Written by Laura Wainman, Editorial Intern
Here at the National Trust, we spend our days championing preservation movements and ensuring that the public is aware of historic places in need of saving. And across the country groups of dedicated citizens, like the people of North Amherst, Mass., are preserving their own heritage places proactively by establishing local historic districts.
But what exactly does it take? In North Amherst's case, it's requiring local leadership, teamwork, and a lot of patience.
Led by resident Louis Greenbaum, locals aim to protect North Amherst Village from future threats by designating it a local historic district. This would ensure that changes to the exterior features of homes and barns in the selected area must be approved by the District Commission. Currently, there is no immediate danger to the area, as the annual town meeting rejected rezoning efforts and mixed-use development plans for a second time.
“The [Historical] Commission had already been discussing whether it should pursue historic district designation for North Amherst when residents officially brought it to the commission. There is a strong possibility that the commission will move this forward,” says Nathaniel Malloy, associate planner for the town of Amherst.
Moving the proposal forward would mean appointing a study committee to determine the boundaries of the district, the significance of local homes, any unifying themes of the area, and the unique characteristics that make preservation necessary.
“Many public forums will be held and surveys conducted to gauge the opinion of the residents. There can be some confusion that designation would require residents to significantly change their homes to make them look historic, but that isn’t the case. It just means major changes need to be reviewed first,” Malloy says.
On average, this study takes a year to complete, but the only other local historic district in Amherst, the Dickinson Local Historic District, took more than two years to finish and that designation has still not gone into effect. In other words, citizens shouldn’t expect overnight results. Once approved, a District Commission is appointed to review any major future changes or removals to buildings within the district.
“We hope that these designations become a self-policing tool, in some respect, as the citizens take pride in the stabilization of their neighborhood,” Malloy says.
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