Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings Bylaw Subcommittee created

by beth on February 14, 2017

Town officials continue to work on a new bylaw to allow “Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings”. The effort had been spearheaded by a working group. Last night, that group was officially turned into a subcommittee.

And in a later hearing, proponents struggled again to make clear that the bylaw wouldn’t increase property owners’ restrictions.

The Planning Board created the new subcommittee based on advice from the Town Clerk about Open Meeting Laws. The members will stay the same. The name change was made to draw a line as to when the official term began for the public body. The subcommittee will keep official minutes and post agendas allowing the public to attend. (The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 21 at 4:00 pm in the Historic Museum.)

The group is working to bring an article to Annual Town Meeting this spring. (Not to be confused with the March 8th Special.) Last night, after creating the group, the Planning Board re-opened a public hearing on the draft bylaw.

Planning member Jesse Stein and working group member David Parry* questioned the definition for “Historic Buildings”. They both wondered why it was different than the definition under the Demolition Delay Bylaw for a “Historically or Architecturally Significant Building”.

Stein worried that the expanded definition under the new proposed bylaw, covering more buildings, would increase the number of buildings restricted by the Demolition Delay Bylaw. And Parry thought to avoid confusion, both definitions should be the same.

It was pointed out that the newer definition applies to a different term. And working group and Historical Commission Michael Weishan* member explained there was good reason for the terms to be defined differently.

The Adaptive Reuse special permit doesn’t add to homeowners’ restrictions, it add to their options. Because it is a preservation incentive, the Historical Commission wants the pool of eligible buildings to be larger. That is why the definition for this bylaw is expanded, including a rolling criteria of buildings over 85 years old. 

If the bylaw is adopted, owners of historic buildings would be able to apply to use the properties for specified uses not normally allowed in that zoning district.

To receive those allowances, they would need to apply for the Adaptive Reuse permit. That is when the bylaw’s restrictions become relevant. Restrictions include preservation of the historic facade.

Any property owners who don’t want to comply with the restrictions simply wouldn’t apply for the permit.

In contrast, the Demolition Delay Bylaw added restrictions to homeowners rights. To avoid being overly burdensome on the owners, the definition of buildings covered was intentionally limited to a smaller pool. Weishan referred to that defined group as “a hard fought compromise”.

After prolonged discussion, Parry and Stein agreed the difference made sense. Parry cautioned that they need to be prepared to make things clear to Town Meeting voters.

Since the previous public hearing, the group had worked through changes to the bylaw draft and submitted it to Town Counsel. They now need to respond to his comments and submit a final draft back to counsel. They will then return to the Planning Board with a final draft in time for ATM.

*I referred to working group members, because though they were just appointed to the subcommittee, the members weren’t sworn in yet when last night’s hearing took place.

Members are the same as the working group: Meme Luttrell, Planning Board; Karina Quinn, Town Planner; Bill Sines Americans with Disabilities Act Committee; Joe Hubley, Historical Commission; Michael Weishan, Historical Commission; and resident David Parry. (Parry was one of the residents who raised questions and concerns on the bylaw at a past hearing. Given his detailed constructive criticism, he was invited to join the working group to discuss his suggestions.)

Updated (2/14/17 5:55 pm): To see the latest draft, likely to be revised again, click here.

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