Harvard Square Conservation District

View of Read Block, Harvard Square, Cambridge

Welcome to the home page for the Harvard Square Conservation District in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Go to HSC District Study Committee page here.

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.

This mixed-use neighborhood conservation district is regulated by the Cambridge Historical Commission, a group of volunteer Cambridge citizens appointed by the City Manager. Administration of district business is provided by staff members of the Historical Commission, a department of the city government. If you have any questions about the Harvard Square Conservation District, e-mail Sarah Burks or call the office at 617/349-4683 or TTY at 617/349-6112.

Frequently Downloaded Files:

General CHC Review Procedures:
The Commission meets monthly. All projects are reviewed at public meetings, which provide an open forum for discussion. The Historical Commission considers each application individually to determine what sorts of changes are appropriate. The historic development patterns, architectural characteristics, and visual qualities of the district form the basis of the Commission's decision on what constitutes an appropriate change.

There are three types of certificates issued by the Historical Commission. A Certificate of Non-Applicability will be issued for work done in kind (work which matches existing conditions exactly), interior alterations, alterations not visible from any public way, and any other work which does not require review by the commission. These certificates are generally issued by the Historical Commission staff on-the-spot. A Certificate of Appropriateness will be issued for reviewable alterations which the commission deems not incongruous to the character of the property in question. Occasionally, a Certificate of Hardship will be granted for work which is not otherwise appropriate if the Commission determines that failure to approve an application would entail a substantial hardship, financial or otherwise, and that the work would not be a significant detriment to the district. One of these certificates is always necessary to obtain a building permit for work in a neighborhood conservation district.

All of the Commission's regulatory approvals have a life of six months. This means that the owner of the property has six months, from the date a certificate is issued, to obtain a building permit. Upon written request, the chair of the Commission may issue a six-month extension. If an extension is not issued, the owner must resubmit the Application for Certificate for the Commission's review.