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Tax Appeal Strategy: Site of Vacant 19th Century Mill Would Become a Vacant Lot

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Flier created by activists seeking to prevent the demolition
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PATERSON, NJ – The company planning to demolish a vacant 19th century silk mill at Straight and Essex streets doesn’t plan to build anything on the property anytime soon, city officials said. In fact, the owner’s goal in moving ahead on the controversial demolition is to leave the land vacant to get a tax reduction, officials said.

“Once you lose a building like this, you can’t get it back,’’ said Martin Feitlowitz, chairman of Paterson’s Historic Preservation Commission.

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“You’re talking about losing a part of Paterson’s history,’’ said Rob Burrows, a volunteer at the Paterson Museum who has been active in city historical issues.

The city’s legal department, however, has determined that Paterson likely would lose a lawsuit if it tried to prevent the demolition of the John Royle and Sons Machine Works because the site was never placed on the National Register of Historic Places or formally designated as a landmark.

Several years ago, Essex Towers LLC received approval from the Paterson Board of Adjustment to build 113 senior citizen apartments and an adult day care at the mill. Those plans, said Burrows, would have kept the historic part of the building in place.

But the economic downturn in recent years has prevented the housing proposal from moving forward, officials said. Francis Ciambrone, attorney for the property owners, declined to comment on the situation, saying he was not authorized by his client to speak to the press.

City Business Administrator Charles Thomas and Community Development Director Lanisha Makle have not responded to messages seeking their comments on the Royle mill demolition.

Feitlowitz and other municipal officials said a tentative agreement had been reached with the mill’s owners in December to delay the demolition to allow time for a compromise to be reached that may have left the historic part of the site standing. The city was going to work with the owner to get tax credits for the historic sections and allow demolition of the most recent sections of the building, Feitlowitz said.

But then the demolition company abruptly contacted the city and pushed for the permit to knock the building down. On December 30, Gianfranco Archimede, executive director of Paterson’s Historic Preservation Commission, issued a notice allowing the demolition permit to proceed.

Feitlowitz said the owner is planning to seek a property tax reduction by keeping the site vacant. “Vacant lots do nothing to enhance the surrounding property values,’’ said Feitlowitz, warning that Paterson would have “block after block of empty lots” if the owners of other vacant buildings followed suit.

It was not clear when demolition will begin. Some historic preservation advocates are trying to build support for a protest rally. Burrows said was it unfortunate that the Royle mill demolition was moving ahead at a time when Paterson was getting a national historical park at the Great Falls. He and Feitlowitz also said Paterson recently was awarded a grant to study about 30 of its old industrial buildings for possible preservation.

The mill was built in 1888 by a family whose work was pivotal in making Paterson a leader in the silk industry.

 “The local historic significance of this complex to Paterson largely rests on the legacy of its owner and builder, Vernon Royle and his sons, master inventors, designers, manufacturers of textile and other industrial machinery in Paterson, examples of which are included in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute and other historic technology museums,’’ wrote Archimede in his notice to proceed with the demolition. “The Royles invented and held literally thousands of patents for technical machinery that made possible the growth of the textile trade in Paterson and around the world.”

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