Historic districts are areas in which historic buildings and their settings are protected by public review. 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 quality. Historic districts deserve special protection because they enhance our shared quality of life.The Cambridge Historical Commission is empowered to regulate changes that affect the publicly-visible features of properties within a historic district. Before an applicant can undertake any work on a property in a historic district, the Commission must first issue a Certificate of Appropriateness, Hardship, or Non-Applicability. In Cambridge, all exterior changes to historic district properties are reviewed, regardless of whether a building permit is required. This includes paint and roof color, temporary signs and structures, walls, fences, driveways, storm doors and windows, gutters, and window air conditioners. However, the Commission does not require a hearing for storm windows and storm doors that match the underlying window or door in shape, configuration, and color.
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.
A Certificate of Non-Applicability may be issued for work done in kind (work which matches existing conditions exactly), interior alterations, and alterations not visible from any public way. These certificates are generally issued by the Commission staff on the spot.
A Certificate of Appropriateness will be issued for alterations which the Commission deems not incongruous to the character of the property in question.
Occasionally, a Certificate of Hardship may be issued 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.
A certificate must be issued before a building permit can be obtained for work in an historic district. Applications for certificates are available at the office of the Historical Commission. They will be available online soon. Instructions for completing the application and a list of required attachments to the application are included on the form. Completed applications should be returned to the Commission office by the application deadline. Check the following link for Meeting Dates and Application Deadlines.
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.