There are clearly a lot of good intentions behind the move by some Rockport residents to expand the oversight of projects that would significantly alter or tear down some older homes and other buildings.
But officials and residents who may well face a decision regarding this plan at September’s Town Meeting should tread carefully and consider all of the applications and implications of an such new standards. For the last thing the town should do is create a bylaw that would wrongly inhibit or block any number of improvements to older houses or other structures by catching them in the web of an ordinance that, while trying to address one town problem, could well create others for homeowners and taxpayers.
Eric Hutchins, one of the residents behind the petition spotlighted in Tuesday’s Times story, emphasizes this effort is not like a “demolition delay” ordinance, the likes of which has been loosely proposed for Rockport in the past, and a concept that made it to the Town Meeting warrant in Manchester this past spring, yet was emphatically shot down by voters. And he’s right. The Rockport proposal is merely aimed at requiring more site reviews of projects that involve larger and older homes.
In a nutshell, under the plan, any single family or two-family home larger than 4,500 square feet would face a review from officials before any modifications could be made to the homes. Currently, that requirement applies only to homes with 6,000 square feet of gross floor area. Also, a site plan review would be triggered for any home that both covers more than 800 square feet, and is at least 100 years old.
The issue of historic preservation is understandably huge in Rockport, and some residents still bemoan some recent teardowns of older houses that sit outside the historic district. Yet, providing protections such as this also would walk a very fine line between preserving the town’s character and heritage, and clamping unfair limits on the rights of property owners to improve their holdings.
Rockport officials and residents alike can give this proposal a long-hard look. But before they cast any votes this fall, they would do well to consider what could go wrong if these oversight rules were put in place. The answer might be “a lot.”