WESTFIELD, NJ — The third time’s a charm.
The town council on Tuesday approved the third recent version of an update to its historic preservation law with proponents of the legislative update arguing it would help to prevent teardowns of historically significant homes by putting in a review process for demolition permits, while opponents characterized the revision as government overreach.
“For some this is not politically popular, but its intent is supported by many and consistent with the commitment I made, along with many on this council, to make historic preservation a priority,” said Mayor Shelley Brindle, at the online meeting. “This ordinance will ensure that going forward we have some sensible review processes in place before we lose any more historically significant buildings to tear downs.”
Council members voted on party lines with seven of the eight Democratic council members favoring the legislative update and the lone Republican council member opposing it. Councilman Jim Boyes, who previously has noted his marriage to Maria Boyes, chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission, abstained from the vote.
Republican Councilman Mark LoGrippo cast the lone dissenting vote.
“It is an overreach, and at the end of the day the town council has the final say if a resident could designate his home or district,” LoGrippo said. “So I don’t feel that it is fair to taxpayers here in Westfield. Actually, I eventually think it will lead to a lawsuit.”
Several residents speaking during a public hearing on the measure objected to the proposed revisions to the ordinance, which would have a historic preservation officer review demolition permits for homes built prior to 1930 to determine if those residences have historical significance and should be designated for the purpose of preservation.
Sherry Hines, a resident of Stoneleigh Park, had purchased and distributed lawn signs that say “Mayor Brindle. Hands off Our Homes.” She was among residents to have received a letter from the Historic Preservation Commission stating that the existing ordinance is out of date and that the “Commission has no intention of designating properties against homeowners’ wishes.”
Hines doubts the assertion that the town does not intend to designate homes without homeowner consent.
“I hope you are going to stick with your word, and not do that and I also am telling you right up front: I am against my home getting designated,” Hines said.
Town Historian Robert Wendel, who sits on the historic preservation commission, spoke in favor of the ordinance. Wendel said the town needs to reflect on its history.
“I urge the council to approve this ordinance, which may in fact not stop all demolitions going forward, but they’ll be addressed on a case by case basis,” Wendel said.
Summit Avenue Courtney Schael strongly objected to the measure. Her concern is property values.
“People have lived her for decades. … If they lose one dollar of equity in their house because of this ordinance, it’s not fair,” Schael said.
While some residents argued that approving the measure during the pandemic did not allow for proper public input, the legislative update played out over several months. Here’s the timeline of what happened:
On June 9, the town council introduced the first version of the historic homes law update and referred it to the planning board for review.
On June 30, the town council introduced a second version of the legislative update when the initially introduced version misstated the threshold year for which homes would need to undergo review prior to being demolished.
On July 6, the planning board agreed that the updated ordinance was in keeping with the town’s master plan.
On Aug. 11, the town council introduced a third version of the ordinance update, following extensive public feedback.
On Sept. 8, the town council approved the measure 7-1.
Click here to view the historic preservation ordinance.
Email Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @MattKadosh
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