Who is the Salem Historical Commission?
The Salem Historical Commission is a volunteer board of Salem residents who are appointed by the Mayor and are approved by the City Council. The Clerk of the Commission is Jane Guy, who is not a voting member nor an employee of the Commission, but rather a staff person assigned by the City of Salem Department of Planning & Community Development (DPCD) to undertake the administrative work such as collecting applications, posting agendas, providing abutters with meeting notices and taking minutes of the meetings.
When do I need Commission approval?
Residents in historic districts are required by law (Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40C) to receive approval for any exte-rior alterations prior to commencing the work. Alterations include changes in design, material, color or outward appearance of the structure including, but not limited to, doors, walls, fences, entrances, gutters, railings, roofs, chimneys, brickwork, porch-es/decks, skylights, windows, exterior staircases, signs and sign posts. Approval is needed to remove any features such as shutters, porches, siding, windows, fences, railings, doors, chimneys, etc. or for partial or full demolition of buildings, fences, exterior walls or staircases, garages, sheds, etc. This work requires approval under a Certificate of Appropriateness or Hard-ship.
Work such as additions, alterations or new construction not visible from a public way, temporary structures or signs, recon-struction of structures damaged or destroyed by fire, ordinary maintenance, repairs, replacements which do not involve changes in design, material, color or outward appearance, and repainting in existing color require approval under a Certificate of Non-Applicability. This certificate is a way of ratifying that a Certificate of Appropriateness is not required for the work to be performed. This certificate, along with the pictures taken prior to the work commencing, protects a property owner from accusations that changes have been made without authorization. The Commission cannot deny an application for a Certificate of Non-Applicability if they have determined that the work proposed is non-visible from the public way or is for ordinary maintenance.
A property owner or a contractor cannot receive a building permit unless a Certificate has been issued. However, the Commission has no jurisdiction over the following: terraces, walks, driveway materials and sidewalks (provided that they are substantially at grade level), storm doors, storm windows, screens, window air conditioners, lighting fixtures attached to the building, antennae and similar appurtenances, interior work that does not affect the exterior in material, design or outward appearance, or landscaping. The Commission does have jurisdiction over barriers, such as railroad tie or brick walls, that are used in landscaping. The Commission also has jurisdiction over satellite dishes and the paint color of storm doors and windows.
If you have been cited by a City department and are ordered to make improvements to your property, remember that you still need Salem Historical Commission approval. For example, if you are ordered to add a railing or secondary egress, to undertake exterior deleading or to complete repairs to soffits, facia boards, windows, chimneys, roofing, gutters, downspouts or stairs, this work will require approval from the Commission. In most cases, this work is maintenance requiring only a Certificate of Non-Applicability which can be issued within a few days. However, for alterations (such as increasing the height of a railing), the design of the work you are under order to complete must first be approved under a Certificate of Appropriateness.
How do I apply for Commission approval?
When planning alterations to your property, be prepared to apply for approval well in advance of the date you wish to begin any exterior work. No work can commence until a Certificate is issued. It is suggested that the property owner call or visit the Com-mission representative at the DPCD to discuss proposed alterations and to determine the category of the application (Appropriateness, Non-Applicability or Hardship). Applications are available at the DPCD. Your application for a Certificate of Appropriateness or Hardship, along with required support materials (e.g. photographs, scaled drawings, paint chips etc.), must be received by 3:00 p.m. on the Monday 16 days before a meeting in order to make the meeting agenda. An application for a Certificate of Non-Applicability may normally be added to the agenda up to the day of the meeting. In some cases, a Certificate of Non-Applicability may be issued by the Clerk, without review by the full Commission, after 24 hours have past from an e-mail notification to the Commission of the application’s receipt. The Clerk can also get an expedited approval for the change of an asphalt roof from any color to black or charcoal gray.
An application will not be considered complete unless all work items are thoroughly described in sufficient detail to allow the Commission to make an informed decision. The more specific, the less chance that the application will be continued to the next meeting pending additional information. Whenever possible, catalog cuts, photographs and scaled drawings can be used to illustrate the project specifications (dimensions, materials, etc.) needed for the Commission to visualize the changes in order to make a determination. Applications for paint colors require a paint chip or chart. The following items should be included in your drawings as applicable: site plan showing location of improvements; elevation drawings of the specific improvements; details/profiles (i.e. moldings, fence caps, cornices, vents, etc.); catalog cuts of window specifications; materials (i.e. wood, brick, etc.); dimensions (i.e. size of trim); and the locations and descriptions of transformers, heat pumps, condensers, electrical conduits and entry units, meters, lamp posts, air conditioning units (except the window type), vents and stove pipes. All applications must include three to four 35mm photographs of existing conditions. There is no fee for any applications.
All applications for Certificates of Appropriateness or Hardship require a public hearing. Notice of the hearing must be posted with the City Clerk 14 days before the hearing and abutters must be notified in writing. Commission staff will handle these procedures. A public hearing is not required for a Certificate of Non-Applicability. All meetings are open to the public and any person is entitled to appear and be heard on any matter before the Commission before it reaches a decision.
At the hearing, the Commission will discuss the application with the applicant or his representative, hear from the public and take a vote. Owners hiring professional consultants such as architects or contractors are urged to have them be present at the hearing. If the application is approved, a Certificate will be issued, mailed to the applicant and copies will be sent to the City Clerk and Building Inspector. Please note that the application can be continued until the next meeting if the Commission deems necessary (i.e. for reasons of incomplete drawings, to perform a site visit, etc.). In any case, the Commission must make a determination within 60 days from the date the application is received, unless the applicant waives that requirement in writing.
In addition, remember to get any other permits required to undertake work (e.g. Building Permit, permit from the Health Department to do paint removal, etc.). Finally, the Commission reserves the right to inspect the project to determine compliance with the conditions set forth in the Certificate issued.
What about emergencies?
If part of your property (building, shed, fence, wall, chimney, railing, etc.) is damaged by a storm, vandalism or accident, contact the police and/or your insurance company, if necessary. Take photographs of the damaged area(s). If there is no immediate threat to public safety, do not remove the damage (unless required by your insurance company). Contact the Clerk of the Commission for advice on how to proceed with getting approval for repairs/replacement.
How do I get assistance?
A copy of the Salem Historical Commission Guidelines is available for review at the DPCD. The guidelines provide examples of what is historically appropriate (or inappropriate) for Salem's neighborhoods including trim, siding, doors, doorways, porticos, porches and steps, fences, gutters and downspouts, masonry, paint colors, parking solutions, roofing, secondary egress, utilities, skylights and windows. The guidelines will help you understand what changes are likely or unlikely to be approved. The DPCD also has city-wide building inventory forms available for review, along with various renovation guidelines, miscel-laneous legislation, slides and photographs.
If you need some assistance or information, please contact the Clerk of the Commission, Jane Guy, at the City of Salem Department of Planning & Community Development, 120 Washington St., Salem, MA 01970, 978 745-9595, Ext. 5685, fax 978 740-0404, email@example.com.