BY DYKE HENDRICKSON STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Close to 180 residents last night crowded the auditorium at City Hall for a meeting of the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee called to hear testimony about a proposed local historic district, but the three-member panel took no action.
So many residents spoke during the 2 1/2-hour meeting that Chairman Barry Connell stated that the panel would not have enough time to discuss the merits.
He tentatively scheduled another public meeting for Tuesday night at City Hall but stated that the date could change if other councilors can not attend.
Last night’s meeting was actually a gathering of the Planning and Development Committee and the Council of the Whole, the latter meaning all city councilors who wanted to attend. Nine of the 11 councilors were present.
Connell said his three-member panel was there to vote the proposed measure out of committee with either a “yes” recommendation, a “no” recommendation or no recommendation at all. But the number of people who signed up to speak delayed any action.
Once the proposal is voted out of committee, it will go to the full council for more discussion, possible alterations and eventually a vote.
Numerous public meetings have been held on the topic in the past year, and last night’s session had some similar overtones as familiar proponents and opponents returned to the lectern to state their views.
Each had two minutes to speak — though some abused the time limit — and the impassioned orators provided references ranging from Rembrandt to Lawrence of Arabia in the attempt to make a point.
One notable presentation came from Mayor Donna Holaday, who spoke at the outset of the session.
She called for a compromise, stating that city officials should consider limiting the scope of the proposal. Holaday suggested that perhaps only the commercial downtown sector should be considered for inclusion in the district at this time, allowing municipal leaders to then assess the success of a new commission.
But it was unclear how many listeners agreed with the mayor’s call for compromise.
Stating that many residents evidently are suspicious of a commission that would have power over property owners, she said she would name a small panel to come up with a blue-ribbon list of commission candidates.
“We can create an effective, fair commission,” she said. “We will have a mix of members.
“This LHD Study Committee has worked very hard, and I hate to see all that effort be lost.”
Formed in 2007, the study committee produced a proposed ordinance that would create a district to include the downtown business sector as well as High Street and other historic avenues in the heart of the city.
The City Council, not the voters, will decide whether to accept the ordinance. City officials say a super-majority of eight members (if all 11 councilors are present) must vote in favor of the ordinance for passage.