I read with interest Jacqueline Brevard’s recent letter in support of the Brindle Administration’s draconian new historic preservation/confiscation ordinance. In the 35 years that she has lived in Westfield, has Ms. Brevard ever voluntarily designated her 1902 house as historic? Apparently not. Lucky for her, the town will now be able to do it for her, and indeed for all of us.
It is curious that Westfield’s mayor and council, together with the mayor’s political appointees on the Historic Preservation Commission, profess such a desire to preserve older homes. Not a single one of them has voluntarily designated their own house as historic, notwithstanding the long-existing process for doing so. But they are now more than happy to give themselves the power to historically designate my house or yours.
Like Ms. Brevard, I too am an attorney, as is JoAnn Neylan, who authored a recent article in opposition to the new ordinance. Unlike Ms. Brevard, Ms. Neylan and I served a total of 24 years on Westfield’s town council. I also previously served on the Historic Preservation Commission. So we know how these things work, thank you. We refused, and continue to object, to disrespecting residents’ private property rights under the guise of being “compliant” with some unnamed state law.
For all their obfuscation, Mayor Brindle and Ms. Brevard cannot avoid certain uncomfortable truths about the proposed new ordinance.
First, town approval will be required to demolish/replace any home built before 1930, so that the town can block a homeowner’s sale of their house to the highest bidder if that buyer is a builder, potentially costing residents hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sale proceeds.
Second, the town will have the power to designate a house as historic without the owner's consent, so that no exterior changes can be made without town approval; this power does not exist under the current ordinance or under the state's historic preservation law, and is not mandated by any state law.
And finally, the town will have the power to designate entire neighborhoods as historic without residents' consent, so that the exterior restrictions will apply to every home in the district, whether new or old. If 20% or more of the homeowners object, it will take only 6 out of 9 votes on the town council to overrule them. If Councilman Mark LoGrippo remains the lone voice of reason, then we can already count 8 out of 9 votes, which is more than enough.
The critical question here is whether local politicians and boards should be able to dictate to residents, against their will, (i) what they can and cannot do with the exterior of their deemed “historic” home, and (ii) to whom they can sell a pre-1930 house. I say no. And I say to Mayor Brindle: hands off our homes.