Montclair is a town known for its abundance of fine old homes and more importantly, for long established characteristic neighborhoods, all over town. To be relevant today, Historic Preservation must consider safeguarding the existing social and built fabric of each neighborhood and the existing landscapes’ environmental qualities. Buildings and their architectural character are contributing factors to each neighborhood. Designated landmarks and historical districts statically increase overall property values.
Preserving and repurposing existing buildings and their landscapes contributes to the economic common good of the social fabric. It also maintains a town’s character and standards of quality for the whole community and protects from overdevelopment.
What to do in a scenario like the demolition permit for 109 Union Street requested due to the presence of mold, lead and asbestos?
109 Union Street is a characteristic Tudor Revival house on a large property in the First Historic District.
To summarize from the Historic Preservation Commission’s Preservation Specialist’s report:
The subject property, 109 Union Street, is one of 240 structures in the First Residential Historic District in Montclair, which is listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.
Union Street was also part of “Preservation Montclair”, town‐wide survey that determined possible notable architectural resources in the Township. The properties along Union Street were part of the Phase I survey; 109 Union Street was one of several properties surveyed.
The residence is a fine example of Tudor Revival architecture and is one of many similar houses found in Montclair. The house also fits within the neighborhood, which is distinctive due to its mix of residences of similar size and placement along the street adopting the popular architectural styles of the period, such as the Tudor Revival, Queen Anne, Shingle style, and others.
The information provided by the applicant justifying the need for demolition appears incomplete.
Execution of asbestos removal is a NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) regulated construction activity that should have a clear permitting and testing protocol as part of its removal.
In addition, if there is loose asbestos‐ containing material in the house, how is this going to be addressed during demolition so as not to create a continuing environmental issue on the property and possibly prevent construction of a new residence that could be designed to be sympathetic to the neighborhood.
The demolition of this structure is based on insufficient documentation could potentially set a bad precedent in this district. 109 Union Street is a significant part of the fabric of the First Residential Historic District, in and of itself has high degree of architectural integrity.
To summarize from Montclair’s Code 347-142.1E(3) – Review Criteria for Total Demolition, there are several factors that are specific to the scenario of the 109 Union Street demolition application:
Its historical, architectural, cultural and aesthetic significance
The probable impact of its removal upon the ambience of the landmark district.
The technological feasibility of structural rehabilitation.
What could be a good solution? 109 Union Street is an architecturally significant contributing element to the neighborhood’s historic district. Preserve the exterior building structure and rebuild the interior. The building’s exterior and surrounding green spaces are what’s most valuable as a contributing historic element to neighborhood.
Mold and asbestos can be common in old structures and there are safety codes, regulations and industry standards to properly mitigate these instances. Demolishing a building can possibly create environmental hazards for the surrounding neighborhood. Permitting demolition without following through with the correct process could set a negative precedence in a town that is characterized for its abundance of fine old housing stock.
– Frank Gerard Godlewski