WEST ORANGE, NJ – With the redevelopment of the Edison battery factory well under way and the long process to rebuild the historic St. Mark’s Episcopal Church just beginning, historic preservation issues came to the fore at the West Orange Township Council Meeting on Sept. 6 at West Orange City Hall.
Updating the council and Mayor Robert Parisi on historic preservation issues being hashed out with Prism Capital partners to ensure the historic integrity of the Edison Village Project were West Orange Historic Preservation Commission (WOHPC) members Gerald Gurland and Marty Feitlowitz.
Feitlowitz complimented Prism officials for working closely with the WOHPC on making sure the Edison factory’s windows comported as closely as possible to the original ones. He said that the very specific green color for the window frames and the aggregate colors for the buildings’ sandstone have been selected.
When it came to the façade of the project’s building on Main Street, which is more than 400 feet long, Feitlowitz expressed deep concerns. He said Prism’s plans for the façade don’t comport with the drawings that were submitted for it to receive the certificate of appropriateness to proceed with the project.
Feitlowitz has told Prism of his concern regarding the façade and the company has agreed to look into this issue further.
“It is for reasons such as this that I recommend that Township representatives meet with both Prism officials and the developer (Dune Realty Partners) every two weeks to make sure everything is proceeding as planned…Getting a quarterly report is useless, since it is already three months down the road if a problems comes up,” said Feitlowitz. “This is the biggest project in West Orange history, possibly after the initial Edison Factory construction, and we have to make sure it’s done right.”
Gurland said he has requested that one existing concrete column be left exposed to keep the historic record for the site. He said Prism was not enthusiastic about this suggestion, but agreed to look into it further.
Council President Victor Cirilo asked Parisi and West Orange Township Administrator John Sayers to reach out to Prism and Dune Realty Partners to make sure all construction agreements are being fulfilled.
Councilman Joe Krakoviak asked Feitlowitz if the problem with the façade has gotten to the point of no return. Feitlowitz assured him and the other Council members that there is still plenty of time to make changes, which are not major.
“We have expressed the Historic Preservation Commission’s concerns, and Prism has agreed to rectify any problems,” said Parisi, who also said that township officials are meeting with Prism on a regular basis.
During public comment, Gurland told the council members that the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church has now been stabilized.
“All the debris from the fire that was on the church’s floor has been removed, and the sides of the nave floor have been excavated,” said Gurland, who also commended West Orange Construction Official Tom Tracey for making sure the stabilization work on the church progressed well. “The Historic Preservation Commission has offered to be at the church’s beck and call when it comes to properly renovating this historic landmark.”
Gurland called for a greater commitment by the township to help the church move its restoration project forward.
“We don’t want to lose this St. Mark’s treasure,” said Councilman Jerry Guarino, agreeing with Gurland on this subject. “We need to help them bring in grants, as well as connect them with the right people who can assist them with this vital project.”
The council authorized a contract for historical architectural services to the Hunter Research Group in accordance with the Certified Local Government Grant (CLG) awarded to the township. Cirilo said this firm will collect all necessary documentation to identify possible historic preservation sites in the Township.
Kevin Kruse, a Trustee of the West Orange Downtown Alliance, provided the Council with all the positive developments now taking place in downtown.
“It’s good and it’s getting better,” he said. “We have a lot of positive momentum downtown. This is reflected by the fact that there are now only 23 vacancies for businesses downtown, as opposed to 41 vacancies not too long ago.”
When it comes to the redevelopment of the shopping plaza near the Edison battery factory, which has the CVS pharmacy, Kruse said Prism plans to use it as part of the broader redevelopment plan for that area.
“The Edison battery factory is the linchpin for the downtown redevelopment, but it’s not the be-all and end-all,” he said. “We have to keep our eye on all aspects of Main Street redevelopment.”
Also during public comment, several senior residents spoke out on behalf of the establishment of a West Orange Senior Citizen’s Advisory Board.
“Seniors are treated like second class citizens in West Orange,” said longtime resident Rosary Morelli, one of the leading advocates for this board. “They are definitely underserved, which is why this Board is urgently needed now.”
Councilwoman Susan McCartney was among the council members who expressed strong disagreement with Morelli’s assessment and the need for the Board. She said the West Orange senior citizens already get excellent services, and much of what the Board would do would be redundant.
“I believe very strongly in helping seniors age in place in West Orange, and all our township departments are here to support seniors,” she said. “I see no reason for the Senior Citizens Advisory Board.”
The ordinance to discuss whether to have a Senior Citizens Advisory Board for West Orange was soundly defeated with only its sponsor, Councilman Krakoviak, voting for its further review.