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Historic Resources Committee Meeting Notes for July 12, 2012

Present: Abraham Aly, Patrick Alley, Alisa Augenstein, William Buckingham, Adrienne Cali, Maureen Cavanaugh, Gregory Colling, Taya Dixon, Jack Glassman, Sheila Haswell, Tracey Hartford, Olga Hathaway, Doug Manley, Deane Rykerson, Susan E. Schur, Lynn Smiledge, Michael Steinitz, Alicia Svenson, David Torrey, Cory Tremblath, Scott Winkler, Douglas Wolin

1. “The Trouble with Brick,” by Elizabeth Padjen: Jack encouraged the group to read Liz Padjen’s important contribution to the June 2012 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. Her article discusses accessibility issues around brick paving, Boston’s preferred pavement material until recently.

2. Senate Bill S.2053 Update: The bill was officially sent to study, meaning that, for this legislative session, it is essentially dead. This action and the demise of the Gov 119 budget amendment suggest that the immediate threat to MHC’s role in the project review process has abated for now, but we will continue to follow political developments. The recent BSA-sponsored strategy session recapped the controversial Meditech proposal and was a useful discussion about politics and the structure of State government.

3. Making Cents of Historic Tax Credits: The featured presenters for the July 2012 meeting were Maureen Cavanaugh and Taya Dixon, cultural resource management consultants, preservation planners and environmental compliance experts employed by Epsilon Associates. Epsilon Associates guides developers of projects involving historic resources through environmental impact review and State and Federal Tax credit programs.

Ms. Cavanaugh and Ms. Dixon began their presentation with an overview of the State and Federal tax credit programs, highlighting the main features of each:

Federal Tax Program
- 20% of qualified rehabilitation expenditures returned as direct credit on Federal income tax.
- Subject property must be on the National Register of Historic Places (NR), or placed on the NR within 30 months of the project’s completion
- Subject property must be income-producing (i.e., taxable)
- Rehabilitation work must conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties
- A 3-part application process is required:
a. Determine eligibility
b. Application, detailing existing conditions and proposed work
c. Completion report
- National Park Service (NPS) review required

State Tax Program
- Up to 20% of qualified rehabilitation expenditures returned as direct credit on income tax.
- Subject property must be eligible or listed on the State Register or NR
- Subject property must be income-producing (i.e., taxable)
- Rehabilitation work must conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties
- A 3-part application process is required:
a. Determine eligibility
b. Application, detailing existing conditions and proposed work
c. Completion report
- $50 million in credits are available from the State annually, and credits are distributed in 3 rounds during the year.
- MHC review required

In general, the process for review for Federal tax credit follows a more straightforward, objective approach, while the Massachusetts State review is more interpretive, considers the need for the project and requires submissions of letters of support. The State also considers the geographic distribution of tax credit projects in each round and the overall public benefit.

With the basic requirements, similarities and differences of the State and Federal programs explained, Ms. Cavanaugh and Ms. Dixon illustrated the wide range of issues one can face in the tax credit approval process, using current and past projects. Case-study projects included the following:

The United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) in Lowell featured a renovation of and addition to St. Paul’s Church, wherein the former sanctuary was converted to a gymnasium. State credits were earned. However, the NPS frowned on the conversion, deeming the project ineligible for Federal credits due to the former subdivision of the church and the installation of visible rooftop solar panels.

The Waltham Watch Factory (a 24-building complex) and Whitney & Co. of Leominster projects illustrated how the review process views demolition of buildings; demolition of buildings deemed secondary to the main uses in these industrial complexes was permitted for the overall benefit of the redevelopment.

Through the Stanley Woolen Mills (Uxbridge), Hamel Lofts (Haverhill) and Baker Chocolate Factory (Dorchester Lower Mills) projects, we learned how the review process addresses the treatment of windows in historic buildings. The Stanley Woolen Mills project features rebuilt wood windows, while the other projects successfully argued for wood and steel replacement windows.

The Wamsutta Mills project in New Bedford illustrated the review policy for monumental stairs; there is precedent for the NPS to approve the addition of code-compliant handrail and guardrail components to historic railing assemblies.

At the Worcester Boy’s Club, the treatment of significant interior spaces was carefully reviewed. The gymnasium of this building features an elevated running track, and the developer’s plans for inserting a floor in this space were rejected.

The Mohawk Theatre project in North Adams was ultimately approved, but the process illustrated that reviewers generally reject proposals to subdivide historic theatre spaces.

The Western Avenue Lofts project in Lowell is an excellent example of how the NPS is gradually coming around to approval of projects with green and sustainable features. Indeed, there is a new NPS Standard for Sustainability. In this project, proposed solar panels were approved only because the array would be installed on a flat roof with high parapets and therefore invisible from public ways. Generally, review policy calls for rejection of visible solar panels and “green roofs.” Adding insulation to buildings has also been controversial; the NPS prefers exposed brick in industrial buildings and certain other building types. If walls must be furred out, decorative trim must generally be extended and/or moved out to maintain the historically appropriate relationship with the wall.

At the Ellis Memorial Building in South End Boston, the review opinion on additions to historic buildings and new materials proved unpredictable but, in a back-and-forth review process debating the extent of visibility from a public way, an addition was eventually approved.

In conclusion, Ms. Cavanaugh and Ms. Dixon drew on their extensive experience to give us a useful list of general “yays and nays,” to wit:

PVC windows – no.
Fiberglass windows – typically not approved, yet; the cross-section is key.
Aluminum windows – yes.
PVC trim (e.g., “Azek”) – yes, in selective smaller areas.
Artificial siding (e.g., Hardie) – approved for penthouses, etc.; frowned-upon for entire facades.
Aluminum siding – no.
GFRC – yes, particularly in locations high off the ground.
Copper-color aluminum – yes, if in a high location, such as a cornice.
Elevators – yes, when inside the building footprint.
Aluminum storefront systems – generally yes, but nay for glass infill of industrial loading bays.

Finally, we learned that there is a 10% Federal Tax credit that is easily obtainable via a simple one-page IRS form for industrial buildings or buildings built before 1936. For this credit there is no NPS or MHC review required, and the building need not be listed on the State or National Registers.

4. Announcements: Robert W. Ogle has been appointed as Director of Historic Preservation Program at the Boston Architectural College; we congratulate him and welcome him to Boston.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for DCR’s dramatic new North Bank Bridge in Cambridge is scheduled for July 13.

A workshop “What is History Worth” is in the early planning stages by Susan Parker Brauner and Susan Schur. Look for future announcements.

There will be no August HRC meeting. Have a great summer!

Next Meeting

8 a.m., Thursday, September 13, 2012
featuring

Dudley Square Municipal Building
by
Nick Brooks, Sasaki Associates, et. al.