Commission Wants to Start What Could be a Long Process to Save the Orchard House
The Historic District Commission will ask the Town Council to approve starting a study group to make the Orchard House property into a historic district.
The Historic District Commission will begin moving toward making the property where the Orchard House is located into a historic district in an effort to save the building that dates back to the 1830s.
Harvey Steiner, chairman of the Historic District Commission (HDC), told those attending the commission’s meeting Wednesday nigh that the process is long and has many steps.
“It is a lot of work, and we have less than a year, start to finish, to get it done,” Steiner said.
What Watertown created its first, and right now only, historic district along Mt. Auburn Street, it took 4 years to complete the process, said HDC member Linda Sternberg.
The property is owned by the Walker School, which runs Beacon High School at 917 Belmont St. The school applied to the Historical Commission last month to demolish the Orchard House. The Historical Commission voted to put a 6-month demolition delay for the house, and it can extend it to a full year.
The first of which is to get the Town Council to start a historic district study group, said Conservation Agent Christopher Hayward said two-thirds of the council has to vote to start the process.
The HDC voted to send a letter asking the Town Council to start the process. The issue is expected to be taken up at the next Town Council meeting on Aug. 14.
The HDC will discuss the historic district at its monthly meetings, and will likely have special meetings to discuss it, too, Steiner said. They plan to meet on Aug. 22 in Town Hall, if the Town Council approves starting the process.
The Historical Society of Watertown supports saving the Orchard House, and members wrote up an application to get it on the Massachusetts Most Endangered Resource list. The application includes details about the property and the historical significance.
(See a PDF of the report by clicking the link to the right.)
Creating a historic district would be the town’s only option for preserving the Orchard House, Steiner said.
“Other options, such as making it a National Landmark, require the support of the owner,” Steiner said.
What a Historic District Would Mean
Officials from the Walker School told Hayward that they do not want the property to become a historic district. Steiner said they do not need to support it for the district to be created.
If a historic district is approved then the building could not be taken down, Steiner said, but some changes could be made.
“A historic district only controls what we see from a public way,” Steiner said. “The control on it is what it looks like on the exterior. There is no control of the interior.”
Some of the residents said the building looks like it is slowly falling into disrepair. Steiner said creating a historic district would not require the owners to fix up the building.
“We can’t make them do anything. We can’t make them take care of it,” Steiner said. “If it is in a historic district they can’t demolish it.
When a property becomes a historic district it is eligible for preservation funds, said Daphne Collins, assistant in the town’s Office of Preservation.
Among the steps for creating a historic district are:
- The HDC will conduct a survey of the properties in the proposed district, prepare educational materials, and hold informational meetings.
- A preliminary study report will be created, and then submit that to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) and the Watertown Planning Board.
- 60 days or more after the report is submitted to the MHC the HDC will have a public hearing about the proposed district.
- A proposed bylaw and the final report will be submitted to the Town Council, and it needs to be approved by at least two-thirds of the Town Council.
- The Attorney General will review the bylaw and if approved it can be filed with the town clerk and the Registry of Deeds.