Architectural Preservation District will be on the Town Meeting warrant, October 21, 2014

Historic houses on High Street in Ipswich MA

Historic houses on High Street to the railway overpass would be protected through the APD

The Ipswich Historical Commission has placed a question on the Warrant for the 2014 Fall Town Meeting on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 which would establish an Architectural Preservation District (APD) for the most historic areas of the town.

The District would be established by adoption of a bylaw at Town Meeting under the Home Rule Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution and would be administered by an Architectural Preservation District Commission. The Architectural Preservation District proposal has been revised through a series of open meetings of the Historical Commission, and continues to be presented for comments and review through public meetings this summer. The proposed APD encompasses an area roughly defined as 220 acres beginning at the South Green, continuing along the river to the Town Wharf, East and High Streets to the High Street Bridge, North Main Street and Meeting House Green.

Map of proposed Architectural Preservation District. he current draft encompasses an area roughly defined as 223 acres beginning at South Green, continuing along the river to the Town Wharf, East and High Streets to the High Street Bridge, North Main Street and Meeting House Green.

Map of proposed Architectural Preservation District

View the APD proposal on the 2014 Fall Town Meeting warrant 


Title: Adoption of Architectural Preservation District 

Summary: Ipswich has more first period houses (59) than any other community in the nation, together with numerous 18th- and 19th- century houses of equal merit. Architecturally speaking, Ipswich is a town of major historical significance. But without its historic houses, the town center would be pleasant but undistinguished. Ipswich is defined by its architectural heritage, but none of this historic architecture is protected for the future. To set this matter right, the Ipswich Historical Commission is proposing that the town meeting adopt a general bylaw creating an Architectural Preservation District (APD) that would be overseen by an Architectural Preservation District Commission (APDC).

The intent of the proposed APD is to preserve the core of the town’s architectural heritage while treading with a light foot. As proposed, the five-member APDC, which will be appointed by the Board of Selectmen and include professional designers, craftsman, and APD residents, will be primarily consultative and advisory, assisting the owners of homes within the APD with conserving their unique district and its neighborhoods.

The proposed bylaw exempts many home improvements, such as painting, installation/ replacement of storm/screen windows, removal/replacement of window and door shutters, and all interior alterations, from any consideration by the APD Commission. Owners undertaking more substantive improvements, such as building small additions or replacing windows, doors, trim, and siding in a manner substantially different from the existing materials, design or dimensions, are encouraged to use the APDC as an advisory resource that they and/or their architects may consult. The aim of the consultation will be to reach a consensus that meets the requirements of the owner and preserves the integrity of the district. Such consultation will be voluntary, non-binding, expeditious, and free.

The proposed bylaw will require property owners to appear before the Commission and obtain their approval only in the following three instances:

  • Demolition of a building constructed between 1634 and 1900.
  • Construction of a new building or substantial addition to an existing building.
  • Substantial exterior alteration to a building constructed prior to 1900. (Substantial alteration is defined by the bylaw as an alteration to a building’s exterior which bears a cost that equals or exceeds 50% of the market value of the structure prior to renovation, or which significantly changes the shape, height and proportions, or scale of the building, and/or its relationship to surrounding structures.)

In each of the instances cited above, the Commission’s determinations are binding. When reviewing new construction or substantial exterior alterations, the Commission considers the compatibility of the proposed building with neighboring buildings, as well as historic architectural principles and standards related to building shape, scale, and relationship of the building to the street and other structures.

Creating an APD provides a level of protection for the town’s irreplaceable historic resources that currently does not exist. It does so in a manner that is significantly less onerous and restrictive for property owners than local historic districts, which the town meeting has twice rejected, most recently 20 years ago. By making APD Commission review optional for the vast majority of home improvements, the proposed bylaw responds to the community’s concerns about over-regulation, while providing residents in the district some assurance that other owners in their district will not undertake irreversible actions that would devalue their properties.

Design Guidelines

 The purpose of the Design Guideligns is to supplement the standards listed in the bylaw by providing explanation and photographic examples. While the Design Guidelines will be adopted shortly after the APDC  is established, the Historical Commission has prepared draft guidelines to facilitate that process. View a draft set of design guidelines created by the Historical Commission.

Questions and Answers

George Farley House, North Main St. (Victorian)

What is an Architectural Preservation District (APD)?

Similar to a Neighborhood Conservation District, an APD is the product of a grassroots initiative by local residents to preserve an area with particular architectural or historical significance.

Doesn’t Ipswich have an Historic District?

Ipswich has six neighborhood districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This listing recognizes the historic and architectural significance of our community but has no local authority and does not provide protection from demolitions or inappropriate new construction.

Glazier-Sweet House, Water Street (late First Period)

What areas would be in the Architectural Preservation District?

Houses near Meeting House Green, the East End, South Green, and the High Street National Register Districts are among the oldest areas of Ipswich and could receive long-overdue protection.

Why do we need an APD?

For generations, Ipswich residents have taken care to preserve the historic quality of their properties. An APD will help  assure that future generations can enjoy our town’s unique historical and architectural heritage.

First Period houses on High Street

How would the APD affect me?

The proposed APD bylaw would provide a participatory process for protection and an educational means for providing architectural information. A preservation commission consisting of town residents would review applications for construction permits in the proposed district. Decisions regarding new construction or demolition would be binding, while reviews of other proposed alterations would be voluntary and are designed to help homeowners benefit from the expertise of the Commission. Interior work, paint colors, roofing and repairs would be exempt from review.

David Giddings House, County Rd. (Federal)

What are the advantages of establishing an Architectural Preservation District in Ipswich? 

An APD protects the investments of owners and residents by encouraging thoughtful design and community cohesion. Preservation of homes and streetscapes is an important part of a comprehensive environmental policy, and creating an APD preserves a timeline and record of our community. Preservation of local historic neighborhoods promotes economic growth, and important decisions about preserving our community are made through a structured participatory process.

View the APD proposal on the 2014 Fall Town Meeting warrant 

Properties proposed to be included in the Architectural Preservation District

This is a list of streets from the above map and is not an official document.

  • Houses on North Main Street and Meeting House Green would be protected by the APD

    County Street: all

  • County Road: from County Street to the end of the South Green; to and including the Nathaniel Wade house at the corner of Ward Street on the opposite side
  • East Street: all to the Town Wharf
  • Elm Street: all
  • Green Street: all
  • High Street: from North Main Street to the commuter rail overpass.
  • Hovey Street: all
  • Meeting House Green (North Green): all
  • North Main Street: all
  • South Main Street: All of the east side, and all from the pedestrian bridge to the South Green
  • Scottons Lane: all
  • South Green: all
  • Summer Street: all
  • Turkey Shore Road: from the Green Street bridge to Labor in Vain Road
  • Water Street: all

Many First Period homes are on Water Street and would receive long-awaited protection through creation of the APD

Purpose and Scope: The purpose of the bylaw would be to preserve and protect groups of buildings and the characteristics of their neighborhood settings that are important to the architectural, cultural, economic, political or social history of the town of Ipswich. The bylaw is also intended to limit the detrimental effect of alterations, additions, demolitions and new construction on the character of such buildings and their neighborhood settings. Through this bylaw, alterations, additions, demolition and new construction may be reviewed for compatibility with the existing buildings, setting and neighborhood character. This bylaw seeks to encourage the protection of the built environment through a combination of binding and non-binding regulatory review. This bylaw promotes the public welfare by making the town more attractive and desirable.

APD Commission: A Commission consisting of five members would be appointed by the Board of Selectmen. The Commission shall include, if possible, one member of the Ipswich Historical Commission; a landscape architect or an architect; a craftsperson or building contractor familiar with historic restoration; a licensed real estate agent; and at least two residents of the APD. Members and alternates of an Architectural Preservation District Commission shall by reason of experience or education have demonstrable knowledge and concern for improvement, conservation and enhancement of the Architectural Preservation District.

APD Powers and Duties: The Commission shall exercise its powers in administering and regulating the new construction and demolition of buildings within the Architectural Preservation District as set forth under the procedures and criteria established in this bylaw. No building within the Architectural Preservation District constructed before 1900 shall be demolished without consent of the APD Commission. No building shall be constructed or substantially altered within the APD (substantial alteration is defined in the bylaw) until it has received a Certificate to Alter from the Commission.

East Street in Historic Ipswich MA

A view of East Street from the top of North Street

The following would be excluded from Commission’s review:

  • Repairs, routine maintenance, and projects not requiring a building (or demolition) permit by Building Inspection Department regulations.
  • Temporary buildings subject to time limits and size limits by the Architectural Preservation District Commission.
  • Interior Alterations.
  • Painting and roof material colors.
  • Storm windows and doors, screen windows and doors.
  • Removal or replacement of gutters and downspouts.
  • Removal or replacement of window and door shutters.
  • Removal of substitute siding.
  • Structures not defined as buildings or parts of buildings.
  • Reconstruction, substantially similar in exterior design, of a building, damaged or destroyed by fire, storm or other disaster.

Alterations with a voluntary non-binding review.  In reviewing the application, the Commission may provide advisory recommendations on how the Alteration could be compatible with or follow more closely the Design Guidelines

  • Accessibility improvements including ramps, rails, walkways and mechanical equipment associated with exterior architectural barriers subject to MGL 40A and other applicable state or federal laws.
  • Replacement of windows, doors, architectural trim, and siding in ways that substantially differ from existing materials, design or dimensions.
  • Construction of a new building or addition that does not have a roof or is not fully enclosed by load-bearing walls, including the replacement and extension of a porch or deck.
  • Any other alteration not classified by Code Enforcement regulations as routine maintenance that does not increase building volume.

Alterations Which Require Commission Review: The following Alterations require the submittal of an application for review by the Commission: The decision of the Commission shall be binding on the applicant.

(a) Demolition of a building or part of a building on a Contributing Property.

(b) Substantial Exterior Alteration to a Contributing Property. (DEFINITIONS, ADDITION, SUBSTANTIAL: Any addition to a principal or accessory contributing building that increases the existing gross floor area by 1,000 square feet or by thirty percent (30%) or more, whichever is less.)

(c) New construction of buildings on properties within the APD, including substantial additions fully enclosed by walls and a roof, but not including accessory buildings that are less than 250 square feet in area.

All houses on Summer Street would receive protection through the APD

Take a virtual tour of the houses and historic neighborhoods in and around the proposed Ipswich Architectural Preservation District.


  6 Responses to “Architectural Preservation District will be on the Town Meeting warrant, October 21, 2014”

  1. Mr. Fiske, thanks for the reply. 1) I think you proved the point I was trying to make–a vote of 50% + 1 of all townspeople will impose on a very small number a requirement which they may not wish to have imposed. This is, de facto, an encumbrance on the property. If the people impacted wish, as you suggest, to maintain the historic legacy (a goal I most enthusiastically, personally, support), then the By-law is substantially unnecessary, as voluntary efforts would suffice. For those that are impacted but fail to support it, it impairs their ownership rights. 2) The issue of leniency is, I suggest, not reassuring, as the goal is to find a way to achieve maximal preservation. SOMETHING may be better than nothing, but I see no need to fail to explore ways to do more RATHER rather than LESS, if achievable noncoercively. 3) As to the taxes, it would, of course, be necessary to reallocate some of the tax burden to those living outside the impacted area, but (I am unable to run the actual numbers) I am confident that the increase to those outside the area would be quite trivial, as the tax base within the Historic Area is a tiny portion of the total Town tax base. The Schools seem confident that townspeople will be content to increase their taxes substantially, for the Schools. If the townspeople regard preservation of the character of the Town to be desirable, they should be no less willing to support this initiative. It’s a question of putting one’s money (chump change, or, as is so glibly mentioned, “a cup of coffee a day”), where one’s mouth is, and not expecting the burden to be borne by those on whom a voted By-law is imposed. But then, if they aren’t willing, you will have important data, and you are back to depending on voluntary efforts, or coercion.

  2. We’ve had some useful and helpful comments here. I’d like to respond to a few of them.
    Ed Marsh, We’ve tried to avoid one thing that you fear — that the APD will result in town residents who live outside it imposing their will on the few that live within it. The proposal has been developed by the Historical Commission that has ten members and alternates. Six of them live within the proposed APD. We have held five informal, well attended meetings at the homes of members in the APD for neighbors and other APD residents. The result is clear — a large number of APD residents want the historic environment in which they live to be protected from detrimental changes and to survive into the future in very much the condition that it is in today. This is a community effort by people who want to preserve their community and who will ask the rest of the town to support them: it will not be imposed from outside.
    A number of people would like the town to offer some sort of tax incentives for people to preserve their homes. How I wish that that were likely! But I cannot see the town foregoing any tax income in its current circumstances. The cost of maintaining any house falls upon its owner, and there is no reason to believe that maintaining its historic appearance will be necessarily more expensive. In any case, almost all maintenance and minor remodeling lies outside the control of the APD Commission. A home owner can use the cheapest siding, he can replace his front door with one from Home Depot, he can add a mudroom to the side of his own design.
    We believe, however, that many home owners will wish to retain the historic appearance of their house. They may, if they wish, consult the APD Commission for advice — which they are then free to reject if they don’t like it. An owner of a 1780 house, for example, may ask the Commission about what paint colors were available in 1780 — if he likes them, he’ll be able to paint his house appropriately — and no more expensively.
    The design standards required by the Commission apply only to new construction and substantial alterations (see the bylaw for definitions.) There is no necessary cost increase here, either. Our historic homes were not built by wealthy people, they were built cost-effectively. Many modern, and inappropriate designs, are far more expensive than traditional ones. Traditional design, is in general cost-effective, or it wouldn’t have become traditional!
    The Historical Commission really has tried to come up with a proposal that is the least onerous possible, but that still gets the job done. We submitted the proposal to the Director of Local Government Projects for the State Historical Commission (who reviews every plan for Historic Districts or APDs) and he said that ours was the most “lenient” he had ever seen, by far.
    Please keep up the dialog — we need to listen to each other as we move forward to preserve a hugely important part of our town’s character.
    John Fiske,
    Chair, Ipswich Historical Commission.

  3. There are 2 commendable goals here: 1) assuring maintenance and preservation of the unique early period buildings in Ipswich and 2) reassurance that requirements to not intrude unnecessarily upon rights of the owners. It is especially problematic if those (vast majority of) voters in the Town impose on a small group requirements, obligations, and costs which they, themselves (the uninvolved voters) will not bear. A voluntary plan might be both more equitable and more effective.
    1. Of the identified buildings which fall within the proposed district, owners might be given the opportunity to offer an easement on the property, voluntarily agreeing to the conditions proposed in the By-law, in return for some modest benefit on the real estate taxes. This would compensate, to some degree, those willing to give up some of their rights of management (relating to the exterior, as proposed) in return for a tax saving. The amount of the rebate is subject to discussion, but one might think that 10% would be attractive. Thus, through adjustment of taxes town-wide, residents from other areas of the Town would share in the value of the preservation, while also sharing in the costs.
    2. As an additional incentive to seek and follow the advice of the consultants proposed in the By-law, one should also stipulate that, in the event exterior changes were to be made, agreement to be bound by the recommendations of the consultants would result in the Town agreeing NOT to increase the valuation of the building as a consequence of any work done in conformance with the consultants’ recommendations. The present iteration of the By-law makes compliance with the consultants entirely voluntary. As it is likely that the least expensive solutions for restoration would not be the most authentic, it would be desirable to offer an option which would encourage more authentic options. However, as these would raise the value of the property, the assessment would be expected to rise. Should it be agreed by the Town that such improvements would NOT result in increased assessments, one can constructively imagine amortizing the higher costs of the more desirable renovation over the years through a modest tax benefit.
    These proposals would both be voluntary, but if properly implemented would make it desirable, rather than mandatory, to work with, and collaborate toward the goal of better and more authentic preservation. The dollar cost to the town through the proposed tax benefits would be quite negligible, but the benefits could be quite substantial.

  4. I have great love for Ipswich history and our architectural heritage. I also applaud the effort to help protect it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the scope of this proposal will address underlying key issues and that the new board will have influence to change the town priorities, I’m also not sure the incentives are there to really maintain and even improve the situation.

    Having lived on High St, I know first hand the tremendous increase in traffic going to the Neck. Larger vehicles (many over the weight limit) go over the speed limit. You can stand (or duck) in the basement of most of the first period homes and watch the dust shake loose while traffic goes by. This is damaging these dwellings over time. Any hope of repairs will be costly. Who really should pay for this?

    I also think to put teeth in this change that owners of these homes should receive tax incentives to improve their homes in the correct historical way. This would have the greatest effect in maintaining proper historic preservation and likely provied incentive to improve it.

    We all benefit from having these homes. We should do more than just tell their owners what to do.

  5. I would be much in favor of Bob Purzucki’s proposal for traffic rotaries, as these areas are essentially the main entrances to town. A traffic rotary, particularly at Lord’s Square, would solve a lot of issues concerning traffic right of way and congestion. Given its proximity to the High Street Burial Ground and a number of First Period houses nearby along 1A, the question has to be asked, do motorists and pedestrians alike want to be greeted by a filling station and a fast-food establishment upon approaching the center of town from the north? Ipswich can and should do better than that.

    As regards overhead utility wires and street lighting, I would say spending a few bucks on burying wires and getting rid of the generic street lighting would be pocket change compared with the longer-term value. Ipswich doesn’t have to look and be like every other suburban town. Creating a more attractive town with a few small gestures would go a long way.

    Christopher Morse
    Summer Street

  6. My suggestions, would be to eliminate utility lines and add “appropriate” street lighting in the “Historic District”
    Also, a ‘traffic rotary’ at the confluence of County Street and South Main (in front of the Ipswich Museum) and in front of the ‘Dunkin Donuts’ site would ease traffic dangers and keep the “Historic presence”…( no traffic lights) intact !!!

    It’s worked in many places elsewhere.

    Bob Purzycki
    Weekend Manager,
    Ipswich Museum

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>