South Orange trustees have agreed to form a historic preservation commission with power to block the demolition of designated historic sites and homes in town.
South Orange Trustee Mark Rosner said July 12 that he anticipates the commission will be up and running this fall.
In going this route, South Orange is following the lead of about 130 New Jersey towns like Maplewood and others that are trying to preserve their past for future generations.
Maplewood has had a preservation board for the about 10 years, said Virginia Kurshan, the chairwoman of that town’s commission.
But many towns in the state do not have preservation commissions, said Stephanie Cherry-Farmer, the senior programs director with Preservation New Jersey, a statewide nonprofit that promotes historic preservation.
Cherry-Farmer said historic preservation is successful in towns that have commissions where the local government and the community both support that goal. She cited Cape May and Burlington City as examples of where that is true. She added that a citizenry that is educated about and interested in preservation is a critical component.
Made up of seven members and two alternates, the South Orange commission will advise trustees as to which sites should receive protection. Members will be appointed by village President Alex Torpey.
The commission also will offer advice to the village’s planning and zoning boards when there are development applications in historic areas or on historic sites, according to an ordinance that trustees have yet to adopt.
The preservation board will not have the ability to influence or prevent exterior alterations to historic properties.
The board’s power will be wielded when someone attempts to raze an historic property or a property in an historic district. In those cases, the commission could prevent demolition after considering the site’s historical, cultural and architectural significance, as well as other factors spelled out in the ordinance.
Preventing tear downs is the main reason the town is creating a preservation board in the first place, Rosner said. He said South Orange wants to stop developers from razing homes to build “McMansions.”
Decisions by the commission can be appealed to the local zoning board or to a superior court judge. A year after being denied, property owners can get permission from the village to tear down the structure, provided they show they have tried to sell the property to someone interested in preserving it.
“Not every old property is historic,” Rosner said.
Officials have taken their time in deciding whether to go ahead with the idea. Ten years ago trustees formed a study committee to consider instituting a preservation commission, at the request of the Montrose Park Historic District Association.
“We’re thrilled,” association President Naoma Welk said July 12 in response to the town finally moving forward.
Philip Sean Curran can be reached at 908-686-7700, ext. 116, or at email@example.com.