The Royalston HDC bylaw
Frequently Asked Questions
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Q: What is the Royalston Historic District bylaw?
A: The Royalston Historic District bylaw is a planning bylaw that controls adding, changing, or removing any features of a structure within the bounds of the Historic District that are visible from a public way. A structure is defined as any combination of materials which not only includes buildings, but also stonewalls, driveways, lampposts, etc. Features include design, materials, and color. The HDC considers a public way to be a town road or town common.
Q: Why is this bylaw necessary?
A: One visit to Royalston Common shows why the bylaw is important. Royalston Common is nearly unique in its wealth of early 19th Century New England architecture. There are few town centers left in New England without a mini-market or strip mall. The HDC bylaw protects changes to the Common and surrounding area in order to preserve history.
Q:So the bylaw prevent change?
A: No. The bylaw is in existence to ensure that the historic significance of a change is considered, not to prevent changes. In Royalston HDC’s history, very few applications have been denied and those were often about changes effected without permission and that had to be undone. The HDC strives to work with homeowners to arrive at plans that are mutually satisfactory.
Q: What does the bylaw not cover?
A: The HDC does not oversee landscaping, interior changes, any changes that cannot be seen from a public way, television antennas, screen and storm windows and doors, temporary structures and signs. Landscaping cannot be used to hide changes without approval. Property owners should ask the HDC if there is any question.
Q: What types of approvals can I apply for?
A: There are 3 types of certificates that are issued by the HDC.
1. Certificate of Appropriateness: This is by far the most used. It is to request approval for changes.
2. Certificate of Non-Applicability: This is to identify a project as not within the control of the HDC. It may be required by other government agencies before they issue permits. It is mandatory for solar energy systems not visible for public ways and it’s also a good idea to apply for one if there is doubt about the scope of a project. Certificates of Non-Applicability are usually issued quickly, without hearing.
3. Certificate of Hardship: If material, color, or design must be changed because of financial or other hardship. This might be used by someone to request permission to build a handicapped access ramp, or by someone on a fixed income to patch a roof with different color shingles. It cannot be used by an owner wishing to build an addition, claiming that it is a financial hardship to comply with the HDC bylaw.
Q: I am making repairs. Do I need to apply?
A: Repairs that return the structure to its original appearance using the same materials, color, and design do not need to be approved, although the Building Inspector may require a Certificate of Non-Applicability before issuing a building permit. Repairs that modify material, color, or design must submit an application. Repairs should be completed within 1 year or the HDC will request a new application. This prevents permanent removal of features under the “repair” clause.
Q: What is the application process?
A: 1.Applicants should prepare dimensioned drawings, color samples, material lists, and supporting documentation before filling out an application. Drawings help enormously in understanding the scope of work. The application need only summarize the scope of work shown in the supporting documentation. These documents not only help the Commission make its decision but preserve the information for future generations.
2. File the application by coming to a meeting, or by giving it to a Commission member who will file it on your behalf at the next meeting. Call if you have questions. A member will be happy to help.
3. The Commission will review the application for all the necessary information needed to make a decision. It is helpful for applicants to appear with their application before the Commission. Even well prepared applications generate questions. Delays in the process can be avoided by being present to answer questions.
4. The Commission will send notices of the application to abutters of the affected property and hold a public hearing on the application. The Commission has 60 days in which to render a decision.
Q:What does the HDC use as a guide for considering approval?
A: The answer to the question, “What is appropriate,” is very subjective. The HDC tries to use existing features elsewhere in the district or historical information. Very often, homeowners provide historical information about the previous color or feature that had been removed. Example: An owner wants to remove a very decorative window that is original to the house. The HDC will consider if that window is the only example of that type in the district, or if there is a window like it in half of the other houses.
Q:Am I required to paint my house white?
A: No. There is no requirement in the bylaw that specifies that the buildings must be white. However, you must continue with the same color you have unless you apply and receive approval to change it. Many of the houses in the district started out as other colors than white. There appear to be two camps on this subject. One thought is that the village should be multi-colored to appear more historically accurate. The other declares the unity that is obvious by all the houses being white.
Q:Does the HDC bylaw require all structures to be of early 19th century architecture?
A: No. The bylaw is a preservation document which means that current architectural styles of the buildings in the district should be preserved. The bylaw preserves all the changes that have been made to the buildings over time. This preserves the entire history of the building – not just its initial design. The HDC approves changes which it thinks are sympathetic to this mix of styles and periods.
Q: When does the HDC meet?
A: The HDC meets once per month on the 3rd Thursday at 7:30pm at the Royalston Town Hall. This is subject to change. Changes are posted at least 48 hours in advance.