Regardless of the Doomsday Sayers, there will be an economic rebound sometime down the road. At this stage, our Newburyport Historic District stands relatively safe but it won’t last. Horribly, our historic district is unprotected and will by savage attrition be destroyed and I will explain why.
Last night, Molly Ettenborough with representatives from the Energy Advisory Committee and the Building Inspector came to the Historical Commission to explain that in the long and the short of it, the Stretch Code will not threaten the Newburyport Historic District. The exemptions for historic buildings and in particular, National Register historic buildings under Chapter 93 of the Building Code will still be in effect. While the commissioners felt re-assured and were happy to hear such things, a cold hand gripped me on an awful truth.
Gary Calderwood, the Building Inspector, pointed out that if a homeowner indicates his house is historic, he immediately stamps on their application, the Chapter 93 exemption. They can, if forced to replace, put in like-kind materials, architectural features and windows. (We of course have these listed in the Newburyport Preservation Craftsman Directory) Of course, the preferred venue is to restore. They are not required to use all the modern types of energy efficiency materials as stipulated by the Stretch Code.
But, if they say nothing about their homes being historic, then the exemption will not be posted. He will not say a word indicating to them it is historical.
As Mr. Calderwood said very carefully,
“Depending on the people who own the house”*
Historic New England has stated that the protection of historic districts is totally dependent on the Building Inspector.
No wonder there has been such resistance in putting signage up ever since the National Register was established. New homeowners coming into the city would be tipped off as to the value of their historic homes. Many have no idea their homes are historical!
Horrible things have happened since the National Register was established in 1984:
It has made the homeowner enslaved by their own ignorance causing them to lose out on all the benefits of an historic home.
It has made the homeowner totally dependent on the recommendations of vested parties such as craftsmen and contractors who don’t want to put up with the hassles of renovating and restoring an historic home.
It has made the homeowner a victim to those who would sway them for the contractor’s own advantage.
Homeowners have found the loss of property value and consequently loss of tax assessments because of the loss of value consequently hurting all of us.
Our building inspector and his staff won’t lift a hand to stop the destruction of the District. Unfortunately, the Historical Commission lacks the resources and political savvy and will to inform homeowners. The Historical Society and the Preservation Trust have too many who refuse to inform the general citizenry of the dangers through education and political activism.
The Newburyport Historic District lies naked before the next onslaught!
We must impose the Local Historic District Ordinance before it is too late.
* The Newburyport Historical Commission is not very politically savvy – I recognized this loophole immediately!