Belchertown Historic District Design and Maintenance Guidelines



 1.        Certificate of Appropriateness-issued for approved alterations and new buildings that are visible from a public way, street or body of water (visibility determined by the staff).


2.        Certificate of Non-Applicability-issued for alterations that are not visible from a public way, street or body of water (visibility determined by the staff) or for work that is an exact duplication of existing features (again, determined by the staff).


3.        Certificate of Hardship-issued for work that ordinarily the Commission would find inappropriate, however, as determined by the Commission, failure to approve such work would entail a substantial hardship, financial or otherwise. Certificate of Hardship is granted only after a Public Hearing and only when it is determined that the work would not represent a significant determent to the district.  This is based on conditions especially affecting the building or structure, but not affecting the district generally.

No building permit for construction of a building or structure or for alteration of an exterior architectural feature within an historic district and no demolition permit for demolition or removal of a building or structure within an historic district shall be issued by a city or town or any department until the certificate required by this section has been issued by the commission.

Standards for Review

There are many elements that contribute to the character of both a building and a neighborhood that are considered by the Commission in its deliberations.  These include architectural style, individual architecturally significant elements, and the degree of visibility for work under construction.

Section 7 of Chapter 40C of the State enabling legislation states:

     In passing upon matters before it the commission shall consider, among other things, the historic and architectural value and significance of the site, building or structure, the general design, arrangement, texture, and material of the features of buildings and structures in the surrounding area.  In the case of new construction or additions to existing buildings or structures the commission shall consider the appropriateness of the size and shape of the building or structure both in relation to the land area upon which the building or structure is situated and to buildings and structures in the vicinity, and the commission may in appropriate cases impose dimensional and set-back requirements in addition to those required by applicable ordinance or by-law.  The commission shall not make any recommendation or requirement except for the purpose of preventing developments incongruous to the historic aspects or the architectural characteristics of the surrounding and of the historic district.

The Historic District By-Law Commission intended this by-law to be consistent with Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40C and Belchertown's Historic District By-Law.

General Guidelines

Generally the commission recognizes two approaches to the design of additions or modifications to existing buildings.  They are identified here as "Contextual" and "Secretary of the Interior's Standards (SIS)

Contextual- In this, the more typical design strategy used in the context of the Belchertown Historic District, changes are made that are consistent with the materials, scale, proportions, detailing, character, and stylistic features of the building.

Secretary of the Interior's Standards-Generally speaking, this codified set of rules regarding restoration, adaptive reuse, and extension of existing buildings strongly encourage the retention of all changes which have occurred to a building during its history (rather than restoration to reflect the building condition at a particular date or to better reflect its original design intent.)  The Standards strongly discourage non-mandatory changes and require additions to be clearly distinct from the existing fabric.  Typically, rigorous application of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards is limited to projects intended to qualify for tax benefits (not available to private houses) and to buildings, which function as museums.  However, in the setting of a Local Historic District there can be situations where the best strategy may be to design an addition that is clearly distinct from the existing building. 

The Commission in its previous rulings and decision has tended to conform to the following general guidelines:

1.        Original materials and features shall be kept and not removed or altered; if a replacement is necessary it should match the original in material and design.

2.        We have permitted vinyl siding and vinyl windows if the

      applicant expressed hardship.

3.        New openings on visible facades are discouraged, except to restore original or pre-existing conditions.

4.       Restoration of missing design features should be documented by photographic, physical or historical evidence.

5.       Deteriorated architectural features should be repaired rather than replaced, whenever possible.

6.       Wherever possible, new additions or alterations to structures shall be done in such a manner that if such additions or alterations were to be removed at a later date, the essential form and integrity of the structure would be unimpaired.

7.       The use of new materials not originally found on the building is discouraged.

8.       The removal of artificial siding is strongly encouraged.

9.       The commission generally strongly encourages the retention of existing original windows.

10.    The commission does not review paint colors.  We strongly suggest that if you're considering changing the color that you look at colors appropriate for the style and period of your home and that the color is in keeping with the rest of the Historic District.  The application of paint to all kinds of masonry is subject to review.

New Construction and Additions

New construction requires much careful planning.  The Commission reviews proposals on a case by case basis.


1.        Additions should, if possible, be on the least visible faade.  The Commission prefers the least disruption to the external appearance of the building and the streetscape.

2.       Typically additions should blend or harmonize with the existing character of the building, taking into account size, scale, massing, material, location and detail.  It is also desirable that the original portion of the building continues to be recognizable, apart from the addition, by means of massing, articulation, trim or other devices.

3.       New construction should be compatible and harmonious with the existing historic streetscape.  The historic relationship of buildings to the street, including setbacks and open spaces, shall be maintained. Attention will be given to construction materials, scale, massing, and architectural details.


Windows are one of the most important deign features of any structure.  The material, design and placement of the windows reflect the architectural and cultural character of the building's period or style.  There are several aspects to consider-including the original casing, size, and number of panes, rhythm, patterns, placement, and type of window.

1.        Typically the number and arrangement of panes in new windows should be compatible with similar sized and proportioned windows in the building, e.g. "two over one', "six over six", etc.

2.       It is desirable to repair and retain existing elements, such as sash, casings and muntins (or mullions), whenever possible.  If replacement is necessary, it should be an exact replication of the original-e.g. with the same number and size of panes and dimensions of components. 

3.       New window openings and changes in existing window opening dimensions are generally discouraged, especially on principal facades.

4.       Where double glazing intended to look like traditional wood sash may be permitted, for instance on new construction, the commission generally prefers sash with a single sheet of double glazing and externally and internally adhered wood muntins combined with appropriately colored internal glazing bars between the layers of glass, rather that TDLs

5.        The replacement of wood windows because of the condition of the existing sash will be considered on a window-by-window basis.

6.        The commission does not view the need to replace one or more windows on a faade as a justification for replacing others

7.        Removable storm windows, which constitute a "reversible change" to the faade, are permitted and preferred to replacement of original wood sash. We strongly encourage storm windows that have a baked enamel finish that blends in with the paint scheme of the building or has a paintable surface.

8.        The installation of new exterior storm windows which are inoperable or which require the removal of any part of the original window is not allowed.

9.        Stained glass or decorative windows shall be retained

10.     Tinted glass, such as gray or bronze "solar glass" is not allowed.


Like windows, masonry contributes to the overall character of a building.

1.        The painting of masonry, which has never been painted, is not allowed.

2.  Tuck pointing (laying new mortar in old mortar joints of an existing brick wall) can change the appearance and character of a brick or stonewall.  It is strongly recommended that you discuss your plans with the Commission staff before considering repointing.

1.        Retain the original mortar whenever possible.  If it is necessary to repoint, duplicate the old mortar as nearly as possible in type, color, size, texture and joint profile.

2.        New bricks should match the old brick as closely as possible in size, color, and bond.

3.        The use of sealers for bricks is strongly discouraged, as it tends to trap moisture.  It is subject to review.

4.        If brick needs cleaning, sandblasting is not permitted.  It will destroy the brick's hard outer crust and accelerate its deterioration.

Walls, Non-Masonry

1.        The removal of artificial siding and the replacement of the original historic material is strongly encouraged

2.        Wood shingle siding is not appropriate for every style of building.  Where wood shingles were used historically, they should be maintained or replicated using the historic decorative patterns.

Trim and Details

1.        Existing trim should be retained and repaired wherever possible.

2.         Removal of any architecturally or historically important trim is not permitted.  Such trim should be restored or replaced with an exact duplication.

3.        The covering of trim with any artificial siding or any other material will not be permitted.

4.        Awnings are appropriate for particular house style.  They should be canvas, not plastic or metal.


All roof replacement is subject to review. The commission will consider the materials and color of the replacement.

1.        All distinctive roof features-patterned shingles, iron cresting, chimneys, and weathervanes shall be retained.

2.        The retention of original rooflines is strong encouraged

3.        Slate is an important historical material-its maintenance and repair is encouraged; in some cases and imitation slate may be acceptable.

4.        Skylights and dormers are reviewed on an individual basis.  It is recommended that these elements be placed on the rear or least visible faade whenever possible.

5.        Unpainted aluminum gutters and downspouts are not allowed.  Particular attention shall be paid to the profile, material and placement of these elements.

6.        Original dormers and trim should not be removed.

7.        Roof top HVAC and other mechanical elements shall be masked and out of view; soundproofing cases should be designed to be as unobtrusive as possible.


Doors, like windows, are an important design element of any building.

1.        Historic door openings should be retained.

2.        Existing doors and door elements should be retained, including, but not limited to, transoms and sidelights.

3.        Efforts should be made to replicate existing door hardware.

4.        Plywood, metal, or other non-wood, doors are not normally acceptable

5.        The replacement of original elements or features appropriate to the style and age of a building is normally encouraged, when those features have been replaced with clearly unsuitable substitutes.

6.        Removable storm doors, like removable storm windows, are permitted as "reversible changes".  However, their installation shall not destroy the integrity of original doorway. 

7.        Entrance porticos and porches shall be maintained, wherever possible

8.        Enclosing porches and steps so as to destroy their intended appearance is strongly discouraged.

Fences and Walls

Fences and walls are subject to review by the Commission.  The construction of new fences in historic districts should not act as a visual barrier preventing views of buildings from a public way.  The design of fences should be appropriate in scale and architectural style to the historic characteristics of the building, its site and the surrounding properties.

1.        Every effort should be made to maintain all stonewalls and historic iron fences.

2.        Front yard fences and walls, including the front yard sections of side yard fences and walls (i.e., that portion between the front of the main body of the house that is closest to the street on either side of the fence and the front lot line) should normally not exceed 42 inches in height.  ("Main body" of the house excludes porches, bays and similar projections.)

3.        The design of such front yard fences should be generally open in character so as not to present a visual barrier.

4.        Fences of metal construction should be fabricated of visually and structurally substantial heavy gauge or cast components and shall not be assembled with sheet metal rivets, or of light tubular or sheet metal assembled with bolts and screws.  They shall be historically appropriate in design.  A dark color for metal is encouraged as being historically appropriate and so the fence does not become a visual barrier to the house as a design feature.

5.        Fences built on top of retaining walls should be visually open and should not exceed 36 inches from the top of the retaining wall at any point or 42 inches from the sidewalk at any point, whichever shall allow the greater height from the sidewalk.

6.        Brick walls should use historically appropriate brick.  Highly variegated brick colors are to be discouraged.  Mortar joints should be historically compatible in color, aggregate and joint profile.

7.        Stonewalls can be dry laid or set in a mortar with historically compatible profiles, aggregate and color.

8.        Fences and walls must conform to town zoning requirements in terms of sight lines at intersections.

9.        The commission does not ordinarily accept the construction of high solid fences and walls as a noise barrier with respect to traffic.

10.     Fences made of the following types and/or materials will not be approved:


-Chain link, unless minimally visible

-Stockade, unless minimally visible

-Lattice except as a rear yard garden element


Signage within the Historic District should contribute and be in keeping with the historic character of the common.  Traditional wood or wood like carved or painted signs is strongly encouraged.  Spot lighting is permitted.  All new signs are subject to review by the commission. Signs made of the following types and/or materials will not be approved:

-Plastic signs illuminated from the inside are not permitted.

-No neon signs

-Existing neon signs can remain in place for a period of three     

 years from the date that these guidelines come into effect.

-Permanent vinyl banners will not be permitted.

-Temporary vinyl banners or signs will be permitted for a period  

 of time not to exceed 60 days.


 The provisions of these design guidelines shall be deemed to be severable if any of its provisions shall be held to be invalid or unconstitutional by any court of competent jurisdiction the remaining provisions shall continue in full force and effect.