approval. The district extends along the full length of High Street. Also included is a downtown district that extends between Federal Street and Winter Street, an area that encompasses the entire historic downtown.

Several changes have been made to the plan as it has gone through hearings. The following are alterations that have occurred recently, according to city documents:

The March version of the document suggested that the city would be creating "another city commission" in the form of the Local Historic District Commission. In a major change, new wording states that a new ordinance "would combine the Historical Commission, Fruit Street LHD Commission and the Newburyport LHD Commission into one over-arching commission with different criteria to follow depending on the location of the applicant's structure. This is consistent with most other communities. Add representatives from each LHD on this one commission."

Other revisions are as follows:

The phrase "Items reviewed must be visible from a public way" has been altered to say items reviewed must be visible from a public way "and that public way is within the district."

"Changes to the guidelines may be made by the LHD Commission" has been altered to say, "change to the guidelines may be made by the LHD commission but must be approved by a 2/3 majority of the City Council."

Makeup of the board: Three members of the five-member (plus two alternative) LHD Commission members must be residents of the district, now reads "four members of the five member plus two alternative LHD Commission must be residents of the district."

"Features visible from a public way that are on the rear elevation of a pre-1930 structure are reviewed now" is written to say "windows, doors and decks visible from a public way and that public way is within the district are on the rear elevation of a pre-1930 structure are NOT reviewed."

Varied application fees ($100 demolition, $25 for a waived public hearing application) have been altered to mean "$50 flat application fee for all applications. Any change in fees must be approved by the City Council."

Also changed is the following: "The LHD commission must make a final decision on a proposed project within 60 days, a maximum time allowed by state law now," now reads "the LHD Commission MUST make a final decision on a proposed project within 45 days."

The phrase "All applications must be reviewed by the LHD Commission" has been altered to suggest that "city officials and/or LHD Commission designates assigned by the LHD Commission to the Planning Office may sign off immediately on certain applications to expedite the application process."

In an effort to provide information prior to the vote of the City Council, city officials have offered a shortened version of what applications might come under the purview of a historic commission.

The following are subject to review: demolition (full and partial) of pre-1930 buildings and pre-1930 historic features only; new construction and additions; masonry (except foundations); siding and trim; windows; entrances and doors.

Also, porches and decks, widow's walks, fences and site walls; commercial storefronts, historic barns and outbuildings; signage; and changes to the High Street streetscape, public property (widening, etc.).

In addition, subject to review would be roofs and dormers.

City officials say the following would be excluded from review: shutters, gutters, foundations, roofing materials (including slate and composite materials), bulkheads, and structures built after 1930.

Also, ordinary maintenance and repair (except for brick masonry), as long as repair does not involve a fundamental change in exterior design or materials.

Excluded in review is new construction, demolition or alteration performed under a valid permit that was issued "prior to the effective date of this ordinance" or for the purposes of public safety.

Also excluded from review are paint; chimney caps; landscaping (vegetation); temporary structures (including but not limited to temporary signs); terraces, walks, driveways, sidewalks, swimming pools; storm windows, storm doors, screen windows, screen doors, window-mounted air-conditioning units.

Also excluded would be flagpoles and mailboxes; satellite antennae; heat and air vents; structures with a total footprint of less than 200 square feet; chimney caps; shutter hardware and exterior lighting.

Also excluded from review are modern materials (post-1930) that existed prior to the effective date of the ordinance. For example, existing vinyl siding can be replaced with vinyl siding; replacement windows can be replaced with new replacement windows, etc.

After the public hearing, the Study Commission will incorporate relevant changes from the public hearing into the final proposal. And, then, the Study Committee will submit the proposal to the city solicitor for legal review.

The Study Commission will submit the final report, map and ordinance to the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the City Council.

The council sends the proposal to one or more council committees.

Council committees work and deliberate and possibly hold public hearings.

The full council has two readings of the final proposal; each needs a two-thirds majority for passage.