Manchester residents who turned out for their Annual Town Meeting on Monday night were asked to make the call on 31 warrant articles — some that allocated millions of dollars from their own taxpayer pocketbooks.
But one of the most important choices they made was to turn two emphatic thumbs down on a well-intended bylaw proposal that would have raised all sorts of problems for home sales, home improvement projects and other efforts for decades to come.
If approved, the so-called demolition delay bylaw, brought forward by the Historical Commission, would have allowed that body to delay for up to nine months and ultimately block any project that would include the demolition of a house or other building that is at least 75 years old.
That may sound like a good idea — and it's worth noting that some Rockport residents are talking about a similar bylaw there. But the practical implications of any such measure should be truly frightening for anyone who owns a house dating to the late 1930s — let alone one that's 200 years old or more.
In essence, the bylaw would mean no homeowner whose house was built in 1937 or earlier could tear down any portion of the structure to add improvements. And, here's the best part, the same would have applied to any home regardless of any age if anyone deemed "significant" ever lived there, or if anything significant ever happened there, with that determination also up to the Historical Commission.
Look, no one wants to see truly historic homes or other buildings destroyed. But all that is old and needs repair or replacement is not truly historic. And any demolition ordinance bylaw raises significant concerns over the rights of property owner.
With any bylaw, officials and residents alike need to proceed carefully and ask themselves, "what can wrong with this?" In this case, the answer is a lot.
Thankfully, Manchester voters recognized that.