Newburyport Historic District is severely being barraged by insidious forces determined to destroy not just the NHD but the very character of our City. Most of this is coming from the Commonwealth with the Massachusetts Home Builders Association and their allies determined to influence the State House to make it painful for anyone to practice environmental sustainability. They want a perpetual tearing down and rebuilding going on throughout the state; enlarging landfills, causing waste, desolating wildlife, eating up open space and drying out our watersheds. All this to support a growing army of contractors and developers who will feed like parasites on this bloated and frenzied activity.
The big losers are our environment, and the human and wildlife unfortunately trying to live in Massachusetts.
And the most tragic is the loss of quality of life and the suffering caused by congestion and overcrowding.
The attacks have come from many different sources but two primary ones have derived from a twentieth-century device and a more recent ‘excuse’.
Zoning by its inherit nature is hostile toward a community like Newburyport. Granted a compassionate City Hall, Planning Board and Zoning Appeals can mitigate some of the harm but the fact is, you will be automatically ‘punished’ for having a non-conforming structure which most historic homes fall under:
“Despite their protected status however, most states, Massachusetts included, have taken the position that nonconforming uses and structures are to be “tolerated”…The theoretical support for this position is that the nonconforming use or structure does not comport with the city or town comprehensive plan…any change creating a further inconsistency should be discouraged.
-The Citizen Planner Training Collaborative
Zoning has sought to safeguard the future, in the expectation that time will repair the mistakes of the past.
-Edward M. Basset, Zoning, P. 115-116, 1936.
In other words, bottom lining it; our beautiful historic homes and neighborhoods are considered “mistakes” and every effort of a community is to discourage such errors for the sake of the future.
This, of course, is why Newburyport has been suffering since World War II with the horrible burden of zoning. The very concept is hostile toward our historic district.
Now, as mentioned in the editorial today in the Daily News, a war of terror has been further imposed by using lead paint as a “weapon” to discourage the renovation and restoration of pre-1978 homes by causing it to be prohibitively expensive to de-lead and work on them. (I have a more thorough discussion on the Lead Laws in my blog archives.)
We have two ‘forces’ to stop this destruction. One is a dedicated group of activist preservationists who will take the time to counteract the pressure to destroy our precious assets which provide us our economic prosperity. Their driving goal is to establish a local historic district over the majority of the non-conforming historic structures to ensure we do not cease being ‘Newburyport’.
The second and thankfully, more powerful force are dedicated locals, newcomers and townies who have dedicated themselves to the extra expense of saving these historic homes. We owe so much to the hundreds of homeowners who fully understand what is at stake and are determined to resist the pressure to destroy. The City and the non-profits in town need to establish programs to aid and even financially assist their efforts. Without them, we would be just another Haverhill. (Think on that one!)