As Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, I’m astounded by the spread of misinformation regarding the revised historic preservation ordinance under consideration by the Town Council. In a world where even wearing a mask has become politicized, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Certainly, a vigorous debate is warranted but the systematic spread of falsehoods and distortions only serve to stoke fear. The purpose of this letter is to set the record straight.
Fact: NJ state law already grants municipalities the right to designate properties as historic because it views historic preservation as a land use or zoning rule – no different than setback requirements or coverage ratios.
Fact: The revised ordinance enables Westfield’s historic preservation ordinance to comply with state law. The current ordinance doesn’t follow the state’s Municipal Land Use Law, which opens Westfield up to legal challenges.
Fact: The HPC does not have the power to designate a property or district. The HPC is strictly advisory and may recommend a designation if a property meets stringent criteria outlined in the National Historic Registry. These criteria can be found in our current ordinance or in our FAQ document on the Town website.
Fact: Although state law grants the authority to recommend a historic designation to historic preservation commissions, Westfield’s HPC has and will continue to only focus on voluntary designations. It is NOT the intention of the HPC to pursue a historic designation where the property owners are not supportive, nor has it ever been.
Fact: According to the recent Master Plan reexamination survey, 80% of respondents state that historic preservation is very important. Throughout the public outreach process, the most recurring comment was to prevent teardowns of homes. The revised ordinance simply gives the town the opportunity to have a discussion with the owners BEFORE demolition is underway.
Fact: Numerous studies have been conducted and the results are remarkably consistent — historic preservation is good for the local economy. The positive impact of historic preservation on the economy has been documented in 6 broad areas: 1) jobs, 2) property values, 3) heritage tourism, 4) environmental impact, 5) social impact, and 6) downtown revitalization. http://www.landmarks.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Measuring-the-Economics-of-Preservation.pdf
Fact: Current historically designated properties will have even less stringent regulations with the revised ordinance. In the new ordinance, property owners of historically designated properties NO LONGER need approval of paint color. Additionally, application fees are eliminated to submit a Certificate of Appropriateness to the Town.
Fact: Longtime homeowners often hear “Older homes don’t sell.” It is unconscionable when older couples are told that their beloved home is “only valuable to a builder” and then sold directly to that builder for demolition often without ever having been listed. Since the year 2000, over 900 homes have been razed and replaced with new construction.
Fact: This revised ordinance was not rushed through but followed the same process as all other land use or zoning ordinances. It was introduced at a Council meeting on June 30, 2020 that was properly advertised, and very well attended with dozens of public comments. After approval on first reading, the revised ordinance was passed to the Planning Board which reviewed it at its publicly advertised meeting on July 6 with additional comments from residents.
The HPC has provided FAQs on their website, as well as the presentation given to the Planning Board, and held several sessions with residents to answer questions and concerns. If anyone has any further, please feel free to email HPC@westfieldnj.gov and get the facts.