Q: When and where does the Arlington Historical Commission (AHC) meet? Are meetings open to the public?
The AHC typically meets on the first Tuesday of each month at the Whittemore-Robbins House, 670R Massachusetts Ave. (to the rear of Robbins Library). When the first Tuesday of the month is a holiday (e.g., July 4 th or Election Day), the meeting day is most often changed to the following Tuesday. The AHC is a body of Town government and all of its meetings are open to the public.
Q: How do I know if my house is on the list of significant structures?
The inventory of architecturally and/or historically significant properties is organized by street address. Hard copies are available at the Robbins Library, the town Building Department, and the Planning Department in Town Hall.
Q: Why was my house placed on the Inventory of Architecturally and/or Historically Significant Properties? Can I have it removed from the Inventory?
The Massachusetts Historical Commission's (MHC) survey form that was prepared on your property specifies the criteria that apply. If you have not received a copy of this form, you may consult the files kept at the Robbins Library Adult Reference Desk. The MHC forms are catalogued by street name. Please write to the Commission to have incorrect or incomplete information changed on the surveys. Different towns in Massachusetts administer their historic preservation by-laws in different ways. Arlington requires that a building be listed by the state or located within the boundaries of a National Register Historic District to assure a consistent evaluation process. Additions to the Inventory are made as more properties qualify for inclusion over time. It is the documented historic character of a property that causes it to be automatically covered by the demolition delay by-law. Only when properties have been demolished are they removed from the Inventory.
Q: What makes a house or building significant or historic?
A building may be significant for many reasons in addition to age, size, or striking appearance. Architectural style, historical period, and style of construction are some factors. It may be associated with an important or well-known architect or builder, or with historically important people or events. It may represent an important period, trend, or chapter in the cultural, political, economic or social history of the town. Or it may be located within the boundaries of a National Register Historic District (which can include buildings of recent construction).
Q: Why do I need a hearing to do work on my house?
If you are proposing exterior changes to your house that affect more than 25 percent of a front or side elevation, then the town by-law requires that the Historical Commission review your plans in a public hearing. All elevations are applicable for buildings sited on corner lots because the "rear elevation" is in fact one of the "side elevations" when viewed from the side street.
Q: How do I schedule a hearing for changes involving more than 25% to the front or side elevations of a structure?
Telephone the AHC at 781-316-3275 and leave a detailed message. All calls are returned within two business days. The Commission is composed entirely of volunteers, so calls are most often returned in the early evening or on weekends.
Q: What happens at an AHC hearing? How long do they last?
The vast majority of hearings are scheduled in 30-minute blocks. An extensive project such as total exterior renovation, demolition or a major addition will often need more time. When you discuss the outline of your project, an appropriate hearing block will be scheduled.
At the hearing, the Commissioners will want to see detailed plans, drawings and photographs of the proposed work and the impact it will have on the existing structure. It is desirable for your architect and/or builder to accompany you to the hearing to explain your proposal.
The main criteria the Commissioners consider in reviewing your plans are the ways in which your proposed changes affect the historical integrity of the structure. The Commission recognizes that homeowners periodically need to repair, renovate, and remodel their homes. Our role is to insure that such changes are made with awareness of and sensitivity to issues of historic preservation. In addition to the overall plan of work, the Commissioners will be looking at such things as the building materials you plan to use; the styles of windows and doors; siding materials, etc. We do not have jurisdiction over paint color or landscaping.
Q: What should I bring to a hearing?
Recent, clear photographs of the property are needed in all cases. Other materials will depend on the scope of your project. For example, a major addition would call for scale drawings that show window and door placement and style, roofline, siding, etc. On the other hand, for a project such as replacing all windows in their existing-size openings, a copy of the window catalogue page that specifies materials, dimensions, etc., could be all that is required for the Commission to evaluate your application. The Commissioner who schedules your hearing will be happy to discuss this with you.
Q: Is it necessary to bring my contractor or architect to the hearing?
Again, this depends largely on the scope of your project. It is possible for the property owner to attend alone, or to send an architect or contractor to make the presentation on behalf of the owner. The Commission is concerned with design issues only to the extent that these relate to the historical character of a property.
Q: I have some ideas for changes to my property, but I do not want to go too far in the design process without better understanding what would be considered historically compatible. Can the Commission assist with this?
Yes. Some homeowners attend a Commission meeting on an "informal" basis to discuss their design ideas and to receive suggestions. These meetings are scheduled in the same way as a formal hearing, but they do not replace the public hearing that is required under the by-law. No votes are taken and no binding approval decisions are reached during "informal hearings" -these are offered to assist homeowners who are seeking guidance in the earlier stages of planning larger projects.
Q: What if the AHC denies me permission to do work on my house?
The Commission does everything in our power to help you make the changes you need to on your house. If--after extensive discussion in a public hearing--we do not approve the changes you propose, we will make suggestions on how you can alter the design plans to accommodate our concerns.
If you are unwilling to make those changes, the town Building Department will deny you a building permit. The denial will prevent you from obtaining the permit for one year.
Q: What if I go ahead and do work on my house without permission from the AHC?
The Historical Commission can order the town building inspector to issue a "halt work" order on your renovation project.
Q: Can the Commission recommend historical contractors, suppliers, etc.?
As a body of Town government, the Commission can make design suggestions, but cannot endorse specific professional services, retailers, or particular products.
Q: I am going to need a zoning variance to proceed with my project. Can the two hearings be combined?
No. The Commission's hearing process is separate from any other approvals that may be needed for a project, such as building set-back, building code requirements, etc.
Q: My friend has to go before the Commission for changes such as fences, doors, and other smaller projects that are less than 25% of one side of her house. Why?
Your friend's property is not under the jurisdiction of the Arlington Historical Commission, but rather under that of the Arlington Historic District Commissions . Arlington has seven Massachusetts-designated historic districts, and changes to properties located within the boundaries of those districts are reviewed under state law.
Q: What is the difference between the Arlington Historical Commission, the Historic Districts Commission, and the Arlington Historical Society?
Good question! The Historical Commission administers the town's historic preservation by-law.
The Arlington Historic Districts Commission administers the town's seven Historic Districts, which are established under a state statute. For more information on Arlington's Historic Districts visit Arlington Historic Districts Commission.
For more information on the state Historical Commission, historic preservation, and historic districts in general, visit the Massachusetts Historical Commission web site.
The Arlington Historical Society is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to interpreting and presenting Arlington's rich history.
Q: Where can I get more information about the history of my house?
Q: Where can I get more information about renovating and repairing my house?
Q: How do I get a blue historical plaque for my house?
Please contact us with your request and as much information as you can about the history of your house.