I am writing to address some of the unfortunate misconceptions fostered by reactions to the proposed revision of the Westfield historic preservation ordinance.
Designating a property as an historic landmark is a thoughtful and deliberate process, not one done by fiat or capricious overreach. It requires a carefully researched nomination — often conducted by an outside consultant — documenting the history, provenance and architectural significance of a proposed landmark.
The HPC, a nine-member body appointed for its experience and expertise in this area, must then hear and review the application before sending it to the Planning Board — the body that administers local municipal land use law — for review. Finally, the nomination must be heard and approved by the nine elected members of the Town Council. That’s a process involving three separate bodies spread over a minimum of five meetings, all conducted in public. Under this system, it is difficult to imagine a property owner who truly objected not having some recourse.
The requirement that the HPC be notified regarding demolition applications on homes built prior to 1930 will prevent teardowns from flying below the commission’s radar, as has unfortunately occurred in the past. While the vast majority of homes built in this period are not historically or architecturally significant, this addition will help slow down the rampant teardowns that nearly half the respondents to the 2019 Master Plan considered a major issue. Finally, the major impetus for the proposed revision is that it will bring us in line with state Municipal Land Use Law and enable Westfield to join towns like Montclair, Millburn and Fanwood as a Certified Local Government, a designation that allows access to state preservation grants and funding.
Historic preservation has enjoyed a long history of bipartisan support in Westfield. It saddens me to see it become a political issue, hijacked by irrational speculation and legal hysteria. Whether you chose to live in an older house or not, Westfield’s historic neighborhoods are part of the charm that enticed many of us to make this town our home. If we truly wish to move beyond the handwringing that follows the demolition of historic properties, now is the time to act. I support the new ordinance that finally gives the town the ability to thoughtfully and reasonably protect our historic properties for future generations.