Westport Grapples with Historic Preservation Ahead of Demolitions
Westport, a town in Massachusetts, is facing a tough decision on the preservation of historic properties. Some individuals are advocating for the preservation of historical buildings, while others state that these structures do not meet modern living standards. The town’s officials have approved a new demolition policy that provides some clarity on demolishing such structures.
Demolition Policy in Westport
The new demolition policy recently approved by the Historic District Commission in Westport establishes standards for granting a waiver for the 180-day demolition delay. The objective of this ordinance is to promote the cultural, economic, education, and general welfare of the town of Westport, said Grayson Braun, the commission’s chair. The waiting period provides time for all interested parties to consider and put forth alternatives to demolition. The state allows Westport to impose a 180-day waiting period before granting a demolition permit for structures 50 years or older and 500 square feet or larger. The town’s officials hope that this policy will reduce the number of historic buildings that have been demolished recently.
Arguments for and Against Preservation
Donna Douglass, the HDC coordinator, says that the Commission has reviewed 269 demolition permit waiver applications from fiscal year 2020 through the present day. There were 47 applications in fiscal year 2020, 87 in fiscal year 2021, 79 last fiscal year 2022, and 56 this fiscal year, which ends on June 30. The applicants who have sought waivers for financial hardships, personal events, personal convenience, or similar reasons have raised many arguments against preservation of historic properties. Harris, former HDC Chair, stated that many of these arguments did not align with the HDC’s mission of educating people about the benefits of historic preservation, rehabilitation, and reuse of buildings of cultural heritage. However, some believe that preserving historic properties is essential to add and reinforce a sense of community and improve property values. These buildings are resources important to the sustainable development of our community. They contribute to the aesthetic quality of our environment and our cultural heritage.
Local and National Historic Districts
Christopher Pagliaro, an architect who works on properties in Westport and other towns, believes that whether to renovate or build new is a project-by-project decision. To demolish a house, the applicant files for a demolition permit through the building department, followed by publishing a notice of intent to demolish in a newspaper in Westport. Neighbors must also be notified, and a sign about the demolition must be posted. The building department notifies the Historic District Commission, which decides to either waive or uphold the 180-day delay. Local and national historic district designations allow for the most protection to historic properties. Alterations, such as demolition, to buildings that have a local designation, require a certificate of appropriateness, which is granted by the HDC.
- Westport has seven local historic districts and 22 local historic properties.
- Westport has four state historic districts and 10 national historic districts, but the latter two are honorary and do not prevent demolition.
- Preservation of historic properties adds and reinforces a sense of community and improves property values.
- Demolition is not sustainable, and preservation is greener.
Historic preservation is a sensitive issue that requires careful consideration. The new ordinance in Westport provides more clarity on demolition procedures for historic structures. Preserving historic properties contributes to sustainable development, aesthetic quality, cultural heritage, and community building. Demolition of historic buildings is not sustainable and may cause a loss of valuable cultural heritage.
Westport is grappling with the issue of preserving historic properties ahead of demolitions. While some believe that these buildings do not meet modern living standards, others believe that they are essential for preserving community heritage and adding aesthetic value. The new demolition policy provides more clarity on demoing historic structures, but preservation of historic properties remains a critical matter that needs to be handled with care.