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After the Selectboard learned that there was some interest in creating a local historic district in the Falls, it appointed a study group to investigate the idea of establishing a local historic district designation. The study group is largely made of people who live in or once lived in the Falls. All members of the study group are deeply interested preserving the unique character of the Falls.
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The Falls area of town was a center of early industrialization along the Connecticut River. Later on it became the location of several industrial mills. With the mills came prosperity for the Falls, and housing for the mill workers, managers, and owners. While the mills are gone, some of the historic housing still remains. Falls residents should rightly be proud of this visual history, not just because of its historic value, but also because it creates pride in the community and stabilizes the value of all properties in the Falls.
While several areas in the Falls are of historic significance, the study group is suggesting that it is best to start with a small historic district. We are proposing to designate the Old Firehouse Museum, Cordes Court, and North Main Street from about Carew Street up to the rotary, as an historic district. We are very much interested in your opinions about this.
The Historic Districts Act (Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 40C) provides a specific procedure for the establishment of local historic districts in Massachusetts. This process must be followed for a local historic district to be valid. The study group would suggest the approximate boundaries of the proposed local historic district. Then it would survey owners in the proposed district for their opinions about the value of such a district. The study group would want to invite property owners to neighborhood meetings to discuss the proposed local historic district. If there is sufficient interest in proceeding further, the study group would gather data on the historic homes in the proposed district and prepare a Preliminary Study Report for submission to the Town Planning Board and to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) for their consideration and recommendations. The next step would be a public hearing on the issue, at which the language of a bylaw could be discussed. The bylaw would delineate the boundaries of the historic district and also establish a historic district commission. After the public hearing, the study committee would prepare a final report that incorporated the comments and recommendations from the Planning Board, the MHC, and the community and submit it to the Selectboard for its consideration, with a request to get it on the warrant for Town Meeting. Approval would require a two-thirds majority.
The wording of the bylaw would describe specifically how the Selectboard would make appointees to the Historic District Commission. In other communities in Massachusetts, the historic district commission consists of members such as architects, realtors, and property owners of the district. But we are at liberty to set up a commission in any way that homeowners in the proposed district would want.
No, you can maintain the current look of your house as long as you would like. A local historic district commission only reviews proposed changes to exterior architectural features. Routine maintenance of your house is exempt from review.
Exterior architectural features visible from a public way would be reviewed. Interior changes, landscaping, maintenance and exterior features not visible from a public way are not reviewed. Other exemptions can also be included in the bylaw. The bylaw creating the district may also exclude certain categories from review; most frequently these are paint color, storm windows and doors, and window air conditioning units. The purpose of a local historic district is not to halt growth, but to allow for thoughtful consideration of change. The intent is to make changes and additions harmonious, and prevent the intrusion of incongruous elements that might detract from the aesthetic and historic values of the district. Again, historic district commissions are only allowed to review changes to exterior architectural features visible from a public way.
While some local historic districts in Massachusetts do include paint color review, we are recommending NOT including any paint color review.
Before acquiring 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. If the addition were appropriate, the district commission would issue a certificate. You would then present the Certificate to the Building Inspector to get your building permit. If the addition were not found appropriate, then the Commission would explain to you how the project could be improved.
While it is true that an additional step is needed for some projects, the benefits of protecting the rich architectural heritage found in the historic district area outweigh this added step. The proposed historic district contains buildings 100 and even 200 years old. Without a local historic district, these gems that have lasted so long could be demolished or irreparably altered tomorrow.
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.
The establishment of a district will actually protect your property. In older neighborhoods of historic character where homeowners are of modest means, there is always a danger that new property owners will not appreciate the need for historic preservation of an area. 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 neighborhood.
Simply type Establishing Local Historic Districts into your computer browser search engine. The Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth has made this information available online as a PDF document.