Featured image: Turner Estate on Topsfield Rd.
During the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries Ipswich became home to several “Great Estates” including:
- The Proctor Estate: The mansion and outbuildings were built in 1908 for the Proctor family where they lived until the 1940’s. Now owned by New England Biolabs
- Crane Estate (Castle Hill, Crane Castle, Crane Beach, Castle Neck and Choate Island). Architect David Adler built this large mansion on Castle Hill in a 17th-century English style with terraces and formal gardens for wealthy industrialist Richard Crane. Now owned by the Trustees of Reservations
- Turner Hill: Built by William G. Rantoul in 1900, it was the home, farm and lands of importer and industrialist Charles N. Rice. Now owned by Turner Hill Associates.
- Appleton Farms: The oldest continually operating farm in North America. Now owned by the Trustees of Reservations.
- Charles Searle Estate on Jeffreys Neck Road, now owned by the Sisters of Notre Dame.
- Willowdale Estate, owned by Bradley Palmer, a prominent businessman and lawyer. Beginning in 1937 Palmer donated all of his land holdings “to the people of Massachusetts as a place to enjoy the peace and beauty of river, woods, fields and hills.” thus creating Willowdale State Forest in Ipswich and Bradley Palmer State Park located in Topsfield.
The town of Ipswich and four other communities in Masachusetts have a Great Estates Bylaw to encourage appropriate development or preservation of large estate properties and to prevent the subdivision of the property into single family homes. Development may still occur, but without such a law, open space may be lost and historic houses on the property are sometimes demolished.
The Ipswich Great Estates bylaw provides an alternative to the demolition and/or subdivision of the property by allowing nonresidential uses such as offices, hotels, conference centers and multi-family buildings lin single family residential zones. The bylaw applies to properties that contain at least 40,000 square feet of building space and 200 acres of land. Developers must first obtain a special permit from the Planning Board. Open space and significant view corridors are usually reserved for public access.
The town of Ipswich zoning bylaw, amended and adopted in 2011 establishes the following responsibilities for the Planning Board and the Historical Commission regarding Great Estate Property Developers (GEPD):
Allowable floor space:
A GEPD that rehabilitates or renovates all buildings and supporting structures certified by the Historical Commission as having historic or architectural significance may increase allowable floor space by the amount of square footage contained in all existing buildings that are rehabilitated or renovated as part of the GEPD development, except that new floor area developed on the lot may be increased by five (5) square feet for every square foot of floor space contained in buildings and supporting structures certified by the Historical Commission as having historic or architectural significance that are rehabilitated or renovated.
The Planning Board may, by special permit, allow relief of the requirement to renovate all of the buildings certified by the Historical Commission as having historic or architectural significance in exchange for the density bonus, without loss of any related bonus square footage for other renovated buildings, except for any bonus square footage associated with the building for which relief is being sought, under the following conditions:
(1) Not more than one certified building within a GEPD shall be granted relief from the requirement, and in no instance shall the building be the great estate mansion;
(2) Prior to the issuance of the initial GEPD special permit, the building in question shall have been vacant, uninhabitable, and in need of substantial renovation;
(3)The Planning Board must determine that the cost of renovating the subject building is so high as to render its renovation financially infeasible;
(4) Materials from the building shall be reused in the renovation or rehabilitation of another certified building within the GEPD, and any remaining materials shall be made available at no cost to the Historical Commission before any material disposal may take place;
(5) Photo documentation of the building is provided to the Historical Commission, in accordance with their requirements, prior to its demolition;
(6) The Historical Commission must provide the Planning Board its written assent to the building’s demolition;
(7) No additional floor space shall be derived from the square footage of the building that is demolished;
(8) In lieu of the building’s preservation, the Planning Board may require the GEPD owner to contribute funds for the purpose of furthering the preservation of historic buildings and/or structures elsewhere in Town.
Renovation and Rehabilitation
The Planning Board shall refer to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings for guidance when reviewing the buildings which have been, or are proposed to be, rehabilitated or renovated. If the Planning Board determines that the reconstruction or replacement of an existing building that has not been certified by the Historical Commission as having historic or architectural significance is more consistent with IX.H.1. than the building’s rehabilitation or renovation, then the Applicant may increase allowable floor space by the amount of square footage contained in all existing buildings that is replaced or reconstructed.