Proposed Local Historic Districts

Memorandums to the Zoning & Planning Committee

 Newton Highlands 5-8-17

West Newton 6-12-17

What is a local historic district (LHD)?

Local Historic Districts are areas of historic and/or architectural value in which historic buildings and their settings are protected by public review.  A Local Historic District is established and administered by a community to protect the distinctive characteristics of historically important areas, and to encourage new designs that are compatible with the area's setting.  Local Historic District ordinances are local laws that are adopted by communities under Chapter 40C of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, enacted in 1960.  40C and local ordinances define how Local Historic Districts operate.  Historic District Commissions do not necessarily prevent changes or new construction.  They ensure that changes and additions are appropriate, and protect the architectural and historic values of the district.  A Local Historic District is not intended to be burdensome to property owners, but is established by a community to manage changes and protect historic buildings, landscapes, and character of a district.  Here is a link to the state law:

Does Newton already have any local historic districts?

The City of Newton currently has four: Upper Falls, Chestnut Hill, Newtonville, and Auburndale. Combined, the districts consist of 887 properties. Each local historic district has its own commission comprised of Newton residents who volunteer to serve and are realtors, architects, attorneys, and citizens at large.

Links to all four LHDs can be viewed here:

My property is located in a proposed local historic district.  What will it mean for my property?

Inclusion in a Local Historic District does not affect the use of buildings, but does subject exterior changes to review by a historic district commission if there is a change in the proposed materials to be used.  Maintenance is also not subject to local historic district review. This design review process assures that changes in form or materials of a historic building will not detract from the district's historic character.  This law also takes into account the materials on your house at the time the local historic district goes into effect.  No property owner will be required to restore their home to a more historical appearance.

What villages are proposing new local historic districts?

Newton Highlands and West Newton are proposing to add local historic districts in portions of those villages.  Volunteers in Newton Highlands and West Newton have prepared draft study reports for the review and approval by the Newton City Council.  The links to their reports are found here:

Newton Highlands Draft Study Report

West Newton Draft Study Report

Both reports were approved by the Newton Historical Commission and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.  Links to the Newton Historical Commission’s Records of Action and the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s decision letters can be found here:

Massachusetts Historical Commission Meeting Minutes 2-8-17

Newton Highlands Decisions 

West Newton Decisions

How does Newton establish a new local historic district?

The Secretary of the Commonwealth has issued a publication entitled Establishing Local Historic Districts, which details the steps communities must take to legally establish a Chapter 40C Local Historic District in their town or city.  The publication can be viewed here:

In addition, Newton staff prepared the flowchart below to help illustrate the process in Newton:


Where are we in the process of reviewing the two new LHDs in Newton?

Both proposed districts proposals in Newton Highlands and West Newton were heard before public hearings held by the Zoning and Planning Committee of the City Council, combined with the Planning Board. Both hearings are still open and will remain so until the fall.

How many towns and cities in Massachusetts have local historic districts?  How many have more than one like Newton does?

According to data provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, 125 towns and cities in Massachusetts have local historic districts authorized under either Chapter 40C or by special legislation.  Of these, and as of this writing, 46 communities have more than one local historic district.  Communities that allow individual local historic districts (e.g. a single historic property), have a great deal more of them.

Can new construction happen in a local historic district?

Yes, contingent upon commission review and approval.

Can multi-family housing be included in a local historic district?

Yes.  Local historic districts have no review authority over the use of historic structures or their interiors.

Are there penalties for owning a building that requires maintenance in a local historic district?

No.  Restoration and maintenance of historic buildings are allowed in local historic districts as of right.

Will I be able to paint my house any color I want without commission review?

Yes you may!


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