Montclair Planning Board members are exploring the possibility of bringing back a now defunct ordinance that sought to protect older homes from demolition in the Township.
An ad hoc subcommittee was created consisting of several members of both the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) in order to potentially bring back an ordinance or institute a similar one. The ordinance was proposed by Martin Schwartz, planning board member, who suggested it be brought back due to the proposed leveling of two major residential structures in the Township recently.
According to Schwartz, the structures, one located on Lloyd Road and the other one on Undercliff Road, were potentially marked for being knocked down, for purposes of connecting them into one huge compound. He said that even though some structures may not be deemed as historic, there are many older buildings in the township that could garner that title at some point.
“Building in what was a proposed historic district, brings back the issue of an overall historic district and designation of residential properties as historic,” Schwartz said during Monday night’s Planning Board meeting. “Older homes, as we all know, have the architectural charm and character, and are among the major selling points that Montclair has, bringing buyers to town and guests for day tours, making this a regional destination center.”
Schwartz then explained the past ordinance, which stipulated a 75-year no knockdown law that was on the books for a considerable amount of time.
“Ostensibly, there was a change in state zoning designations and the time of application law. My understanding is that the planner had the council remove the 75-year, no knockdown law,” he explained. “The problem with that is older buildings are now at risk of an automatic demo permit, should someone acquire some properties next to each other as in this case and create what someone referred to as a ‘McMansion’ type build.”
Schwartz encouraged Planning Board members to consider a “light preservation zone” for the township that would protect homes 75 years or older from an automatic knockdown and an automatic demo permit, being granted by the building department. It would still allow exterior modifications of those buildings that are not designated historic. He said the challenge is how to comply with the time of application rule with sufficient notice for property owners and awareness for buyers. He also advised working with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) during the process in order to address it at one of their upcoming meetings.
“We do have a designation listing of over 1,000 homes created by the Junior League some years ago,” he stressed. “I believe we can use this for the designation of homes that warrant this light preservation and designation. We can use that list as the initial basis for designation with a new mandate, and it can be updated with new pictures.”
He added that the list be applied to the property cards at Town Hall for notice purposes in order to adhere to the compliance card time of application rule so there would be some notice of a potential “light protection zone.” He said that not having something in place would otherwise begin the process of losing older homes. Although the details need to be fully refined, he proposed a subcommittee for drafting and to work along with the HPC to bring back this ordinance or try to create an ordinance for a no knockdown designation based on existing law.
While she agreed with Schwartz’s proposed return of the ordinance, Janice Talley, municipal planner, informed the board of the legal ramifications by not going through the proper procedures and having insufficient background information when it came to the 75-year-old rule elimination. She emphasized that the HPC was tasked with creating new historic districts and the appropriate way to do this is to designate historic districts.
“That’s how you protect historic structures and I think that’s the intent of the municipal land use law,” Talley said. “In fact the HPC has been working on it on the commercial side and just this year they have a grant application designating residential districts. I’m all for doing it, but procedurally you have to go through a process. You have to designate the districts and notify the property owners, even with the ‘light residential.’ We’ve talked about this in the historic designation element and you do have to go through the procedures and through that route.”
Talley also stressed that demolition requirements in the ordinance does not prevent demolition, but delays it. Schwartz said it would serve the township very well in protecting even though it would not automatically prevent it, by creating a mechanism that would make it harder or serve to delay it.
Schwartz noted that it could be an interim step to mitigate knockdowns. He said it would also keep options for further historic designations alive.
“A protection zone maintains character,” he explained, adding that the ordinance would protect the structures globally and would keep them from being knocked down and prevent more subdivisions and McMansion builds.
Other towns, such as Glen Ridge, have the entire borough as a historic district, according to Talley. Planning Board members then proceeded to create an ad hoc subcommittee comprised of several members of the both the Planning Board and HPC in order to explore the possibility of bringing back a potentially similar ordinance to Montclair. The subcommittee members are to follow up with their findings at a future meeting.