Support The Pink House's February Monthly meeting at PITA Hall in Newbury had a lot of big news to report. The reason we have these meetings is because it is such a complex situation that there is no 30 second answer to the many who ask: "What's the latest?"
Reporter Stewart Lytle has come out to several Pink House meetings and events and consistently covered the Pink House story - it's plight and progress. He did a great job of condensing the very big progress that we talked about, and published it as a cover article for the Town Common. We asked if he would be a guest blogger here with that same summary.
ON THE ROAD TO PLUM ISLAND – With growing community support, particularly among area government officials, supporters of the iconic Pink House are sounding more confident that a solution to the challenge the one-time spite house presents may be on the horizon.
Rochelle Joseph, a leader among the Support the Pink House citizens group, encouraged supporters to have cautious optimism - because though big strides have recently been made, there is much work yet to be done in seeing the progress through to solution.
Legend has it that the three-bedroom home with more than 2,000 square feet of space was built in 1922 as part of a contentious divorce. The husband, ordered by the court to build for his ex-wife an exact replica of the couple's Newburyport home, had the house constructed on the edge of the marsh without utilities.
The house with its pink shingles, vacant and alone against the backdrop of the marsh and sky, has attracted painters and photographers for decades.
Joseph, who has spent the last 18 months fighting to keep the house from being demolished with a small Steering Committee, said, “It is part of the community. It is an iconic structure.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Parker River National Wildlife Refuge bought the house in 2011 for $375,000 from a family that lived in it for decades. The agency planned to demolish it and use about two acres of high ground for a purpose more in keeping with its mission to preserve wildlife and educate humans about the marsh and its denizens. The Pink House may not fit into that mission.
“The federal government owns it. At any given time it could tear it down,” cautioned Steering Committee member Dave Dempsey. But Eric Hoover, another Steering Committee member, was more optimistic. He said, “We are no longer in a panic to keep the house from being demolished. Our mission is now different, but our job is not finished.”
Joseph said she is encouraged by the several meetings she has had with Bill Peterson, Manager of the Fish and Wildlife’s Parker River Refuge, the legal owner of the Pink House. She believes he too is looking for a solution to the Pink House challenge as awareness of the public’s overwhelming value of the house has grown.
On appropriately symbolic Valentine's Day, the Support the Pink House Steering Committee assembled a meeting of government officials and regional non-profit groups around one table to explore options for the future of the house.
At the meeting were state Senators.Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and Kathleen O'Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, who actively support saving the Pink House. Morgan Bell, rep for U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-MA, could not attend, but followed up on a conference call with Joseph and Peterson. All have regularly met with the group over the last year. Chairman of the Newbury Board of Selectmen Geoff Walker attended to explore possible involvement by the town in saving the house. Also attending were representatives of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, the Greenbelt, Essex County's Land Trust, and local builder Bill Barrett, who from the start has overseen that the bones of the house remain stable and fortified while negotiations continue.
The options include, but were not limited to, a land swap with another federal organization, a non-profit organization or an individual land owner who might trade property of equal value to the Fish and Wildlife in exchange for the Pink House. The property would have to be acreage that the Fish and Wildlife would have a use for. Specific criteria was hammered out at the Valentines Day meeting.
Joseph told supporters at the monthly Pink House meeting last week that Fish and Wildlife is conducting two studies on the property. One is an appraisal to set a monetary value for the property. The other is an archeological study to determine if there are historical or Native American artifacts on the property that would preclude any disturbance of the land. Peterson said he was fairly confident it would not be an issue.
One option under consideration is to subdivide the property, separating the two acres of dry upland the house sits on near the Plum Island Turnpike from the seven plus acres of wetland on the parcels behind the house. Those seven acres would be protected and are of considerably lower monetary value than the house and higher ground near the highway.
The group is also exploring various uses for the Pink House. It could be a low-impact eco-lab for one or more university research teams who are studying the marsh, for example. It could also be the site of occasional outdoor painting sessions or art auctions to raise money for its maintenance. The house could be a combination of art and biology, Hoover said. Or it could exist much like a lighthouse, where a caretaker might quietly live there to maintain the house. “We have a lot of balls in the air,” Dempsey said.
Ruled out is the option to publically use the house as a museum or community venue. Joseph said those uses would require too many changes to the structure of the house, including making it handicap accessible, parking issues and high liability.
While the options are being considered, the group is seeking ways to have the house protected from the weather and encroachment by the marsh. If it is going to stay in the community, it must be preserved as a stable structure, capable of being refurbished.
Barrett and Peterson plan to walk through the home in early March. The town of Newbury building inspector Sam Joslin and conservation agent Doug Packer have also been very helpful in this process.
Short term, Joseph said some adjustments and repairs as well as vegetation clearing have been agreed upon with the Refuge to be made early spring to keep weather from causing damage to the house.
To follow the Support the Pink House group's progress, visit our Facebook Page.
Written by Stuart Lytle, Reporter