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RED BANK: HOME’S HISTORIC VALUE DISPUTED

red-bank-26-wallace-101421-2-500x332-8556330Downtown Investors plans to demolish the house at 26 Wallace Street to create a parking lot. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-9108919Historic-value claims about a century house targeted for demolition in downtown Red Bank are “in error,” a developer’s land-use expert told the planning board Monday night.

Members of the Historic Preservation Commission were itching to differ.

red-bank-26-wallace-020822-500x331-6219848The Wallace Street site, marked with a star above, would be used as a  parking lot for an office building planned for adjoining lots fronting on Linden Place. (Map from Google. Click to enlarge.)

Mike Simpson, testifying as a planner for Downtown Investors, told the planning board that the house at 26 Wallace Street, estimated to be 132 years old, meets none of the eight criteria for recognition as “historic” under borough ordinance.

Those include factors such as location in a designated historic district; ties to significant persons or events; and distinctive architecture, Simpson said, adding that the house was instead a “hodgepodge” of styles.

“To our professional opinion, this property is sufficiently compromised, sufficiently in a place where the Master Plan is better served by the parking, that we do not see a justification for keeping it on the HPC’s list of historic properties,” Simpson said.

His testimony faced limited immediate pushback, because public comments on the proposal were deferred to board’s March 21 meeting.

But those waiting to comment included one current and one former member of the borough’s Historic Preservation Commission, which rejected the demolition plan in October as contrary to preservation objectives.

Owned by father-and-son attorneys Jay Herman and Todd Herman, Downtown Investors needs board variances for side-yard setbacks, buffers and unpaved open space to create the proposed 30-space parking lot.

The lot would provide parking for a contemplated office building that Todd Herman said would be formally proposed “soon” for 21 Linden Place, which the firm already owns, if the parking lot is first approved. He said the lot approval is needed to proceed in marketing the building space to prospective tenants.

The Hermans said they would continue a 30-year practice of allowing the public to park in their lots at no charge during their tenants’ off-hours.

Asked by board member and Councilman Michael Ballard whether the HPC was wrong to classify the house as historic, Simpson, of SOME Architects, said it was, using the HPC’s own standards.

“I understand that it’s a very old house,” he said. “There’s a lot of really old houses in Red Bank, and there’s a lot that deserve preservation. But this, in my professional opinion, is not one of them.”

Barbara Boas, a member of both the HPC and the planning board, expressed dismay that the Hermans’ plan was being heard without a formal appeal of the HPC decision.

Jay Herman replied that borough law does not require an appeal hearing in matters where the underlying application is before either the zoning board or the planning board. The HPC’s opinion is “advisory only,” he said.

“Where an application goes just to HPC, and not simultaneously to planning or zoning, the HPC has final say,” he said. In this case, “there’s no appeal necessary,” an interpretation that attorneys for both the zoning board and the borough had agreed was correct, Herman said.

“OK, I haven’t heard that side of the story before,” said Boas.

Board attorney Mike Leckstein said the board can factor in the HPC’s decision, like anyone else’s comments, when weighing the matter.

Acting HPC Chairman Chris Fabricant and former HPC member Roseann DalPra called or Zoomed into the meeting, but like all other members of the public, were permitted only to question the Hermans and Simpson, not to comment.

DalPra asked that all correspondence on the appeal issue be posted on the borough website; the Hermans did not object.

After three hours, the board adjourned the hearing until March 21, when public comment will be heard, said Chairman Dan Mancuso.

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