Even though it is rather disturbing to see so many projects being stalled, postponed or sold; there is a positive to all this. This gives the city an opportunity to tighten its ordinances, establish the local historic district and to settle many issues concerning the Master Plan. It also gives preservation groups an opportunity to educate the citizenry before the pressures of development overwhelm with a new onslaught of speculators with their entourage of architects, consultants, contractors and lawyers.
As we have heard so far, Karp and New England Development are holding off their plans and even going so far as to sell off some of their properties in Newburyport. (The complex behind the old Irish Pub.) Republic temporarily lost its financing when one of its supporting banks failed causing its development of the Towle “tenement buildings” to be stalled. It is certain that many more projects are going to be stalled as the credit crisis continues. Todd-Fremont Smith’s dreams of million-dollar homes is gone with barely enough to break even.
Of course, as the recession progresses; there is a new danger. It is the intrinsic value of our historic city with its preserved neighborhoods that add to the market value of our city while so many other municipalities are faltering and home values are plummeting. We still need to move fast on the local historic district.
It won’t be long before desperate contractors and developers see Newburyport with its few preservation protections as a ripening revenue source. These plunderers will come from the surrounding area looking to promise “cheap” solutions to residents of historic homes already weary from years of maintenance. We have already seen this in the last few years with the ghastly destruction of historic homes. The plunderer walks away with a quick profit from cheap materials and the homeowner thinking they have saved a bundle watch their market values plummet. Who in their right mind would put vinyl siding in an historic district? Who in their right mind would put windows in with fake mullions or bore themselves by pulling down plaster walls and replacing them with drywall in a romantic and special historic area? Of course, no one would say anything if these things were done outside of an historic district. In fact, their efforts would probably enhance the value of their home. Not so in an historic district! Regrettably, these plunderers have been here for years but expect more as the economy continues to sour!
The real challenge is to use this time to get the safeguards into place. Contrary to popular opinion, contractors like a structured historic district with design review. They can pick up the review manual, calculate their overhead, materials and profit and stride forward with confidence with barely a nod to the review board. It’s the lack or lax laws that cause so much headache to developers.
Now is the time to educate citizens in these ordinances and preservation safeguards like preservation easements, local historic districts and strengthening zoning laws. We have a golden opportunity, now lets move!