NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 19, 2012

O'Connor Ives leading the way to compromise on LHD

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — Compromise is in the air regarding a proposed Local Historic District, and it appears that a little child shall lead them (well, Katy O’Connor Ives is just 35).

The City Council recently discussed the LHD, and members’ remarks indicate they are split over the proposed ordinance that would create a Local Historic District Commission. The matter is scheduled to come up again at the council’s meeting on Nov. 26.

Since approval would require a super-majority of eight of 11 votes, the LHD will not pass in its current form.

Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives has outlined areas that might be considered for a compromise solution. (Mayor Donna Holaday has also made suggestions, but since O’Connor Ives sits on the board that makes the decision, the voice of the city councilor is especially resonant now.)

There appear to be two areas of possible negotiation.

One is to restrict the LHD to the downtown commercial area. (Yes, this would mean that historic High Street would not be part of this LHD.)

The other is to consider a measure that would prohibit the demolition of historic homes.

O’Connor Ives, a lawyer and small-business owner, recently won election to the state Senate, and her campaign revealed that despite her youth, she is among the most politically adept of those who serve on the part-time council.

She was a district leader for Sen. Al Gore’s presidential campaign, for instance, and she was a key figure in the gubernatorial race of Steve Grossman, now state treasurer.

Though soft-spoken and quite accessible, she is a force when it comes to developing initiatives and fostering cooperation.

Referencing local history, O’Connor Ives says the downtown should have an LHD to protect it because municipal leaders in the ‘70s worked so hard to save historic buildings. The result was a nationally recognized success.

But the city currently has no ordinance that requires that developers adhere to an architectural style when renovating or building new structures.

New England Development owns close to 50 properties in the downtown, according to its website. The compromise is suggesting that some kind of legal framework be in place when developer Stephen Karp and team begin seeking permits.

Also, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority plans to put up two commercial complexes near the riverfront. No one knows who the developer will be and what architectural preferences that firm might bring to the construction site.

Regarding demolition of historic homes, the city now has a demolition delay policy, but it cannot prohibit a developer from buying a historic home and pulling it down to build a half-dozen new dwellings.

During a recent public hearing, Bonnie Sontag, a member of the Planning Board, said the Planning Board does not have much power when it comes to requiring architectural style.

Her remarks were lost among more colorful presentations, such as one speaker’s rhetorical allusion to the life and times of Lawrence of Arabia. But if she says the Planning Board cannot act as a watchdog, an anti-demolition measure might be worth considering.

As the City Council gets closer to making a decision, it is evident that residents who have the ear of resistant councilors do not want a commission that passes judgment on a property owner’s desire to change or enhance a residence.

Realtors hate the idea of losing a sale on High Street because a prospective buyer won’t be able to easily make changes; contractors despise the thought of being delayed because a Local Historic District Commission declares that proposed construction does not fall within its sense of tastefulness.

So a compromise might be forthcoming. If an amended LHD ordinance does pass, it could represent one of the final acts of the departing O’Connor Ives.

---

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

Tonight

Finance Committee of the Whole School Committee, 7:30 a.m., schools office, 70 Low St.

Newburyport Housing Authority, 5 p.m., 25 Temple St.

Communication Subcommitteee of the Whole School Committee, 5:30 p.m., Room 118, high school

Budget and Finance Committee, 6 p.m., City Hall

School Committee, 6:30 p.m., Room 18, high school

River Valley Charter School Department Committee, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way

Public Safety Committee, 7 p.m., City Hall

Tuesday

Board of Water Commissioners, 5:30 p.m., 16A Perry Way

Conservation Commission, 6:30 p.m., City Council chambers

Wednesday

Solarize Newburyport, 3 p.m., City Hall

Thursday

Local Historic District Study Committee, 7:30 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

---

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