, Newburyport, MA


December 20, 2012

LHD -- WTF (Where's the Finish?)

To the editor:

Just when we thought this divisive issue would come to a close, the City Council pulled a Houdini-like sleight of hand and voted to amend the proposal before them, creating a “limited” LHD with five structures … count them … five in this new narrow district on the Ridge.

Meanwhile, the fate of the three-plus years’ long LHD effort remains unclear. Are we finished? Is this the end? Unlikely.

First, there is the nebulous language that leaves anti-LHD folks on edge. Have we now created a Trojan horse whose hidden door could drop open in the middle of a quiet City Council meeting night and magically the district will be expanded?

Secondly, what is to become of a newly expanded demolition delay? Will developers now have to wait two years before taking down a “historic” home? (Does anyone really believe that an arbitrary construction date makes a home historic or worth saving?)

My fear is that, with this latest council move, our city has suddenly started to mimic national and state politics with rushed last-minute moves that avoid details and public scrutiny. Why is it that contemporary politicians can’t seem to come to a decision and then move on. Everything lingers. Obamacare is passed (in the dead of night with procedural chicanery) … we continue to debate it. The fiscal cliff approaches annually, we pass Band-Aids, keep debating, kick the problem down the road with no serious solutions in sight. You get the point. We’re losing our ability to productively govern as a nation, as a state and now as a municipality. It is very discouraging for the majority of our citizens.

The LHD is becoming a symbol of what is wrong with the American governing process today. I’m not talking about whether you like and respect old houses. We wouldn’t live in Newburyport if we didn’t love the look of all of them. My concern is that we are not productively governing. Our elected officials no longer do their jobs. They are all afraid to make decisions out of fear that they will not be re-elected. This has been an evolving problem for the last few decades and has been exacerbated over the past 10 years. Municipalities have been immune, for the most part, from this “we’ll deal with it later” approach. However, I fear Newburyport has now begun to enter this political “Twilight Zone.”

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