Demolition Delay Bylaw Preserves Town’s Historic Character

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

At their June 4 meeting, the Historic Preservation Commission evaluated a request under the provisions of the Demolition Delay Bylaw that asked whether an Anthony Road residence, built in 1925, could be torn down. While the Commission decided that the condition, circumstances and historical significance of this particular property did not warrant preservation efforts, the merits of the Demolition Delay Bylaw—and a possible extension of the current delay period from 12 months to 18 months—were discussed so that Bedford’s ability to maintain its historical and architectural character could be further improved. Bedford’s Demolition Delay Bylaw went into effect in 2003 with the stated purpose of preserving and protecting significant buildings, defined as: “[buildings] which constitute or reflect distinctive features of the architectural, cultural, economic, political or social history of the Town, and to limit the detrimental effect of demolition on the character of the Town.”

Under the provisions of the bylaw—which provides a delay period for the demolition of buildings “completed on or before January 1, 1943” that are determined to be of historical significance—property owners are given both time and support to seek alternatives to demolition.

Commission Chair Don Corey explained that Historic Preservation does not make structural determinations.  Instead, upon receiving an application for a demolition permit for a building of qualifying age or location, the Commission applies the following standards to decide whether the property meets the requirement for a demolition delay:

  • Is the building listed in or within the National Register of Historic Places?
  • Is the building or its location eligible for inclusion—or being recommended for inclusion—in the National Register?
  • Is the building on a list of historically or architecturally significant buildings provided to the Building Inspector by the Commission?
  • Whether a building is deemed significant or not, the Commission notifies the Building Inspector and the applicant of its decision. If the building is determined to be significant, a public hearing is held, after which the Commission decides if the building warrants “preferable preservation” efforts.

According to town records, 54 Demolition Delay applications have been processed since the regulation took effect in June of 2003, including the Anthony Road property evaluated at the June 4th meeting. Eighteen of the 54 buildings were deemed historically significant. Twelve of the buildings were preserved but six were ultimately demolished after the 12 month waiting period.

Corey reported that some communities have recently extended their delay periods because a substantial number of contractors are undeterred by the prospect of waiting 12 months to proceed with a project and make no effort to preserve significant buildings.

“When we passed the Demolition Delay legislation, 12 months was the maximum you were allowed to delay construction,” Corey said. “It’s worked pretty well, but there have been some contractors who have waited the 12 months and then flattened the building as quickly as they could after that.  Time is money for these contractors [but] if we convince more of them to work with the building that’s there and rehab it rather than tear it down, [we wouldn’t lose as many significant places.] Medfield moved to an 18-month delay at their spring Town Meeting this year. Other towns that have moved to 18 months are Acton, Amesbury, Brookline, Chatham, Leverett, and Middleboro.”

The Historic Preservation Commission is considering a future Town Meeting article that would, if passed, amend Bedford’s bylaw to an 18-month waiting period.

“We have lost a couple of [significant] buildings,” Corey continued, “most recently one on Hartford Street—a nice little Craftsman house—and another on Old Billerica Road, the old Skinner farmhouse.”

To read the current Demolition Delay Bylaw and to access the application for determination, visit the Historic Preservation Commission’s webpage:

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