Newton Historic Preservation Design Guidelines

The Planning and Development Department is pleased to announce the creation of the Newton Historic Preservation Design Guidelines.  Completed in 2012, these guidelines were created through CPA and Massachusetts Historical Commission grants and are intended to assist property owners with caring for their historic buildings and properties.  When contemplating changes to historic buildings and properties, applicants are encouraged to consult the guidelines.  The guidelines can be accessed through the links below.

Design Guidelines: Introduction and Process                       Exterior Maintenance

Exterior Woodwork                                                          Roofing

Masonry and Stucco                                                        Landscaping and Site Elements

Windows and Doors                                                        Commercial Properties

Sustainability                                                                  Additions and New Construction 

Architectural Styles

Landmarks and Preservation Restrictions:
Landmarks have proposed changes to the landscape and building exterior reviewed by the Newton Historical Commission.  This review is based upon visibiity from a public or private street, way, park, or body of water.  Properties with preservation restrictions have proposed changes to the landscape, building exterior, and in some cases building interior reviewed by the Newton Historical Commission. This review is based upon the terms in the particular restriction which may vary. 

Local Historic Districts:
The Local Historic Districts are administered by the Local Historic District Commissions, which review and advise on all proposals for change, including alterations, demolition, and new construction that are visible from a public street, way, park, or body of water. The Commissions also serve as a resource and can direct one to publications and information about appropriate design and use of materials. The purpose of establishing the Local Historic Districts is to preserve and enhance the streetscapes and overall community character. To ensure that the new elements and the removal or modification of existing elements are appropriate to the historic character of the Districts, proposals will be reviewed for compatibility with existing architecture in terms of land coverage, massing (bulk), proportions, and materials. It is not the intent to dictate style or taste by the review process, the compatibility will be assessed for its general principles as well a its specific elements of design.  It is the Commission's responsibility to determine whether a property is visible from a public street, way, park, and/or body of water and to proceed with the review when appropriate. Those properties which are only viewed from a distance will be considered for those aspects which are perceptible. The Commissions strongly discourage demolition of any structure and have the ability to deny demolition in order to preserve historic properties.  

In its mission to preserve the architectural and historical integrity of the district, the Local Historic District Commissions and Newton Historical Commission will review each proposal in terms of general principles of design and in terms of specific elements of design. The general principles of design refer to the site, streetscape, and community. The specific elements of design refer to the individual properties or elements of the site design.

General Principles of Design

  • Character - Is the proposal appropriate to the existing community character which is illustrated by the variety of architectural styles set in private, landscaped, informal settings with attention to detail and craftsmanship?
  • Harmony - Does the proposal have a consistency and unity of form and detail?
  • Site Context - How successful is the relationship between a proposal and its surroundings relative to setbacks, heights, and the harmony and character of streetscape and/or existing structure(s).?
  • Landscaping - Do grade changes, garden structures, and fencing, which can articulate a site and create physical edges, maintain an informal character?
  • Spatial Relationship - Does the proposal address the issue of varying sizes of front, side and rear spaces in relation to site and adjacent properties?

Specific Elements of Design

  • Scale - Does the proposal demonstrate a balanced relationship in the parts of the design and a domestic scale consistent with other structures in the district?
  • Height - Is there a relationship of height with adjacent properties which tends to be consistent within streetscapes of specific neighborhoods?
  • Massing/Bulk - Is there an overall relationship of the building size and scale relative to the lot and to surrounding properties?
  • Setback - Does the relationship to site and to streetscape maintain balance and harmony within the streetscape?
  • Roof - Are the shapes and angles consistent with surrounding roof shapes and pitches to maintain balance and setbacks and visual lines?
  • Fenestration - Do the patterns and rhythms of windows and doors maintain a balance, which can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, and convey a sense of function?
  • Materials - Is the the exterior cladding, roof, window, door, and architectural trim compatible with materials used in the community which are predominantly of natural materials?
  • Surface treatments - Is there an overall harmony of texture and detail?

The criteria are specific to certain design principles without dictating the specific styles of proposals. Modern design is appropriate in historic districts when it is reflective of these guidelines for size, scale and massing.

The applicant will want to provide information that demonstrates how the proposal meets the design guildelines. The amount of material varies according to the size and scale of the project. Standard items may include the following:
1. Photographs of existing site conditions,
2. Site plan showing adjacent properties. (I"- 20'scale)
3. Building elevations (1/4"- l' or 1/8=1'),
4. Materials literature and/or samples.
5. Historical information (old photos, etc.) For NEW CONSTRUCTION, it is important to convey the size, height and massing of a proposed building and how that new construction will relate to the land and adjacent topography and structures.

In addition to the items listed above, applications for new construction should include:
6. Photographs - 4 views from cardinal points looking to the site or subject and to relevant adjacent streetscapes and individual structures.
7. Drawings/plans of proposed building construction - one bound and one unbound set.
8. Site sections and topographic information.

For additional information about procedures and appropriate documentation, you may contact the Preservation Planner, in the Planning and Development Department at 617-796-1120.

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