Historic District Review

The goal of establishing local historic districts is to preserve the historic buildings and other significant resources that define and reflect elements of the City's history.  Local historic districts preserve buildings and areas with a high level of historical, cultural, or architectural importance.  Newton created its first local historic district in 1975 and has since added three more.  Review procedures are the same for each district.   

Local Historic District Ordinance

The City of Newton’s Historic District Ordinance governs the all the local historic districts including the Newton Upper Falls Local Historic District, Chestnut Hill Local Historic District, Newtonville Local Historic District, and Auburndale Local Historic District.  Each district has its own commission and application deadlines, but all subscribe to the same review process.  The Ordinance provides that no exterior feature of a building or structure visible from a public way may be built, added to, removed, or changed in exterior feature without a Certificate of Appropriateness issued by the Commission if visible from a public way.  If the proposed change is not subject to review by the Commission because it is not visible from a public way or body of water or is excluded from review, a Certificate of Non-Applicability will be issued. Certificates of Hardship will be issued by the Commission for projects not generally affecting the historic district and where failure to approve the application would involve a substantial hardship to the applicant.  All applications for certificates must be submitted and approved before exterior changes can be made.  Building permits will not be issued without a certificate.  Applications are due by 5:00pm 15 days before the next scheduled historic district commission meeting.  When contemplating changes, applicants are encouraged to consult the City of Newton Historic Preservation Design Guidelines available on the Reports and Studies webpage.

Do all changes require review by the district commission?

Ordinary maintenance or repair, which does not change the exterior design, material, or appearance of a building or structure, does not require review. Landscaping with plants, trees, or shrubs is also not reviewed. There are also alterations, which are exempt from review for which a Certificate of Non-Applicability is issued. Examples of the exemptions are: terraces, walks, and sidewalks so long as such a structure is substantially at grade level; storm doors and storm windows; screens; lightning protection; window boxes and window air conditioning units; lighting fixtures, except for free standing lighting fixtures; color of roof materials and paint; temporary structures and signs erected for a period of 90 days or less; residential identification signs which are not more than one foot square in area, provided that a second set of residential building numbers is affixed or inscribed on buildings in order to comply with section 26-7 of the city ordinance; and most antennae (see the city ordinance for specifics). A property owner should refer to the Ordinance or inquire at the Newton Department of Planning and Development for specific information.

How can I apply for a grant to preserve a historic building, landscape, work of art or archival collection? What past projects like this has Newton funded?

Newton's Community Preservation Program provides grants to develop affordable housing, preserve historic resources or conservation land, and to create and improve City parks. A 9-member volunteer Community Preservation Committee evaluates proposals and recommends funding to the Board of Aldermen, who may then appropriate the requested funds.

To find out how to propose a project, or what past projects have been funded, explore our website at www.newtonma.gov/CPA.

For more information, contact program manager Alice Ingerson at 617.796.1144 or aingerson@newtonma.gov.

Community Preservation Program, Planning & Development Dept.
Newton City Hall, 1000 Commonwealth Avenue
MA 02459
Phone: 617.796.1144

How do I apply for a certificate?

Application forms are available at the Newton Inspectional Services Department and on-line here:

The application forms are self-explanatory.  If you have any questions please contact the Planning Department. 

What are the types of certificates?

A certificate must be issued before a building permit can be obtained for work in an historic district. All of the certificates are valid for one year. This means that the owner of the property has one year, from the date a certificate is issued, to obtain a building permit. Upon written request, certificate may be extended.

Types of Certificates include:

  1. A Certificate of Non-Applicability is issued for work done in kind (work which matches existing conditions exactly), alterations not visible from any public way, or alterations that are excluded from review. These certificates are generally issued by the Commission staff.
  2. A Certificate of Appropriateness is issued for alterations visible from a public way, which the Commission deems appropriate to the character of the property in question and the district.
  3. A Certificate of Hardship is issued for work, which is not deemed appropriate but for which failure to approve an application would entail a substantial hardship, financial or otherwise to the applicant. In order to be eligible for a Certificate of Hardship the proposed work should not be a significant detriment to the district. A Certificate of Hardship will also be issued if the Commission exceeds 45 days from the filing of an application and fails to rule on it.

How do the commissions conduct their review?

Applications are first reviewed by staff and then if necessary at the Commissions’ monthly public meetings. Planning Department staff notifies the applicant and abutters by mail. The Commission must respond to all applications within 45 days of filing. Commission rulings may be appealed to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council within 20 days of a ruling.

What Items Require Application and Review?

The ordinance requires that an application be submitted for all proposed exterior changes. In the event that Commission review is not required, a Certificate of Non-Applicability will be issued. Among the types of alterations that will be reviewed for appropriateness to the property and the historic district are:

  • Exterior remodeling, additions, and demolition of any structure
  • Replacing siding and roof material as well as doors and windows
  • Chimneys and brickwork
  • Site features such as fences, walls, driveways, and gates
  • Signs and signposts 

What should I submit?

Application materials vary depending upon the scope of the proposed project.  Smaller projects often require less documentation than larger projects.  For example: if replacing a window, the application should have a photograph of the building indicating the window proposed to be removed, details on the window proposed to be removed (ie: condition and material), and details on the proposed replacement window such as its design and material.  

For additions or site changes documentation may include the following according to scope and complexity of the proposal:

  1. photographs of existing site conditions
  2. site plan showing adjacent properties (1"= 20' scale)
  3. building elevations (1/4"=1' or 1/8=1'), do not submit plans larger than 11” X 17”
  4. proposed materials information and/or samples
  5. historical information on the property (old photos, etc.)

For New Construction it is important to convey the size, height and massing of a proposed building and how the new construction will relate to the land and adjacent topography and structures. Please review the design guidelines. In addition to the items listed above, applications for new construction should include:

  1. photographs - 4 view from cardinal points looking to the site or subject and to relevant adjacent streetscapes and individual structures.
  2. drawings/elevations of proposed building construction, do not submit plans larger than 11” X 17”.
  3. site sections and topographic information

Applicants are encouraged to review their application with preservation staff of the Planning Department prior to filing.

How may one obtain more information?

Inquiries should be directed to the Preservation Planner in the Newton Planning Department. The Commission welcomes advance inquiries as to the applicability of the Historic District Ordinance. The Preservation Planner will also be able to offer feedback on proposed projects as to their historic appropriateness.  Please review the design guidelines for historic properties in Newton under the Reports and Studies webpage as well as information on each of Newton's historic districts.

What is an historic district?

There are two types of Historic Districts National Register Districts and Local Historic Districts.  There are over 30 National Register Districts in Newton.  Listing in the National Register is primarily an honorary federal designation based on a property's historic significance.  National Register listing also provides some potential tax incentives and protection from federal and state-regulated projects.  Properties can be in National Register Districts, Local Historic Districts, or both.

Local Historic Districts require review of exterior alterations for their appropriateness to the building and/or district.  Even small repairs and replacements such as windows and siding require review of the Preservation Planner and/or the District Commission.  At present, there are four local historic districts in Newton:  Newton Upper Falls, Chestnut Hill, Newtonville, and Auburndale.  Local Historic Districts are created through community interest and a 2/3 vote of the Board of Aldermen.  Applications for project review are available at the Inspectional Services Department counter or online. The deadline for submission is 15 days before the next meeting. 

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