East Cambridge NCD Study
Public Meetings Alert:
At this time the City of Cambridge (“City”) will not be holding any non-essential public meetings due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the City Manager’s closure of all City buildings to non-essential business. On April 3, 2020, Governor Baker signed into law Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020, An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19 (“Act”), which extends all permitting deadlines for permits issued by City multi-member boards and commissions until after the State of Emergency is lifted. In light of the extensions provided for in the Act and the closure of City buildings, at this time the City’s boards and commissions will be rescheduling all public hearings in accordance with the extensions permitted under the Act. Applicants will receive notice of the new date once the hearing is rescheduled, and notice will be sent to any necessary parties, advertised and posted, as required by applicable laws.
Additionally, while the State of Emergency is in effect, applications for permits issued by City multi-member boards and commissions may be filed by e-mail to the City Clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org. All application fees should be submitted to the applicable board or commission by mail. (Note that the Cambridge Historical Commission and Neighborhood Conservation District Commissions do not have application fees).
Thank you for your patience and understanding during this unprecedented time.
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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.
History of East Cambridge- Excerpts of "Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge, East Cambridge" (1988)
March 7, 2020-
Approximately 20 residents of East Cambridge attended the scheduled East Cambridge Residential walking tour. CHC staff led the tour detailing historic buildings and sub-areas of the neighborhood and answered questions on the design review processes compared to what is allowable by Zoning.
March 2, 2020-
Approximately 50 residents of East Cambridge and nearby neighborhoods attended the third public meeting where CHC staff gave a brief presentation on the process thus far and a sampling of past reviewed cases since the ECNCD Study commenced on October 3, 2019. Staff then explained the process for the neighborhood to establish a goal statement, followed by a list of more specific goals to frame future discussions and objectives for a potential conservation district. Brief discussion occurred before the meeting was adjourned early due to disruptive behavior. See the CHC presentation here.
February 3, 2020-
Approximately 30 residents and stakeholders attended the second public meeting where CHC staff explained existing preservation tools available to the neighborhood. National Register designation, demolition delay processes, individual landmarks, and conservation district designation were all discussed as preservation tools presently available. CHC staff spoke about three existing conservation districts, including: Half Crown-Marsh, Mid-Cambridge, and Harvard Square, and what makes each of those ordinances unique. See the presentation here.
January 3, 2020-
The first East Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Study Public Meeting was held. Over 40 residents and stakeholders were in attendance. Staff explained process for creation of a Conservation District and next steps to the neighborhood. Staff gave a presentation highlighting the history and development of East Cambridge.
City Manager's Office appointed four neighborhood members to the East Cambridge NCD Study Committee which include: Ronald Creamer Jr., William Dines, Francesca Gordini, and Valerie Reece from the neighborhood and Gavin Kleespies, Paula Paris, and Kyle Sheffield from the Historical Commission.
The Cambridge Historical Commission sent a letter to all properties within the study area listing the appointed members, dates and location of the public meetings, and information regarding the goals for the meetings.
The public meetings will be held at the East End House, 105 Spring Street Cambridge, MA 02141 on the first and third Monday of the months January through June. See attached schedule for dates and topics.
A full list of meeting dates are below:
January 6, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
February 3, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
March 2, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
March 16, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
April 6, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
May 4, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
May 18, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
June 1, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
June 15, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
June 29, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
July 20, 2020 (6:30-8:00 pm)
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.
For projects requiring Cambridge Historical Commission review and a public hearing, applications will be scheduled for the next available CHC public meeting date (see calendar of upcoming application deadlines and hearings here).
Frequently Downloaded Files:
- Application form
- Map of Study Area
- Enabling Ordinance
Charles Sullivan, Executive Director or Eric Hill, Survey Director
TTY (for hearing impaired): 617-349-6112
Frequently Asked Questions about Districts (See below).
WHAT ARE HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION 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.