The Ipswich Historical Commission (IHC) would like to offer its perspective on the recent pattern of new housing developments impacting the town’s historic neighborhoods.
Ipswich has long been recognized as America’s best -preserved Puritan town and High Street has the largest concentration of First Period houses in the country. Ipswich is unique and unlike any historic town in America. Our historic neighborhoods are a living museum with every historic home lived in and maintained by its owner. The historic district contains four preservation neighborhoods listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The IHC mandate is to protect and preserve the town’s historic assets. This includes historically significant buildings, historic streetscapes, and the historic character of the town – all of these contribute to the town’s historic resources and make up the unique historic nature of the town. This mandate includes the authority to designate historic properties and preserve these historic assets through the Demolition Review By-law. The IHC provides historical background and input for proposed projects and by-laws in order to protect these historic buildings, streetscapes, and character.
Many residents of Ipswich are aware of the recent increase in proposals for construction in historic neighborhoods. The most condemning of these proposals are:
- The proposed addition of 4 new units at the rear of 87 High St. There are currently 3 units on this property and this would increase the units to 7. This property is within the Architectural Preservation District (APD) that was established in 2014. This project comes after recent approval of multi-family housing at 83 High Street, which is now under construction. Lot lines for these historic properties were established in 1634–1640 when residents were required to live within a half-mile of the meetinghouse at the North Green. To facilitate this requirement, these lots had narrow frontages with deep rear landscapes, which were used for self-sustainability, and would typically include gardens, a small barn, pens for animals, and outbuildings.
- There is a proposal to build 5 new units at the lot on 108 Central Street (located just outside of the APD). This proposal also has the development of the rear of the lot. This historic streetscape has many Victorian houses built in the period following the creation of Central Street in 1872. This distinctive Ipswich neighborhood contributes to the overall historic character of the town. This is an area of town that the IHC would like added to the National Register of Historic Places in the future.
- A proposal to add 6 units at 126 and 128 High Street, which is not within the Historic District. The Historical Commission reviewed and approved a demolition permit request for a dilapidated Victorian building at the rear of the property. The development will eventually require replacing the Spa Tech building as well. There is a great need for due diligence regarding the design and aesthetic details of this project.
The Historical Commission has previously approved converting barns at the rear of lots into residential structures in order to save these significant structures from neglect and demolition. Saving these singular buildings is very different from filling these residential lots with multiple new units at the rear of the lot with a single driveway.
Question: Is the Town of Ipswich forgoing its obligation to protect properties, streetscapes and the historic character of the community if it allows the rear sections of lots to be developed with new multiple unit construction that changes the historic integrity of the property and the neighborhood, as well?
The Ipswich Historical Commission, with the full authority of Section 8D of the Laws of Massachusetts opposes the identified projects at 87 High Street and 108 Central Street in their proposed density and recommends other town boards to do the same.
Addendum 1: Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) Section 8D: Historical commission; establishment; powers and duties