Healey Signs Bill to Expand Boundaries of Beacon Hill Historic District into Law

Gov. Maura Healey signed a bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Livingstone, to expand the boundaries of the Beacon Hill Historic District into law during a special ceremony on Wednesday, July 3, at the State House, marking a major milestone for the future of historic preservation in the neighborhood.

Joshua Qualls Photo From Gov. Healey’s Office
Surrounded by other elected officials and dignitaries, Gov. Maura Healey (center) signs a bill to expand the boundaries of Beacon Hill Historic District into law during a special ceremony on Wednesday, July 3, at the State House.

The law mirrors a home-rule petition sponsored by then District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok, which was passed unanimously by the City Council  and then signed by Mayor Michelle Wu last year. It enlarges 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, which isn’t 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.

As for his bill  (H.4076, ‘An Act enhancing the Historic Beacon Hill District’) becoming law, Rep. Livingstone said, “I think it’s incredibly helpful to have consistent standards throughout Beacon Hill, and to not have exceptions. Many of the businesses on Cambridge Street tried to conform to the same standards expected on Charles Street, but some have not, and now, these standards will be consistent on both business streets.”

Rep. Livingstone said he has also “greatly appreciated the partnership with the Beacon Hill Civic Association,” under the leadership of past Chairs Rob Whitney and Meghan Awe and now current Chair Joshua Leffler in  helping to advance his bill.

Also, Rep. Livingstone credited former Councilor Bok, along with Whitney, for drafting the language for the home-role petition and for keeping the city engaged on the issue. He thanked Bok’s successor, City Councilor Sharon Durkan, for continuing to champion the cause.

Rep. Livingstone praised Sen. Lydia Edwards for helping to shepherd the bill through the Senate, as well as to their colleagues in both the House and Senate, for helping to move it forward.

“And I really appreciate Gov. Healey signing it into law,” said Rep. Livingstone.

In a statement, Gov. Healey said: “It is so important to preserve the incredible historical legacy of Beacon Hill for future generations to learn about and appreciate the birthplace of our nation that happened right here. I was proud to sign this legislation expanding the Historic Beacon Hill District and strengthening the ability of residents to protect it. I’m grateful to the important work of Senator Edwards, Representative Livingstone, the Boston City Council, the Beacon Hill Civic Association and the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission to make this possible.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Livingstone said he’s happy that the new law also gives the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission additional leverage when it comes to enforcing their own regulations.

The law now gives the BHAC the specific authority to levy fines for violations of the Historic District’s architectural guidelines for the first time in its history.

“Before the Architectural Commission could issue fines but not enforce them,” said Rep. Livingstone. “Now, they can enforce their own rules.”

Mark Kiefer, chair of the BHAC, wrote in an email: “The inclusion of the south side of Cambridge Street in the Historic Beacon Hill District will mean valuable benefits for this vital gateway to both the Beacon Hill community and the City of Boston.  It will protect important historic resources, provide a mechanism for transparency and public input into future architectural changes, and ensure a higher standard for both alterations and new infill construction going forward.  I’m grateful for the efforts of Rep. Livingstone, former Councilor Bok, Robert Whitney, the Beacon Hill Civic Association, and Governor Healey in bringing about this long overdue addition to the District.”

Nicholas Armata, senior preservation planner for the city’s Office of Historic Preservation and BHAC staff, wrote in an email: “The passage of Bill H.4076 expands the boundaries of The Beacon Hill Architectural District to the property line of Cambridge Street and now places the front facades of all properties lining the south side of Cambridge Street firmly within the Beacon Hill Architectural District. Prior to this bill’s passage, the boundary of the district stopped 40 feet from the curb of the south side of Cambridge Street. It’s important to note that the affected properties will not be required to make immediate changes in order to comply with district standards. Only future changes where a building permit has not already been issued will require approval by the Commission.”

Moreover, Armata added: “In the coming weeks, staff at the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission will offer informational sessions on what it means to own properties in a protected historic district.”

Armata encourages readers to sign up to receive notifications about the Historic Beacon Hill District online at https://www.boston.gov/historic-district/historic-beacon-hill-district.

Regarding the passage of the new law, Councilor Durkan’s statement read in part: “The effort to expand Beacon Hill’s historic district has been a labor of love for some time now, and I’d like to quickly start out by thanking engaged neighbors, the members and leaders of the Beacon Hill Civic Association so diligently to move this priority forward over the years.”

Councilor Durkan also commended Rep. Livingstone and former Councilor Bok for all their work to make this a reality, as well as Gov. Healey “for seeing this [law] through to the finish line.”

Added Councilor Durkan: “As a resident on the North Slope of Beacon, I live about 200 feet from the edge of the boundary, and cross through the ground that will now be added to the district every day. This area is part of Beacon Hill, it shares the same history, the same characteristics, and is understood by both our residents and visitors as being one-in-the-same with the rest of Beacon Hill. Many of the structures, leaders and icons of that area lived in are currently being preserved by the Historic District and expanding the historic district a mere 40-feet towards Cambridge Street to cover this edge will correctly align the district with the natural boundaries of Beacon Hill, and what we all understand the historic district to truly be. It was a common-sense adjustment that will make preserving the historic neighborhoods that make our City so unique a little bit easier and more straightforward.”

Whitney, meanwhile, described being in attendance at the July 3 signing ceremony when the bill became law as a “great honor.”

In an email, Whitney wrote in part: “It has been over 60 years since almost all of Beacon Hill’s North Slope was added to the Historic District in 1963, but that addition left a significant portion of northern Beacon Hill outside the protection of the historic district.  The Governor’s signing of the legislation sponsored by Representative Livingstone remedied that 60-year-old omission.”

Added Whitney: “I have been actively working on enlarging the Beacon Hill Historic District for over three years, since I was the Chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, and it has been thrilling to work with so many people to make the enlarged district a reality, including former Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok, Representative Jay Livingstone, Beacon Hill Architectural Commission Chair Mark Kiefer, Beacon Hill Architectural Commission preservationist Nick Armata, and former Beacon Hill Civic Association Chair Meghan Awe, among many others.  I am very happy that the important historic character of Beacon Hill will now be even more protected in the years to come.”

Likewise, Chair Leffler of the Civic Association commented on how pleased that organization was with the passage of the new law and added: “This significant milestone would not have been possible without the unwavering support and dedication of Representative Jay Livingstone, Senator Lydia Edwards, and Governor Maura Healey. Their commitment to preserving the architectural integrity and cultural heritage of our neighborhood has ensured that the Historic District now encompasses a vital portion of Beacon Hill. We extend our deepest gratitude to all who have contributed to this remarkable achievement.”

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