By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Selectmen Dec. 16 voted unanimously to create a seven-member study committee, which would examine the creation of a historic district that would encompass only the Whitney House, constructed in the 1780s on a foundation laid almost a century earlier. However, the creation of any such district would require approval at Town Meeting.
Selectmen would choose the study committee's membership, and would recruit members of the current historic commission, planning board, design review committee, and the Northborough Historical Society.
Marie and Richard Niebers had previously announced that they are considering selling their property, the Colonial-era Whitney House at 62 Whitney St., however they want to insure that the future owner maintains the house's historic character.
The Niebers and representatives of the current historic commission initially approached selectmen with the idea of forming a district commission in November.
Registering the house as a historic site with the state is “more of an honorary notation” that provides no actual protection, according to Bryan Smith, chairman of the current Historical Commission.
The town of Northborough does have a Historical Commission with limited powers to protect historic properties. A Historic District Commission, however, could have the authority to permanently protect a building such as the Whitney House.
The historic district would place restrictions on the house's exterior, but would not govern the interior, according to Northborough Town Planner Kathy Joubert.
“The Niebers have a beautiful piece of property,” said Selectmen Vice Chair Dawn Rand. “The town is interested in keeping this historically intact. I don’t see any downside.”
Selectmen are also considering asking Town Meeting voters if the current historic commission should become a local historic district commission that would have regulating authority.
Smith said a district commission's charge would be to regulate and protect individual lots that were designated as historic districts by Town Meeting. Currently, the only lot undergoing such consideration is the one owned by the Niebers. Neighboring properties would not be affected.
“This is a good opportunity to test the waters, and see if it's a solution in other areas,” Smith said. A district commission would not seek to create an overarching historic district containing multiple contiguous lots, according to Smith.