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Public Hearing on Proposed Changes
to the Demolition Review Ordinance

Updating the Demolition Review Ordinance has been a priority of both the Historic Preservation Commission and the Preservation Planning Staff in recent years. The staff has worked with the Commission over the last two years on multiple drafts as well as the coordination of the public meetings. The key changes to the demolition review process are summarized below. Many of these changes came from the initial suggestions of the Commission and the public. Some of the language in this submittal was initiated from planning and legal staff, based on overall planning priorities, SomerVision goals, best practices in the planning field and consistency with state and federal law.

Key Documents

Summary of Proposed Changes

The ordinance makes the following changes to the way that demolitions are reviewed in Somerville:

1. The ordinance establishes a more straightforward operating system:

a) The ordinance has been replaced and rewritten with an organizational process that allows for anybody reading the ordinance to understand how it works.
b) Definitions have been updated and clarified.
c) Timelines for key decisions are updated, to ensure timely filing of decisions.

2. The ordinance updates metrics and thresholds to capture important priorities:

a) The term ‘demolition’ is defined to include serial and partial demolition.
b) The ordinance is triggered when any project including demolition is submitted for a building permit or for zoning review.
c) The demolition moratorium period is extended to be either 12 or 24 months, depending upon the structure that is being reviewed.
d) The building age that triggers HPC review is changed from 50 to 75 years
e) Abutter notification areas are increased to 300 feet
f) If an individual violates the ordinance and demolishes a building, the delay before they can build a new structure is extended from two years to three years.

3. The ordinance is calibrated to SomerVision:

a) The ordinance identifies a set of transformational areas of the city as ‘exempt areas’, expanding the current list (Assembly Square and Innerbelt) to include additional areas (portions of Brickbottom, Boynton Yards, the development blocks in Union Square, the twin city mall and any city-­‐owned structure)

4. The ordinance provides clear guidance for the HPC:

a) Provisions are added to establish how the HPC determines a building preferably preserved
b) The ordinance permits the HPC to place some conditions on a decision that a building not be preferably preserved.
c) If an applicant indicates that structural conditions require them to take the building down, they will be required to provide a structural survey, and the Commission may hire a peer reviewer to look over that survey and provide comment.
d) If an applicant indicates that financial hardship requires a demolition, the Commission may request additional information to verify this hardship.
e) The ordinance permits the HPC to delegate a determination that a building is not significant to staff in the case of small outbuildings.
f) The ordinance permits the HPC to establish rules and regulations to establish how they will manage their hearing process.
g) If a building is deemed preferably preserved, the ordinance formalizes the current process of doing monthly meetings with Preservation Staff and a subset of HPC members to work out alternatives to demolition or conditions of demolition.

Public Hearing Process

Public Meeting: Monday, July 9, 2017 at 6 p.m.

Members of the public are invited to attend and speak at a July 9 Public Hearing on proposed changes to the Demolition Review Ordinance, which currently regulates the demolition of structures 50 years of age or older that are not within an existing Local Historic District. The hearing, held by the Board of Aldermen Legislative Matters Committee of the Whole, will take place Monday, July 9, 6 p.m., at City Hall in the Aldermanic Chambers. At 6 p.m., the hearing will be preceded by a presentation on the ordinance by Director of Planning George Proakis.

Currently, structures in Somerville may be protected from demolition by one of two means: Local Historic District designation (which can prevent demolition) or Demolition Review (which can pause demolition while all parties explore mutually agreeable and voluntary alternatives to demolition).

Over 140 Massachusetts communities have approved demolition review ordinances. When a structure is proposed to be demolished, these ordinances allow a local Historic Preservation Commission to determine if the structure is important to a community’s history and culture and therefore subject it to a demolition review period.

Based on a multi-pronged public process involving the City Planning Department and the Historic Preservation Commission, changes to the existing Demolition Review ordinance have been proposed.

Amendments include, but are not limited to:

  • developing an ordinance that establishes a more straightforward process, is easier to read, and includes clear definitions;
  • extending the review period from 9 months to either 12 or 24 months depending on the property;
  • clarifying the circumstances where a property is subject to demolition review, by including partial demolition (demolition of 25% or more of a property) and serial demolition (demolition over a period of time);
  • providing an exception from the review of partial demolition for minor projects (for example, projects to add a dormer or porch);
  • requiring earlier and broader notification of abutters during the review process;
  • raising the building age trigger from 50 to 75 years;
  • expanding the list of exempt areas (currently Assembly Square and Innerbelt), to also include portions of Brickbottom, Boynton Yards, the development blocks in Union Square, and the Twin City mall; and,
  • exempting city-owned structures, but subjecting them to a nonbinding review by the Historic Preservation Commission.

To review the draft ordinance and related materials in advance, please visit   

Public testimony at the hearing will be limited to two minutes per person. Written testimony may be submitted to and As the Chair expects that deliberation will occur at the July 9th meeting, members of the public are encouraged to submit written testimony at least several days before the Public Hearing, but written testimony for the record will be accepted at any time.

Materials for Presentation

Individuals with disabilities who need auxiliary aids and services for effective communication, written materials in alternative formats, or reasonable modifications in policies and procedures, in order to access the programs and activities of the City of Somerville or to attend meetings, should contact the City’s ADA Coordinator, NencySalamoun, at 617-625-6600 x2323 or


Past Meetings

A draft of the proposed ordinance was made available to the public on the City website in March, 2017. Public informational meetings were held on the following dates and locations:

Programs & Initiatives

The City of Somerville and Somerville Public Schools have partnered with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to address major school building needs, including large-scale renovations and new construction.

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