There is currently an inflammatory and factually incorrect letter of protest being sent around from a contractor/builder who is attempting to misinform the public as to the details of the revised ordinance. I would like to set the record straight by providing you with factually correct information.
1) All historic preservation ordinances in the state of New Jersey are considered zoning overlays, meaning that they are part of the Master Plan Zoning responsibility of the governing body of the town to manage development. That authority to make decisions regarding the designation of historic sites and districts is granted by the state to the governing body, in our case our Town Council. The Council is then tasked with reviewing recommendations from the Historic Preservation Commission with input from the Planning Board to make decisions regarding the Historic Zoning overlay in the form of historic site and district designations.
2)The Historic Preservation Commission only has an advisory function regarding designation and provides the Town Council with possible future designations. This is done through the creation and maintenance of the Historic Preservation Plan Element, a listing of properties that may possibly be eligible for future designations. Just because a house appears on this listing, DOES NOT MEAN that it is going to be designated now or at any time in the future. If the homeowner shows interest in designation after discussions with the HPC, then it can be recommended first to the Planning Board, and ultimately to the Town Council for review.
If a property has been designated in accordance with the Historic Preservation Ordinance, then there are procedures that are meant to protect the designated home from changes to the exterior of the home. This is done in cooperation with the homeowner through a certificate of appropriateness, which provides for feedback to the EXTERIOR only of the home. Windows are an exterior element and changes to facade facing windows would require a certificate of appropriateness. The HPC has NO jurisdiction on any interior changes to your home.
3) Many studies have been done to determine how historic preservation may affect the value of your home. The vast majority of these studies have shown that home values either stay the same or are improved due to the stability that historic preservation brings to the neighborhood. Some builders fight against historic preservation as they see it as a threat to their ability to tear down older homes and subsequently subdivide the plot into two new homes, maximizing their profit margins. Removing and replacing housing stock is part of every town's natural progression and the town government understands this is a possibility as the town changes and grows.
Progress is important but when historic or architecturally significant structures are demolished with little to no feedback from the community, uncontrolled development destroys the historic, cultural and architectural character of our town. This ordinance will slow the destruction of our older significant housing and commercial buildings and provide for public visibility before historic places are demolished. Historic Preservation makes good business sense and is most often beneficial to property values.
4) Material defects need to be disclosed by sellers and realtors in the process of selling a house. Being designated is not a material defect but you should discuss with your realtor whether you need to disclose if your house has been designated historically. Selling an historic home does not mean that your house will be harder to sell. Realtors can market your house to attract a wider audience that appreciates the unique historic nature of your home.
5) One objection that builders and some homeowners have regarding the revised ordinance is that pre-1930 homes scheduled for demolition will be reviewed prior to destruction to determine if there is an historic, architectural, or cultural reason for the home to be saved. It provides insight into the nature of its uniqueness and opens up a conversation with the owner or builder before the home is demolished. The HPC has been successful in working with a few builders already to save structures that otherwise would have been torn down. The Town Council and the HPC are striving to make this a collaborative process that improves visibility, while still working to find innovative ways to incorporate historic structures into new development. The Master Plan survey showed a significant desire for our historic structures to be saved and this demolition provision provides for this review. It is significantly less stringent than many other towns around us which all have similar but tougher demolition provisions.
Although we are living through a pandemic, the town government cannot come to a halt. Transparency has been achieved through zoom-based council and HPC meetings, socially-distanced neighborhood visits and clear communication based on fact through FAQs and a powerpoint presentation posted on the town website. This ordinance was introduced at a Council meeting on June 30, 2020 that was properly advertised, and very well attended with dozens of public comments. After approval on first reading, the revised ordinance was passed to the Planning Board which reviewed it at its publicly advertised meeting on July 6 with additional comments from residents. Feedback from the public is being carefully considered, amendments discussed and a final decision on this ordinance will be made after much deliberation at the September 8th Town Council meeting which was delayed to provide for additional feedback from the community.
If you have reviewed the FAQs and still have additional questions not answered in that document, please email HPC@westfieldnj.gov and we will make every attempt to respond to your issue. Please don’t let scare tactics of a few builders and political fear mongers turn you away from standing up for our town’s history and its unique architecture. History matters and these places matter.