Wherever you intend to build a house you can anticipate opportunities to learn. When Anne and Ned Hammond decided to build their new home on the oceanfront property of their ancestors, they were aware of the protocol involved. Settled in 1629, Marblehead, Massachusetts is one of our country’s oldest communities. The town is known for its seafaring heritage and its unique form of government. Marblehead practices town meetings. This annual gathering is open to all voting citizens and each participant has the opportunity to voice their opinions and feelings. This can lead to invigorating May evenings.
The town is overseen by five elected officials who serve on the Board of Selectman. The appointed committee members share their time and expertise in order to preserve the unique attributes of the town and to guide the community towards the future.
You may be wondering to what extent the aforementioned has to do with pouring a foundation and constructing a house. For the Hammonds the answer came when they began clearing a few trees and brush from the house site.
The Conservation Factor
A prime consideration in Marblehead is land and oceanfront conservation. After years of non-regulation and aesthetically questionable building developments, the citizens of Marblehead voted to increase buildable lot sizes, and to restrict and oversee all changes which occur on the coast.
These concerns about the waters-edge might have promoted a guffaw from old timers who recalled that, due to inferior insulation and heat, expensive homes were built inland and only the "townies" lived year round on the harbor’s edge.
Peaches Point, the land encompassing the Hammonds’ proposed sight, was developed in the 1800’s as summer "cottages" for the Crowninshield-Hammond families. During that era trees were chopped down for wood to build and heat the "mainland’s" houses during the long winters. As a point of interest there exist numerous dated photographs of several sections of Marblehead where no trees exist.
The original Crowninshield-Hammond gardens and architecture reflect the families’ awareness of the world’s beauty which they had originally sampled on their many voyages during the height of North America’s shipping trade.
In the "good ol’ days" a couple could simply visit their parents and obtain permission to build a new home on the family parcel. Today it’s more the norm to wait, for a sometimes lengthy period, until various appointed members and boards of the city accept the prospective homeowners’ request for one or more public tribunals.
Ned and Anne were confident that they had gathered the required information. As the general contractors, the Hammonds had worked with reputable architects, engineers, and contractors for months. They had co-developed a plan that was fitting with both the topography and neighboring homes. They’d studied the state and local zoning bylaws. Now all that was needed was to gain the blessing of the building inspector—and five or six committees. This is when the challenges presented themselves.
Whenever alterations are proposed within a coastal area or wetland, several boards including the Marblehead Conservation Commission, have to approve them. Due to the Hammonds’ love and concern for the ocean, they, too, wanted to be assured that none of their site preparations would harm the coast. In order to ensure this, they obtained the services of a coastal geologist from Boston’s Northeastern University. The academic studied the site and confirmed the Hammonds’ finding—nothing they were proposing would effect the coastal resource area in an adverse manner.
After many meetings and on-site visits, the Conservation Commission gave their approval with "standard conditions." These conditions included barriers for sediment control and required that no building materials could be stored in the "buffer zone" during any phase of construction.
It took in excess of six months to complete the paperwork process. During this period attorneys, town appointed coastal engineers, more attorneys and various boards continued to decide and decipher their proper jurisdiction and responsibilities.
Any coastal project requires initial filing with the Department of Environmental Protection Agency. These additional filings and/or Notices of Intent require lots of paperwork such as: deeds of said property, engineered plans of the proposed project, and surveys of the property including topography and illustrated maps of the FEMA line (an arbitrarily designated boundary which serves as a one-hundred year flood line).
The Hammonds were required to provide letters of approval from the local police and fire departments in order to insure road access and fire truck turnaround capability. In addition, a proposed re-vegetation plan was requested, prepared and filed. This plan included the location and varieties of the plantings.
Though the Hammonds’ project was complicated by its coastal location, their hurdles are a typical example of the trials prospective homeowners often endure prior to building in environmentally or historically sensitive locations. The key is to remember that the majority of people assigned to committees and boards are doing so because they care about their community. Though many of these proceedings can create frustration, it is important to keep the end goal of building a wonderful home in mind.
Credit: Renovate Your World