East Cambridge NCD Study

East Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Study Area
(click to view a larger map)

Sign up for e-mail updates here.

Background:

At a public hearing on October 3, 2019 the Cambridge Historical Commission (CHC) voted to initiate a neighborhood conservation district (NCD) study for the portion of East Cambridge shown on the attached map. This action was taken in response to a petition filed several months ago by a number of long-term property owners and residents who have expressed concerns about the effects of development on the character of the neighborhood.

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. 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.

The study will assess the character and history of the neighborhood, the development potential of each property under current regulatory conditions, aspects of the neighborhood that are valued by its residents, and the jurisdiction and boundaries of a potential district. The study will conclude with the drafting of a report and recommendations to the Historical Commission; enactment of the district will be up to the City Council.

Update:

November 2019 - Cambridge Historical Commission and the City Manager's Office are holding interviews in early December for positions on the East Cambridge NCD study committee.

Make an Application:

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).

The Cambridge Historical Commission has set interim guidelines for properties within the proposed East Cambridge NCD boundary as follows:

For residential properties, the design guidelines and jurisdiction of commission review follow the Half Crown-Marsh NCD standards. 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.

For commercial properties and businesses along the Cambridge Street corridor, the design guidelines and jurisdiction of commission review follow the Harvard Square Conservation District standards.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.

These procedures do not apply to interior renovations, exterior maintenance or repairs, paint colors, or changes to plant material, all of which are exempt from review. Building permit applications for exempt projects will be approved administratively by Commission staff.

Frequently Downloaded Files:

  1. Application form
  2. Map of Study Area
  3. Enabling Ordinance


Contacts:

Charles Sullivan, Executive Director or Eric Hill, Survey Director 
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/CONSERVATION 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. 


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.