What is the purpose of having a Demolition Delay Bylaw?

A Demolition Delay Bylaw can be a very effective tool in helping to protect historically significant resources in the community. While a demolition bylaw, alone, cannot prevent demolitions indefinitely, the opportunity of delaying the demolition of a significant resource can often have a positive outcome. 

Generally, in a town with a demolition bylaw, a property owner requesting a demolition permit from the Building Department must first receive approval from the Historical Commission. If the Historical Commission determines that the building is preferably preserved, a delay period is imposed. The delay period provides a window of opportunity to consider other alternatives to the demolition of the building. There are many success stories in Massachusetts where a better solution is found. Nevertheless, after the delay period has expired, the Building Inspector can sign the demolition permit and demolition can proceed. A demolition bylaw cannot indefinitely prevent a demolition from occurring. Communities that are seeking to a prevent demolitions should pursue a Local Historic District. 

Generally, there are three types of demolition delay bylaws: 

Age - With this type of bylaw, all properties meeting a certain age criteria are initially subject to review by the Historical Commission. For instance, many age bylaws state that only buildings at least 50 or 75 years old are subject to the demolition delay bylaw. This type of bylaw is best those towns that have not yet identified historic resources in their community. 

Categorical - With this type of bylaw, all properties included in certain categories are subject to the demolition bylaw. Categories might include inventoried properties on the State Register of Historic Places or properties pending for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. 

List - With this type of bylaw, only properties included on an address list maintained by the Historical Commission are subject to the demolition bylaw. The advantage of this bylaw is that it is easier for the Historical Commission, the building inspector and the public to know whether a property is subject to the demolition bylaw. 

However, only those Historical Commissions that have comprehensively identified, inventoried and/or designated their historic resources should consider a categorical or list bylaw. In addition, they must remain pro-active in the future in identifying properties that should be added. 

Most demolition delay bylaws in Massachusetts are for six months. However, the Massachusetts Historical Commission encourages communities to pursue a 12 month demolition delay period as this is far more effective than 6 months. 

Source: Preservation through Bylaws and Ordinances : Tools and Techniques for Preservation by Communities in Massachusetts - published by Massachusetts Historical Commission