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    Preservation Tools




    Cape towns utilize a wide variety of tools to protect their historic resources. The most commonly used are local historic districts and demolition delay bylaws, though many towns have also adopted more specialized regulations. Some historic resource protections are initiated by town historical commissions, while others are spurred by planning boards, nonprofit historic societies, and neighborhood groups. Key information about tools such as historic inventories and districts is available at the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties also offer valuable guidance for work on historic buildings.


    Preservation Tools - Inventories



    Inventory is an important first step toward protecting a community's historic resources. Historic inventories can be used to teach people about their community's history and to guide town boards in future land use decisions. The Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) provides standardized inventory forms for different types of historic resources. The forms are typically filled out by local historical commission members, volunteers, or private consultants, and many Cape towns have sought grants to support this work. Completed forms are kept both in the town and at MHC, which provides online access through its MACRIS database.

    Some Cape towns have an inventory of heritage landscapes, completed in conjunction with students from Boston University's Preservation Studies Graduate Program and following Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation guidelines. These reports can be viewed from our Projects and Publications page. If your town would like to be considered for a future heritage landscape inventory, contact the Commission's Historic Preservation Specialist.

    Preservation Tools - Local Historic Districts



    Local Historic Districts require review by a historic district commission for any exterior alteration to buildings and structures visible from a public way.

    On Cape Cod, local historic districts in the towns of Barnstable, Dennis, Eastham, Harwich, and Provincetown were created under Chapter 40C (the Historic Districts Act) of Massachusetts General Law. The towns of Chatham and Falmouth have established local historic districts under special legislation. The Old Kings Highway Regional Historic District, covering portions of Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans, was also created by a special act of legislation.

    Historic Preservation - National Register Buildings



    National Register of Historic Places offers special protection for individual historic buildings and properties in historic districts on Cape Cod. Under the Cape Cod Commission Act, demolition or substantial alteration of National Register properties, whether individually listed or part of a National Register Historic District, are subject to review by the Cape Cod Commission if there is no other historic district protection in place. (See the document: Cape Cod Commission Act and National Register Properties.)

    Thousands of historic properties on Cape Cod are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The towns of Barnstable, Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Falmouth, Harwich, Provincetown, Sandwich, Wellfleet, and Yarmouth have National Register Historic Districts.

    Preservation Tools - Preservation Restrictions


    • Demolition Delay Bylaws create time to explore alternatives to demolition of historically significant buildings. Any demolition permit request is reviewed by the Historical Commission to determine if a building is "preferably preserved" and if a delay period should be imposed. On Cape Cod, delay periods range from 6 to 18 months. See the Cape Cod Commission's Demolition Delay Network.
    • Overlay Districts create special zoning regulations for unique areas. Brewster's Corridor Overlay Protection District limits the scale and massing of commercial buildings along historic Route 6A. The Village Commercial Overlay District in Harwichport allows smaller setbacks and mixed uses consistent with historic development patterns. The Cape Cod Commission's Village Development Model Bylaw guides small-scale, mixed-use development in village centers. It can be established as an overlay district or as a stand-alone zoning district.
    • Archaeological Resource Districts aim to protect archaeological sites by limiting ground disturbance in sensitive areas. The towns of Barnstable and Brewster protect historic values in their Wetland Protection Bylaws, using Massachusetts Historical Commission review to help determine if an area is likely to have archaeological significance.
    • Scenic Road Bylaws protect trees, stone walls, and features that fall within the right-of-way of designated roads. A planning board hearing is required prior to repair, maintenance, reconstruction, or paving work if it would involve removal or cutting of trees, or destruction of stone walls within the road right-of-way. It does not address trees or walls on adjacent private property. Barnstable, Falmouth, and Sandwich coordinate their scenic road reviews with the Planning Board, Department of Public Works, Tree Warden, and Historical Commission.
    • Districts of Critical Planning Concern are a tool created by the Cape Cod Commission Act to protect special resource areas. Towns nominate an area to the Cape Cod Commission and work with Commission staff to craft regulations that protect the district. The Designated DCPCs page describes the Centerville Village, Craigville Beach, and Sandwich Three Ponds DCPC regulations to protect cultural and scenic resources.
    Preservation Tools - Preservation Restrictions



    Preservation Restrictions and Conservation Restrictions are legal agreements used to protect historic buildings and lands from change. The restrictions are drawn up by the property owner and a nonprofit preservation group or a government entity who is in charge of their enforcement. Restrictions can be placed on buildings or on land, and may also be used to protect archaeological resources hidden beneath the surface of the land.

    The Massachusetts Historical Commission holds Preservation Restrictions on numerous Cape properties that have received preservation grant monies. Preservation Restrictions are required for some projects that use Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, and many of these restrictions are held by conservation trusts and local historical commissions.

    See also the Placing Preservation Restrictions on Historic Resources fact sheet.


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