, Newburyport, MA

February 12, 2014

An LHD in sheep's clothing?

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Dyke Hendrickson has already been criticized for calling Ward 2 Councilor Eigerman’s two proposals for an Interim Downtown Overlay District just another form of a local historic district, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s just another way our local government can strip homeowners of their personal property rights and maybe their homes.

Eigerman’s backdoor approach of calling this ordinance “only interim” and the quiet manner in which he presented his proposal is just another way of trying to convince homeowners that the restrictions on their homes will only be for a short time and therefore it is not very important. But, in reality, most taxes and government controls are never temporary, but in fact usually increase with time. It states, “it is anticipated that this section shall be reviewed, and may be amended and/or replaced by permanent controls.’’

In all fairness to Mr. Eigerman, he is only doing what he told his supporters he would do during his election. The trouble is, his supporters in Ward 2 and the present Fruit Street LHD do not represent the majority of citizens in Newburyport.

I have many concerns with Mr. Eigerman’s “de facto demolition.” According to the summary released by the Planning Board, “this ordinance would also require property owners within the IDOD to maintain historic buildings (which means private homes within this proposed area) in a state of good repair, and would discourage “de facto demolition,” or referred to as “demolition by neglect.”

Some of the questions which come to mind are:

Who would determine if a homeowner needs to repair their home or maintain their home to the “Standards of the Committee”? What happens if it is not meeting their standards? Is the homeowner fined? Is a lien placed on the homeowners’ property until the maintenance is done to their satisfaction? I believe this proposal would include all four sides of your home, and if so would we be required to allow them into our property to examine all four sides? It also mentions there must not be a depreciation in market value — who determines that? Could homeowners be placed on, for example, a 5-year painting schedule?

What steps would be taken to accommodate a family who cannot afford to meet the committee’s standards? What types of financial assistance will be offered by the city to help homeowners meet their standards? Would homeowners be fined if they were unable to pay for the repairs? Is there a time limit? Could a lien be slapped on their home? How much harm can be inflicted on the homeowner? These and many other questions need to be answered before this ordinance is slipped through the back door.

I agree with Mr. Eigerman, we need to protect the downtown, commercial brick buildings of Newburyport. I just wish he had not tried extending the arm of our local government into the neighborhoods and homes surrounding our downtown and creating the opportunity for expansion. Most citizens of Newburyport, including myself, would support efforts to preserve the downtown and I also believe these efforts would receive unanimous vote from the City Council.

Lyndi Lanphear