One of the applications presented to Westfield’s Board of Adjustment during the time I served the Town was from a family on Dudley Avenue seeking approval to install a six-foot fence contrary to the town’s land use ordinance. There is a bus stop on the corner of that property. Anyone boarding/exiting the bus could have watched the applicant’s children play on their swing set or in the backyard pool.
Granting a variance to the ordinance restored the applicant’s liberty by returning privacy to this family’s private property. I don’t want to overstate my role in this application, as senior members of the board handled much of the dialogue. The experience however still leaves me with a feeling of joy when I think about the young mother’s sigh of relief after the board resolved this issue of liberty in their favor. Liberty!
My thoughts are with all Westfield families today after reading the Brindle Administration’s latest idea for tattooing Westfield with policy that will be costly to the Town, and difficult to undo once implemented. General Ordinance No. 2183 places a significant impediment between tax-paying homeowners in Westfield and the foundation of any owner’s liberty: their own property. With GO No. 2183 the Town Council will have “the authority to designate and regulate historic landmarks and historic districts within the Town.” With Go No. 2183, local government will have the authority to convert our private property into social property.
If layers of added bureaucracy are not outrageous enough for us all to begin paying attention, consider how much of our liberty the Brindle Administration takes away by deleting § 5B3 of Town of Westfield MLUL Attachment 3, “In the case of a proposed historic site, the Commission shall secure the written consent of the owner(s) of record of such site before taking any further action toward historic designation.”
Removing this sentence from the law, removes the voice of the owner from their Westfield property. Deleting our liberty clears the way for local government to regulate prices in the Westfield real estate market. GO No. 2183 (and PILOT) shifts market-making from our realtors, architects, and designers, to the Town Council. This is bad news for all Westfield homeowners who may own an older home (seniors) in one of our designated neighborhoods. Homeowners who use Westfield as long-term investment will no longer have the option of “highest/best” when a realtor prices their home for sale or a designer prepares a home for upgrade (seniors and special needs). “Highest/best” is a key ingredient to the free-market. When government usurps the role of the free-market, “best” use is no longer available to the homeowner, and the “highest” price will adjust lower to clear the market of the social impediment. Some homeowners (seniors) may not have the confidence, counsel, or necessary funds to bring their voice before local government, may simply choose to let the next owner (or their estate) deal with the issue and allowing the property to deteriorate.
The very first sentence from the Brindle for Mayor Platform, published on then candidate Brindle’s since expired campaign website, “I’m committed to serving our community, full time, at no pay, to make sure every voice is heard.” By deleting our liberty however, the Brindle Administration transfers the right of argument from our voice to the Westfield Town Council. Once passed, designated property owners will need to run improvements to, possibly the sale of, their property by local government (page six) to make certain a club from yesteryear didn’t use the structure to change their tennis shoes.
If the Westfield Tennis Club thought their old structure on Clark Street was historically significant and worth saving, members of this private club would have come to that conclusion and re-purchased the property with club money, or would not have let it go in the first place. I’d argue the club has made wise choices with their money as their vintage 1930 clubhouse and property are beautiful.
Lastly, GO No. 2183 is revenue killing policy impeding the natural float and distribution of property taxes in the Town. More often than not, a new and higher tax assessment is applied to the property when an older home is significantly improved upon, or replaced by a brand-new home from a builder. If “highest/best” use is regulated, so is potential for property tax collection from the Town’s housing stock. If we are abating tax for designated properties from our housing stock (page eight), the abated portion of tax will need to be made up elsewhere in the town budget. The Brindle administration has not shown the ability to generate a dime of revenue on their own. The last three budgets submitted by Brindle’s administration have already produced higher spending and lower revenue trends. Maybe an explanation for how the Town Council could afford to regulate our real estate market (without raising property taxes to meet rising costs) can be found in rigorous debate over this policy recorded in the minutes of town’s finance committee meeting.
Liberty! We are either going to love her or we are going to lose her. GO No. 2183 is rooted in socialism. This policy removes Liberty from our community and places her under local government control. Families in Westfield looking to remove impediments to their own liberty can start by rejecting Mayor Brindle’s Bold Action Plan now, and resolve this latest impediment to liberty together with our vote in November 2021.
Edward T. Stellingwerf