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Westfield Historic Preservation Commission Outlines Committees Aimed at Progress

The Historic Preservation Commission met Monday to identify seven committees to support their efforts in local preservation Credits: Kate Brochu

WESTFIELD, NJ — The Historic Preservation Commission identified seven committees during Monday night’s regular meeting.

“I am thrilled to have some people out there that are putting in a lot of hard work,” HPC Chair Kelly Kessler said.

Member James Corcoran sought clarification regarding private meetings and communication outside of regularly scheduled meetings, but members confirmed that their efforts were only to expedite progress and help meetings run more efficiently.

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“As a member of the public in past years all I’ve heard is that this commission can never get anything done, so it is with huge enthusiasm and excitement that we get together and just throw out ideas and brainstorm,” said member Maria Boyes.

“There is so much in our ordinance that we are charged with doing that we haven’t done in quite a while, so there is a lot of work that went in behind the scenes to launch the meeting,” Kessler said.

The first committee that the HPC identified is the Communications Committee. This group will be tasked with building the commission’s social media presence.

“It’s all new territory for us,” said Kessler who added that the platforms may be used to share local historical research or to educate residents about historical designations.

The commission also discussed establishing a Community Relations Designation Committee in the hopes of proactively reaching out to owners of historical homes. 

“I think some of us should actually go out and meet historic property owners and sit down and talk with them and see what role we can play and what information they may be lacking that we can provide,” said commission member Robert Wendel.

One public attendee of Monday’s meeting, Pam Wiaczek, said that she spoke about the concept of a proactive approach at the last town council meeting adding that it’s often too late for the commission to save historic homes once an application has been filed.

“I don’t know if you can win when money is involved,” she said.

The commission also plans for a Historic Preservation Plan Review Committee that will work closely with the community, the Westfield Planning Board and the town’s master plan to determine what districts and areas are most “at risk.”

“I think there is a lot of support from the planning board on historic preservation,” said planning board member Michael LaPlace.

The commission’s Intern Committee will collaborate with Westfield High School seniors participating in AP Government classes to help in historic home research. The commission also hopes to work with the Westfield school district as part of an Awards Committee. Students will be invited to submit essays and artwork around historical places in town. As part of the Awards Committee, the commission hopes to re-establish the Devlin Award program, with awards given to Westfield property owners who adhere to historic preservation standards while changing, restoring and maintaining their buildings and grounds. 

As part of the commissions new proactive approach, members plan to create an Historic Research Committee. The goal of this committee is to research and understand historic properties before they come to the commission.

“We would essentially sit down and understand the historical basis to why these properties are important,” said Wendel. Efforts from this group would also go towards content development and information sharing on the commission's social pages.

The final committee discussed at last night’s meeting is the Certified Local Government Committee. According to Kessler, the state certification would offer support to the commission for their preservation efforts including training sessions, survey assistance, state grant funding eligibility, tax incentives for eligible properties and help in updating the town’s ordinance.

“They are recognizing us as a legit commission,” said Kessler.

In order to be considered for Certified Local Government, all members of the commission must submit a resume. According to Kessler, at the time of last night’s meeting commission member James Corcoran was the only member to have not yet submitted his resume.

“This was an initiative I took back during the election year. I had everyone’s resume ready to submit and the chairwoman represented herself in a news outlet,” said Corcoran. “I felt the need to protect the resumes of everyone else until the entire election was over.”

Corcoran has agreed to submit his credentials as they relate to historic preservation by the end of the week now that the new commission has officially kicked off this year.

“The benefits that we will receive from being a Certified Local Government are being held back by one member not giving his resume and talking about integrity of last November doesn’t really make any sense to me,” said commission member Maria Boyes.

“We’re trying to move forward,” said Kessler.

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