Duxbury residents turned out in force at the senior center Wednesday to see a presentation from Chris Skelly, the director of local government programs at the Massachusetts Historical Commission, on what a historical preservation district could mean for Duxbury.

 

Skelly gave a PowerPoint presentation on historical districts in Massachusetts and answered questions from the audience during his discussion. While Skelly advised the audience that historic districts are an important tool in preserving a town’s past, he also said it is important for Duxbury to come up with a proposal unique to the town, that best suits its needs.

“The key word here is ‘local,’” he said. “It’s really up to you, the town of Duxbury, on whether you want to have this.”

Skelly outlined the process in creating a historic district, an eight-step process from forming a committee to listing the district properties with the registry of deeds and explaining the area which a historic commission would apply in a district. Any home or business owner with property in a historic district would have to go through a historical committee to make, changes to visible exterior architectural features, structural alterations, demolition, additions and new buildings and structures, Skelly said.

He said a historical commission does not cover demolition by neglect, as well as interior changes, landscaping, routine maintenance and change on not visible exterior features. He added that some commissions in towns across the commonwealth have added restrictions on paint color, but urged Duxbury against adopting such a bylaw.

“It’s just so upsetting when I think a local commission might not get passed in areas with significant properties because of paint color,” he said. “Because you run the risk that building is gone forever.”

He also outlined the different varieties of historical districts in the state, ranging from the entire island of Nantucket to 250 single-property districts in Somerville. He added that districts could also go right through a plot of land or through a building, which is why he said it is important for Duxbury to come up with the best solution for the town.

“I really encourage everyone to be involved and for the study committee to hold meetings and have materials available to make sure everyone is really well informed,” he said. “Eventually, this is going to come down to Town Meeting, and you want to make sure everyone has had that chance to speak up.”

Residents asked questions during Skelly’s speech, asking questions about abandoned properties, fake wood and plastics as well as voicing their opposition to the process.

Skelly opened his presentation by asking the audience what word came to mind when he brought up historic districts, and while he got responses of “preservation” and “history,” he also heard “restriction,” “intrusion,” “fear” and “regulation.”

“[If my house was in an historic district,] I would pay the same taxes but have to live by a different set of rules,” Raymond MacFarlene said. “Now rules have changed again and the poor fellow that owns this property is burdened with additional fees and additional scrutiny.”

Skelly acknowledged concerns like MacFarlene’s, saying there is no way around the fact that some projects will take longer. But he said the point of historical districts is not to prevent people from making changes.

“They’re not about creating a museum at all,” he said. “It’s about a way of guiding some changes. All kinds of changes take place in historic districts, and it is important to recognize this is where people live.  It’s layers that make the community so important, and construction can be compatible with a historic district.”

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Mr. Skelly's name. - Ed.]