Historical Commission: Bylaws are helping to preserve and restore Southborough’s history and appearance

by beth on January 18, 2018

Post image for Historical Commission: Bylaws are helping to preserve and restore Southborough’s history and appearance

Above: The Burnett House was saved by the owner’s agreement to put demolition on hold while working with the Town on alternatives. Partially inspired by the challenges of that effort, the Historical Commission successfully championed bylaws to encourage preservation of Southborough’s heritage. (photo by Alan Bezanson from Facebook)

A recent story about an old home that will be torn down prompted me to check in with the architects of the Demolition Delay Bylaw. 

It was controversial at the time it was voted in. Proponents of the bylaw hoped to help encourage preservation of historic buildings. Some owners of old homes worried about impacts to the resale value.

Almost three years later, I wondered what the actual results have been. So, I touched base with the Historical Commission.

Since the bylaw was adopted, only two homes have been subject to the Demolition Delay process. But, according to member Michael Weishan, the commission credits the bylaw for saving additional historic homes.

Weishan tells me that developers touched base informally with the commission about whether some homes were protected under the bylaw. They were. Since then, Weishan tells me the homes were “gloriously restored by private owners”. He followed:

The potential developers just didn’t want to go through the by-law hassle, leaving the market open to dedicated private individuals who wish to invest in the historic fabric of Southborough. And they did, with magnificent results.

There was less success with the ones that officially came in front of the Commission. But Weishan is positive about those experiences, too. 

The first home (28 Boston Road) was the commission’s first experience, and thus a learning one. Discussions with Town Counsel led the Commission to create new procedures for how they handle the delay process going forward. That includes working with the owner on a specific set of actions with timelines and check-ins along the way.

Their second time at bat is currently in process. The Commission determined that 33 East Main Street iss subject to the Demolition Delay. They held a public hearing and are working with the owners.

The end result may be tearing down of the home. But, if that happens, the look of the neighborhood shouldn’t be negatively impacted. Weishan says the owners are cooperating with the commission and

pledged that if they are not able to save the structure, they will work with the Historical Commission to build a new cottage-style home in keeping with the neighborhood, which is exactly what the by-law was created to do.

Last spring, the Commission convinced voters to adopt a second preservation bylaw. This one is for Adaptive Reuse. It expands the by-right uses allowed for historic homes, as long as the facade is preserved. 

Members hope they will start to see even more preservation efforts made through owners taking advantage of the options.

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