, Newburyport, MA

April 24, 2012

Chances still needed for LHD

To the editor:

I am writing on behalf of our group, Citizens for Historic Newburyport, in response to the April 11 article, "Official: Bring LHD to a vote." We are also anxious to see the LHD Study Committee complete its work so that the City Council can take up the issue and try to work out appropriate legislation as soon as possible. The council is where the hard decisions happen.

We regret the distraction caused by a battle of lawn signs, but it would have been foolish for our group not to distribute "yes" signs in response to the "no" signs. Both groups have now shown that they have support in the community. Our hope is that the councilors can cut through the noise and emotion and debate the pros and cons of the LHD concept rationally.

For our part, while our group supports the concept of an LHD, by no means do we believe that it is ready for a vote "as-is." Although the study committee was formed years ago, the electorate wasn't really engaged until recently, and their elected legislators still have nothing in front of them to consider.

We have several ideas for changes. For example, we have sent proposed language to the LHD Study Committee that would ensure the City Council is the city body that adopts and amends any design guidelines, by ordinance.

We are also interested in streamlining procedures so that property owners who submit complete applications electronically can get through review in 30 days, not 60. We are vetting that with experienced local builders. The ordinance could also be refined to minimize what projects are reviewed at all. There should only be hearings for major work.

There are also concerns about a new LHD Commission duplicating the efforts of other city boards without policy advantage. The Waterfront West and Federal Street Overlay Districts already require Planning Board review and, in some cases, require that rehabilitation of historic structures be consistent with the secretary of the Interior's "Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings." With some tweaking to handle commercial signage, that is probably good enough.

Finally, public attention around the LHD has brought into sharp relief the differences many Newburyporters see between residential property, which dominates High Street, and commercial property, which dominates much of downtown. That merits more thought, too.

We want to dispel any misconception that there are two solid blocks of "no" and "yes" residents without any nuance to them. On the contrary, there is much for the City Council still to consider.

Jared Eigerman

Citizens for Historic Newburyport