The Cambridge Historical Commission is the official historic preservation authority for the City of Cambridge. If your property is in a formally designated historic or neighborhood conservation district, no permitted work can proceed without a Certificate from the Commission.
Interior changes or existing exterior repairs (restored as original) will usually be approved administratively by Commission staff, with no hearing. The Historical Commission concerns itself mainly with changes to the exterior of designated properties. Their mission is to preserve the character of the neighborhoods. They have no mandate to regulate changes to interiors or to areas not clearly visible from a “public way”.
But where plans require an exterior change, the commission may require a hearing and review of plans pursuant to the issuance of the necessary “Certificate of Appropriateness”. All stakeholders, including abutters, are encouraged to attend. We sometimes attend hearings on behalf of our clients. The tone of such hearings proceeds from the assumption that all parties have a stake in preserving the character of the neighborhood. In general, the Commission is seeking a net positive outcome.
This can lead to a certain amount of negotiation. For example, we have seen the Commission consider the installation of a pair of new but compatible third-floor dormers because the owner was willing to restore a recently demolished historic first-floor porch. Their position was that the end result was a net gain for the historic character of the neighborhood. The issues of building construction and renovation are often complex and can lead to such tradeoffs. To achieve your goals, we suggest that you understand their mandate and, as far as is possible, align yourself with their goal of preserving the historical integrity of the neighborhood.