The city is looking into the development of Local Historic Districts to preserve unique architectural details and historic facades, such as this home on Church Street.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is looking into the development of Local Historic Districts.
The idea was brought forward by City Councilor Benjamin Lamb at Tuesday's council meeting after discussions with the North Adams Historical Society.
Lamb said the city already has the option in ordinance to create a district and that there are more than 200 of them in Massachusetts already. The district would be categorized as an area worth preserving for its architectural and historic significance.
"It fits very nicely with what the work the city is already doing in terms of auditing our historic buildings," he said, as well as the historic preservation goals listed in the city's new Vision 2030 master plan. "What this would do would allow us to put in place boundaries in terms of aesthetic of outsides of buildings."
The focus is "all about the outside" to preserve the facades, Lamb continued, and property owners would be free do to what they wanted on the inside. State and national recognition of landmark properties and neighborhoods "doesn't carry any clout" when it comes to drastic renovations of the exterior of an old building or total demolition, he said.
"In the end, this doesn't necessarily keep them from doing it, it just makes them go through ... a review process," Lamb said, which would be the Historic Commission.
The only limiting force currently in ordinance is a demolition delay of 12 months that the commission can impose on historically significant structures more than 50 years old as a way to encourage reuse, new purchasers or some other solution.
The city currently has six districts considered historically significant and more than 400 structures documented.
The creation of a district requires the establishment of a Local Historic District Study Commission of three to seven people appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council that includes representatives from the Board of Realtors, the American Institute of Architects and historical society.
The state offers a 68-page guideline on setting up study committees and creating districts.
"We have a number of areas that, without some serious attention, could be lost to development and/or blight," Lamb wrote in his communication to the council. "This includes Monument Square-Eagle Street, the area around Saint Francis Church, Blackinton Mills area and the Church Street-Cady Hill district to name a few.
"Some of these areas are already recognized as historic districts in the city, but not as Local Historic Districts, as North Adams has never gone through this process."
The ordinance would fall under MGL 40C, which sets out the authority and boundaries of Local Historic Districts and Historic Commissions.
Lamb said the concept had arisen after speaking with people about appreciation and preservation of the city's architecture. He is also researching an adaptive reuse ordinance to promote investment in historic areas while preserving facades.
Historic Society member and Historical Commission Chairwoman Justyna Carlson said Lamb had presented the proposal to the society at its June meeting and submitted his efforts to the commission by email.
"He's done all his homework with both groups," she said, adding that someone from each group would likely be appointed to the study committee.
The commission will take up Lamb's proposal at its meeting next week. The City Council also referred the matter to the Community Development Committee; Mayor Richard Alcombright asked that Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie and City Planner Makenzie Greer be kept advised of developments.
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