Reservoir Hill Study

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Background:

At a public hearing on June 4, 2015, the Cambridge Historical Commission voted to initiate, effective October 1, 2015, a combined neighborhood conservation district (NCD) and historic district study for the south slope of Reservoir Hill. The first step is the appointment of an NCD study committee by the city manager. An NCD study committee consists of seven members appointed by the city manager, including three residents and/or property owners of the study area, three members or alternates of the Historical Commission, and one additional person with knowledge and concern for conservation of the character-defining features of the city’s built environment; we hope to ensure that all points of view are represented. The NCD study committee will meet concurrently with the historic district extension study committee, which is comprised of members of the Historical Commission. All meetings will be open to the public and the public is encouraged to attend and participate. A schedule of meeting dates and location(s) will be mailed to property owners and posted online here after the committee has been appointed.

Update:

Next meeting: March 8, 2017. See below for more info.

December 6, 2016: Informational Meeting at BB&N School, 80 Sparks Street, 7:00PM. See meeting notice.

Sept. 2016: After a summer hiatus, the study committees will resume meeting this month. Meetings have been scheduled for Wednesdays Sep. 14 and 29. If further meetings are needed, that information will be posted on this page.

Dec. 2015: The NCD study committee has been appointed by the City Manager. The seven member committee is composed of the following Reservoir Hill residents: Peter Ellis, Bob Higgins, Arch Horst, Bracebridge Young and three members of the Historical Commission: Joe Ferrara, Chandra Harrington, and Susannah Tobin. If you have any questions, please call us at 617-349-4683 or email us here. The NCD study committee elected Peter Ellis and Bracebridge Young as co-chairs. The Cambridge Historical Commission, acting as an Historic District study committee, meets jointly with the NCD study committee.

A meeting schedule has been set for the following dates: December 9, 2015, January 13, 2016, February 10, 2016, March 9, 2016, March 30, 2016, April 13, 2016, May 11, 2016, June 8, 2016, June 29, 2016 (canceled), July 13, 2016 (canceled), September 14, 2016, September 29, 2016, October 19, 2016, November 2, 2016, November 9, 2016, and November 30, 2016.

Applications:

To make an application for alterations to your property during the study period, please download an application form and return it to us by mail or email at (histcomm at cambridgema dot gov).

Downloads:

  1. Meeting #15: March 8, 2017
  2. Informational Meeting: December 6, 2016
  3. Meeting #14: November 30, 2016
  4. Meeting #13: November 9, 2016
  5. Meeting #12: November 2, 2016
  6. Meeting #11: October 19, 2016
  7. Meeting #10: September 29, 2016 (Note: meeting date changed from Wed. 9/28 to Thurs 9/29)
  8. Meeting #9: September 14, 2016
  9. Note: The June 29 and July 13 meetings were canceled.
  10. Meeting #8: June 8, 2016
  11. Meeting #7: May 11, 2016
  12. Meeting #6: April 13, 2016 (walking tour)
  13. Meeting #5: March 30, 2016
  14. Meeting #4: Mar. 9, 2016
  15. Meeting #3: Feb. 10, 2016
  16. Meeting #2: Jan. 13, 2016
  17. Meeting #1: Dec. 9, 2015
  18. General

Contacts:

Charles Sullivan, Executive Director or Sarah Burks, Preservation Planner
E-mail us
Phone: 617-349-4683
TTY (for hearing impaired): 617-349-6112

Frequently Asked Questions about Districts (See below).

WHAT ARE HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICTS?

Historic Districts:
Historic districts are areas in which historic buildings and their settings are protected by public review of alterations. Historic district ordinances are local laws that are adopted by communities using powers granted by the state. Historic districts comprise the city's significant historic and architectural resources. Inclusion in a historic district signifies that a property contributes to an ensemble that is worth protecting by virtue of its historic importance or architectural characteristics. Historic districts deserve special protection because they enhance our shared quality of life.

Neighborhood Conservation Districts:
These districts are groups of buildings that are architecturally and historically distinctive. There are four NCDs in Cambridge: Mid Cambridge, Half Crown-Marsh, Avon Hill, and Harvard Square. A different commission administers each of the four NCDs. These NCD commissions are empowered to approve new construction, demolition, and alterations that are visible from a public way. The establishment of an NCD recognizes the particular design and architectural qualities of special neighborhoods in Cambridge and encourages their protection and maintenance for the benefit of the entire city.

WHAT PURPOSE DO HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICTS SERVE?
These designations were created to preserve buildings that are architecturally and historically significant. The establishment of such districts recognizes the particular historic and architectural qualities of neighborhoods and buildings in Cambridge and encourages their protection and maintenance for the benefit of the entire City. 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HISTORIC DISTRICT AND A NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICT?
The regulations in the neighborhood conservation districts are tailored to the needs of the particular neighborhood and are generally less strict than those in historic districts.

DOES BEING IN A HISTORIC DISTRICT MEAN THAT I CAN NEVER CHANGE THE APPEARANCE OF MY PROPERTY?
No. Properties in historic districts are not frozen in time. Historic district protection is designed to ensure that when changes occur, they do not destroy the unique qualities of the district.

WHAT ARE THE IMPACTS OF HISTORIC PRESERVATION ON PROPERTY VALUES?

Though there's no one size fits all neighborhoods answer to this question, there have been many studies that showed that historic districts stabilize or increase property values. The following links have been provided by one of our commission members in answer to a question on this topic at the June 4 meeting of the Commission.

Donovan Rypkema is an economist who has focused quite a bit on culture and historic preservation. He has done some impressive economic analysis and has several books out that are easily found. In addition, here are a few links that might be of interest:
Web site: www.placeeconomics.com
He was one of several presenters last year at the Boston Preservation Alliance Forum on economics of preservation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4y5bZaaI7k
Economic Impact Studies: http://www.placeeconomics.com/category/economic-impact-studies/
A general article on preservation and economic development: http://www.placeeconomics.com/pub/placeeconomicspub1999.pdf

WHERE ARE CAMBRIDGE'S HISTORIC DISTRICTS?
Cambridge has two historic districts. An online map of the historic districts and neighborhood conservation districts is now available.

The Old Cambridge Historic District includes most of Brattle Street, the Cambridge Common and its surroundings, Berkeley and Follen Streets, and parts of Elmwood Avenue, Craigie Street, Garden Street, and Harvard Yard. The district has recently been expanded to include several properties surrounding Arsenal Square. Some of the properties in this district are important to the City's pre- revolutionary past; others illustrate aspects of Cambridge's 19th- century development.

The Fort Washington Historic District is located on Waverly Street in Cambridgeport. This small district protects the remains of a Revolutionary War earthwork fortification erected by soldiers of the Continental Army under the direction of George Washington. (Read more about Fort Washington on the FAQ page.)

DOES BEING IN A NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICT MEAN THAT I CAN NEVER CHANGE THE APPEARANCE OF MY PROPERTY?
No. Properties in neighborhood conservation districts are not frozen in time. Neighborhood conservation district protection is designed to ensure that a neighborhood's distinctive qualities are taken into account when changes occur. Most routine and minor changes are reviewed on-the- spot by the Historical Commission staff. Many other changes are reviewed by the neighborhood conservation district commission in an advisory, non-binding capacity. Binding review in a public hearing is generally reserved for major changes, such as demolition, new construction, and major exterior alteration, that would affect neighborhood character.

WHERE ARE CAMBRIDGE'S NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICTS?
Neighborhood Conservation Districts are comprised of groups of buildings that are architecturally and historically distinctive. There are four NCDs in Cambridge: Mid Cambridge, Half Crown-Marsh, Avon Hill, and Harvard Square. An online map of the historic districts and neighborhood conservation districts is now available.

The Mid Cambridge NCD is bordered by Prospect Street to the east, Prescott Street to the west, Kirkland Street and the Somerville city line to the north, and Massachusetts Avenue to the south.

The Avon Hill NCD, near Porter Square, is approximately bordered by Raymond Street to the west, Massachusetts Avenue to the east, Upland Road to the north, and Linnaean Street to the south.

The Half Crown-Marsh NCD is made of two areas, formerly each designated as a separate NCD, located west of Harvard Square between Brattle Street and the river, with Hilliard Street on the east and Lowell Street on the west. The consolidated district is bisected by Longfellow Park, which is located in the adjacent Old Cambridge Historic District.

The Harvard Square Conservation District is an area of mixed-use buildings in the historic center of Cambridge, and it is approximately bounded by Massachusetts Avenue and Mount Auburn, Eliot, Bennett, Story, and Church streets. It is administered by the Cambridge Historical Commission.