Historic Preservation in Lexington

There are three organizations in town that are involved in historic preservation and they are often confused with each other. There is also a committee that provides design guidance to the town, as well as a department overseeing planning and building.

Historical Commission

The Lexington Historical Commission is a 5-member board appointed by the Town Manager with Board of Selectmen approval. It holds public hearings with respect to any proposed demolition that is not in one of the historic districts but affects a property listed on Lexington's Cultural Resources Survey (also known as the "Inventory") of the architecturally and historically significant assets of the Town. The individual property descriptions, as well as information about historical periods and architectural styles of Lexington buildings, are included in the Cultural Resource Survey.

At the hearings, if an architecturally or historically "significant" building is found to be "preferably preserved", no demolition permit can be issued until the earlier of:

  • the Commission's finding that there is no reasonable likelihood that the owner or other group or person is willing to purchase, preserve, rehabilitate or restore the building;
  • or continuing bona fide and reasonable efforts to locate a purchaser to preserve, rehabilitate or restore the building have been unsuccessful;
  • or 12 months have elapsed since the Commission's determination.

The Commission was established under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40, Section 8D, for the preservation and development of the historical, architectural and archaeological assets of the Town. It maintains an inventory of all buildings, areas and sites of architectural and/or historical importance in the Town.

Since it collects information concerning architectural styles, preservation technology and financial benefits for historic preservation, anyone applying to place a property on the National Register of Historic Places should first contact the Historical Commission. The Commission is authorized to acquire, in the name of the Town, full ownership of or preservation restrictions on any real or personal property of significant historical value and may manage the same.

Historic Districts Commission

The Lexington Historic Districts Commission was established by a special act of the State Legislature under Chapter 447 of the Acts of 1956, as amended (as used in these Guidelines, "Chapter 447"). It has jurisdiction over the four registered historic districts in the town.

Its purpose is "to promote the educational, cultural, economic and general welfare of the public through the preservation and protection of historic buildings, places and districts through the development of appropriate settings for said buildings, places and districts and through the maintenance of said buildings, places and districts as landmarks of historic "interest."

The HDC consists of five commissioners nominated by the Lexington Historical Society, the Cary Memorial Library, the Lexington Chamber of Commerce Society and the Board of Selectmen; as well as four associate commissioners nominated by the Lexington Historical Society, the Cary Memorial Library and the Lexington Chamber of Commerce. The Board of Selectmen appoints all Commissioners.

The Commission is responsible for approving all exterior architectural changes to buildings and structures within the four historic districts, including demolition, construction, exterior renovation, color changes and signs. The Commission meets once a month, and anyone aggrieved by a decision of the Commission may appeal to the Middlesex Superior Court.

Lexington Historical Society

The Lexington Historical Society is a non-profit corporation that manages the three museum houses in the town:

  • Buckman Tavern
  • Hancock-Clarke House
  • Munroe Tavern

It also owns and operates as its headquarters the Lexington Depot Building in the Center. The Society's mission is "to be the premier interpreter of the events of April, 1775, and the faithful steward of all of the town's history through time."

It has a large archival space that contains information about Lexington's residents and produces many programs of historical interest each year, which are free or at a nominal charge to the public.

Design Advisory Committee

The Design Advisory Committee (DAC) is an advisory committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Its purpose is to assist the town in providing professional guidance on town-funded projects, town buildings, facilities, lands, parks and public areas. It may also be asked to review and comment on proposals by private sector firms where a town interest is involved. However, the Historic Districts Commission has exclusive and final jurisdiction over all properties located within the Historic Districts.

Department of Land Use, Housing, and Development

The Department of Land Use, Housing and Development "seeks to protect and improve the quality of life of the citizenry by providing leadership in the promotion and preservation of a safe, health and desirable living and working environment." In conjunction with these goals, the Department of Land Use, Housing, and Development integrates the different regulatory divisions of:

  • Building
  • Conservation
  • Planning
  • Zoning and Zoning Board of Appeals
  • Economic Development
  • Housing
  • Inspectional Services
  • Historical Commission
  • Historic Districts Commission

All projects, as well as those in the Historic Districts, must comply with the building, conservation, zoning and health requirements regulated by the first four divisions.

If proposed construction is not compliant with the zoning bylaws, relief may be sought through the Zoning Board of Appeals. When a hearing from both the Board of Appeals and the HDC is required, approval from one Board will be contingent on the other Board's approval. It is not automatic that one will receive approval from both boards.