Sunday, November 28, 2010

Guest post: A little checking may save you thousands of dollars

Well, the City Council went ahead and adopted the Stretch Code. This will initially have little impact on the average building owner until you attempt to do an improvement project that will require a building permit. Then it will cost you many additional dollars compared to a standard building code to attain the new green standards. Fortunately for most of us, we’re an historic city and many thousands of our homes are designated historic and are exempt from this punitive measure.

Unless of course, you don’t know if your home is historic or not.

Even then, if your home is inside the Newburyport Historic District, it is not necessarily an historic building! The information as to which structures are included is tucked away in the National Register’s Inventory Listing. A listing that is not posted on the City’s website. To find out often requires journeying down to the Library’s archives and painfully digging about. Don’t ask for the copy in the Planning Office, it’s missing pages out of it!

But It is now, in complete form, digitally available at

Your home is historic and exempt if it contributes to the National Register of Historic Places. Therefore a designation in the Inventory of a “C” for contributing or “MC” minor contributing puts you in the exempt status.

But let’s say you do due diligence, check out the online listing and you find the code ‘INT’ next to your home. This designation means that your structure is not a contributing building toward the National Register. Yet, you may still be exempt.

There is a sliding scale on the Inventory. It is now 2010 and according to the preface of the listing, the cutoff date for the report in 1984 was 1930. It says, “Finally, those structures built after 1930 have been designated as intrusions [INT]; included in this last category are a number of buildings which may be re-considered as contributing structures once they achieve the age of fifty years.”

Therefore, any buildings that have this designation and are between 1930 to 1960 as the date of construction, need to have their owners appear before the Historical Commission for reconsideration and change of status.

I assure you, there are many City Hall employees who are not aware of the nuances involved in historic house categorizing. If you are still unsure of your building’s history after checking the listing, appeal to the Historical Commission.

As for the building inspector, he has indicated that he will explore other requests for exemptions in accordance with the Massachusetts State 780 CMR 7th edition, Chapter 93 for certain homes older than five years old.

Remember though, the time-honored warning, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” This time, willful ignorance of your historic building’s status may still cost you thousands.

Even at the presently enacted building code, historic homes are often exempt from some restrictions.

So take my word, do some research and be prepared before seeing the building inspector.

Jerry A. Mullins
Newburyport, MA

From Gillian: Sorry, Jerry, about how long it took me to post this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good post.