, Newburyport, MA

August 7, 2012

plans to demo house on hold


---- — NEWBURYPORT — A city board has issued an order that puts a temporary stop on a homeowner’s plans to tear down an antique house on Water Street, and the “clock is ticking” until he can take down the structure.

The Historical Commission held a public hearing Thursday for Herbert T. Sears, who is listed as owner of 284 Water St. The commission voted unanimously to issue a demolition-delay order, which stays the tearing down of any buildings for a year.

Neither Sears nor an attorney representing his interests was present at the hearing.

Linda Smiley, chair of the commission, expressed concern that Sears is considering demolition of an antique house rather than working with the panel on changes that might be made.

“We don’t have any details on what the parties want to do with the property,” said Smiley, an architect. “But I am perturbed that they did not appear and don’t seem to want to discuss their plans for this structure.

“We want to work with applicants; we try to compromise to help them do what they want. But no one appeared at the hearing.”

The property, built in 1810, is assessed at $810,700, according to city records. It is a Georgian-style residence with nine rooms (four bedrooms) and two fireplaces. Size of the house is 2,723 square feet, and the structure has unobstructed views of the inlet across Water Street. Several smaller buildings are also on the property.

The house had been listed on the market for $1.2 million until last month, but is no longer for sale. Abuttors at the commission meeting suggested that an owner could get that much or more if owners tore it down, and offered a clear lot to a buyer who might build a larger structure.

Sears could not be reached for comment at the domicile he listed on his request for the permit, which is in Exeter, N.H.

The application requests a permit for “demolition of a single-family home, garage, barn and shed.”

“It is unusual for an applicant not to appear or be represented at a public hearing,” said City Planning Director Andy Port. “At this point we don’t know exactly what their plans are.”

The commission meets regularly to review demolition-delay applications “and any other project occurring within the Newburyport Historical District that may seek the advice of the commission.”

Under city ordinance, any demolition to structures 75 years or older must be reviewed by the NHC. The purpose of the ordinance is “to protect and preserve structures in the city that reflect distinct features of the architectural, cultural, political, economic and social history of Newburyport.”

Bill Harris, a lawyer and preservation activist, described the proposed demolition as “Newburyport’s equivalent of the Tappan House tear-down in Newbury.” He was referencing a situation earlier this year in Newbury in which an antique home was purchased for $1.6 million and torn down to permit owners to pursue other plans for the land, which abutted their home.

“This is a very unusual situation when the property owners will not appear before the commission and when the property owner may intend to transfer demolition rights to a future but undetermined owner,” said Harris, who attended the commission meeting.

Newburyport is considering the establishment of a historic district, which would place restrictions on what homeowners can do with antique properties. The home in question is not within the proposed district.