SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Historic Preservation Commission’s role in local affairs has been clarified thanks to an ordinance passed on final reading by the Board of Trustees at its March 14 meeting.
Ordinance No. 2016-09, approved with a 5-0 vote — Trustee Jeffrey DuBowy was absent — supersedes and replaces ordinances No. 2012-09 and No. 2012-16 with regard to the formation and responsibilities of the HPC.
Trustee Mark Rosner, who serves as the board’s liaison on the HPC, said there were no significant changes to be made, but that the language was re-written to be clearer and to solve any issues of inconsistency.
The HPC was first formed in 2012 while the debate was raging over the Marylawn of the Oranges property. The Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, the owners of the Marylawn buildings and property on Scotland Road, had been planning to demolish the structures, as they could no longer keep their school and convent operational due to financial constraints. There was a backlash from residents who demanded the buildings be saved due to their historical significance. Today, the buildings are still standing though they require significant renovations to make them fit for occupancy.
HPC attorney William Sullivan explained that, with the unfolding the Marylawn issue and a recent issue regarding an application to the South Orange Zoning Board for a subdivision on the corner of Kingman Road and South Orange Avenue, the commissioners realized there were some inconsistencies and a lack of clarity in the language of the original ordinances.
“With both of those events taking place, it became clear to a lot of us that the ordinance needed some work, that there were ambiguities in the ordinance, that there were some internal inconsistencies and there were some gaps that we really needed to fill,” Sullivan said at the March 14 meeting.
Sullivan explained that these inconsistencies became an issue when it came to the previously mentioned appeal for the subdivision on Kingman and South Orange Avenue. It was discovered that the initial two ordinances contained contradictory language regarding certificates of appropriateness.
“The Zoning Board granted the appeal on narrow procedural grounds: that Section 3 of Ordinance 2012-16 superseded Ordinance 2016-09,” HPC Chairman Gary Hill told the News-Record earlier this week via email. “That is, they read Section 3 as required a certificate of appropriateness for subdivision only from ‘key contributing’ properties in the Montrose historic district, not from merely ‘contributing’ properties.
“Ordinance 2012-09 required a certificate of appropriateness for subdivision from all properties in the historic district,” Hill continued. “Thus the HPC should not have required a certificate of appropriateness from this property, which is only a ‘contributing’ property. In their discussions during the hearing the (Zoning Board members) did not otherwise agree with the applicant’s contention that our considerations regarding lot size, etc., were inappropriate; however, their resolution rested on the above narrow procedural ground.”
The new ordinance clears this up, with very precise language clarifying which properties require a certificate of appropriateness.
Sullivan also said the commissioners had been hoping this newest ordinance would expand the scope of the properties subject to the certificate of appropriateness review to include the contributing properties in Montrose; however, it does not.
Hill explained that the proposed change, which was ultimately not included, would have preserved more properties in the Montrose district.
“We wanted to expand the scope of properties because we wanted to protect Montrose historic district in its entirety, not just a few key houses,” Hill said.
“I think that while it’s fair to say some members of the commission are concerned about that change, we do feel that it is very important to move forward with the ordinance with the correction and the cleanup we’ve done because of the issues that have arisen and may arise if we continue to operate now,” Sullivan said March 14, adding that the commissioners are “happy that the ordinance is in the condition it’s in now.”