NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

December 6, 2012

O'Connor Ives proposal will expand historic district

To the editor:

The new LHD plan submitted in the 11th hour by Councilor Ives is being presented as smaller than the plan which is currently in committee. This is completely untrue.

There are two historic districts being proposed now — a downtown historic district with, according to Councilor Ives, “bigger teeth,” and a demolition delay historic district that encompasses an area from Ashland Street to Marlboro Street, Hill Street to the Merrimack River. Between the two districts, the number of homes and land area will equal the original enormous plan for over 2,700 private homes that was first presented several years ago.

The two districts abut one another. That’s no coincidence. There is absolutely nothing to prevent them from morphing into one enormous district in the blink of an eye. The governing rules of the new downtown district are not the same as the one currently in committee, nor do they follow the MGL 40C. It’s certain, that in the not-too-distant-future, when no one’s paying attention, the two districts will become one controlled not by a super majority of the council but by a majority of the commission. A majority of seven members is four.

MGL 40C is designed to spread districts in size and scope. The commonwealth encourages it. People who subscribe to this philosophy encourage its expansion and wish to gain more and more control over private property. By creating these two districts side-by-side, the residents have been unwittingly set up for one of the largest historic districts in the commonwealth, achieved through the back door. This is unconscionable.

The Ives proposal, for the first time in the city, allows this unelected commission to gain entry into private homes and buildings. They claim this is to determine the age, structural condition or if a property owner claims a hardship. They’re not structural engineers, they can look at the assessor’s records or Registry of Deeds to determine age, and if a family is financially unable to comply with this, an unelected commission (of neighbors, we’ve been assured) must enter to see if they can afford it? It states that if you do not permit them to enter, your denial will be a consideration in their decision. When did Newburyport come to this?

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