Historic District design guidelines are presented at Glen Ridge meeting

Architect Steven Smolyn presents the draft of the design guidelines for the Glen Ridge Historic District at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Sept. 1.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge Historic Preservation Commission heard a presentation about the design guidelines for the borough’s historic district at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 1; the creation of the guidelines is funded by a grant from the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service. Architect Steven Smolyn was hired to write the guidelines, which, according to the presentation, will put in place the design principles that have been used when the HPC is considering applications from residents to renovate, repair and expand their properties in Glen Ridge.

“The design guidelines are intended to further the appreciation of the architecture, setting and history of Glen Ridge, to help ensure consistency in local decision-making, and to benefit property owners by clarifying community expectations,” the draft of the guidelines says. “These design guidelines offer information on the rehabilitation of existing buildings, including new additions and new construction, to offer a common body of knowledge for all participants in the review process, including commission members.”

Smolyn said at the meeting that he has toured the town extensively and reviewed the U.S. Department of the Interior’s guidelines, in addition to those of 30 to 40 other municipalities, mostly in New Jersey.

He addressed comments from the HPC committee about what project applications would be considered under the guidelines; the three categories of project are “visible,” “minimally visible” and “not visible.” Projects that are not able to be seen by a person standing on the street are not required to go before the HPC. Minimally visible projects are in the line of sight no more than four inches, and visible projects can be seen from the street. Both require HPC approval; the term “minimally visible” is a new addition.

“That is essentially visible, but I think it allows for a different type of level of review for certain elements, such as mechanical equipment or solar panels on historic property,” Smolyn said. “I think that should help quite a bit.”

According to Smolyn, sidewalks are outside the jurisdiction of the HPC’s approval process but still contribute to the character of the property in question when an application is being heard.

“Those would be nonbinding considerations for the homeowner to seriously take into account,” Smolyn said. “They’re not necessarily things that the HPC would be reviewing as part of an application.”

Bluestone flag is a sidewalk material that is considered historic and distinctive, and should be preserved when possible, according to the guidelines. A borough ordinance already addresses sidewalks during construction.

Smolyn addressed recurring comments, of which new construction was one. Completely new construction on an empty lot is rare in the borough, but the guidelines suggest not doing so on a lot within the historic district, which encompasses the majority of the center of town. Portions of the extreme north and south ends of Glen Ridge are also considered to be part of the historic district.

“New construction is fairly uncommon in Glen Ridge, but it should have a high standard for design and craft,” Smolyn said. “Doors, windows and details associated with those types of elements should be part of a design package for a new construction package, to make sure that a very high level of thought went into those details so you have a good product in the end.”

The draft of the design guidelines can be found on the borough’s website at www.glenridgenj.org/hpc.htm. Public comment on the guidelines will be accepted through Sept. 10 and can be emailed to hpc@glenridgenj.org. 

“I think the amount of work from everybody involved is impressive,” HPC commissioner Geoffrey Darby said at the meeting. “It’s very helpful, and it shows where we’re lacking in ordinances.”