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Frequently Asked Questions - Local Historic District

Why establish a Local Historic District on Rockland Street?
There's the potential for dramatic change in the Rockland Street neighborhood that could affect the historic character of Swampscott. The ‘Preservation of Historically Significant Buildings’ Bylaw, otherwise known as the Demolition Delay, can only delay, not prevent demolitions. A Local Historic District (LHD) would protect the unique historic architecture and character of the area by providing a regulatory review process for changes to the exterior of buildings and site features visible from a public way.

Isn't that what zoning does?
Zoning deals with the issues defined by the zoning by-law - more specifically how the land is used. This means zoning regulates building areas, dimensional limitations, and the type of land use allowed.  Local historic districts regulate issues related to preservation of historic resources and the appropriateness of the design character and appearance of proposed changes.

I thought we already had a Swampscott Historic District?
The current District Areas include the Olmsted Subdivision, Fish House, Railroad Depot, and Andrews Chapel with Cemetery, in which Rockland Street is not included.  Outside of these district areas, there does not exist a bylaw that gives the ability to prevent demolitions or new construction that would harm the character of the area. This can, however, be accomplished by a Local Historic District, which is why it is being studied now at the request of several residents of Rockland Street.

If my house is included in the Local Historic District, does that mean I have to make it look more historic?
No, you can maintain the current look of your house as long as you would like. A property in a Local Historic District is only reviewed for proposed changes, additions, or alterations to the exterior, viewable from a public way. Routine maintenance of your house is exempt from review.

How is a Local Historic District created?
Under the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40C, the Historic Districts Act, the first step is to find out where the opinion lies among the residents and owners. If there is interest in creating a local historic district, the Historic District Commission will appoint a study committee that will investigate expanding the local historic district designation. A study committee has been appointed to explore the Rockland Street neighborhood. Currently, public meetings are in progress seeking input, researching the history of the area, and preparing a report. The next step is the passage of the Local Historic District by a two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting.  The report is then finalized and submitted to the Attorney General. Once final approval has been given, the map can be recorded at the Essex County Registry of Deeds and the Local Historic District becomes active.

How long will this Historic District study take?
The committee is working to present the district expansion to include Rockland Street at May 2016 town meeting.

How many Local Historic Districts are there in Massachusetts? Is this a national program?
Over 100 communities in Massachusetts have Local Historic Districts, and over 2,000 nationwide. Marblehead and Salem each have one or more LHDs. Walk through downtown Marblehead or the McIntyre District in Salem to see how well they work. A Local Historic District is guided by a State Law that is adapted by the town.

What kinds of things are reviewed by a Historic District Commission?
Exterior architectural features visible from a public way are reviewed. This includes trim, doors, windows, siding, porches, railings, lighting, foundations, and may also include fences, barns, garages, sheds, and carriage houses.  Interior changes, landscaping, maintenance and exterior features not visible from a public way are not reviewed.

Who are members of the Historic District Commission?
The local bylaw describes specifically how the Board of Selectmen selects appointees to the Historic District Commission which includes members such as architects, realtors, residents and property owners of the district.

Does being in a historic district prevent me from painting my house any color I want?
While some Local Historic Districts in Massachusetts do include paint color review, the Swampscott bylaw does not include such regulations.

If my building was located in a Local Historic District and I was constructing an addition, what would I have to do?
To obtain the building permit for your addition, you would fill out an application to the Historic District Commission. The Commission would hold a public hearing and review the proposed plans to make sure that they are appropriate changes to the historic district and the building. If the addition is deemed appropriate, the Commission issues a certificate. You would then proceed to the Building Inspector with the Commission's certificate in hand to get your building permit. If the addition is deemed not appropriate, the Commission will provide suggestions to the owner to improve the project.

Does every application get reviewed by the Historic District Commission?
Not all. When an application is submitted to the Town Clerk, there is an initial determination by the Town Planner to determine if the scope of the project requires the Commission's review. For example, if a homeowner wanted to replace the wood clapboard siding with wood clapboard siding and no other changes, this applicant would not have to go before the Commission and would get their Certificate of Non-Applicability from the Town Planner followed by the building permit.

What if a structure in the district is not considered historic?
Work done on any structure in the LHD is subject to review, whether it is considered historic or not.

Why are these steps necessary?
While it's true that an additional step is needed for some projects, the benefits of protecting the rich historical heritage of Swampscott have been deemed important.  Without a Local Historic District, a great many inappropriate developments can take place without the public's opinion being heard.

What will happen to the value of my property if a Local Historic District is established?
No one can predict the future, but studies around the country suggest that property values stay the same or increase faster in Local Historic Districts compared to similar, non-designated areas.

If I and my neighbors already maintain the historic character of our properties, why do we need an historic district?
By having a local historic district, you can be assured that a new property owner across the street from your house will also maintain the historic character of the district.


Town of Swampscott
22 Monument Avenue, Swampscott MA 01907
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