WESTFIELD, NJ — An extensive revision to the town’s historic preservation law that continues to raise resident concern is to be further revised, but opponents of the proposal argue those anticipated revisions are not enough.
The town council had been anticipated to approve the ordinance following a public hearing Tuesday, but now plans to amend the ordinance and hold a public hearing Sept. 8, Mayor Shelley Brindle announced.
“These changes, which were recommended by the Historic Preservation Commission and approved by the Council’s bipartisan Code Review & Town Property Committee [last] week, are in response to residents’ feedback and intended to be improvements to address some of the key areas of concern,” Brindle said.
Per the council resolution, the amendments proposed are as follows:
- To the maximum extent possible, at least one member of the Historic Preservation Commission should own a property in a designated historic district or a designated historic landmark.
- Minor work being undertaken by property owners of historically designated properties need not go through the formal certificate of review process.
- The review process only applies to demolition applications for the removal, destruction or demolition of more than 75% of the structure or building and/or more than 25% of the façade.
- The special historic review process for demolitions is a zoning review that precedes other general demolition requirements.
- The regulations will allow for the Historic Preservation Commission’s review of pre-1930 structures and those identified in the Historic Preservation Plan element.
- The timeframe for special historic review of demolition applications will be shortened.
- Even if a pre-1930 homes meets the historic designation criteria, the HPC may recommend, but is not required to recommend that the home be designated as historic.
“We have taken feedback from the community on top of the feedback that they gave us in the master plan reexamination process to make sure that we’re reflecting in the ordinance what’s going to work for the largest number of people in the community,” said Councilwoman Linda Habgood, liaison to the HPC.
She said members of the HPC had meet with residents in various neighborhoods following introduction of the ordinance. “We spent a lot of time making sure that people differentiating between what was really going on and what was being spread by flyers in people’s mailboxes, which had a lot of disinformation in them,” Habgood said.
Councilman Mark LoGrippo, who had previously voted against the ordinance, approves of the latest changes, but said they’re not enough.
“It’s a good first step, but I don’t think it goes far enough as far as changes are concerned,” LoGrippo said on Monday. “The reality is homeowners still don’t have the final authority over whether or not their homes becomes designated historic or not, which I feel is an overreach — an infringement on property rights.”
The organizer of a petition on the Westfield Residents Forum still opposes the ordinance. The woman, a 26-year-long resident of Westfield who declined to be named, said that several hundred people have signed the petition.
According to the petition, the revised law would allow the town to designate homes as historic “without homeowner consent” and the historic designation “must be disclosed to any potential buyers,” something that could make it more difficult to find a buyer.
The ordinance stipulates that a written petition signed by the owners of 20% or more of the area of either the lots or land included in a proposed designation or of the lots or land extending 200 feet in all directions of the property could invalidate an historic designation; however, a two-thirds vote of the town council in favor of the designation could override those owners’ objections.
Habgood said this and other portions of the ordinance are crafted for compliance with state law so that the town can apply for Certified Local Government Status. A program administered by the National Park Service and state Historic Preservation Office, CLG status opens the door for funding, technical assistance and other preservation successes, a government website detailing the initiative says.
Complicating the issue is that the measure comes during the pandemic at a time when public meetings are being held online — something that not everyone is apt to access.
Salvatore Blancato, 83, owns three homes in Westfield one of which he lives in. Blancato said he doesn’t have the means to access a Zoom council meeting but is concerned about the impact that a potential historic designation could have on his property values.
“I would love to see it postponed — mainly — and then brought out in complete transparency,” Blancato said.
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