NEWBURYPORT — The proposed ordinance to create a Local Historic District generated substantial discussion this week, and city officials say another round of public discussion will take place in the near future.
Councilor Barry Connell, who heads the Planning and Development Committee of the City Council, said his panel will schedule public hearings in October so that residents can express their views in front of the committee and council members.
The Local Historic District Study Committee, which produced the proposed ordinance, was constituted in 2007, and every seat was taken when the measure was brought to the floor of council chambers Monday night.
Several councilors wanted the proposal to be reviewed by the entire council, rather than the Planning and Development Committee. But by a 6-5 vote, councilors opted to send the proposed ordinance to committee first.
Council President Tom O’Brien said he would have supported a hearing before the full council rather one in committee.
“I favored a plan where the measure would come before the whole council, with the president running the meeting as we do with many issues,” said O’Brien.
Councilor Bob Cronin said, “The whole council should be involved. This way it appears that the three members of the committee will vote on amendments but all councilors should have a voice.”
Almost 20 residents spoke at the council meeting, and all but one expressed support for the proposal.
Jared Eigerman, one of the leaders of Citizens for Historic Newburyport, said that preserving the city’s past will enhance the future of real estate prices.
“Preservation is not about idealogy but about value,” the real estate lawyer said. He said that contractors are now finding the city to be attractive for development, and regulations are needed to preserve historic homes and retain the city’s value.
Mark Bilodeau, a homeowner at 63 High St., said the large residence he lives in was almost sold to developers before he arrived with a winning offer.
“Builders look at part of High Street, and see open acreage on which they can put 30-40 lots and make millions of dollars,” said Bilodeau. He said the city needs the LHD so that contractors can’t tear down historic homes and turn the land into subdivisions.
James Shanley, chair of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, spoke in favor of the LHD: “This is a reasonably priced life-insurance policy for the community” that he said would help preserve its historic character.
Linda Smiley, who heads the Newburyport Historical Commission, said that 67 demolition applications (of a complete structure) have been filed since 2003. She indicated that the city has inadequate mechanisms to prohibit demolitions.
LHD supporter Michael Sales suggested to councilors that “this is a once in a generation opportunity to lead”; proponent Ghlee Woodworth stated that “in the ’60s, Newburyport (leaders) were groundbreakers” by opting for preservation. She urged councilors to do so again.
Dick Hordon, who heads a group dubbed “Say No to LHD,” was the only speaker to oppose the ordinance.
“Our forefathers who fought for freedom believed in property rights,” said Hordon. “They wanted less intrusion into the lives of others.”
He suggested that the LHD would be an example of government playing too large a role in residential life.