, Salem, MA

November 18, 2013

Our view: When preservation becomes obstruction

The Salem News

---- — The town of Ipswich, one of the oldest communities in the country, has a well-deserved reputation for preserving and protecting its history.

That work was on display this weekend, with the town’s “Ipswich is First ... Period” event, which highlights the town’s 17th century First Period homes. Many of the homes will be lit up at night through Thanksgiving, and there will be talks, tours and other fun events over the next few weeks.

Sometimes, however, the enthusiasm for preservation crosses the line into obstruction. Witness the sneering response in some quarters to a proposal to add a drive-thru to the Dunkin’ Donuts in Lord Square.

Dinart and Roy Serpa, who own the business, want to knock down the current shop and two other properties. One is a laundromat. The other is a vacant retail and apartment building at 4 Lord Square that used to serve as one of the town’s early firehouses.

The building was built in 1865, but you couldn’t tell that now. It hasn’t served as a fire station in more than 100 years, and a boxy addition on the front has it looking nothing like a historic property. In the decades since the station closed, no one has thought it was important enough to preserve.

Until, of course, the Serpas wanted to tear down the building to make way for improvements on the corner.

There are no formal proposals before the Planning Board, but Gordon Harris, chairman of the town’s Historical Commission, is already talking about a one-year demolition delay as allowed under Ipswich bylaws.

“A lot of the streetscape has been lost, but that doesn’t mean we should continue to take the last remnants of the square,” he told reporter Jonathan Phelps. “Do you think having a bigger Dunkin’ Donuts is worth taking away a part of our town’s history?”

Town historian Pat Tyler called the Dunkin’ Donuts “an absolute abomination,” adding, “They are not putting anything up with significance or importance.”

The steady stream of customers that make the coffee shop one of the busiest places in town might disagree with that. And it’s worth noting the Serpas, who have been working with town planners to improve traffic flow and address other issues, own the property. The idea of property rights, of course, is at least as old and storied as the town’s First Period homes.

Here’s hoping the Serpas’ plans get the fair hearing they deserve.