Historic district idea discussed

January 26, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

The idea of protecting the Sumner Hill neighborhood’s historic character with a design review process was introduced Nov. 19 at a Sumner Hill Association (SHA) meeting.

Even if the idea moves forward, however, it will be years away due to funding issues.

Ellen Lipsey, executive director of the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) and a Jamaica Plain resident, ex-plained the application process and various levels of historic protection available. She was joined by Katie McLaughlin, a BLC architectural historian.

The meeting at St. John’s Episcopal Church drew 42 residents, about half of whom supported some type of his-toric protection in an informal poll, according to SHA’s Diane Pienta.

As the Gazette previously reported, the SHA has considered applying for Architectural Conservation District (ACD) status.

“Ellen though…[ACD status] would probably be more appropriate for our neighborhood,” Pienta said in a Gazette interview shortly after the meeting.

Under that designation, new construction, demolition and other major changes to historic buildings would re-quire permission from a joint BLC/resident commission.

ACDs often also have guidelines for smaller features such as doors, windows and even paint color, but it is up to the community to decide on those. “It can be as stringent or as lenient as the community deems,” Pienta said. SHA members have previously said they aren’t interested in highly strict guidelines.

If the SHA applied for ACD status, the BLC would form a “study group” that would join a resident committee in developing the designation. If an ACD was established, the group essentially would stay intact as the design review commission.

“[Lipsey] was really clear the [BLC] has absolutely no funding to form a study group” right now, Pienta said. “Even if we put in an application tomorrow, it could be literally years” before any process began, she said.

In any case, the SHA is taking its time. Another informational meeting may be held, Pienta said. SHA members also may work on a handbook to the neighborhood’s historic character—often a useful starting point for ACD des-ignation. JP’s historic Woodbourne neighborhood is another neighborhood where residents put together a similar handbook.

Sumner Hill is already on the National Register of Historic Places for its wealth of Victorian architecture, with dozens of buildings dating from the 1850s to the early 1900s. But National Register listing offers virtually no historic protections.

Sumner Hill is bordered by Centre/South streets, Seaverns Avenue, the Southwest Corridor and Carolina Avenue.

The neighborhood and the hill it sits on are named for Gen. William Sumner (1780-1861), a real estate devel-oper whose company essentially created East Boston. The Sumner Tunnel downtown is also named for him. Sumner’s 1852 house still stands at 10 Roanoke Ave.

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