Home > Wellesley History > Historic Preservation Demolition Review Bylaw
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Protecting Wellesley’s Character and Encouraging Smart, Sustainable Growth

As recommended by the Town of Wellesley’s 2007 – 2017 Comprehensive Plan (the “Comprehensive Plan”), the Wellesley Historical Commission is proposing the Historic Preservation Demolition Review Bylaw (the “Demolition Review Bylaw”) for the Town to be voted on at this spring’s 2017 Annual Town Meeting.  The Demolition Review Bylaw has been endorsed by the Town of Wellesley’s Planning BoardNatural Resources Commission, Design Review BoardHistoric District Commission and Denton Road Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, and is supported by Sustainable Wellesley and the Wellesley Historical Society.

If you are new to these types of bylaws, please review our editorial in the Wellesley Townsman’s March 23, 2017 editionour presentation to the Wellesley Board of Selectman and a copy of the Historical Commission’s 2017 Annual Town Meeting Warrant Articles, which includes the proposed bylaw text.

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The Comprehensive Plan points out that one of the challenges the Town must address is the need to effectively manage teardowns and mansionization.  The loss of the Town’s historic housing stock is, as the Comprehensive Plan notes, affecting the Town’s highly-valued aesthetic character, “which draws heavily on well-designed late nineteenth- and twentieth-century neighborhoods.”  In order to provide the Town with a tool to help manage this loss, the Comprehensive Plan urges the Town to “[a]dvocate to protect historic properties by passing a [Demolition Review Bylaw].”

Back [in 1979], a Victorian home was marketed as a place to live rather than a building to tear down.  (June 30, 2016, Wellesley Townsman)

This type of bylaw exists in 148 municipalities in Massachusetts, including all of Wellesley’s abutters, and is designed to help cities and towns protect against the loss of historic structures and neighborhood character.

How can I help?

We would love your support and members of the Town of Wellesley government need to hear from you.  Please consider:

  1. Signing our petition and joining our mailing list to be kept updated on the Historical Commission’s efforts.
  2. Contacting your individual Town Meeting Members to encourage them to vote in favor of the Demolition Review Bylaw.
  3. Emailing your Precinct Town Meeting Member email list.  If you are unsure which Precinct you are in, please see this map.
  4. Attending the 2017 Annual Town Meeting and offering your brief support on the floor of Town Meeting.  Town Meeting is held in the Middle School auditorium over multiple nights and we anticipate that the bylaw will be up for discussion and vote towards the end of Town Meeting.  We will provide further details closer to Town Meeting.
  5. Sharing the permanent link to this page with your friends and family: http://wellesleysmartgrowth.org.

What is the Demolition Review Bylaw?

A Demolition Review Bylaw provides for a review of demolition permits for historically significant buildings, and can invoke a demolition delay period for such buildings.  The purpose of the Demolition Review Bylaw is to provide a pause before a building is demolished to allow an opportunity to consider alternatives to demolition and encourage renovations and/or additions instead.  During the delay period, the building owner and the Historical Commission can explore opportunities to preserve, rehabilitate, or adaptively reuse the building.  All decisions whether to impose a delay come after a public hearing that is open to all, including Town residents, abutters and neighbors.

All of Wellesley’s abutting communities and all but two of Wellesley’s “benchmark communities”* have established Demolition Review Bylaws.  This includes Natick, Dover, Needham, Newton, and Weston as well as the surrounding communities of Waltham, Lincoln, Brookline, Boston, Medfield, Belmont, Concord, Sudbury, Framingham, and Lexington.  Wellesley is therefore an easy target for developers to dictate the market and character of our historic neighborhoods.  Click the map to see the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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* as determined by the Town of Wellesley Board of Assessors and School Committee.

How would the Bylaw Work?

The proposed Demolition Review Bylaw applies only to primary buildings (i.e., not sheds, garages or other ancillary structures) built prior to December 31, 1949.  With respect to such a building, if an owner wishes to demolish it completely or demolish or envelop 50% or more of the existing exterior structure*, the owner would file a short application with the Planning Department staff.  A public hearing before the Historical Commission would be scheduled to determine whether the building should be preferably preserved.  If, after hearing from the owner, residents, abutters, neighbors, and considering the factors enumerated in the Bylaw (see the definition of “Preferably Preserved” in Section B), the Historical Commission determines that the building should be preferably preserved, a 12 month delay on demolition would be imposed.  If a building is built after the cutoff date or is determined not to be preferably preserved, the owner may apply for a demolition permit with the Building Department in the ordinary course.  Please see this flowchart for a graphical flow through the process.

*Non-structural changes to siding or roofing are not subject to review under the proposed bylaw.  If an owner wishes to make such changes or the building is built after the cutoff date or the owner wishes to demolish or envelop less than 50% of the existing exterior structure, the owner may proceed directly to the Building Department to obtain any necessary permits.

This process is typical of most of the communities in Massachusetts that have similar bylaws.  However, unlike many communities, this proposed bylaw would encourage owners to come back to the Historical Commission and seek a waiver of the delay if the owner and Historical Commission can agree on an acceptable renovation, addition or replacement building, or if the owner shows other cause why the delay should be lifted.

Why Now?

In the past decade, the increased pace of residential new construction and loss of historic properties has become a concern for the majority of Wellesley’s residents.**

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** source: December 2015 Wellesley Planning Board Residential Development Working Group Public Survey.

The fact that all abutting towns have Demolition Review Bylaws means that Wellesley is a target for historic property teardowns.

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Read More About Teardowns and Demolitions in Wellesley