A history of Historic District planning in Marion

Aug 18, 2017

To the Editor:

There has never been a vote on an Historic District. There is a misconception in Marion that we have voted against an Historic District. Here’s a little history to set the record straight.

For over 50 years, the Town of Marion has wanted to have an historic district to prevent the loss of our common heritage that adds so much to the town. This desire to protect the important character of the town has been stifled by a small minority.

1965 Master Plan: “We recommend that, as soon as possible, the Selectmen appoint an Historic District Study Committee instructed to prepare a By-Law which defines an Historic District in Sippican Village.” (Master Plan for the Town of Marion, 1965. p. 32.)

But ten years later still no progress had been made on the issue as noted in the 1974 Master Plan Update: “An Historic District was proposed in the Village by the Master Plan to preserve the historic character of the area on both sides of Main and South Streets to Front Street. Although an Historic Study Committee has been active for several years, there has been only slow progress. Since this concept imposes special restrictions on alterations of buildings within the area, the Historic District requires the active support of local homeowners, who would be its direct beneficiaries.” (A Report Updating the Master Plan for the Town of Marion. 1974, p. 33.)

Efforts in the 1980s: The effort to establish an Historic District languished for several years, but was revisited in the 1986 League of Women Voters Survey. The survey question: “Should an Historic District be designated in Marion? (in such a district, new building and building modification are subject to regulation by a local commission.),” elicited a favorable reply with 258 yes votes and 97 negative responses (73% approval).

A subsequent planning effort by the Planning Board, the 1989 Land Use Plan, stated as an objective the need to “ protect areas of historic and architectural merit,” by recommending that the Town “Establish (an) historic district and commission.” (Town of Marion – Land Use Plan Policy Planning Chart, 1989.)

2002 Zoning Initiative: Still, no action was taken until 2002 when Tess Cederholm and Carolyn Rubenstein decided to initiate a new attempt to get an historic district for Marion. The Marion Historic District Study Committee, HDSC, a body appointed by the Marion Board of Selectmen, completed a draft proposal and by-law to create two historic districts within Marion. These districts were the West and North Drive area, comprising the area once occupied by the 18th-century Bullivant Farm; and Wharf Village, which is comprised of the village center and Water Street. The members of the HDSC were Carolyn Rubenstein, Neal Balboni, Tess Cederholm, Sally Hunsdorfer, Judy MacKinnon, Charles Paulsen, and Missy Sittler. (The Wanderer, July 11, 2002)

The HDSC started by mapping the location of the older buildings in town. Based on the map, the boundary of the Wharf Village Historic District was established.

This was criticized by a small group of naysayers who lived in the proposed Wharf Village District because some members of the HDSC lived in what they considered historic areas, and were not proposing a district for their home areas. The HDSC then proposed the second district in the West and North Drive area.

The next criticism by the naysayers was that an Historic Commission created by the proposed bylaw would empower the newly created Historic Commission to enforce regulations - but there were no regulations to look at prior to a Town Meeting vote on the matter.

The HDSC agreed that this was a problem, and wrote a set of regulations to keep the historic nature of the proposed districts intact.

The next criticism by the small opposition force was that all of the town would be deciding on an issue which applied to a very small section of town.

The HDSC agreed that from an equity issue, it was important to have a majority of the folks in the proposed districts in support of its formation. HDSC proposed to have a survey done of the homeowners in the two proposed districts.

The survey was the last thing the opposition wanted, as they could not purport to represent the landowners in the proposed districts if the landowners were actually for a historic district designation. The opposition organized a campaign to personally lobby the Selectmen, Drew Jefferies, Ben Bryant, and David Pierce, both to squash the survey, and to create a strong showing of opposition at the public hearing. The Board of Selectmen, at their meeting on September 17, 2002, directed the Committee to “withdraw (the proposal at Town Meeting) for further study…” (The Wanderer, September 19, 2002)

This ended the last effort to protect the historic character of Marion Village. There was never a survey to determine what those in the proposed districts felt. There was never a Town Meeting vote so the residents of the town could decide on the future character of their town.

In 2004, The Open Space & Recreation Survey asked for folks’ level of agreement with the following statement: “Marion should form an “historic district” to protect the village area.” (Those receiving surveys were a randomly selected sample of 10% of Marion voters.)

Results below:

  • Strongly agree 55
  • Agree 37
  • Neither agree or disagree 44
  • Disagree 18
  • Strongly disagree 25

Over the last 50 years the opponents have taken on the strategy of voter suppression. In the environmental field this is called a classic tie-die. You tie up a proposal with procedural opposition until the proposal dies. When folks want something that requires a vote, make sure it never comes to a vote. Another example of modern democracy in action.




John Rockwell


Comments (1)
Posted by: candscann | Aug 21, 2017 19:14

Well, John, it's good to know some history of the issue...still remains that it was turned down, or killed. Effectively the same result. So now that it's all coming out, what do we do now?

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