There I was heading off to the Historical Commission meeting last night half expecting to see some contractor smirking in arrogant contempt at the members or a homeowner furiously angry. Angry because after spending a lot of money on conceived plans to grossly modify and destroy their historic home, the HC refuses to put their stamp of approval on it. I don’t go to every meeting but it’s often very instructive. If you hang around historic preservationists and those who actually care about the well-being of the city, you can get a false sense of security and think the City’s future is safe. A good session of demo-delay applicants is a healthy way to snap back to reality.*
I then walked into a love-fest!
Stonehaven Realty Development was presenting their modified plans (84-86 State Street) before the commission. There were smiles on the face of the presenter, Lisa Mead, legal gun for hire, who usually comes to these meetings with an icy professionalism; was smiling and William Harris, the downtown & waterfront watchdog was smiling. Even some of the Historical Commission members were smiling.
It turns out that the developer “listened” to the input from the HC members, made modifications and concessions and then returned with new plans. Plans that I might add made even the strict Waterfront Trust man, Bill Harris, agree with heartily. The opinions from seasoned developers and past historical commission members reflected how the developer had bent over backwards above and beyond the call of duty to adjust his plans.
The Historical Commission approved the new plans unanimously, Bill Harris was happy and yes, even I was happy. And the developer is now very happy. With the NHC sending a positive letter to the ZBA, Stonehaven Realty is now open to acquiring a 20% tax-credit that could amount potentially to $300,000 in savings.
Compare that to arrogant developers that choose to desecrate and sometimes demolish historic structures. They rob Newburyport, the rob themselves by losing out on tax-credits and in the end they perpetually loose out by deprecating their property values for years to come.
Perhaps as more and more citizens begin to realize how precious our City is in history and historic architecture and historic neighborhoods, the NHC will begin to have an easier time as they work in a cooperative spirit with developers and homeowners instead of against them. The NHC is certainly willing!
It will only happen through education and from many different sources. This last election showed how few were influenced by the blogosphere when Tom Salemi, the town’s premier blogger lost his bid for the charter commission. We need to be educated by elected officials, organizations like the Preservation Trust and by concerned citizens speaking out. It will take us all together if we are ever to achieve the love fest I saw last night!
* Be sure to get the most recent issue of the Newburyport Liberator. The section called, A Piece of Junk, Cultural Vandalism Runs Amok” can give you just a “taste” of what the NHC has had to contend with on a regular basis.