, Newburyport, MA

December 7, 2012

LHD plan set for failure

Council poised to reject proposed ordinance Monday


---- — NEWBURYPORT — The initiative to create a Local Historic District has been under discussion for five years, and at least one thing is becoming clear: The LHD ordinance as proposed will not pass.

More discussion is needed, city councilors say.

Last night, members of the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee and the Committee of the Whole — a combination that totaled 10 councilors — met to discuss amendments to the LHD ordinance suggested by Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives. Councilor Ari Herzog was absent.

The discussion came in advance of a City Council meeting Monday night, when the proposed LHD ordinance, created by the Local Historic District Study Committee, is scheduled to come out of committee for a vote of the full council. And evidence suggests it will fail at that time.

“The reality is that that LHD does not have the votes to pass,” Councilor Bob Cronin said.

Eight votes out of the 11 councilors is required for passage of an LHD ordinance.

“The community does not have the appetite for passing the LHD,” Councilor Brian Derrivan added.

Numerous councilors — and many residents — are opposed to the creation of an LHD Commission that would have authority over aspects of renovation of historic homes in some city neighborhoods, including High Street.

With agreement among the councilors last night that the current LHD proposal was headed for failure, much of the ensuing discussion was centered around what councilors can agree on.

O’Connor Ives had introduced several compromise measures, and her document is being used as a springboard for discussion.

Her initiative called for a smaller residential LHD, but opposition councilors essentially derailed that. However, several councilors discussed creation of a voluntary district based on the success of the Fruit Street Historic District.

It was dubbed a “ridge district” and would encompass some houses on High Street between State and Marlboro streets.

Language on how to put such an idea into an ordinance was assigned to Planning Director Andy Port.

One idea that did gain some traction was Ives’ proposals to craft a demolition delay. She had suggested that the currently proposed delay regulation be extended from 12 months to at least 24 months.

Ices suggested that the “delay permit” travel with the owner, not the house. She said that the purpose was to discourage builders from buying homes, holding them for a year and then tearing them down to replace them with newer or more numerous versions.

Councilors agreed that aspects of demolition would be discussed going forward. Indeed, numerous aspects of historic preservation will be the subject of future meetings — as yet unscheduled.

Cronin suggested focusing on a demolition delay, protection for the downtown and a voluntary LHD perhaps linking to the Fruit Street Historic District.

The meeting ended with an eye to the future.

That future begins Monday, when the City Council is expected to formally reject the proposed LHD ordinance. Though the the Local Historic District Study Committee has been working since 2007, its vision for the future will likely be snuffed out early next week.

After that, discussion will continue.