Edgartown board proposes to expand historic district

The proposed change would nearly double the limit of the existing district limits.

The existing Edgartown historic district is shown in yellow. The shaded area is the proposed area of expansion. — Courtesy of the town of Edgartow

The Edgartown Historic District Commission (HDC) has taken initial steps to expand the town’s historic district. As it now stands, the district begins at the harbor, and extends backward in choppy spurts, HDC Assistant Bricque Garber told The Times. The proposed expansion, as depicted on a map, would nearly double the existing district, and smooth out the district’s borders inland.

The HDC hosted a public hearing on July 14. A second public hearing is scheduled at 4 pm, August 11, in town hall. Any change would require a town-meeting vote.

Ms. Garber estimated 28 residents attended the first hearing. “Most of the people were pretty positive. There were very few people who had real concerns,” Ms. Garber said.

Those people who had concerns questioned whether the cost of repairs would rise for houses within the HDC, which would review proposed changes and modifications. For example, the HDC could ask homeowners to replace windows with windows that are more suitable to the age of the house.

The HDC has purview over any part of a house or building that is visible from a public way, Ms. Garber said, and that includes Edgartown Harbor.

Ms. Garber said that the idea has been in the works for almost two years, and the HDC ultimately voted to expand the district.

In February, the HDC mailed a survey to all property owners who would be affected by the changes. Ms. Garber estimated that the responses supported the proposal 3-1.

“More people than not were in favor of being in the expanded area,” Ms. Garber said.

Patrick Ahearn of Patrick Ahearn Architecture, with offices in Edgartown and Boston, supports the expansion. “It’s certainly beneficial to the neighborhood,” Mr. Ahearn said.

Mr. Ahearn said he has worked on 147 houses in downtown Edgartown, and contends that the laws which govern and moderate changes made to historic homes aren’t difficult to adhere to.

“If you as an architect produce the kind of work that is appropriate, it’s just a process,” he said. “It’s not a challenging or difficult process.”

Mr. Ahearn said the historic district has a positive effect for other homeowners. “I think it protects real estate values, it protects the quality of the neighborhood … It protects the community from the less talented designer,” he said. “At the same, time it doesn’t hurt the talented designer who understands the greater-good theory, who understands appropriateness and scale for a historic district.”

Mr. Ahearn said that a house built in a historic area without oversight “could destroy the character of an entire street.”

He said the additional layer of regulatory oversight does not add to the cost of architectural changes.