WESTFIELD, NJ — The Historic Preservation Commission voted to recommend that the Planning Board deny the application for a subdivision of the historically designated property at 667 4th Ave at Monday night’s HPC meeting.
After nearly three hours of discussion, public contributions and comments from the property owners, Andrew and Heather Stillufsen, and their attorney, Steve Hehl, the commission reached a majority agreement on the following motion:
At this time, the Westfield Historic Preservation Commission recommends that the application for subdivision of the historic site at 667 Fourth Ave, Block 3303, Lot 6, as presented, be denied for the reasons set forth through the discussions of the HPC and the testimony of the applicant and the public and further in accordance with Historic Preservation Ordinance Subsection 6A (Actions requiring a certificate of appropriateness) and Subsection 8D (Subdivisions, Site Plans, Variances).
Commission members James Corcoran and Michael Fisher (who voted as an alternate in the absence of two commission members) voted against the motion, preferring further clarification as to their reasons for denying the existing application.
After a lengthy discussion and extensive rewording the commission agreed to vote on two motions, with the first motion (shared above) gaining the majority vote and therefore eliminating the need to vote on a second motion with additional details on the recommendation.
“The planning board referred this to us for our recommendation and they want our recommendation of how it will affect a historic site,” said HPC chair Kelly Kessler, who acknowledged that some of the discussed conditions were not items that could be considered at the time of the meeting. “I’m not sure that they want us to start talking about the economic implications or alternative ways of subdividing the property.”
Commission member Joe Biren attempted to streamline consideration of the application.
“From what I’ve heard from most of the members is that, yes, this site will be affected by this subdivision. Secondly, with consideration that was offered as to why this should be permitted is outside our mandate, ie whether or not there is sufficient funds to maintain the existing property,” he said. “The way I understand it, this matter of cost and financial involvement is going to be left to the planning board for their decision, it’s not our decision.”
Homeowner Andrew Stillufsen spoke during the public comment part of the meeting.
“I am passionate about this house. I’m passionate about history,” said Sillufsen. He went on to explain that the house was in need of repair work that he hopes to complete with the funds made available after selling the subdivision to a developer.
Commission member Neal Acito questioned Stillufsen’s plans for the funds, suggesting that they may be used to pay off a mortgage before paying for repairs needed for the home.
“Sorry, I’m not going to talk about my mortgage,” Stillufsen said.
While many members of the commission expressed a level of discomfort at prying into the property owner’s mortgage, Town Attorney Tom Jardim said that it could be relevant to the commission’s decision.
“Let me just stress this again. The applicant has come forward and is attempting to make a case of economic hardship. So to be perfectly candid, it is a relevant question,” Jardim said. “If the applicant has an undo economic hardship, the applicant has to make that case. Period.”
The final recommendation will be presented to the Planning Board on Feb. 5.
When asked about her reaction to the outcome of the meeting, Heather Stillufsen said they were disappointed.
“We believe in our house,” added Andrew Stillufsen.