Defined by the establishing legislation (MA General Laws, Chapter 40, Section 8d), the primary responsibility is community-wide historic preservation planning. Specific requirements are to:
- Research places of historic or archaeological value;
- Cooperate with the State Archaeologist in conducting surveys and reporting sites;
- Coordinate with other preservation organizations;
- Keep accurate records of its actions and file an annual report;
- Maintain a membership of not less than three nor more than seven members, duly appointed by the appropriate municipal authority.
Unless given authority through a local bylaw or ordinance, the historical commission has only an advisory role within local government. As such, they make recommendations to the board of selectmen on matters relating to the preservation, protection and development of historic areas, buildings, structures and sites. In addition, to further its objectives, the commission may hold hearings, enter into contracts for services and cooperative endeavors, accept gifts, contributions and bequests of funds from individuals, foundations and governmental bodies, make and sign agreements and may do and perform any and all acts which may be necessary or desirable to carry out the purposes of this section. Further, it may acquire in the name of the city or town by gift, purchase, grant, bequest, devise, and lease or otherwise the fee or lesser interest in real or personal property of significant historical value and may manage the same.
What it is not
The Maynard Historical Commission has a different role than the Maynard Historical Society or, if enacted in future years, a local historic district commission. The Historical Society is a private membership organization concerned with the preservation of local histories through records, collections and properties. The many artifacts and memorabilia collected over the years (until recently, stored in the basement of Town Hall) are the property of the Historical Society, not the Historical Commission. If Maynard creates a local historic district, a designated local historic district commission would act as the review authority for regulatory design reviews within that designated district.
In executing the responsibilities described above, the Commission takes on certain tasks or performs certain roles, including the following:
- Preservation Plans – A preservation plan can be part of a comprehensive/master plan for the community or can be a separate document. In either case, the plan should demonstrate what the challenges are for preservation, what should be preserved, what tools are most appropriate and when each tool should be implemented.
- Inventory/Survey – An inventory is basically a detailed look at each of the buildings, structures, monuments, objects, landscape features and burial grounds in the community. A survey form contains a black and white photo, a map, an architectural description and a brief history of the property. Inventory forms are used constantly by local historical commissions and the Massachusetts Historical Commission for a variety of preservation planning activities.
- Advocacy – Historical Commissions are advocates for historical resources as they advise the Board of Selectmen on all matters impacting historic resources.
- Public Education -Are residents in Maynard aware of the unique history, buildings and landscapes located in their own community? Educating the public about local historical resources raises awareness and support for the Historical Commission responsibilities and goals. Slide shows, newspaper articles, library displays, walking tours and brochures are just a few examples of public education.
- Survey and Planning Grants – While inventory forms and National Register nominations may be completed through the efforts of local volunteers, Historical Commissions in Massachusetts may apply for matching Survey and Planning grants. With an S&P grant, the Historical Commission can hire a professional preservation consultant to prepare the documents. S&P grants are awarded annually by the Massachusetts Historical Commission and are available for inventory form preparation, National Register nominations, preservation plans and public information documents.
- Project Impact Review – Historical Commissions may occasionally receive inquiries from the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) or other state or federal agencies asking for comments on a proposed “state or federally involved” project in Maynard that may impact on historical or archaeological resources. Section 106 and Chapter 254 are federal and state laws that require MHC review when a state or federally involved project is undertaken in Massachusetts. Examples of state or federally involved projects include state funded road widening projects, telecommunications towers that need an FCC license, and school rehabilitations, among others. MHC reviews over 8,000 federal or state involved actions each year. As part of these reviews, local historical commissions are encouraged to participate. A recent example in Maynard was the proposal to replace the Main St. Bridge, scheduled for 2009.
- Local Bylaws and Ordinances – A Historical Commission may seek to create or change local bylaws to better protect historic resources. Examples might be local historic districts, demolition delay bylaws, scenic road bylaws or village center zoning.