The Old Kings Highway Regional Historic District Commission

okhrhd-colorEveryone knows the OKHRHD is the largest continuous historic district in the nation. In short, the district includes everything north of the mid-Cape highway, US-6 to the Cape Cod Bay from Sandwich to Orleans and includes Barnstable, Yarmouth, Brewster and Dennis.

Each town has its own local Historic District Committee. The local Historic District Committees are charged with determining the appropriateness of all construction and exterior alterations within the districts of the various towns.

The Commission is composed of one representative from each of the six member towns, and they meet as often as needed to hold public hearings on appeals of decisions of the various local district committees.

The rules and regulations for the Commission and the local committees are compiled in the controlling document, the OKHRHD Bulletin, 2008. This document is essential for homeowners, builders, architects and legal representatives that are considering doing construction in the district.

Past rulings of the Commission on appeals of local decisions are available on this website, here.

Any person aggrieved by a decision of the Commission may appeal to Barnstable District Court. A searchable version of the Old King’s Highway Court Rulings from 1974 to date is a valuable research tool that may be downloaded and saved also.

Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission Decisions on Appeal

The first appeal filed under the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Act was heard on March 24, 1975. Myron and Elvira Crowe of Brewster appealed the decision made by the Brewster Committee on February 3, 1975 which denied them a Certificate of Appropriateness to locate a cottage on King Philip’s Road in Brewster.

At the February hearing, the Brewster Committee granted the Crowes permission to remove the cottage from Tern Way, but in the decision letter dated February 19, 1975 to the Crowes, the Committee denied the Certificate of Appropriateness for the relocation at the proposed new setting. The letter of denial stated, “The building is more of a cottage-type structure and the houses in the proposed location are of a more substantial nature.”

William Hanger, Chairman of the Regional Historic District Commission indicated that the Crowes had submitted written evidence to buttress their appeal and would be allowed to add oral evidence at the public hearing.

The Brewster Committee did submit written evidence, but Robert Libby, Chairman of the Brewster Committee, was not allowed to sit, speak or vote during the review process.

Chairman Hanger indicated that the Regional Historic Commission could only either approve the Brewster Committee’s action or return the case to the Brewster Committee for reconsideration. The original Act did not allow the Regional Historic Commission or the Superior Court to issue a superseding Certificate. This was later changed as an important part of Chapter 845 of the Acts of 1975 Legislative revisions.

The March 26, 1975 decision letter to the Crowes reveals an interesting procedural outcome that reflects a common problem and challenge for the early days before the establishing of a clear, consistent and coherent review process.

The timeliness appeal filing problem appears to have been reflected in the next appeal (No. 75-2) and Chairman Hanger’s decision letter of May 7, 1975 to Development Sciences, Inc.

The initial appeals to the Regional Historic Commission provide insight to the many issues that required careful review and over time resulted in many significant modifications to the original Regional Historic District Act.

The 1976 removal of the large commercial highway billboards at the Sagamore Bridge Rotary Circle and the many Court victories that followed were tempered by the loss of three (3) towns (Eastham, Harwich & Bourne).

The Regional Historic District survives, not because of its regulatory authority, but largely through the dedication of the 45,000 residents, property owners and volunteers that over the years have shared a common interest in the preservation of the rich historic character and scenic beauty of a large and important part of Olde Cape Cod. See all of the appeals here.

Other Historic Districts

The Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District was established in 1974 by a special act of the Massachusetts General Court. The legislation is incorporated into the Bulletin and is similar to, but distinct from MGL Chapter 40C, the law that controls most other historic districts throughout the commonwealth. Several towns on Cape Cod have historic districts outside of the Old King’s Highway district that operate under MGL Chapter 40C; they are separate and distinct from the Old King’s Highway, with no overlap of jurisdiction.

Historical Commissions

Most towns in Massachusetts have an Historical Commission that operates under MGL Chapter 40, section 8D. Those Historical Commissions typically manage the Chapter 40C historic districts. The Historical Commissions of the six towns that encompass the Old King’s Highway are not affiliated with the Old King’s Highway Historic District Commission or the local OKH Committees. Though their geographic areas of jurisdiction overlap, their duties do not. If you have questions about this issue please call your town’s Building Department and ask for the Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee Secretary.


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