Frequently Asked Questions About the Cottage City Historic District
Q. What is the Cottage City Historic District (CCHD)?
A. The Cottage City Historic District is a local historic district established by a twothirds
vote at a annual town meeting and provided for under Massachusetts
General laws, Chapter 40c. Oak Bluffs is one of some 200 towns in the state with
at least one local historic district. A seven member Cottage City Historic District
Commission is responsible for its operation.
Q. What do the CCHDC rules require of a property owner?
A. The CCHDC by-law requires that property owners within the district boundaries
apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness, Non-applicability or Hardship from the
commission if they plan to change the style or materials of an exterior
architectural feature that is visible from a public way.
Q. Do I need to get a certificate to repair or maintain my home as it is?
A. No, provided the style and materials do not change, or the change is not visible
from any public way. For example, replacing old asphalt roof shingles with new
ones would not require a certificate from the commission.* The replacement of
porch flooring would not require a certificate if the new material and style
(matched wood boards, for example) were the same as the old. However, a
certificate would be required to change wood porch posts to fiberglass. In
addition, decorative elements like turned posts, balusters, brackets or other details
may not be removed without first obtaining a certificate from the commission.
Q. If my home is not Victorian and I want to build an addition, must it be in the
A. No. While this style predominates in much of the district, other building styles
including craftsman, shingle, and vernacular (no particular style) can be found as
in the district as well. The CCHDC by-law is not intended to falsely Victorianize
buildings of alternate style. It may, however, seek to insure that any addition to a
non-Victorian home be compatible with the original structure in such details as
roof type and pitch, fenestration (windows), mass and siding.
Q. Does the by-law cover just homes?
A. The CCHDC by-law covers all structures within the district, including garages
Q. What about changes to the interior of my house?
A. The CCHDC has no jurisdiction over what a property owner does on the inside of
a building within the CCHD.
Q. Will the CCHDC tell me what color to paint my house?
A. No. Under the by-law that is purely the owner's choice. However, if the property
owner desires it, the CCHDC can provide information on what colors are
Q. What about landscaping?
A. The CCHDC by-law does not cover plantings. It does, however, cover walks,
decks, walls and other structures above ground level.
Q. How do members of the Commission decide on what's "appropriate"? Are they
acting on their personal opinions? What makes them qualified to do this?
A. In fact, issues of appropriateness are considered in light of the district's
architectural guidelines, which were written by a licensed architect and
promulgated at public hearings prior to the district's creation. These are also
available on the website and at Town Hall. In addition, the commission gives
great weight to documentary evidence such as period photographs, surviving
architectural details and published histories of the town. The by-law also provides
appointing preference to at least one licensed architect.
Q. Instead of applying for a Certificate, and going to a meeting, can the chairman or
a member of the commission give me verbal approval?
A. No. That would be a violation of the by-law. All deliberations and decisions of the
Commission must be conducted at a legally advertised public meeting.
Q. How does the CCHDC application process relate to getting a building permit?
A. Both the by-law and relevant section of the Massachusetts General Laws stipulate
that no building permit can be issued by the town before a certificate has been
issued by the CCHDC. On the other hand, some activities exempt under the
CCHDC by-law may still require a building permit from the town. Be sure to
check with the town building official.
* Note that homeowners should check with the Town Building Official to see if the
work requires a building permit.