Chatfield-Taylor Real Estate  91 Washington Street • Nantucket, MA 02554 • (508) 228-5828

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Nantucket Town Government


The Nantucket Historic District Commission (HDC).

The Historic District Commission has existed since 1955, when the Nantucket community and the State Legislature voted to implement offical historic preservation procedures to protect and preserve historic buildings, places and districts. The measures were based on the expected economic benefits from tourism revenues resulting from the community's maintenance of it historic and cutural resources

Building with Nantucket in Mindis the offical HDC guidebook. It is essential reading for all architects, builders and persons planning to build or purchase property on the island, as well as all residents who wish to maintain and renovate their houses or commercial structures. The guidebook is available for a fee at the office on the second floor of the TOWN ANNEX, 37 Washington Street, Nantucket, MA 02554

  • WHO: There are five elected commissioners and three elected alternate members. Commissions serve staggered three-year terms.
  • WHAT: The HDC reviews all exterior changes and new construction on Nantucket Island.
  • WHERE: The HDC office and mailing address is on the second floor of the Town Annex, 37 Washington Street, Nantucket, MA 02554. The phone number is (508) 228-7231.
  • WHY: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Acts, Chapter 395, as amended (Appendix A, Building with Nantucket in Mind).
  • HOW:According to policies and procedures established since 1955.


Staff Review: After the information listed on the back of the application form is submitted, the staff checks for completion and date-stamps the documents, noting the date, 60 days from receipt, by which the HDC is required to take action. A staff recommendation sheet is completed and added to the file. The most complex applications are assigned specific appointment times at the Tuesday night meeting.

HDC Meetings: Robert's Rules of Order govern the meeting. A majority vote is necessary for approval. Approved applications are assigned Certificate of Appropriateness numbers. The Commission may request additional information, revisions, or a site visit to determine and visual impact from the "traveled way", which is the legal definiion for the HDC's jurisdiction.

The HDC's schedule revolves around weekly meetings, held from 5 to 9 p.m. in the Cyrus Pierce School Cafeteria on Surfsde Road. The meetiings alternate each week from New Business (New Applications) to Old Business (Pending Applications.) Pre-Agendas are available at the HDC on Tuesdays. If the Agenda was not completed on Tuesday night they continue on Thursdays. These Thursday meetings are generally held in the Conference Room at the Town Annex Building on Washington Street.

Applications: Deadlines are every other Friday at noon. New applications submitted are heard, in the order they were submitted to the HDC office, at the following "New Business" meeting which is approximately eleven days following the deadline. The eleven days gives the office time to process the application. The HDC is not always required to notify abutters concerning pending applications.

Approvals: If an application is approved, the staff will process the paperwork by the end of the following business day. Two copies of the plans are stamped and returned to the applicant. The third copy is kept in the HDC files. That copy is used when the HDC conducts the final on-site inspection of the completed work.

Buidling Permit/Certificate of Occupancy: When the project is completed, the owner/agent shold call the HDC office to arrange for the final inspection and sign-off on the Building Permit/Occupancy Certificate of Occupancy. An HDC inspector is required to visit the site within five working days from the date of the request. The inspection involves a visual survey of the exterior elevations and any HDC-approved site improvements, including fencing, gates, walals, etc. The Building Permit may be signed on the site, or the owner/agent may have it signed at the HDC office following the inspection. If the HDC inspector determines that the work is incomplete or in violation of the original approval, the property owner is notified.

Where can I find information about a structure's history? The HDC has survey forms with information about most of the structures which were built on Nantucket before 1945. The survey forms include a photograph of the structure, a condition assessment, and some historical references. Dates of construction, original owners, and brief histories may be found on the survey forms. More detailed research material is available at the Nantucket Historical Association's Research Center, located in the Fair Street Museum on Fair Street. The phone number for the Research Center is (508) 228-1655. Call for hours, which are limited in the off-season.

How do you process an HDC application?The deadline for submitting new applications and related documents is every other Thursday at noon, in order to be on Tuesday's HDC meeting agenda eleven (11) days later.

Why does the HDC have different responses to similar requests? Each application is reviewed according to its context, meaning that no design is considered as an isolated object. The guidebook separates the Island into settled (town or village) areas, unsettled, (outlying) areas, and considers topography and vegetation factors. Each area's characteristic features are considered.

How high can I build my house? Height is measured from finished grade to roof ridge. (Any change from existing grade must be noted on the application form.) All structures on Nantucket (with exceptions for utility towers,etc.) are limited by the zoning by-law to thirty (30) feet. To avoid inappropriately imposing masses on Nantucket's open landscape, one-and-a-half-story ridge heights are often required, unless deed restricted.

The above adapted from the publicaiton "Before we Begin,,,,", a publication of the Nantucket Association of Real Estate Brokers, Revised 2005.