After listening to months of impassioned debate between preservationists and property rights activists, the Newburyport City Council is poised to consider the fate of a proposed ordinance that would establish a Local Historic District with the goal of protecting the seaside community’s architectural gems.
The proposal was submitted to the City Council on Monday. The 11-member council voted 6-5 to send the measure to the Planning and Development Committee for review, as is common practice for a zoning ordinance.
City Councilor Barry Connell, chairman of the committee, hopes this week to hold a public meeting of the whole, meaning all council members will have an opportunity to take part in the meeting and contribute to the dialogue about what, if anything, in the proposal needs to be changed.
“This is not something that can be bottled up in a committee, nor should it be,” Connell said. “Every member [of the council] will get to participate in the meeting and every member will have a chance to vote on it.”
Under state law, the City Council will decide the fate of the proposal. At least eight councilors must approve the measure for it to pass.
‘It’s been a long journey, but it’s not over yet. There will still be questions to answer, presentations to give, concerns to address.’
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s not over yet,” said Sarah White, chairwoman of the study committee that drafted the proposed ordinance. “There will still be questions to answer, presentations to give, concerns to address.”
In its current iteration, Newburyport’s existing Historical Commission and the Fruit Street Local Historic District would cease to exist. City leaders would establish a single historical commission charged with assuming the responsibilities of those bodies and overseeing the proposed Local Historic District, which would encompass the High Street corridor and the city’s downtown commercial district.
Local historic districts offer the strongest form of protection for structures deemed worthy of preservation. To date, more than 220 such districts have been established statewide, including in Beverly, Haverhill, and Rowley, and the Fruit Street Historic District in Newburyport, which was created in October 2007 to protect several properties along Fruit Street, including the Caleb Cushing House.
In July 2007, as local leaders considered the Fruit Street proposal, then-mayor John F. Moak created the Local Historic District Study Committee to determine whether a more expansive district should be established. That committee produced the proposed ordinance now before the council.
“This has been languishing for so long, I don’t want it to linger into the holiday season,” Connell said, noting that he hopes the Planning and Development Committee will be able to send the measure back to the council by Nov. 1. The timetable, he said, “depends on how the public meeting goes.”