Demo-Delay Redux: List of Houses Protected Reduced Dramatically
Historic District Commission revamped bylaw lowers number of structures under the by-law from several thousands to a few hundred.
Richardson Farms owner Lydia Phippen Ogilby is the grand dame of historic preservation in Belmont, with a knowledge of the town and its past inhabitants second only to Richard Betts, the town's historian and former Town Engineer.
And Ogilby knows all the best bits of the lives of those who lived here.
"Nelson Chase had a monkey that liked to drink gin," said Ogilby to her fellow members of Belmont's Historic District Commission which she is a Member Emeritus.
Ogilby gave out that bit of trivia after finding Chase's Hay Road house and art studio on a new list of approximately 200 homes that the Commission members are currently vetting as they prepare coming before the fall Special Town Meeting sometime in November or December with a revamped Demolition Delay By-law that would halt the proposed destruction of buildings in Belmont for up to one year.
But unlike the previous attempt by the Commission before Town Meeting in April – it was withdrawn from the Meeting's warrant before a vote – the list of protected homes has been slimmed down significantly.
"We learned a lot from our Town Meeting experience," said Smith, acknowledging that the original proposal was so broad it was opposed by the town committees and boards and faced almost certain defeat before the town's legislative body.
Under the initial by-law – which was prompted by the near destruction of the historic Clark House last year – the base-line criteria for a house to be considered for protection was that the building was at least 75 years old. Public hearings would take place to determine which of those homes have some significant historic reason – most likely architectural – to be placed on a preserve list.
The Historic District Commission would have had the ability to review the structure after a developer or homeowner had taken out a demolish order to determine if the structure was worth saving.
The major difference from the former proposal is that where the previous application would have placed the majority of Belmont's residential homes and all other structures to be at least reviewed under the demolition by-law, the new regulation has filtered down the number to around 200 structures.
According to Smith, the Commission's co-chairman, rather than submitting under the regulation all structures built before 1938 – which would have placed thousands of homes and businesses under the law – the Commission is listing buildings that have been identified as historically significant on the National Register of Historic Assets or in the inventory in the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
Exempted from the new bylaw will be those homes in Belmont's two Historic Districts, on Common Street and Pleasant Street, which already have laws protecting them.
Smith said the list includes commercial and municipal buildings but under separate agreements with the town and the Planning Board that provide greater leeway for business owners on taking down a building and allows the town to create a committee on any sale of town-owned buildings to discuss the future of those structures.
Smith said a complete list of homes on a Belmont demo-delay by-law will be released in a few weeks as will the final language of the bill that will be before town representatives in two months.