New Flooding Adaptation & Building Elevation Design Guidelines Adapted

On June 11, the Historic District Commission voted to adopt new guidelines for building adaptation, Resilient Nantucket: Flooding Adaptation & Building Elevation Design Guidelines. In the following article, originally published in Ramblings, Lisa Craig and Phil Thomason, lead consultants on the Resilient Nantucket project, explain its goals.


As one of the oldest and largest National Historic Landmark (NHL) districts in the United States, the island of Nantucket fosters a strong regard for the protection and preservation of historic places. Historic preservation in Nantucket promotes tourism, strengthens the local economy, protects the town and surrounding area’s historic character, and fosters community investment in protecting Nantucket’s historic identity. That identity was clearly articulated in the 2013 update to the NHL designation, which not only extended the NHL’s period of significance to 1975 to encompass the pioneering work of Walter Beinecke, but also recognized the island’s national role in the evolution of land conservation and historic preservation.

It’s therefore no surprise that the Town of Nantucket, through its Nantucket Historical Commission, Historic District Commission, and Department of Planning and Land Use Services has partnered with community organizations to address the 21st century challenge of sea level rise and flooding, which have increased both in frequency and in scope in the last two decades.

The Town’s 2019 Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Community Resilience Building Workshop and Report recognized the need to adapt historic resources to climate impacts as missing from climate change planning. Thus, in both the MVP Workshop Report and the 2019 update to the Hazard Mitigation Plan, the preservation of historic and cultural resources in response to flooding and sea-level rise became a priority for investigation and action.

The following year, the Town and Preservation Institute Nantucket launched a project: Resilient Nantucket: 3D Digital Documentation and Sea Level Rise Visualization. The project used LiDAR scanning to digitally document the core of Nantucket Town, its waterfront, and Brant Point. That work was complemented by a community workshop, Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket, which identified community values and priorities for historic property adaptation and the need for design guidance.

Now developed and presented through numerous public meetings to Nantucket residents and property owners, the Resilient Nantucket: Flooding Adaptation & Building Elevation Design Guidelines (Resilient Nantucket Design Guidelines) joins a range of other planning and mitigation documents which together provide a unified approach for protecting Nantucket’s resources from natural disasters.

The guidelines were drafted by leading preservation consulting firm, Thomason and Associates, with the assistance of The Craig Group. These design guidelines are likely the first in the nation to fully model the newly issued guidance from the National Park Service whose publication, Guidelines on Flood Adaptation for Rehabilitation Historic Buildings, now provides formal guidance to inform the decisions of historic district commissions when considering flooding adaptation designs.

The Sea Street Pump Station, an example of dry floodproofing.

The Resilient Nantucket Design Guidelines are prepared with photographs and descriptions that document Nantucket’s existing historic character, in particular, building styles, materials, design details and streetscapes, that define Nantucket’s character. They serve as a supplement to the HDC guidebook Building with Nantucket in Mind and provide current thinking on adapting properties to accommodate climate-driven change by elevating and “hardening” historic properties while still retaining overall architectural integrity.In addition, the Guidelines recommend design considerations for new construction within the historic districts that address flood risk, yet do not detract from the character of historic residential and commercial areas. This is done in a “user-friendly” by including photos and illustrations of best practices in flooding adaptation as approved by FEMA and consistent with the NPS guidance. Included are illustrated examples of how Nantucket buildings and sites can be retrofitted to accommodate flood mitigation and adaptation alterations ranging from temporary barriers, nature-based approaches, dry and wet floodproofing strategies, and even elevation and relocation.

Lisa Craig is Principal with The Craig Group, a preservation consulting firm specializing in resilience planning for historic coastal communities. Phil Thomason is Principal with Thomason & Associates, LLC with significant experience in preservation planning and design guideline development, most recently focusing on elevation guidance for historic coastal & riverine communities.

Preservation-Friendly Votes at the 2021 Annual Town Meeting

The large tents set up at the Backus playing fields last Saturday might have been mistaken for a town fair, but instead, they hosted a rather unusual Annual Town Meeting. Though many of the over 900 Nantucketers who turned out at the start of the meeting departed following votes on hotly debated Articles 90 and 97, those who remained through the afternoon voted in favor of a number of preservation-friendly articles.

Article 48, which limits pools in lots zoned R-1, SR-1, R-5, and R-5L to only those lots that are at least 7,500 square feet, passed with the required two-thirds vote in favor. This change will further restrict the construction of swimming pools in areas surrounding Town and in Siasconset. The Article had been positively indorsed by the Planning Board but not recommended by the Finance Committee, but voters on Saturday sided with the Planning Board. The tall hedges and fences required by the Historic District Commission to screen pools from view are often not in keeping with the historic feel of these in-town areas, so limiting swimming pools will help protect Nantucket’s National Historic Landmark status.

Another zoning change was approved to restrict the height of buildings in the CMI, Commercial Mid Island, zone from 40 feet to 30 feet. The article, which had been originally introduced by HDC commissioner Val Oliver and was carried over from the 2020 Town Meeting, was approved by over two-thirds of voters, with an amendment that buildings up to 38 feet may be approved by special permit.

A proposal by Sign Committee chair Kevin Kuester to limit traffic signs to the minimum permitted under state law was approved. This will ensure that the historic feel of our streets and lanes will not be marred by overly large signs. It also will prevent the use of neon colors, lighted signs, and warning signs within 1,000 feet of another sign, with the exception of pedestrian crossing signs and intersection warnings.

Early in the meeting, on the consent agenda, voters approved an appropriation of $2.8 million in spending for the Community Preservation Committee, $730,000 of which will go to historic preservation projects. The money will be split between two projects, with the Nantucket Historical Association to receive $395,000 for repairs to the Hadwen and Barney Candle Factory, and the Landmark House benefiting from $335,000 to restore its exterior trim. The CPC appropriation also included $1.696 million for community housing initiatives, and $284,515 for open space conservation and recreation.  Additionally, Article 81, also passed via consent, simplifies CPC member terms.

In the final article voted on at this year’s Town Meeting, the hearty souls who stayed through to the end of the day passed a resolution 81-49 recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, as opposed to Columbus Day. Article sponsor Emily Osley noted how Nantucket place names are derived from Wampanoag terms, yet the town does little to officially acknowledge the island’s original inhabitants. We applaud the Nantucket community for taking votes that will enhance our island’s National Historic Landmark status and maintain our unique sense of place.