PLAINFIELD, NJ – Tuesday night, members of the Historic Preservation Commission presented their proposal for expansion of two of Plainfield’s six historic neighborhoods.  Approximately 50 people attended the presentation at the duCret School of Art and were given an overview of the commission's plan to expand the Van Wyck Brooks and Netherwood Heights historic districts by a total of 249 properties.  The commission explained their process for identifying the properties included in the proposed expansion and provided maps and a handout listing 12 benefits of historic preservation.

Under the guidelines of the Historic Preservation designation, any structures included in a district will require review by HPC and the issuance of a “Certificate of Appropriateness” for any exterior changes or upgrades to be undertaken by property owners.  The current guidelines, available on the city's website, generally require property owners to replace exterior materials with “like for like” for example, wood windows instead of vinyl clad.

Several residents asked questions of the Commissioners, with one resident, whose home is included in the proposed expansion, asking about modifications made to homes prior to inclusion in the district, such as the addition of solar panels.  HPC chairman Bill Michelson stated that inclusion in the historic district would not have an effect on existing solar panels and stated that many people would use the term “grandfathered” for such situations.  In planning language, permitted modifications made prior to a zoning change would typically be considered “legal, non-conforming” meaning that their installation was permitted at the time but has since been determined to be out of compliance through a change in guidelines or zoning – effectively exempting the property owner.

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Another resident asked the Commission about historic district education and enforcement.  As a current property owner in a historic district, she expressed concern about homeowners being educated about the obligations and requirements of living in a district – especially for absentee owners and investors.  Chairman Michelson instructed residents of historic districts to contact the city inspections department when they see issues in their neighborhoods but did not address the issue of how the HPC could educate property owners.

Van Wyck Brooks resident John Duffy inquired about the process for finalizing the expansion of the two districts.  Chairman Michelson summarized the process, explaining that the HPC has not yet voted to approve the expansion but may do so at their August 2018 meeting.  Following HPC approval, the Planning Board would be required to hold a public session and vote on the proposed expansion.  If approved by the Planning Board, it will then require final approval from the Plainfield City Council before the expansion takes effect.

Read Bernice Paglia's previous article "Plainfield Plans Meetings on District Expansion".

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