PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield preservationists found little to like in a proposed addition to a Central Avenue mansion Tuesday, giving the owner and his architect a month to revise the plans.
Owner Andre Yates intends to create 25 apartments for veterans at the former nursing home known as Abbott Manor, but Historic Preservation Commission members, residents of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District and others objected to the design. A resident who spoke in favor of the project, Bruce Butts, is on the Yates House for Military Veterans' board of directors.
After two hours of discussion, the HPC agreed to carry the matter to its Oct. 24 meeting, making an Oct. 4 scheduled Zoning Board of Adjustment appearance by Yates moot. Until the HPC issues a "certificate of appropriateness" on the design, the Zoning Board cannot act on the proposed use. Meanwhile architect William Doran asked for help in altering the design, which a committee of the HPC may consider.
About 40 attendees waited through three other hearings for the Yates case, which began with attorney Steven C. Rother asking HPC Chairman William Michelson to recuse himself, based on their mutual participation in a decade-old clash over the same property.
"You and I have a long history with each other," Rother said, adding it was "not necessarily good for either of us."
"We feel that your impartiality might be in question and it's best that you step aside," Rother said.
Michelson said Rother had a right to raise the issue, but after discussion of how an HPC approval had to precede any other action, the case proceeded Tuesday.
Yates began his testimony with descriptions of other properties he has renovated in historic districts and promised complete repair of the structure at 810 Central Avenue, but HPC commissioners noted he got approval five years ago for roof repairs at the mansion and never did the work. Yates countered by saying he was denied a building permit in June 2015, but Michelson said it was the first he heard of it.
Doran said a two-story 1950s addition to the mansion will remain and that Yates wanted to add a third floor. Commissioner John Favazzo led HPC comments by calling the third floor "highly inappropriate" and other board members, which Michelson said included "two planners, two lawyers and three architects," further criticized the design. Doran said the aim was to make the addition "totally different" from the original structure, but after Michelson said the board always gives free advice, Doran said, "We should have gotten some of that before we came here."
Among other comments from commissioners, Sandy Gurshman said, "The addition is a horror," and Larry Quirk called proposed changes "extremely out of character" with the original structure.
Comments from the public echoed the commissioners' disdain for the design and faulted Yates for not contacting the district association. Each of Plainfield's six residential historic districts has an association which is charged with upholding preservation interests, but Arne Aakre, president of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District association, said Yates never contacted him.
Resident Gerry Heydt said the addition resembled a "factory building dormitory" and April Stefel advised studying archived photos of the mansion at the Plainfield Public Library.
"I want to see what's there and what you're going to replace," she said.
Former Plainfield Zoning Officer Ron Johnson called the design "kind of a slap in the face" to the district and said the audience included "people from all over the city who are very involved in historic districts."
The meeting ended with a final caution from Quirk, who said, "Tell us exactly what you are going to do" at the next one, which is 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.
The building's use as a veterans' home will be decided by the Zoning Board of Adjustment at a future date, pending issuance of HPC approval.