Neighborhood Conservation District Commission: policies and process

The Neighborhood Conservation District Commission met Monday, April 27, in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7:00 pm. The key item on the agenda was a draft of procedures and policies. Greer Hardwicke, a preservation planner who provides staff support, returned after an extended absence to warm welcomes.

With chair Paul Bell absent, commissioner Richard Garver, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, led the meeting. The small audience included Luis DiazGranados, whose property improvement on Perry St. has been the commission’s only full case so far. It took nearly a year to resolve, making Mr. DiazGranados interested in procedures that can simplify and shorten the work.

Public presence: Commissioners reviewed with Ms. Hardwicke descriptions of the commission’s functions on the municipal Web site. As a departmental mission, it is nearly invisible–buried three levels beneath the Planning Department’s main page: under Regulation, then under Preservation. As a commission of volunteers, the commission’s Web page can be found from its listing on the Boards and Commissions page.

In Brookline’s neighborhood conservation approach, each district has a section in Article 5.10 of Brookline’s general bylaws, found under 5.10.3.d “specific districts and guidelines.” Probably only a professional planner or a municipal lawyer could readily understand the complex structure.

There is no guidebook to advise citizens or neighborhoods about how to create or modify a district or how to work with an existing district and its requirements. As he recently did at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen, commissioner Dennis DeWitt suggested the commission develop a menu of options for districts, to make it easier for neighborhoods to create them.

There are currently two districts: Hancock Village, created at the fall, 2011, town meeting, and Greater Toxteth, created at the annual town meeting last year. The commission page on the municipal Web site currently links to a map for Greater Toxteth and to a narrative explaining that district’s background and its requirements for property improvements. There are no links to similar information for the Hancock Village district.

Procedures and policies: A committee has been working with Ms. Hardwicke and other staff of the Planning Department on procedures and policies. The property improvement case on Perry St. taught that neighborhood conservation cases are likely to involve zoning issues. Ms. Hardwicke described two new potential cases, at least one of which involves zoning issues.

Some confusion occurred over the draft procedures and policies, yet to be posted on the municipal Web site. It emerged that there have been multiple versions in circulation, and no one was sure which was the latest. Ms. Hardwicke is going to try to collect the ones developed during her absence and schedule a committee session to review them.

Part of the documentation of the Greater Toxteth district has yet to be completed, including pictures of existing houses and other structures. Ms. Hardwicke said warmer weather was rapidly bringing out leaves on trees and shrubs. She and district resident Larry Koff will try to complete the photography in the next few days–a race against spring!

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 28, 2015

Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, Town of Brookline, MA

Neighborhood conservation district study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, September, 2005

Neighborhood Conservation District Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits, Brookline Beacon, February 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

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