In order to preserve the character of a neighborhood, residents can come together to create a neighborhood conservation district or NCD thanks to a zoning bylaw change enacted last fall.
This is exactly what residents of an area known as The Settlement, north of Route 9 near the Heath School, hope to accomplish with a warrant article planned for the fall's Special Town Meeting. They spoke to the Selectmen about this on Tuesday night.
According to the NCD bylaws, if passed, the Settlement will have a five- to seven-member neighborhood conservation commission made up of members of the Conservation Commission, and neighbors who have been interviewed and appointed by the Board of Selectmen. The Hancock Village neighborhood commission is in the process of filling its ranks with temporary members.
This commission will be tasked with preserving the area by reviewing construction projects in the neighborhood for character and appropriateness.
Explaining the reasoning behind the article, petitioner and Settlement resident Lynda Roseman noted, "people tend to buy a home in a neighborhood because they like how it looks and feels, and they expect to stay the same way."
In 1994, 27 Ackers Ave was slated for demolition, but was ultimately preserved by the Brookline Preservation Commission--who deemed the home historically significant. Petitioners want to preserve the neighborhood and prevent demolition plans in future with their proposed article 6.
"We're very comfortable right now that we have a lot of support in the neighborhood," said Kathleen O'connell, a petitioner and a resident of Ackers avenue.
She reported that, of the 62 owner-occupied homes in the neighborhood, 48 homes are for the proposal--as well as one of the seven homes not owner-occupied. There are also six homes responding neutrally to the article, as well as nine households which are against.
Speaking for some of those opposed to the proposal Town Meeting Member and Elliot Street resident Mike Merrill, who explained that the actual warrant article may not have been explained in full to those polled.
Merrill explained, "They've been told one thing. When I told them what the article actually said, and they actually read it, they said 'I didn’t know it said that.'"
Among Merrill's concern about the warrant article, the fact that the proposal references the original NCD bylaw, but was passed out without that bylaw included.
According to the NCD bylaw, all construction plans are eligible for review by the neighborhood commission. However, the one proposed for the Settlement says only projects making changes of 20 percent or more to the home. Merrill wanted to know how the determination would be made about which projects would be reviewed.
That, he says, is "putting aside the property owner's rights, and property rights, which people don’t seem that concerned about."
The petitioners presented the Selectmen with an amended map of the NCD, which excludes Merrill's home. However, until the amended map is approved by Town Meeting, Merrill considers himself affected by the outcome of the article vote.
"As far as I’m concerned, I’m still in; I’m in until I’m out," Merrill added.
The Board did not take a position on the proposal on Tuesday night, with a vote slated for a later meeting.
Town Meeting approved the neighborhood conservation district warrant article last fall, and created the Hancock Village NCD with the same vote. In July, the Selectmen began the process of creating and filling the neighborhood conservation commission for that part of town.
One discussion the Board was able to put to bed was the correct pronounciation of Ackers Avenue, which residents all pronounced "Ay-kers." Selectmen Chair Betsy DeWitt pointed this out, saying the multi-generational neighborhood families would be the experts.