Since its creation in the late 1990's the town's historic preservation ordinance has attempted to establish a review process for historic sites and structures in Westfield. This review board is state mandated and controlled by the Municipal Land Use Ordinance (MLUL) as is in fact, all Land Use in the state of New Jersey. It is required that the land use ordinances must comply with the MLUL. The Westfield Historical Preservation Ordinance has not been updated in over a decade and even then was only minimally addressed. It was not apparently in compliance with aspects of the MLUL and required a complete revision which has just recently come out of the Planning Board sub-committee making it now available for public feedback.
The Mayor and Town Council have expressed an objective to address Historic Preservation throughout town due to the consistent destruction of historic and architecturally/culturally significant homes and buildings throughout town in response to the significant feedback obtained in the Master Plan survey of late last year. In the process of addressing the rewrite of the HIstoric Preservation Ordinance, the survey and other comments provided by the Kimball Historic district and other owners of individually designated homes throughout town, have been incorporated into this revision over the past year of revision activity. Some of the comments to be addressed required streamlining the Historic Preservation Commission's processes and others have prompted a strengthening of the current ordinance as it had little fortitude to protect historic properties that meet the Historic Preservation guidelines and eligibility criteria. With its recent emergence from the rule making subcommittee of the Planning board who spent months reviewing it, the revised ordinance is now available for public review and comment.
The MLUL limits what Commissions and town's can do regarding historic preservation but the rewrite of the Preservation ordinance goes a very long way to address long standing grievances and addresses the previous lack of compliance with the NJ MLUL regarding historic preservation. Compliance with the MLUL is not only mandatory but also necessary if we are to become a Certified Local Government (CLG) and join many surrounding towns that already have CLG designation. This designation was sought by Westfield for many years and allows the town the opportunity to apply for Historic Preservation grants which have recently been enriched by the State. Without being compliant with the MLUL and thus without this rewrite of this ordinance being approved, we cannot take advantage of the State monies being provided for the pursuit and protection of historic structures and sites.
There may be some items in the ordinance that a few may find a little concerning but it is the result of many months,if not years, of listening to the community and their feedback on Historic Preservation issues. This rewrite provides us compliance with the MLUL as well as incorporating the protections in the MLUL for historic preservation zoning which protect affected historic district members and those in the process of pursuing designation..
There are a plethora of positive aspects in this Preservation ordinance revision specifically, the HPC has removed stipulations on house color which was often a major concern of many district members. This revision was developed with input over the past several years from those within and outside of our historic district, and a great deal of effort went into strengthening the legal position of the town in dealing with historic house destruction throughout our community. This revision provides for a review process for these properties which allows for public dialogue and involvement before historic homes are destroyed which addresses many concerns of the community.
Please read the revision on the town website and provide your questions and input to the HPC via HPC@westfieldnj.gov. Despite the misinformation provided in Joann Neylan's recent letter to the editor in the TAP and her evident misunderstanding of both the MLUL and the ordinance revisions, the revised ordinance is the best way forward, to provide for a legitimate legal framework within which we can protect our history, our varied historical architecture and the special historic environment that Westfield has always enjoyed.