By JoANN PILEGGI
Money woes are putting the brakes on pet projects all over New Jersey, but that didn’t stop historical preservation activists from packing the Woman’s Club of Red Bank on Saturday.
It was standing room only at the annual meeting of Preservation New Jersey, the membership-supported historic preservation organization that in 2007 dubbed Red Bank’s T. Timothy Fortune house one of of the state’s ten most-endangered historical properties.
The focus of this year’s gathering, held in one of the borough’s foremost examples of historical renovation, was on helping communities navigate the process of preservation.
Guest speaker Donna Ann Harris applauded the work of the Red Bank Historic Preservation Commission, calling it an example of a progressive organization in the preservation movement. She cited the group’s efforts to save the Fortune House and the recent initiative that led to the creation of a new historic district centered on Washington Street.
Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna opened the meeting, saying he was proud of the work the commission has done.
“Red Bank can be called the poster child for preservation,” he said.
But he and others expressed concern that the economic downturn and state budget crisis will adversely impact preservation efforts throughout the state.
“Our fear though is that the state funding may not be there when we need it most,” said Liz Silvernail director of the open-space advocacy group Keep It Green.
According to Silvernail, New Jersey has been a national leader in preserving open space, historic sites and farmland for more than a decade because of the Garden State Preservation Trust Fund which was created under Governor Christie Whitman in 1999.
“Now, we need a long-term, stable funding source to continue to do our work,” she said.
Preservation New Jersey officials also expressed hope for a multi-year funding source for the trust. PNJ Executive Director Ron Emrich said there has been no renewal of trust funding by the legislature, leaving the state with its first gap in funding for open space, farmland and preservation. Voters have been asked to
support the trust fund through referendums on bond issues for several
Menna that aside from the necessary state funding for projects, it’s important for communities to be able to offer incentives to stabilize and renovate historic districts.
In spite the meeting’s focus on dwindling resources, though, Silvernail said she was thrilled at the turnout.
“It shows that people really do care about preservation,” she said.