Many of us reside in Westfield because of the charming homes that line our attractive streets. Having made what, for many, is the largest investment of our lives, we expect to be able to update and improve our properties as we like, subject of course to existing zoning laws and building codes.
Over the years, many Westfield residents have decided to preserve their homes and neighborhoods, and the Town’s historic preservation ordinance gave them the tools to do so. Individual homeowners could seek historic designation from the Town, and residents of an entire neighborhood could also do so, as was the case decades ago when residents of Kimball Avenue voluntarily created the historic district between Elm and Lawrence.
To date, these admirable decisions to preserve appropriate homes and neighborhoods as historic have been freely made by the affected property owners. But that is about to change. The Brindle Administration is amending the Town’s historic preservation ordinance to eliminate the consent of the affected homeowner as a requirement for their property being designated as historic. In other words, the Town may designate your home or neighborhood as an historic landmark, whether you like it or not.
Mayor Brindle is giving power to an unelected body of political appointees to tell Westfield residents that their house is “historic” and, if so, to restrict homeowners’ rights. Do you want to paint your house? Change your front door? Replace a window? Sorry — if the Town deems your house to be historic you can’t, unless the Town lets you.
And how does the Brindle Administration propose to define historic? Very broadly, and not just to include older homes. In fact, the Town can classify a brand new home as historic under the standards in the proposed ordinance. For example, does your house or neighborhood, new or old:
- “represent a significant period in the architectural and social history of the municipality”?
- have “a unique character resulting from its architectural style”?
- “embody a distinguishing characteristic or an architectural type valuable as representative of a period, style or method of construction”?
- “represent a work of a builder, designer, artist or architect whose individual style significantly influenced the architectural history of the municipality”?
Or is your house or neighborhood, new or old:
- the “embodiment of distinguishing characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, architecture or engineering”?
- “identifiable with a person or persons who significantly enriched the Town, State or Nation”?
- “identifiable with the work of a builder, designer, artist, architect or landscape architect whose work has influenced the development of the Town, State or Nation”?
- “imbued with traditional or legendary lore” (whatever that means)?
If the Town determines that any one of these standards is met, congratulations, you live in an historic home or district! No matter that you didn’t know, don’t care or disagree – you will not be able to change any exterior feature on your house unless you submit an application for a “certificate of appropriateness” and obtain approvals from multiple municipal bodies and officials.
Residents of Wychwood, the Gardens, Indian Forest, Stoneleigh Park, Boulevard, Manor Park and other neighborhoods, beware. It used to take at least 80% of you to agree to become an historic district; soon it will be just a majority of the Town Council. The same is true if you live in any home, new or old, that Mayor Brindle may view as “representative of a period in the architectural or social history of Westfield,” or having a valuable “distinguishing characteristic” or “architectural type.” Concerned? You should be.
The preservation of truly historic homes is a worthy pursuit, but it should not come at the expense of fundamental private property rights. Private property taken for public use without compensation, including unilaterally imposing substantial restrictions on the use of that property, is not only unconstitutional, but offensive. Westfield deserves better.
If, like us, you respect historic preservation but oppose the idea of unwillingly being told that your home is “historic” and then being restricted from changing any exterior aspect of it without begging the Town for permission, let Mayor Brindle know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JoAnn Neylan, Chairwoman
Westfield Town Republican Committee