In the packed hearing room I was asked by a distraught neighbor, as chair of the NHC, “How could you let this happen?”
Sadly, I explained, the only real protection for neighborhoods rests in residents organizing and creating local historic districts.
He’s right, because all that the Newton Historical Commission can do is impose a 12-month (or 18-month for National Register properties) demolition delay, which developers routinely wait out.
I may not live in Newton Highlands myself, but visit often, and the architecture in the proposed district, along with the well-preserved village center, is what makes it so appealing. I suspect Newton Highlands’ village center is many people’s favorite, after their own village, or even favorite of all. And even if I were not a regular visitor, I would support any neighborhood’s effort to organize itself.
If you’d like to learn more about local historic districts, check out Chris Pitts’ video of the Newton Villages Alliance’s forum last year, The panelists explain what difference a local historic district can make, and the process to create once. It is challenging but doable if people are motivated and there is community support.