, Newburyport, MA

December 12, 2012

Scaled-back preservation

Eight High Street residences unite for mini historic district

By Dyke Hendrickson
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The handful of residents in the city’s new High Street Historic District yesterday expressed satisfaction that they will be included in a historic sector — even if it is much smaller than what the Local Historic District Study Committee had envisioned.

The City Council Monday night passed the first reading of an ordinance creating a historic district on High Street, between State Street and Wills Lane.

The new district encompasses just eight residences — situated within five structures.

The LHD Study Committee had proposed a sweeping district including High Street from Atkinson Common to Marlboro Street as well as many downtown neighborhoods and commercial blocks.

That district would have included 794 structures, according to the committee.

City Hall insiders say that the compromise to create this smaller district on High Street was a realistic reaction to the sentiment of anti-LHD councilors. The new sector represents houses numbered in the range of 79 to 93, all on the south side of High Street.

“We’ve supported the LHD protection for years, and we will be happy to be in a district,” said Stephanie Niketic, who with her husband lives at 93 High St.

“As neighbors, we were able to talk to each other. Our ward councilor, Greg Earls, helped us. Many homeowners in Newburyport would like the same protection, and we will continue to support them.”

Earls argued Monday night that all homeowners within the district’s narrow section of High Street should be able to live in a volunteer district. “They are smart people,” said Earls, who represents this section of Ward 2. “The council can’t sit here and suggest that we know more than they do.”

But while city councilors supported the creation of the High Street Historic District, the proposed LHD ordinance drafted by the study committee was opposed by at least five of the 11 councilors; eight affirmative votes were needed for it to pass.

“We got involved with historic preservation citywide, not for our block,” said Jared Eigerman, who with his wife lives in a half-house at 83 High St. “There weren’t enough votes for an LHD over a large area, but we asked for one on our block face.”

Eigerman said that an LHD district will not prohibit residents from doing exterior repairs, building garages in the back of their properties or repainting their houses.

“All of those options are not reviewable. What the district won’t let us do is to demolish or put on additions visible from High Street without getting permission,” he said.

Eigerman said he will continue to monitor upcoming discussions of protection for the downtown business section, and the possible development of stronger measures as they relate to demolition delay of historic structures.

Those discussions are scheduled to take place in the new year, since Monday’s council meeting was the last scheduled session for 2012.

Sarah White, who led the LHD Study Committee, said her group’s work is done. Questions relating to the downtown protections and demolition delay are not within the purview of her committee, she said.

“The High Street District is smaller than anticipated, but it did reflect that there were residents adamant about having a district,” said White, whose High Street residence is not within the new district.

Others working with White on the five-member panel were Doug Bolick, Doug Locy, Edward Ramsdell and Margaret Welch.

White was circumspect when reflecting on the LHD experience.

“I was prepared to expect the unexpected,” she said.

“At times, it seemed like catching a falling knife — developments were difficult to predict. I do feel that we helped create dialogue about historic preservation and the need to protect our historical resources. That’s an important issue in this city.”