TIVERTON — Historic buildings in the Tiverton Four Corners area will get new protections, and a six-member commission to stand guard over them, if a proposed town ordinance is adopted by the Town Council.
If the proposal passes, a building owner in the Four Corners Historic District seeking to make an exterior change to a building or any of its features — for example new paint scheme, window frames, doors, fences, or siding — would have to fill out an application and take it to the town building official for a first review.
That official would decide whether the change is significant and whether the change would have to go to the newly created six-member Historic District Commission. That commission would decide whether the change proposed is compatible with the historic character of the building according to the standards used for deciding such things.
The proposed commission, said Cynthia Allen, a member and co-chairperson of the Historic Preservation Advisory Board (HPAB) which crafted the proposed ordinance, “would oversee any plans for the property in the historic district that would require a building permit, to ensure the compatibility of the plans with the historic quality of the district.” Members of the commission would be appointed by the Town Council.
Ms. Allen said the proposed ordinance “would be sort of an overlay. It would not set aside any other zoning requirements (like watershed requirements) that apply to the property.”
Buildings covered by rules
Not many buildings would be impacted by the proposed ordinance.
The proposed new zoning district in the Four Corners area adopts boundaries that are the same as those that were used in 1974 by the U.S. Department of Interior when it designated buildings in the Four Corners area to be included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Within that bounded area are 48 structures — houses, barns, and outbuildings — on 27 properties, 13 of which are owned by Jim and Rosalind Weir.
The National Register designation provides no regulatory or zoning protection for the 48 structures, said Stuart Hardy, a member of the Tiverton Planning Board, and also of the HPAB.
Support for proposal
The Historic District Zoning Ordinance went before the Town Council Tuesday night (after this paper went to press) for the purpose of scheduling a future public hearing, most likely no earlier than Monday, Jan. 13, due to 21-day published-notice requirements.
It appears at this time to have broad support.
“Obviously Tiverton Four Corners is a jewel and everyone realizes the importance of preserving it,” said Town Council President Edward Roderick at a council workshop on the matter on September 30.
“I’m very open to the idea,” said Town Councilor Brett Pelletier at the same workshop. “If all the pieces fit together, it might be a no-brainer.”
Susan Anderson, with Ms. Allen, is a co-chairwoman of the Tiverton HPAB that has taken the lead in drafting the proposal and shepherding it through town government as the measure gets vetted.
“We need to preserve the historic character of Tiverton Four Corners,” said Ms. Anderson. “The reason we started this was the proposed sale of Jim Weir’s 13 properties and concerns the new owners wouldn’t preserve them as he has.”
Mr. Weir and his wife Rosalind own almost half of the properties that lie within the boundaries of the proposed historic district that the ordinance would create.
Asked Monday if she and her husband are in favor of the proposal. Ms. Weir said, “very much so. We are supporting it because we want to preserve the historic quality of the village.”
The measure’s supporters say the six-member Historic District Commission would oversee the implementation of standards for the preservation of historic buildings and properties located in historic district.
Those are the same ten standards that have been developed nationally by the U. S. Department of Interior, and that are used to preserve historic sites that are included in the National Register.
Among those is the crucial concept of preserving the integrity of the historical record, of ensuring that, “each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its own time, place and use.” Other considerations are preserving the original use, the historical character, of maintaining alterations that over time have themselves acquired a historical value, the property’s distinctive characteristics, repairing versus replacing features of the property, and avoiding damaging treatments.
Getting historical grants
If the ordinance is adopted by the council, the district and the commission it establishes will be considered a “Certified Local Government” (CLG) within the meaning of state and federal laws, that will qualify the town, and enable it to apply for government grants for historic preservation.
This is an important feature of the proposal, its adherents say. “It allows for preservation grant money to flow to the town that could be applied to the entire town, not just the historic district, and that would not be available in any other way,” said Ms. Allen.
Mr. Hardy, said, “the ordinance will put Tiverton at the front of the line for certain grants we are not now eligible to receive under state law. If we adopt the ordinance, it will enhance our ability to get grants for such things as sidewalks and restroom facilities in historic districts.”
Tourism is another concern adherents mention. Ms. Anderson said she went to a meeting recently at which Four Corners merchants said they supported the proposal, saying that as long as they’re advertising “come to historic Tiverton Four Corners, why not make it official.”
In this vein, Mr. Hardy said “the ordinance is important because it will preserve the old New England charm which brings customers and tourists into the Tiverton Four Corners area.”
It is not known yet whether there will be significant opposition.
At the Sept. 30 workshop, Town Council member Jay Lambert (who is also president of the Fall River Historical Society), said to Ms, Anderson and others presenting the ordinance for discussion, “for three centuries you’ve been able to live without a historic district.” He said the ordinance is “a nice idea” but asked, “are we foisting the ordinance on dissenters” within the district. He asked how many of the 27 property owners support or oppose the measure.
Ms. Anderson said she couldn’t say, but that HPAB members had briefed the Four Corners merchants and had attempted contact with all property owners.
Ms. Anderson said the proposed ordinance is based on a model ordinance, an ordinance in Bristol, and an earlier ordinance in Tiverton dating back to the 1980’s. 17 communities in the state have historic districts, she said.
On Sept. 3, the sitting members of the Town Planning Board “agreed by consensus that the concept of of Historic District Zoning, as presented [in the form of an early draft of the proposed ordinance] is worth pursuing in an effort to protect the character and quality of the Tiverton Four Corners area.”
Planning Board members Rosemary Eva, Carol A. Guimond, and David Saurette had recused themselves from the discussion and vote, and board member Peter Moniz was absent.
Ms. Guimond, a realtor who lives nearby, said, “the concept is fine. People want to keep the historic character of the place. As long as they don’t complicate it with too many stringent regulations.”
A three-part packet of materials (available from the Town Clerk’s Office) was presented to the council Tuesday when it set the date for the hearing: the Historic District Zoning Ordinance itself (19 pages); Rules of Procedure for the Historic District Commission that would be established by the ordinance (9 pages); and an “Application Packet” containing forms and describing the process to be followed by building owners seeking to make changes in their structures 11 pages).