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RED BANK: COUNCIL VOWS HPC RESTART

Historic Preservation Commission attorney Michele Donato addressing the council Thursday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot topicRed Bank’s Historic Preservation Commission will be reconstituted, Mayor Billy Portman and other council members informally agreed Thursday night.

But the council will first have to adopt design standards to establish which types of renovation work require HPC perusal and which can be fast-tracked, Portman said.

The HPC was the only advisory committee not revived and restocked with appointees when the governing body that was elected in May launched the “council-manager” era in early July. Portman said at the time that he and other council members were “not quite sure which direction” the HPC was going in.

But abandoning the commission was never under consideration, he said Thursday.

“Just to be clear, no one was talking about disbanding the HPC,” he said. “What was on the table for us was either empowering it more or returning it [as] advisory to the planning board.”

The new council “put the brakes on” the restart, said Councilwoman and Deputy Mayor Kate Triggiano, because the HPC was exceeding its role as an advisory panel.

“That was my main issue, that it was acting like it had more power” than the Environmental Commission, when both are advisory only, Triggiano said.

As reported by redbankgreen, the HPC was in the process of drafting a proposed ordinance to bolster its standing in land-use cases when it last met.

The proposed law would replace one that is largely out of compliance with the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law, HPC attorney Michele Donato said in March, when the commission agreed to ask the council for $10,500 to hire consultant to prepare design guidelines.

That effort stalled in the weeks leading up to the election, Donato said during an hourlong presentation at the council’s semimonthly meeting Thursday night.

As she did in March, Donato called for the creation of a tiered system to differentiate which types of work on historic buildings, and non-historical buildings in historic districts, qualify as allowable “ordinary maintenance and repair,” and thus can be fast-tracked by the planning office without the need for a hearing.  She gave as examples the replacement windows or siding.

“Minor changes” such as signage could be approved by the HPC chairperson, also without the need for a hearing, Donato said. More significant changes, such as building additions, would require HPC hearings resulting in a certificate of appropriateness, or not, being forwarded to the land-use boards that have ultimate authority, she said.

The HPC’s review would focus on “those aspects of the change not approved by the application for development” by a land-use board, she said. “So the planning board says ‘we approve this, but the architecture is subject to review by the commission.'”

Councilperson Kristina Bonatakis, who served on the HPC earlier this year under Chairman Chris Fabricantendorsed Donato’s recommendations, as did all of ther members of the council.

Bonatakis said “a really important piece” of the HPC’s future success “is its alignment with the rest of the borough, the planning board and the governing body, and I don’t think we had that.”

The commission, she said, was “in the process of defining its own scope, which I don’t think is very natural or conducive to harmony with the rest of the borough.”

Portman said the process of setting design standards, which would be drafted by a consultant, could take time. In the interim, asked former HPC member Roseann DalPra, what happens if someone wants to demolish an historic structure?

The HPC, Triggiano replied, “didn’t have the power to tell people they couldn’t,” and by “acting as if it had that power, you were opening yourself up to litigation and could be sued for acting outside the limits of your actual power.”

Donato’s presentation can be viewed on the borough’s Facebook page beginning at 7:45 of the August 24 meeting video.

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