MADISON, NJ - This week the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) resumed its hearing of the applicant Saxum Real Estate’s requested demolition of the former movie theater building, 14 Lincoln Place and its application for redevelopment. This was a continuation of the meeting held on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, and continued on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
Peter Wolfson, a partner at the law firm Day Pitney and counsel to Saxum, placed on the record the history and length to which Saxum has gone to meet design suggestions from the HPC and John Hatch of Clarke Caton Hintz, an engineer engaged by the commission. Next to speak was Jeff Gertler of Gertler & Wente Architects, Saxum’s architect. Gertler is a Madison resident who has served on the Historical Preservation Commission and Planning Board.
Gertler addressed the changes his firm has made in response to previous concerns expressed at the prior hearings.
He explained that a number of design changes were made to help reduce the scale and apparent mass of the building. The existing building is 42’2’ in front and 54’2” in back. The proposed new building would be 44’0” in front and 56” in back. Gertler opined that minimal mass would be added to the entire building.
In response to criticism that the design was “too rough and industrial for the Madison commercial district,” changes were made including reducing the window sizes and increasing the relative amount of brick and masonry; adding a fabric canopy over the central storefront; reorganizing the storefronts to emphasize the center; reducing the recess of the windows; adjusting the mullion patterns of the windows; replacing metal spandrels above and below windows with brick; replacing metal lintels with limestone.
Hatch, the HPC’s engineer, responded to these changes by stating “the proposal has come a long way in its design and details.” He further stated that the new building is larger than the movie theater, but that he was not opining as to whether that is “good of bad.” He continued that “they have done a lot to mitigate the large scale.” Commission co-chair Janet Foster expressed appreciation that Gertler had listened to HPC’s comments and that the new design is “less industrial looking.” Commission member Chris Kellogg stated that the “volume” of the proposed building is substantial and does not fit in with the neighboring buildings. Gertler responded that the building was designed to contextually fit in and that the proposed fourth floor was recessed to reduce the bulk of the building. He pointed out that the existing building is already the largest building in the downtown and that the new building could actually be bigger by ordinance. Commission member Karen Jeisi stated that the two proposed retail spaces may be difficult to fill in a small town and asked whether the first floor could be devoted in its entirety to a movie theater. Questions from Foster and resident Jill Rhodes concerned the sight of the proposed building from Main Street. Gertler explained that the views of the front and back of the building are virtually the same and that it will provide a nicer view from Main Street than the movie building. Gertler stated that eliminating a fourth floor is not feasible nor is reducing the height of each floor. In response to questions from resident John Morris, Gertler predicted that the proposed building would increase foot traffic and economic activity and would increase the prestige of downtown Madison.
The hearing will continue at a Special Meeting of the HPC on May 28. It is anticipated that the attorney for Save Madison Theater will cross examine Jeff Gertler.