In her recent letter, the Chair of Westfield’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) was “astounded” by the alleged “political” dialogue about the proposed changes to the town’s historic preservation ordinance. But residents may be astounded to learn that not a single HPC member, including Chair Boyes, who has lived for 31 years in her 1916 home, owns a designated historic home or has sought to voluntarily designate their home. Why have they all passed up the opportunity to increase their property value, as she claims historic designation does?
The same is true for Mayor Brindle and every member of the Westfield Town Council, all but one of whom live in houses built in the 1920s or earlier. None has sought historic designation for their home. But the mayor and council, together with Ms. Boyes and the HPC, are more than happy to designate YOUR house as historic, without your consent.
Ms. Boyes offers several so-called “facts” in support of the ordinance that do not withstand scrutiny. For example, although the HPC may not have the power to designate a property or district as historic (but only to recommend that it be), the mayor and council certainly wield that power under the new ordinance — regardless of homeowner consent.
She claims that the current ordinance does not comply with state law, “which opens Westfield up to legal challenges.” And exactly how many legal challenges have been brought since our ordinance was first enacted nearly 30 years ago? That would be ... none.
She presumes that the new ordinance will protect (presumably helpless) older homeowners from having to sell their pre-1930 homes to a builder, ignoring the fact that the builder may be the highest bidder for the property and that the town may prevent our seniors from realizing the maximum sale value for their real estate.
She purports to be clairvoyant and speak for all current future members of the HPC (and Town Council) by claiming that it is not their intention to impose historic designation on a home without the owner’s consent. But even assuming that is true (i.e., “just trust me”) how can she know the intentions of future municipal bodies? Nothing stops them from using the power they are now being given.
Finally, she notes that the proposed ordinance “followed the same process for all other land use or zoning ordinances,” ignoring that fact that we have been in the midst of a pandemic for five months, with no ability for residents to attend public meetings in person to voice their opinions. Zoom is a poor substitute for public discourse on matters of significant import, like this.
Here is the only fact that Westfield residents need to know: Under the new ordinance, for the first time ever, the town will be able to designate your home, no matter how old, and your entire neighborhood, as historic, without your consent. When that happens, you will need special permission to make most exterior changes, even those permitted by zoning rules, including changing a door or window, replacing your siding, or putting on an addition. State law does not require that to be the case, only Mayor Brindle and her colleagues and appointees do. Once again I say, hands off our homes!