Town Center Local Historic District: Draft Bylaw

From the Local Historic District Study Committee:

The Local Historic District Study Committee has received, and continues to seek, input from a number of town residents, committee members and administrators.  This is a very open process and will continue with your feedback.  Please note that this is version 7 and a draft, it does not necessarily represent the final version that will be submitted to the Selectmen for inclusion on the May 2012 Town Meeting Warrant.  Your comments and suggestions can be forward to Iris Berdrow at iberdrow@verizon.net or 978-779-8901, or sent to 27 Randall Road, Bolton.

Click here for the latest draft of the Local Historic District Bylaw.

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9 Responses to Town Center Local Historic District: Draft Bylaw

  1. Bharat Nair says:

    It appears the LHD work is counter productive and in direct contrast to the other committees (such as the Economic Development Board and Planning Board) effort to establish a 495 Business District overlay which was passed/endorsed by a wide population of Bolton residents as far back as 2002. There should be an effort to reduce the number of special interest groups and commissions in a small town such as ours; and bring everyone together to do the right thing for the town – which is to increase the residential property values, reduce the residential tax base, increase resident amenities, attract businesses to the local community, while preserving the values and the attractiveness (rural nature) of the town. This can be done if we all work together towards a common goal. Which right now there is ample evidence we are not.

    • Iris Berdrow says:

      The Local Historic District Study Committee (LHDSC) was appointed by the Board of Selectmen on March 24, 2011 and charged with investigating and making recommendations on the application for a Local Historic District in Bolton. This has been on the Town’s agenda since the 1998 Preservation Plan and reiterated in the 2006 Master Plan. To suggest that this is a “special interest group” is to ignore the history of Bolton’s planning efforts over the past 15 years. Town residents, elected representatives and administrators constantly seek to balance economic development (increasing the tax revenue and commercial services) with preservation and conservation (maintaining property values and rural character). To position the LHD against any other town effort is counterproductive; it dovetails and supports the efforts of other important constituents in Bolton.

    • Alice Coggeshall says:

      Bolton’s historic structures and landscapes within the proposed Local Historic District are the heritage of the whole town, not just those of us who live within its boundaries. It is not in the special interest of any one group, but in the interest of everyone who lives in Bolton or passes through the historic corridor along the Great Road.

      The establishment of a Local Historic District offers Bolton the best means available of preserving what is ours. The present National Register Historic District offers recognition of the historic importance of the area, but no protection from insensitive development, either private or commercial. A Local Historic District is also compatible with thoughtful economic development. The two interests do not conflict and indeed can work together to enhance the town, while not adding to our already substantial financial burdens. Both preservation and development can work together towards a common goal.

      The Local Historic District has been specifically identified as an important tool for Bolton in:

      • the 1998 Preservation Plan
      • the 2001 Archeological Survey
      • the 2006 Master Plan
      • the 2006 Reconnaissance report by MA Dept of Conservation and Recreation

      If these studies enjoy any validity, let us listen to them.

      Alice Coggeshall

  2. Iris Berdrow says:

    WHY NOW AND TO WHAT BENEFIT?
    The Town Center is the most significant aspect of Bolton’s rural character having the greatest concentration of historically significant assets, and the thoroughfare along which most people travel through Bolton. Along the one mile stretch of Main St. that is NHD are 54 antique homes, several antique barns, bridges, and many tons of stone walls. 96% of the structures along this stretch are historic, and include such prizes as the powder house, the well house and the old school house. While the Town Center is designated as a National Historic District, there is no protection of those assets from decisions that would harm the rural character. Several of Bolton’s planning and preservation documents have called for an LHD:

    Preservation Plan for the Town of Bolton, 1998
    The Bolton Center National Register Historic District has retained an architectural and historical integrity as the town’s center for over two centuries. Even though the center has included many stores and manufacturing activities over its history, they have been of the same scale and materials as the residences and barns in the district. Over two-thirds of the 30 buildings existing in the center in 1831 are still standing. In architectural style, it is predominately Federal and Greek Revival in character. …The quality, amount, and compactness of historic resources in Bolton Center deserves consideration as a local 40C historic district. While the owners of historic properties in the center have been excellent stewards of their properties, the uncertainties of the future warrant a closer look at the 40C option.
    Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey , 2001
    The Town of Bolton should adopt a by-law designed to protect historic and archaeological sites from destruction through land-alteration activities. The Town of Bolton has a wealth of historic and prehistoric archaeological sites within its boundaries.
    Town Master Plan, 2006
    The MPC recommends that a Local Historic District be created in the Town Center area…The area is already designated as a National Register Historic District, but this provides very little protection from demolition of structures. … A Local Historic District would emphasize the importance of Bolton’s historic buildings by deterring demolition after the six-month review, and providing design reviews for new construction or alterations to existing structures within the District.
    Bolton reconnaissance report by Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, June 2006
    It is along these two corridors – Main Street (formerly Great Road) and Great Brook – that the historically linear pattern of development occurred. Great Road became a major transportation route connecting Boston with Lancaster. Great Brook was the site of mills and good soils for agricultural pursuits. Thus Bolton Center comprises layers of heritage landscapes – historic dwellings, farms, mill sites and civic buildings. Studying the area for local historic district designation would be an important tool in preserving this relatively intact linear district through town.

    The LHD complements other town efforts while offering a strategic perspective on preservation. The Economic Development Committee is mandated to consider development that takes into consideration preservation of character. LHDSC will consider preservation of character that takes into consideration mindful development. The Design Review Guidelines are for new commercial construction. Demolition Delay Bylaw only considers applications for demolition.

  3. Patrick & Mary Battis says:

    We are in complete agreement and fully support Mr. Bharat Nair’s perspective on this matter.

  4. HISTORIC DISTRICT BY-LAW WILL NOT IMPROVE BOLTON TOWN CENTER

    Imagine that you own a property on Main Street in Bolton, paying the mortgage, taxes and upkeep expenses, yet you have no rights to make decisions on the appearance of your home. A proposed by-law was made public on March 27 which would substantially diminish the fundamental rights of many property owners on Main Street. Under the by-law, even if you meet all of the requirements of the building code, local zoning laws and state regulations, you need to first obtain a “Certificate of Appropriateness” before undertaking any repairs, replacements or improvements on your property.

    The proposed by-law would apply to any “rebuilding, reconstruction, restoration, replication, removal, demolition and other similar activities” on your property and allow an un-elected commission to dictate to you “the kind and texture of building materials, and the type and style of windows, doors, lights, signs and other appurtenant exterior features” on your property.

    These restrictions on ownership rights would apply to properties located on Main Street in an area designated as the Local Historic District. There is no requirement that the members of the commission who decide on the appearance of properties in the district, actually reside or own property in the district. In fact, four of the six committee members who drafted the by-law, including the chairperson, do not reside in the district.

    Members of the commission are appointed rather than elected and could make decisions, at their complete discretion, about your property without being subject to these same rules and procedures for their own homes. The commission members are allowed to substitute their own judgment for yours in determining how your property should appear to the general public and dictate to you the kind and texture of building materials, and the type and style of windows, doors, lights, signs and other appurtenant exterior features, all at your expense.

    If you live in the district, this by-law could negatively impact the market value of your property. Any potential buyer who wants to improve, expand or renovate an existing building, will be unable to determine the cost of the project before making an offer because any plans could later be rejected by the commission at their complete discretion. Many potential buyers will not want to deal with this uncertainty.

    Many of the homes affected by the proposed by-law are modest dwellings which could be attractive to first time home buyers who may not have the resources to support the extra costs which may be imposed by the commission. Some of the properties are in a state of disrepair or are not “historically significant” so that making judgments about the architectural “appropriateness” of improvements would be completely arbitrary. This by-law would discourage rather than encourage the purchase and improvement of these properties.

    We and other owners in the district have made many improvements to our properties over the last few hundred years without first obtaining a “Certificate of Appropriateness”. With this by-law, if owners need to go before this commission to obtain their “permission” for every project, they will simply make fewer improvements and enhancements. This “chilling effect” will produce the opposite of the intended purpose of the by-law and will not result in a more beautiful Main Street district. We should be welcoming economic development in Bolton center rather than discouraging it as would this proposed by-law.

    This by-law represents an unnecessary and impractical infringement on property rights and will actually diminish the value of properties in the district. No other properties in Bolton will be subject to this discretionary and potentially arbitrary process. We should be allowed to enjoy the same property rights as all other Bolton citizens and this is an unfair and discriminatory infringement on these rights.

    Ray and Mary Grenier, 579 Main St, Bolton
    Andree and David Berryman, 615 Main St., Bolton

    • A nervous neighbor says:

      This letter seems sort of alarmist and especially odd coming from a person who has done such a fine job in restoring and maintaining one of the nicest historic properties in Bolton. I don’t see anything in the bylaws that would have prevented or delayed any of their renovations. I’d wager that if the Greniers and their tenants had been required to get approval from the LDH commission to do what he has already done, he would have gotten quick approval and heaps of praise on top of it.
      Perhaps one of these letterwriters would volunteer to serve on the commission. It would be most helpful to have someone who has experience dealing with old structures and who has a mind for which details matter combined with balancing what is hardship.
      It looks like Bolton’s LDH bylaws were written to be as flexible and owner-friendly as possible to me. I view the whole point of creating a LHD is to encourage the same kind of care the Greniers have shown.
      If you are worried about re-sale and marketability, your concerns are misplaced. It is the traffic and the road that are the main obstacle in attracting potential buyers in this neighborhood. Having an LDH might help with that in the future, especially if there is increased pride given to the look of the neighborhood as a whole. Having a LHD might actually help mitigate the natural degraded look that will result if the change to a business-lined street happens and the homes become owned by absentee landlords. That is scarier to me than anyting in the LHD bylaws.

  5. Stephen Bing says:

    In response to the recent post by Ray and Mary Grenier and Andree and David Berryman, I would like to remind readers that while people are certainly entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts.

    The writers seek to paint the proposal as an unfettered, out of control, and possibly clandestine attempt to erode property rights, wreak economic hardship, and stultify the vibrancy of Bolton town center. The authors use the term “dictate” at least twice “complete discretion” and “completely arbitrary” at least three times, and conclude that the proposed bylaw is an “unfair and discriminatory” infringement of rights. Quite a condemnation, if true. But it is not.

    First, the proposed bylaw and the process by which it was drafted have hardly been a secret. Two forums have been held, a town wide survey has been conducted, and a third forum will be held on April 9, 2012. Each resident/owner of the National Historic District has received three personal letters (the 1st sent over a year ago) informing them of the bylaw and the study report conducted by the committee. Several iterations of the bylaw have been submitted to town boards including the selectmen, the advisory committee, the planning board, and the historic commission. Feedback from the boards and citizens has been considered. None of the authors attended even one meeting of the publicly posted meetings of the local historic district study committee. The 11th version of this bylaw, which the authors have apparently read and misread, is the product of this process. To suggest that it was only “made public” on March 27 is just plain silly.

    Second, the authors complain that the Proposed Historic Commission has no requirement that a resident of the district be on the commission. Section 4.2 of the proposed by law clearly states that a resident shall be a member. Indeed the Massachusetts enabling law has such a requirement. If the authors had bothered to read the law they would know that.

    Third, the authors’ assertion that the commission would make decisions in its sole discretion is simply erroneous. Section 8.1 reads: In reviewing applications for Certificates of Appropriateness the commission shall use the criteria set forth in the Bolton Zoning Bylaw, town of Bolton Design Guidelines, Design Review Criteria and the local Historic District Standards & Guidelines approved by the Board of Selectmen and adopted by the commission. emphasis supplied. Now, the last time I checked the selectmen are elected, the planning board is elected, and the design review guidelines were approved by town meeting. This is not arbitrary and capricious. It is what small towns do when managing their affairs.

    Related to this point, the Historic Commission in section 8.2 shall consider …the general design, proportions, detailing, mass, arrangement, texture and material. The bylaw does not say dictate or use even a less pejorative word, mandate. It sets out the guidelines under which consideration will be made.

    Fourth, the bylaw has an elaborate procedure for an aggrieved party to appeal, first by mediation and then by judicial action in section 7.14. This is a long accepted manner in administrative law to provide redress for abuse of authority and has been incorporated here. Indeed, the bylaw goes one step further and permits the elected Board of Selectmen to review the amount of fines levied to secure compliance. See Section 10.3.2.

    Fifth, the bylaw has specific exclusions over which the Commission has no authority. These include: terraces, walks, driveways, sidewalks at grade level; storm windows and doors, screen windows and doors, and window air conditioners; and the color of paint.

    If the authors are truly concerned about the economic plight of new homeowners and the cost of routine maintenance, they should read section 9.3 concerning the permissibility of ordinary maintenance and the exemptions for hardship explicitly discussed in section 7.11. They should also pay attention to the number of studies conducted that local historic districts maintain and enhance property values for home owners, something that commercial development can erode.

    Of course, actually reading the bylaw may be too much work for them. At the end of the post they reach what appears to be their real point. “We should welcome economic development in Bolton Center.” The authors, one of whom owns a substantial commercial enterprise in the proposed local historic district, want to foster commercial creep into Bolton Center. Bolton Center is primarily zoned residential and the overlay proposal before town meeting this year would not change that fact.

    The proposed bylaw on the other hand seeks to preserve historic assets, aesthetic characteristics and quality of life. These are values I have treasured during the thirty-eight years I have lived in Bolton Center. I hope the town treasures them as well.

    Steve Bing
    704 Main Street, Bolton

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