Livingstone’s Bill To Expand Beacon Hill Historic District Moves Closer to Becoming Law

A bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Livingstone to expand the boundaries of the Beacon Hill Historic District came even closer to becoming law earlier this month.

The proposed legislation (H.4076, “An Act enhancing the Historic Beacon Hill District”), which mirrors a home-rule petition that was passed unanimously by the Boston City Council  and then signed by Mayor Michelle Wu last year, would enlarge the district to include all of the North Slope via the addition of an approximately 40-foot-wide area running from Charles Circle to Bowdoin Street along Cambridge Street on the Beacon Hill side not currently included in the district. This omission apparently came in response to concerns that including the entire North Slope in the Historic District could impede the city’s plans for the Engine Company 4 and Ladder Company 24 fire station, which subsequently opened  at 200 Cambridge St. in 1965.

On April 18, the bill was ‘engrossed,’ or passed by the House of Representatives, and then four days later on April 22, it was read by the Senate and placed in the Orders of the Day for its next session. If the Senate passes the bill, it would then need to be enacted by both the House and the Senate before it could be signed into law by the Governor.

But unlike engrossment, which can be a long, drawn-out process, enactment at the state level typically moves quickly, according to Rep. Livingstone.

“I’m really pleased with my colleagues that they agreed with me on this important piece of legislation and passed it through the House of Representatives,” said Rep. Livingstone, “and I hope that the Senate takes it up quickly. I’m working closely with Sen. Lydia Edwards to make sure that happens.”

District 8 City Councilor Sharon Durkan was encouraged to hear that the bill is moving forward.

“This is a great development, and I want to thank Representative Livingstone for shepherding this bill through the legislature,” wrote Councilor Durkan. “I also want to praise the work of my predecessor Kenzie Bok, now administrator of the Boston Housing Authority, for her work as District 8 councilor for really championing historic preservation and beginning the work by filing a home rule petition to expand the historic district. What this would mean to Beacon Hill is the preservation of buildings, such as the Puffers Building, that were not protected under the current district. Expansion was worked on in collaboration with the city’s transportation department so that expansion of the district wouldn’t preclude important work that needs to be done on Cambridge Street.”

The bill would also give the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission (BHAC) the specific authority to levy fines for violations of the Historic District’s architectural guidelines for the first time in its history.

Mark Kiefer, chair of the BHAC, wrote: “‘I’m pleased that the Senate has taken up this important legislation. The Historic Beacon Hill District has been expanded several times in its long history, reflecting increased recognition of the tremendous historical, architectural, and cultural significance of the North Slope community, but after nearly [70] years, it still does not encompass the entirety of the Beacon Hill neighborhood. The modest further expansion to Cambridge Street provided by this legislation will correct that oversight and ensure a high standard in the built environment for this critical gateway to both Beacon Hill and the City of Boston. I urge the Senate to pass this bill and the Governor to sign it as soon as possible.”

Likewise, Joshua Leffler, president of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors, wrote in part: “Given the expansion by MGH and the potential Red Line-Blue Line connector, the architectural protections afforded by the Historic District are critical to this remaining portion of Beacon Hill. Further, it plays a critical role in preserving and enhancing the cultural, social, and economic fabric of Beacon Hill.

“For decades, this has been the vision of a diverse group of stakeholders. It has progressed thanks to the efforts of Representative Livingstone, former BHCA President and Chair Rob Whitney, former City Councilor Bok, City Councilor Durkan and BHCA Chair Meghan Awe,” added Leffler.

Upon hearing the news, Whitney,  who as the former BHCA board chair, helped former City Councilor Bok draft the city home-rule petition that preceded Rep. Livingstone’s pending legislation, wrote in part: “It was great to hear that Representative Jay Livingstone’s bill to expand the Beacon Hill Historic District has been passed by the State House of Representatives, and that it is now pending in the State Senate, where Beacon Hill’s own State Senator Lydia Edwards can help get the bill over the finish line!  It is very exciting to think that the expansion of the Historic District, which was last enlarged over 60 years ago, may finally be accomplished after such a long time.

“Given the significant new development project by Massachusetts General Hospital along the northside of Cambridge Street, as a longtime resident of the North Slope, I am delighted that the critically important historic buildings that remain on the Beacon Hill side of Cambridge Street will hopefully at last be brought within the architectural protections afforded by the Historic District,” added Whitney.

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