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Half Crown-Marsh Neighborhood Conservation District


Neighborhood conservation districts are groups of buildings that are architecturally and historically distinctive. Each NCD is administered by its own Commission, which is empowered to approve any new construction, demolition, or alteration that is visible from a public way. The establishment of an NCD recognizes the particular design and architectural qualities of special neighborhoods in Cambridge and encourages their protection and maintenance for the benefit of the entire city.

The Half Crown-Marsh Consolidated Neighborhood Conservation District is made of two areas, formerly each designated as a separate NCD, located west of Harvard Square between Brattle Street and the river, with Hilliard Street on the east and Lowell Street on the west. The consolidated district is bisected by Longfellow Park, which is located in the adjacent Old Cambridge Historic District. The district contains approximately 200 buildings.

The authority granted by the City Council order establishing this neighborhood conservation district is structured as follows:

A. Binding Determinations

The Commission reviews all construction, demolition or alteration that affects the exterior architectural features, other than color, within the district that is visible from any public way in Cambridge or Boston. The authority of the Commission shall be binding except with regard to the categories of structures or exterior architectural features identified as Exemptions.

B. Exemptions

The authority of the Commission shall not extend to the following categories of structures or exterior architectural features and such structures or features may be constructed or altered without review by the Commission.

1. Terraces, walks, driveways, sidewalks and similar structures substantially at grade level, provided, however, that they are not to be used for parking between the street and either the principal front wall plane of a building or the principal front and side wall planes of a building that occupies a corner property.
2. Walls and fences four feet high or less as measured from the grade of the sidewalk or the surface of the ground immediately below the wall or fence, whichever grade is lower.
3. Storm doors and windows, screens, window air conditioners, trelliswork and similar appurtenances.
4. Flat skylights or solar collectors parallel to and in close contact with the plane of the roof provided that all new and existing skylights and collectors are not larger than one-third of the area of the roof plane in which they are installed.
5. Intake and exhaust vents of less than one square foot in area provided that no more than two such vents are installed on an elevation of a one-to-three family house or within a 20-foot horizontal section of an elevation of a rowhouse, apartment, retail or commercial structure.
6. Permanent exterior lighting provided that it is installed in a manner that will prevent direct light from shining onto any adjacent property.
7.Chimney caps provided they are installed in a manner that will allow their removal without altering the structure or appearance of the chimney.

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 neighborhood conservation district commission (see regulations above). These certificates often can be issued by the Historical Commission staff on-the-spot.

A Certificate of Appropriateness will be issued for reviewable alterations which the neighborhood conservation district commission deems not incongruous to the character of the property in question.

Occasionally, a Certificate of Hardship will 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.

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.

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