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Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline Historic Districts and You

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Welcome back to Curbed University! We guarantee it to be the most non-boring expert advice you have ever gotten about buying and renting a home in the Hub (not a guarantee). Additional questions as well as topic suggestions welcomed through the ever-trusty tipline.

On Monday, we deep-dove into historic districts and landmarks in Boston, and how they might affect renovations and redevelopments. Now, we deep-dive into the 'burbs about Boston, starting with Cambridge.

Cambridge. Curious as to whether you live or work in a designated historic property? (We were—and do!) Check out this searchable website from the city. Cambridge also has what it calls a Demolition Delay Ordinance, which subjects any property at least 50 years old to review for possible designation before it's demolished.

The city has two historic districts (Old Cambridge, covering a lot of the city's center, and Fort Washington, covering that sliver where General Washington set up his canons); and four conservation districts: Avon Hill; Harvard Square; Half-Crown Marsh; and Mid-Cambridge (here's a handy map). What's the difference? Properties in the historic districts (and, often, their immediate surroundings) face review by the Cambridge Historical Commission before any changes. Properties in the conservation districts are subject to much the same review, though it comes from local commissions and each commission's criteria for what's worth saving.
Somerville. The city's 14-member Historic Preservation Commission designates Local Historic Districts, which just about cover every square inch of Somerville (or seem to by this list of properties). Seriously, though, there are more than 200 LHDs covering at least 350 properties.

Somerville also has a Demolition Delay Ordinance similar to Cambridge's—properties middle-aged or older get their day in municipal court, as it were, before they can be demolished. Also like Cambridge, Somerville allows changes to interiors as well as exterior repairs so long as in-kind material is used. And both cities exempt repairs and reconstruction due to natural disasters. Handily, the city has an online "class" in Somerville historic preservation right here.
Brookline. The town's 11-member Preservation Commission has designated seven Local Historic Districts: Chestnut Hill North, Cottage Farm, Graffam-McKay, Harvard Avenue, Lawrence, Pill Hill and Wild-Sargent. This link takes you to a PDF of addresses within Brookline's LHDs. Like with Cambridge and Somerville, exterior changes to these properties have to be run by the commission; and interior changes and exterior repairs are generally fine. Also, like its neighbors, Brookline has a Demolition Delay Ordinance.

And that takes us to a concluding rule of thumb: If it's an old property (50-plus years at least), check with the appropriate commissions before you do any outside work to it. Also, we have not even touched National Historic Landmarks (you can search this database by city to find out if your work or home is on the national registry). But much the same applies: check.
· Boston Historic Districts and You [Curbed Boston]
· Our Curbed University archive [Curbed Boston]