Municipalities throughout the state have used Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40C (the Historic Districts Act, enacted in 1960) to create single and multiple building historic districts to preserve parts of their historic legacies. Currently there are over 200 single building historic districts in Massachusetts in towns as varied as Lincoln, Somerville and West Springfield, and over 230 multiple building districts. In 1980, Wellesley created the multiple building Cottage Street Historic District to preserve the houses occupied by workers in the town’s nineteenth century manufacture of shoes (view final report). The area today is a congenial neighborhood that enjoys its protected status and the resiliency of property values that that status has afforded owners over the past thirty years.
All historic districts, whether multiple building or single building, must be approved by a vote of Town Meeting. Town Meeting also decides, from a list provided in Chapter 40C, what types of exterior changes in a historic district will require additional review. No Historic District Commission review is required for interior changes or renovations. In Wellesley, the Town-appointed Historic District Commission oversees the review process, which consists primarily of an application by the property owner, a public hearing, and a written decision by the Historic District Commission.