, Newburyport, MA

October 31, 2012

Why councilors should vote No on LHD

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

My family lives on High Street. Our house was built in 1770. My wife and I have signed the “No” petition on the proposed LHD and urge the City Council to vote it down.

Preventing historic homes from needlessly being torn down is a worthy goal. As written, however, the LHD proposal is not about history. We remain unconvinced that Newburyport needs an unelected body dictating what constitutes “historic fabric” based on a set of subjective standards.

The you-don’t-know-what’s-good-for-you tone of the few pro-LHD communications we have received has struck us as patronizing and condescending. More important, we have yet to see these claims fully supported by the facts.

Those in favor of the LHD attribute resistance to “misconceptions” about its mission and objectives. They point out instances of improper restorations, inappropriate renovations, and incompatible additions. Those words – improper, inappropriate, and incompatible – are cause for alarm. Inappropriate according to whom? If the majority of residents affected don’t understand or agree with what the LHD wants to accomplish now, how can its proponents expect support or compliance with it later?

What are the positive reasons for supporting the LHD? If the goal is to establish a set of requirements that create viable options to tearing down an historic home, be specific and objective about those. Then put a clearer proposal to a vote.

In the meantime, the Council should vote NO because the LHD would:

Concentrate too much power in the hands of too few

Impose new restrictions upon homeowners

Make it more expensive to own, maintain, and sell a home within its boundaries

Enforce greater uniformity and conformity

The Newburyport we treasure welcomes and celebrates eccentrics. If anything, Newburyport needs more diversity, not less. Comparisons to other tourist destinations imply that the only way to preserve Newburyport is by accelerating its already rapid gentrification. We disagree, and don’t want to see families priced out of this market so the drive down High Street more closely resembles a Merchant-Ivory production. Why has there been so much emphasis on facades when it’s what’s behind them that make this city truly vibrant?

We spend a lot of time on soccer fields, in supermarket aisles, and school parking lots. In these places – the circulatory system of Newburyport – the need for an LHD never comes up. So what’s the big deal?

The majority of homeowners in the proposed LHD take their custodial and historical duties seriously. Whatever path we ultimately follow to establish a historic district will work only if we’re a united community that reaches decisions through healthy debate and mutual compromise. The City Council should not ram this measure through with the thin support it currently enjoys.

Let’s prepare for and embrace the future of this great town, not try to recreate a past that was never the way we imagine it was to begin with.


Conall and Eileen Ryan