, Newburyport, MA

December 3, 2012

New LHD plan lacks favor

Citizens on both sides find fault with compromise initiative

By Dyke Hendrickson
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — As city officials prepare this week to discuss an alternative proposal to create a Local Historic District here, it appears neither side of the long-debated measure is ready to endorse the new initiative.

The initiative has been created by City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives and is independent of a version developed by the Local Historic District Study Committee.

O’Connor Ives, who will resign from the council on Jan. 1 to assume a seat in the state Senate, formally introduced her measure at last week’s City Council meeting. Her plan would create a Downtown Historic District and a Demolition Control District.

The new proposal will be discussed Thursday, when members of the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee and the Committee of the Whole meet at City Hall at 7 p.m.

The creation of an ordinance creating an LHD has been debated here for more than a year. Some City Hall veterans say that this is the most divisive issue that has arisen in the community in more than a decade.

Stephanie Niketic, a spokeswoman for the Citizens for Historic Newburyport, and Dick Hordon, who leads a group known as “Say No to LHD,” both found fault with the O’Connor Ives proposal when approached for comment by The Daily News.

Hordon said, “The new plan conceived by Councilor O’Connor Ives is being presented as smaller than the plan currently still in committee. This is completely untrue.”

Hordon said that what’s being proposed now involves two historic districts — a downtown area with “bigger teeth” and a demolition delay district that encompasses an area from Atkinson Common to Marlboro Street, and from the Merrimack River to High Street, and “everything in between.”

”Between the two new districts, the number of homes and area land will equal the original monster of a plan for 2,700 private homes put before the city a few years ago,” he said.

And Niketic said her members “prefer the study committee’s proposed ordinance, which matches hundreds of others statewide except for actually being less intrusive.”

”We are bitterly disappointed that High Street and Federal Street are excluded under Councilor O’Connor Ives’ proposal,” she said.

Niketic added, “The alternative proposal is not as strong as we think is needed to protect Newburyport’s historic character. Our increasing affluence means those streetscapes are under development pressure unseen in 1972 or even 1992.”

One of O’Connor Ives’ proposed amendments focuses on demolition delay. The other amendment defines the size of a Local Historic District, with her plan portrayed as smaller than that of the study committee.

Regarding a demolition delay, her proposed ordinance states that the building commissioner “shall not issue a demolition permit for a period of 24 months” from the date the permit is requested.

By stretching the waiting period from one year to two years, the ordinance might cool the interest of a property owner who wants to move quickly in razing a house, city officials say.

Also, if a historically relevant structure is destroyed “without a demolition permit having been first obtained,” the city will not approve a building permit on that site for a period of three years.

O’Connor Ives’ demolition control district runs from about Ashland Street to about Marlboro Street, and from the river to High Street.

O’Connor Ives also has developed “an ordinance regarding historic preservation.”

This would dissolve both the existing Historical Commission and the Fruit Street Historic District and establish a newly constituted Historical Commission. This panel would assume the duties as outlined “under Section 8D of Chapter 40 of the Massachusetts General Laws” as well as under home-rule powers of the city.

The most noticeable attribute of her ordinance is that the acreage under the auspices of this Historical Commission would be much smaller than the LHD proposed by the study committee.

The territory involved in O’Connor Ives’ plan would run from about Fruit Street to about Green Street, and from High Street to the river.

O’Connor Ives’ proposal would convey to the LHD Commission “duties as outlined under Section 8D of Chapter 40 of the Massachusetts General Laws.”

To this element of the new version, Hordon said, “We will oppose any legislation that falls under Chapter 40C, Local Historic Districts.”

Niketic said, “The O’Connor Ives proposal is not enough, but it is undeniably an improvement (over current regulations).

”We think the LHD proposed by the study committee is needed to address the problem (replacement of old buildings by newer ones). Councilor O’Connor Ives’ way is different, but it is something.”

Though some observers were surprised by the rapidity with which O’Connor Ives appeared to produce her version, she said it had been in the works for many months.

”I developed this proposal and position on the LHD about a year ago,” she said. “I presented this position to representatives of both the `yes’ campaign and the `no’ campaign many months ago.

”I was only waiting for the LHD Study Committee to complete its proposal and submit it to the council before submitting my proposal. And, needless to say, my version is not meant to be the final version, but I wanted it to be a starting point.”