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Becoming a Boston Landmark [Video]

With an in-progress application to make the Nazzaro Center a Boston Landmark, North End resident and one of the Boston Landmarks commissioners, Kirsten Hoffman, spoke about to residents about the implications of that designation.

Designation as a Boston Landmark is the only legal way to ensure protection over buildings and resources in the city. It generally means the exterior of a building cannot be changed without approval by the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC). Depending on how the designation is granted, some internal features can also be protected.

An individual building landmarks designation differs from historic neighborhood protection, such as in Beacon Hill and Back Bay, which covers a large swath of streets and buildings. There is also a “lighter-touch” version of neighborhood protection called an Architectural Conservation District. The National Register is more of an honorary designation for a building, but does not provide any significant protections.

The process for landmark designation includes an application to the BLC by at least ten Boston residents. The BLC can then take up the application for further study. After a period of extensive research and reports, the BLC votes on whether to grant landmarks status and the application goes to the Mayor for final approval.

Despite being one of the oldest neighborhoods in the country, there are currently no buildings protected by the landmarks designation in Boston’s North End. In the mid-1980’s, there was a movement to make the North End a historic district from the Central Artery to the waterfront. A full study report was prepared with 1,300+ pictures. However, momentum for a historic district lost steam once zoning restrictions came into effect around the same time, enacting the 55 foot height limit, over most of the North End. One recent change that would not be allowed in a historic district, noted by Hoffman, is the installation of the new small-cell, wireless towers being installed as street lights on the sidewalks.

The application to designate the Nazzaro Center as a landmark is expected to be filed shortly, including the open space of the adjacent Puopolo Playground. The intent is to protect the external features, but to allow internal use and renovations. Timing for landmark status varies, according to Hoffman, but can be as quick at 6-9 months for threatened structures.