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Demolition Delay By-law on the Move

Measure to protect "significant" historic older houses could be before special Town Meeting.

A proposed town bylaw that could delay for one year or more the demolition of "significant" homes won initial approval from the last week and is moving forward towards a vote before .

Belmont would join Watertown, Lexington, Arlington, Cambridge and approximately 127 other Massachusetts cities and towns to adopt a so- called demolition delay ordinance.

The tentative by-law comes on the heels of the growing uncertain fate of the on Common Street. With a developer ready to close on the property, existing plans call for the destruction the house that is a prime example of 18th-century Georgian saltbox architecture.

The Clark House would have qualified as a historically significant home using nearly all guidelines and would have earned a delay distinction if Belmont had such a law in place today, said Michael Smith, co-chairman of the Historic District Commission who brought the idea of the delay plan to the Board. 

The Selectmen heard Smith outline the proposed ordinance, telling members that the base-line criteria for a house to be considered is its age with the building needing to be at least 75 years old.

The Historic Commission would then determine at pubic hearings if any of the homes have some significant historic reason – most likely architectural – to be placed on a preserve list.

Under its new jurisdiction, the Historic District Commission would have the ability to review the structure a developer or homeowner takes out a demolish order on and determine if the structure is worth saving.

Demolish it, please

“And often times, we find that some homes under a demolition order should be demolished,” said Smith to the

If the commission concludes that a house meets the criteria of being both historic and significant, a delay period will be imposed. The Massachusetts Historic Commission recommends a 12 months wait while communities have approved delays of between 6 to 18 months.

The demolition stay would allow the town to work with the developer or owner to find alternatives to razing the structure such as rehabilitation, moving the house onsite or to another location. 

One hundred-and-thirty-one  communities in Massachusetts have demolition delay laws.

“We’re a little island without a demolition bylaw so we will welcome your support.” said Smith, as the Board voiced their approval of the measure.

Younger said last Thursday the town has developed a game plan that will guide the measure towards a date with Town Meeting representatives.

Younger and Assistant Administrator Kelli Hebert met with Smith last week on a preliminary timetable in which Historic District Commission members will work with the town's Planning Board until mid-September creating a by-law proposal each can agree on.

The measure will then be presented to the town counsel who will author the proposed by-law.

The measure will then be brought back to the Selectmen in mid-October for a final review before being shipped off to the By-law Review and Warrant committees.

“We hope to have this process completed in mid- to late-October in a format that Town Meeting can review," said Younger. 

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