Historic Preservation

Citizens often value the historic resources and landscapes in their municipalities.  Historic resources represent links to the community’s evolution and sense of identity, help preserve individual neighborhood character, and can provide examples of architecture and construction methods that would not be built or could not be reproduced today.  Historic preservation planning provides the municipality with a framework for identifying policies and developing measures necessary to achieve its historic resources and landscape preservation goals.  Collectively, protecting resources and their settings provide a holistic mechanism that promotes greater viability, vitality, and continued use of historic resources from both historic and economic perspectives.

This tool can be used to identify and preserve structures and other features that provide the physical representations of where a community has been – its past, its history – by linking the past to the present and preserving it for future generations.

Municipalities can help ensure the protection of their important historic resources and landscapes by engaging in a municipal historic program.  Following the spirit of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (https://www.nps.gov/subjects/historicpreservation/national-historic-preservation-act.htm), the Massachusetts Historic Commission (https://malegislature.gov/laws/generallaws/parti/titleii/chapter9/section26) , and other federal and state policies, advise the consideration and planning for historic resource protection.  Preservation planning can help a municipality ensure that historic resources and landscape preservation objectives are considered during planning and community development decision making.


Historic preservation planning can provide the following benefits:

  • Coordinated Municipal Goals: Consistency with other community goals and objectives can be ensured when preservation goals are established as part of the comprehensive planning process.  Historic preservation planning can also promote greater understanding of historic preservation and how it can be used to achieve other community goals and objectives.
  • Resource Protection: Historic preservation planning can help protect historic and cultural resources and landscapes.
  • Educational Value: A greater awareness of historic resources and landscapes can be encouraged, which can lead to a better understanding of their contribution to a community’s sense of place and quality of life.
  • Supports Property Values: Property values can be supported, stabilized, and enhanced when a neighborhood’s existing older and historic structures are used in economically-productive ways.
  • Community Pride: Historic preservation planning can promote community identity and can support tourism.
  • Energy Conservation: The economically-productive use and reuse of historic resources promotes sustainable development through the continued use of existing structures and their materials.
  • Supports Community Planning: Historic preservation planning can create a framework for formal preservation policies and can promote historic resource and landscape preservation activities such as creating a local historic district, developing ordinance protecting standards, or completing a survey of historic resources.


The following limitations can be associated with historic preservation planning:

  • Limited Perceived Benefits: Historic resources planning, as an element of municipal planning, can be perceived as having only limited benefit to a community if its benefits are not widely understood or accepted, and can create potential opposition to historic preservation planning and objectives.
  • Balancing Property Rights and Community Goals: Regulating certain property rights is often necessary to achieve overall local historic preservation goals, while the benefits are shared by the owner and the municipality, potentially creating tension between the two groups.
  • No Guarantees of Success: Planning brings historic preservation concerns to the forefront but does not guarantee implementation.
  • Administrative Challenges: Interpretation of ordinance provisions and the uniform application of design standards can be challenging, particularly for new Historic Commission members and constantly changing municipal officials.


While standard planning principals of goal identification, data collection, resource analysis, strategy formation, and implementation can be applied to historic resources and landscapes preservation planning, the process should be tailored to the individual municipality.  Successful historic preservation planning involves linking historic preservation goals to other municipal goals (e.g. community development, economic development, and housing goals), and incorporating historic and community preservation as an integrated element in the municipal planning program via the municipal comprehensive planning process.  In this way, potential policy conflicts can be readily identified, discussed, and resolved at the outset. 

Broad community input on preservation issues is necessary during the development of a plan, because preservation planning with a narrow perspective may not be credible with the community at large and could consequently result in difficulties upon implementation.  The relationship between protecting the local quality of life, the sense of community identity, and preserving historic resources and landscapes needs to be clearly and effectively conveyed and should be emphasized during the planning process.  Preserving a community quality of life can be partially accomplished by preserving those physical features that help create its sense of place and link its evolution and origins with the present. Historic preservation is often key means to accomplishing these types of gals and thus should be viewed as an integral element during the planning process.


The following outline describes the individual components involved in historic preservation planning,

  • Identifying goals: The first step in developing a historic preservation plan is to delineate goals.  This requires the municipality to define why historic preservation is important to the community and develop statements that express these views.
  • Inventory historic resources: Identification, documentation, and evaluation of historic resources forms the basis of a preservation program.  A basic knowledge of existing resources is needed in going forward to develop and later implement a preservation strategy.  A preliminary inventory as well as preliminary identification of a community’s historic character should be done at the onset of the planning process to establish a basis for evaluating proposed goals and strategies.  Afterwards, a more comprehensive survey of those preliminary historic resources and their context and landscapes is recommended, along with more in-depth defining of historic character, which requires an evaluation of the relationship of historic preservation on the community’s quality of life and other planning aspects.  The community’s historic character creates a frame of reference within which historic resources and landscapes can be evaluated.
  • Identify and evaluate local historic preservation efforts to date and available resources: A summary of past and ongoing public, nonprofit, and private preservation activities can also assist in identifying policies, organizations, incentives, and social structures that have been used in previous efforts and can suggest how each can be used to implement future strategies.  Summarizing preservation efforts also helps to showcase past accomplishments and the importance of historic sites to the municipality.  Cooperative planning and partnerships between various public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders can help achieve addition preservation success.
  • Summarize pertinent federal, state, and local preservation policies and laws: Identifying the legal foundation for historic preservation and adopted municipal policy and regulations creates a broad understanding of what can and cannot be done regarding enabling legislation, thereby assisting community leaders I appropriately formulating strategies.
  • Foster citizen participation: Public input and active citizen participation is critically important in two ways.  First, it gives local officials an understanding of the existing level of community support for historic preservation in general and in regard to specific efforts or activities. Second, it creates a forum through which residents, property owners, businesses, and other stakeholders can become more aware of historic preservation issues and concerns.  Achieving preservation goals is dependent on strong support from stakeholders.
  • Identification of strategies and creating an implementation schedule: Identifying strategies is essentially the “how-to” actions of the plan.  Implementation measures can vary  considerably and include nominating resources to the National Registrar of Historic Places, designating a local historic district, and developing historic resource protection regulations.  Other activities can focus on education, such as undertaking a “town tour” program. These measures should be developed in consideration and in coordination with other plan topics and measures to hep ensure there are no inherent conflicts between various plan strategies.  In addition to identified strategies, a time frame for implementation and the entity of entities responsible for each action should be included. 

The Montachusett Reginal Planning Commission offers technical assistance for historic preservation services for its 22 communities throughout the region.  Services include:

Federal and state regulatory compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act

  • Comprehensive historic resource surveys (including field work, eligibility determinations, context research, and final report preparation).
  • Historic research
  • National Register nominations
  • Local historic guidelines
  • Community preservation plans
  • Assistance with local Historic Commissions and Historic District Commissions, Design Review Committees, and Planning and Zoning Boards
  • Historic Tax Credit Certification applications