Another Day in Paradise February 18, 2012 posted by nbpttoday

Take the Bagels, Leave the Petition

By Tom Salemi

After signing The Boy up for swimming at the YWCA one Saturday morning I hit Abraham’s and Zac & Ani’s for a little breakfast fare for the family back home.

As I walked up Liberty Street I eyed a few ladies holding petitions.

Uh oh.

I figured it was the Local Historic District. For or against, the only thing that’s going to get someone up early on a Saturday morning is the LHD.

That and signing their kid up for swimming lessons at the Y.

Anyway, I’m firmly in favor of the LHD. Said so right here on my blog. I’m open to having a discussion, I suppose, but not at 8:30 am on a Saturday morning, not when I haven’t even had breakfast yet.

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As I entered Abraham’s one of the woman asked if I’d be interested in signing the petition. I said no thank you as I favored the LHD. She tried handing me a flyer while telling me the local reports were biased and incomplete. (I found that funny, btw, because I’ve heard the same uttered from the Pro-LHD saide.)

I again said no thank you and told her to save her paper. I turned again to step through the door when she kept at it, asking if I favored the $500 daily fines. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but I might support them under the right circumstances, but I didn’t have the information to make a cogent argument. So I said I did because I’ve found the early proposal to be a reasonable document. But, to be frank, I was hungry but I didn’t feel like getting lectured on Liberty Street without the benefit of breakfast. Wouldn’t end well.

So I gracefully told her no thank you and withdrew inside Abraham’s to get my one egg and one plain bagel. Then scooted past the petitioners to Zac & Ani’s to grab a few scones.

With a bag full of scones in hand, I opened the door to Zac & Ani’s only to see a very large greyhound-like dog tied to a lamp post. The dog’s brown color, thin frame and long legs bore a strong resemblance to a deer, and, like a deer, the dog clearly was frightened by my opening the door.

One of the petitioners and I moved closer to calm the frightened pooch. We spoke only of the dog and not of LHD and then I went on my way.

By now you’re wondering what the heck is my point.

Okay here it is. Let’s do this LHD fight right.

Let’s all just assume each side has legitimate points to make. Let’s also assume that each side has the best interest of the city in heart.

Let’s not suggest anyone is evil or an agent of some nefarious government plot. Let’s not accuse the other side of being a dupe or an agent of some nefarious plot by developers.

But let’s all do this right. Let’s handle this with the same grace that we’ve employed with the IBEW protests. We don’t need to roll in the mud.

I truly believe we’d be better off with some reasonable protections in place. (Again, read here for my why and visit the blogs of Mary Baker and the P. Preservationist for more information.) From my viewpoint, the Local Historict District Study Committee has been quite reasonable and measured in what they’re proposing. But others see things differently. Let’s hear them out as well.

We don’t need to board the crazy train to reach a reasonable consensus. We don’t need to introduce conspiracies as Ed Cameron and Mary Baker write. This stuff isn’t necessary.

What is necessary is an informed and engaged public. Yes, it’s fine to get information from someone with a pen and petition (or a blog and a column) but the real answers lie in your own research. (For more on the flyer’s inaccuracies read Mary Baker’s column here. She actually took one.)

Just take some time and Google, “Newburyport Historic District”. You’ll find plenty on the subject including the city-sponsored page put out by the Local Historic District Study Committee. Bookmark this. Read it. Read it closely, especially when the final draft of the proposal comes out (next month I think, when the hearing restart.) That’s an important fact, we’re just looking at a draft right now. It’s worth going over, no doubt, but it’s not the final word.

In fact, the study committee just last week made a significant change, dropping a requirement that howeowners with slate roofs need to replace them with slate.

The good news for those who feel they don’t have the time is you won’t have to do a thing. The City Council will ultimately vote on whether or not Newburyport will adopt a broader historic district. (We already have a small one covering the upper leg of Fruit Street.) So if you, dear apathetic reader, don’t care than just sit back and let the councillors do what they will do.

But if you do care – and frankly if you’ve read this far than you probably do – take the time. Read the proposals. Read the paper. And yes, talk to people in the street, especially those that disagree with you. You just might want to let everyone have breakfast first.

But above all else, let’s be a community. And Stay Classy, Newburyport.


  • Great piece.  This is exacty right.  The opposition is spreading scare tactics hoping residents who are not familiar with the proposal will sign their petition.  Better to have both sides present their  pros and cons and establish what effects the proposal will have.

  • [...] wrote about one of them a few months ago – the debate over the establishment of a local historic district. (BTW, the city council rejected a plan to establish a broad LHD in 1971, so that could be added to [...]

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