Minutes: August 2, 2018

Call to Order

7:31 p.m.

Statement of Compliance

Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act, adequate notice of this regular meeting has been provided to the public and the press on January 14, 2018 by delivering to the press such notice and posting same at the municipal building and filed with the office of the township clerk.

Salute to the Flag

Roll Call

Lisa Anderson - Corresponding SecretaryP
Mark Cilli (departed meeting at 8:45 p.m.)P
Ronald J. Dupont Jr. - Vice ChairmanP
Dan Kadish - ChairmanP
Paul G. MeleA
Kristi Baldwin Raperto - liaison to the land use board (departed meeting at 8:45 p.m.)P
Kirk StephensP

Also Present—Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary

Public Participation

1. Open Meeting to the Public

Motion to open the meeting to the public was made by Mr. Cilli and was seconded by Mr. Dupont. All were in favor.

Discussion Regarding Block 144.01, Lot 7, Also Known as the Board of Education Building

Doreen Edwards of Highland Lakes, Vice President of the Vernon Township Historical Society. Ms. Edwards asked if it would be acceptable to have a question period after the presentation period, and Chairman Kadish agreed to open it to the public at that time.

2. Close Meeting to the Public

Motion to close the meeting to the public was made by Ms. Raperto and seconded by Mr. Cilli. All were in favor.

Review of the Minutes

1. May 3, 2018 - Regular Meeting

Ms. Raperto moved to approve the minutes, seconded by Mr. Dupont.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Ms. Anderson, Chairman Kadish, Mr. Dupont, Ms. Raperto, Mr. Stephens
Abstentions: Mr. Cilli
Minutes were approved.

New Business

1. B. Zaretsky Presentation and Discussion (Block 144.01, Lot 7, a.k.a. the Board of Education (BOE) building at 539 CR-515, Vernon) - Report Due before August 22, 2018

Chairman Kadish said that when the HPC met on January 17, members reviewed the issue and made recommendations. Chairman Kadish highlighted two of the recommendations, that “the site designation and the memorialization shall remain on site” and “that a future display exhibits the building’s history and past township uses.” He addressed Mr. Bruce Zaretsky and Mr. John Bosma and requested for them to review the document describing the history of the building. Mr. Zaretsky said he had agreed in a previous conversation with an HPC member to have the site designation and memorialization remain on site. He said he would consider the other recommendation mentioned but does not yet know what will be developed on the site, how it would fit in or if there would be a common area where a display or exhibit could be shown. He said if there is a common area, then he does not see any problem with complying with that recommendation. Mr. Zaretsky said he does currently envision a common promenade area around the building and said that recommendation would be a great addition to that area. He said he currently envisions retail on the first floor with apartments above, a common design for town centers. He said the purpose of buying the lot was to combine it with another lot they own, which fronts on Main Street and Bank Street. He envisions the back of the building acting as another building front with common, public spaces. He also envisions coming from county Route 515, all parking located underneath the building, and everything on the street level as space for pedestrians, where he said he could see the exhibit being located. Chairman Kadish said the (BOE) building was a centralized concept that had a front portico of Greek architectural conception and that the site was chosen for its Acropolis-like position from the road. Chairman Kadish said the HPC is to render its recommendation to the land use board (LUB).

Mr. Zaretsky responded to Chairman Kadish that he would provide a written description of specific project plans regarding the HPC recommendation to include what was just mentioned regarding the site.

Mr. Dupont asked if any consideration has been given to the possibility of including the original portion of the building in whatever campus is developed. Mr. Zaretsky answered that with the concept of underground parking right under the foundation of the structure, there would be a totally new engineering design and he does not think including the original portion of the building would work. Mr. Dupont asked if consideration was ever given to include the original portion of the building in any potential development plans. Mr. Zaretsky replied that the building is on the market for lease “as is” to see if any large corporation would show an interest but that there has been none.

Mr. Zaretsky answered Chairman Kadish that he has not done any core samples for ledge.

Ms. Anderson asked, if the building is demolished, whether anything could be salvaged, such as reclaimed wood, for example. Mr. Zaretsky said they would salvage whatever they could and would certainly salvage the mechanical systems. He said if there are a lot of post and beams, they would probably salvage them and that whatever is of value will be taken out of the building.

Mr. Zaretsky and Mr. Bosma responded to Chairman Kadish that they would not oppose HPC members going through the building to document construction, if visible, but said sooner would be better than later.

Mr. Stephens said it seems to him that there is an inevitability about it and that the HPC does not necessarily have power to stop the proceeding. He said if that is the case, he thinks integrating into the design of a new structure any historic beams, old hand-cut stone or cornerstones, especially near the proposed exhibit, could “take the sting out” for some individuals. Mr. Zaretsky agreed that cut stones would be a feature to include.

Motion to Reopen the Meeting to the Public to Question the Applicant

Mr. Dupont moved to reopen the meeting to the public to question the applicant and was seconded by Ms. Raperto. All were in favor.

Jessi Paladini of Sunset Ridge, President of the Vernon Township Historical Society. Ms. Paladini said this building is perhaps the most historic in all of Vernon and said it is wrong for HPC members to say that there is nothing that the HPC can do. She said the HPC absolutely has the authority and jurisdiction to vote “no” on a recommendation to demolish a building and said to the commissioners that it is their job. Ms. Paladini said she has always been supportive of all of Mr. Zaretsky’s development. She said she is aware there is nothing she can do to stop Mr. Zaretsky and understands that he is a developer; however, opined that for him to demolish a building that is over a hundred years old and has served the public all of those years is a terrible thing, a bastardization to historic preservation in the township.

Ms. Paladini addressed Ms. Raperto and said she does not know why she is sitting up there because she is a family member of a member of the fire department, which is located right next door (to the building in question). Ms. Paladini said she filed a massive, conflict-of-interest complaint against all of the members of the HPC with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. She said for the sake of principle, the HPC—every member except Ms. Raperto—can vote “no” to the recommendation to demolish the building.

Addressing Mr. Zaretsky, she said she knows he does not care how she feels but that she could just cry about the demolition. Even though the architecture has changed, Ms. Paladini said according to the New Jersey Historic Preservation Act, the building still has criteria by which it is historic.

Addressing Chairman Kadish, Ms. Paladini said she does not believe he has the authority to be listening to or to be voting on this matter.

Ms. Edwards said as she wept that it is very upsetting and that they tried to save the building and do what they could to preserve the history because a town is nothing without its history. She asked Mr. Zaretsky to reconsider the underground parking and to make the original portion of the building the focal point. She emotionally opined that people like and look for places with historic value.

Mr. Zaretsky told Ms. Paladini that he does value her opinion and what she says. He said from his perspective, an historic building in town retains much of its natural character, and its great historic and architectural appeal is inspirational. He opined that the building in question does not have these qualities. He said if it is not about architecture, then the HPC recommendations would do more justice for the history of the building than the actual building would. His opinion is that the building would never give additional tax ratables or support the sewer system. Mr. Zaretsky said he innocently entered into buying the building and would not have started the process if he knew of the quagmire beforehand. He said the municipality had opportunities to buy the building and the BOE had opportunities to keep the building, but neither entity moved on it. He said when he wound up with the property by successfully outbidding another, his intention was not to make anyone’s life miserable. Ms. Paladini replied that she has championed for the township’s economics for decades and was on the LUB for eight years. She said the BOE voted eight-to-zero to deed the building to the Vernon Township Historical Society to preserve it but that it went downhill after the mayor and town council got involved. Ms. Paladini opined that Mr. Zaretsky’s bid was illegal, which she said might even be filed in the future as an ethics complaint against the BOE. She told Mr. Zaretsky and the HPC to read the Secretary of the Interior’s criteria on historic preservation because she said while the building does not fit architecture criteria, it fits other criteria. She suggested Mr. Zaretsky sell the building to the historical society for what he paid for it.

Motion to Close the Meeting to the Public

Mr. Cilli moved to close the meeting to the public and was seconded by Ms. Raperto. All were in favor.

Chairman Kadish said the HPC needs to report back to the LUB. He said when the report is finished and distributed, if there are any objections to it, then they should be communicated to the secretary because there is no HPC meeting before the next LUB meeting (which is when the report is due).

Motion to Vote on the Demolition of the Building

Mr. Cilli made a motion to vote on the demolition of the building, seconded by Ms. Anderson.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Mr. Cilli
Nays: Ms. Anderson, Mr. Dupont
Abstentions: Chairman Kadish, Ms. Raperto, Mr. Stephens

Discussion ensued regarding the actual motion and the final vote.

Mr. Stephens suggested going through the bullets on the draft of the HPC recommendations again before forwarding it to the LUB. Chairman Kadish said what the HPC is doing is making its recommendations to the LUB about the application.

Motion to Reopen the Meeting to the Public

Mr. Dupont moved to reopen the meeting to the public to question the applicant and was seconded by Ms. Raperto.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Ms. Anderson, Mr. Dupont, Chairman Kadish, Ms. Raperto, Mr. Stephens
Nays: Mr. Cilli

Ms. Paladini said people with conflicts of interest are not supposed to abstain but to recuse themselves and step down from the dais. She said what members are doing is not legal. Mr. Stephens answered Ms. Paladini that he has no business dealings with Mr. Zaretsky and only abstained during the last vote because he said he is conflicted and also not entirely clear about what the HPC was voting on. Ms. Paladini said if Mr. Stephens has legitimate questions, then he could have motioned to table or postpone it. She said she was the HPC’s secretary for seven years and knows the laws regarding the HPC.

Mr. Zaretsky answered Mr. Stephens that he did not have concept drawings and that more topography studies of the property in question are needed before concept drawings can be done. Mr. Zaretsky answered Ms. Edwards that the current idea is to have retail on the first floor with apartments on the second floor, a mixed-use concept, with the apartments supporting the retail.

Ms. Paladini asked for “the person with the conflict to recuse herself and not vote.”

Motion to Close the Meeting to the Public

Ms. Raperto moved to close the meeting to the public and was seconded by Mr. Cilli. All were in favor.

Chairman Kadish asked if any HPC members wished to change their vote. He answered affirmatively when Mr. Stephens asked for clarification if what HPC members are voting on is to make a recommendation (to the LUB) but are not necessarily determining what that recommendation is. Ms. Raperto said the HPC needs to make a recommendation no matter what. Mr. Cilli agreed with Ms. Raperto that the building can be demolished but that the HPC could recommend a memorialization and future display. Ms. Anderson said she thought the vote was on if the HPC wanted the demolition permit application to go forward, and she said that is what she voted “no” on because she does not want it to go forward. Chairman Kadish then asked for Ms. Anderson’s recommendations. Ms. Raperto said that the current recommendation addresses if a buyer plans demolition.

Chairman Kadish asked for members voting against the application to express the reasons why and to put those reasons in writing.

Ms. Anderson responded that she voted “no” because she joined the HPC to see historic buildings be preserved, and she believes the building in question should be preserved. She said cosmetically it may not look like it did, but the footprint is there and the whole reason of it being there is it is very historic and so much happened there. Ms. Anderson said she understands economically why a developer would choose to demolish the building, but she cannot vote to demolish it because it goes against everything she believes in. Ms. Anderson does not think it should be abandoned and should instead be restored. She said she understands the HPC does not have the legal ability to prevent demolition but feels it is her HPC duty to express that she does not want the building demolished. She said she understands it is costly to restore historic buildings, but if she is allowed to give her vote regarding whether she wants an application for demolition to go forward, she said she has to vote “no.”

Mr. Cilli said he voted yes because while he feels it is important to respect our heritage, he does not think it needs to be done with an abandoned building or a building that does not attract people. He said if that site becomes a vibrant place for the community with a memorial and something to read about the history, with perhaps pictures of what the site had been, he thinks people might actually learn more about the history than if it is an abandoned building.

Mr. Stephens said he appreciates history, the historic aesthetic, and is a diehard of conservation. He said while he just finished a years-long project to preserve the Drew Farm, he also recognizes that the town looks dumpy and has many abandoned buildings. He said before becoming a member of the HPC, he did not know that the BOE building was historic because of the architecture but now recognizes it is not all about architecture. He opined that putting a chain restaurant or something similar there is not a lot better than an abandoned building and would like to see an aesthetic more akin to Warwick. Mr. Stephens said he hopes the developer takes the HPC members’ comments into consideration to try to honor the building. He said realistically, the HPC is not going to be able to stop it. He said he does not necessarily want to make a recommendation that the building should be demolished. He said the HPC should make a recommendation that something should be done to honor it but that the HPC is not going to say either way whether it should be demolished. Mr. Dupont responded that, essentially, that is what the HPC is being asked, “yes” or “no,” whether or not the HPC thinks the application should go forward.

Mr. Dupont said that while it is obvious that Vernon has to grow, his feeling is that the building is an officially designated township landmark that played an important role in the history of education and in Vernon Township. He said old buildings have a lot of problems in terms of reuse and financial liability, but he has not seen any real attempt made to incorporate any part of the building in any kind of new plan or that it was even considered. He said those are the reasons why he is not comfortable approving the application.

Chairman Kadish addressed Mr. Zaretsky and said he thought there were some developmental advantages to retaining some of the building in terms of procedures and planning boards. Mr. Zaretsky answered that he does not see an advantage to using the building as an historical element. He has spent most of his life in Vernon and said he has heard many people comment that Vernon does not have a core that could be called town center and that Main Street was built for that reason. Chairman Kadish said Vernon once was a residential town with ancillary stores, but when culture changed, zoning changed to commercial. Vernon had to deal with the issues from 2008 along with the ongoing sewer problem. He said his role is HPC chair but also is on the town council and LUB, and he said he does not feel he can participate in his recommendations.

Mr. Zaretsky said his reason for combining the two properties was as a possibility of creating that core for the town to serve the community. He believes this project will be so expensive that he will never see a nickel and financing will result in the bank making all of the money. He thinks the apartments would carry the retail and that retail is struggling. Mr. Zaretsky said there is a lot of difficulty with this property but that he is doing it because he has been building in the town for the last forty years and has a vision for Vernon. He believes moving forward means not leaving a building that doesn’t represent the whole idea of the history of the schools and the municipality and thinks this history could be presented in a much more desirable and inspirational way. Ms. Anderson responded that while she appreciates the vision, the 115-year-old building located right there needs to be considered and pleaded for the building to be rehabilitated and incorporated into the vision. She said she understands that some people see the building as an eyesore but that it goes deeper because the purpose of it being built was to bring various schools together as a state-of-the-art school with the best heating and construction. She answered Mr. Zaretsky that if money was not an issue, she would have the building moved. Ms. Anderson feels that her job on the HPC is to save this historic building, and if the HPC is allowed to vote if the application is to go forward, she cannot vote for the application to go forward.

Chairman Kadish expressed satisfaction that he preserved his farm because there is now more open space and he knows it will not be cut up and developed. He said he is not against development and that he was a developer in Hoboken and Jersey City. He said his opinion is that the issue is that the culture in Vernon has drastically changed over the years and that the town is in dire need of new activities. He said because Mountain Creek, the largest taxpayer, is face down and dumping all its debt on Vernon taxpayers, any effort to increase a balance is vitally important to everyone. Chairman Kadish said he went to school in that building for two years, and the building has changed just as the culture has changed. He said a huge effort with Countryside Exchange was made in the ’90s, but then a new administration in 2011 wiped out the design requirements. He said it is a question of balancing today’s needs.

Chairman Kadish said HPC members needs some clarity as to what they are voting on. He asked Ms. Paladini to stop recording the meeting, to which she replied that she is allowed and she will not stop recording.* Mr. Stephens said Chairman Kadish’s commentary swayed him a bit because Chairman Kadish attended school in the building and is a preservationist in term of maintaining a rural aesthetic. He said whatever the HPC ultimately votes on, he wants to ensure that it is very clear that the HPC’s recommendation is that, whatever happens with the property, a certain aesthetic be maintained and a certain honorarium be paid to the past. Chairman Kadish responded that Mr. Zaretsky had accepted those two terms, the site designation and the memorialization shall remain on the site and a future display, if possible, exhibits the building’s history and past township uses. Mr. Stephens said his additional bullet point would be to incorporate physical building materials into the new construction to the extent possible. Mr. Zaretsky answered that they would certainly do so. He said there is no problem with modifying the document to include the point about the display as well as the point about the architectural items being incorporated into the new structure.

Chairman Kadish asked if there was a motion to recommend to the LUB items one and two (that site designation and memorialization shall remain on site, that a future display exhibits the building’s history and past township uses, and that any historical materials in the building that can be used would be utilized in the construction or the display). Ms. Anderson questioned if they were no longer voting on demolition. He replied that the HPC is making a recommendation to the LUB regarding the demolition permit. She said she would vote that she does not want it demolished but, if the HPC does not have any legal standing for it not to be, then she would want the points mentioned incorporated. She emphasized that her vote is, “do not demolish.”

* Ms. Jessi Paladini approached the commissioners and videoed at a close distance, literally a few feet away from an HPC member and circling. Mr. Cilli asked her during the meeting to sit down but she refused.

Motion to Vote to Recommend the Acceptance of the Permit to Demolish the Building with the Caveats Previously Described

Mr. Cilli made a motion to vote to recommend to accept the permit to demolish the building with the caveats that had been previously described. Mr. Stephens said he would rather have a motion that the HPC vote to remain neutral on demolition, if that is possible, with these recommendations. Chairman Kadish said that is reflected in the voting. Ms. Anderson asked for clarification if the original vote was just on demolition.

Motion to Recommend Acceptance of the Permit for Demolition the Building with the Caveats Previously Described

Mr. Cilli made a motion to vote on the HPC recommending that the LUB accept the permit for demolition with the caveats described, seconded by Ms. Anderson.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Mr. Cilli, Mr. Stephens
Nays: Ms. Anderson, Mr. Dupont
Abstentions: Chairman Kadish, Ms. Raperto
Motion failed.

At 8:45 p.m., Mr. Cilli and Ms. Raperto left the meeting. Prior to departing, Ms. Raperto stated that she does not consent to a video or photo of her being shown anywhere.

2. Canal Road Kiln and Burial Site

Chairman Kadish said there is a limestone kiln that is somewhat collapsed on Canal Road next to the river, and there is the Native American burial site in which the site was dug by Chairman Kadish’s mother who later became a prehistory archaeologist in Turkey. He said it is in the state museum and about four years ago, he signed off all connections of proprietary ownership to it.

3. Rickey Homestead - Reports Due

Chairman Kadish believes only two reports have been submitted. Ms. Anderson she does not really have anything. Mr. Stephens said he did not write anything up.

4. Canal Road

Chairman Kadish said there is a question as to whether Canal Road, one of the last dirt roads in town, should be designated as historical.

Old Business

1. Mission Statement

Chairman Kadish said that his opinion is that Mr. Cilli’s suggested additions do not belong but will be discussed later.

2. Tabled Agenda Items

The following agenda items were also tabled until September 6: Rickey Homestead, Glenwood Presentation, Farmland Historic Area. A motion was made by Ms. Anderson and seconded by Ms. Raperto. All were in favor.

3. Methodist/St. Thomas Signs

Chairman Kadish said the sign’s wording could be minimized and he would like for HPC members to review and approve it or it can also be tabled. He said once they have the sign, Charles (Bates) is going to come to tell them where to put it.

Review of Land Use Board (LUB) Applications

1. Mountain Creek “Master Plan”

Chairman Kadish said that as far as he can see, there is no historical issues.

2. Demolition Permit Recommendations

This agenda item was addressed in New Business, no. 1.

3. Burger King Alteration

This agenda item was not discussed.

Commissioners’ Comments

1. Drew Farm

Mr. Stephens said he has some new business. When he went through the final preservation process on the Drew Farm, he learned that the individual handling farmland assessment for the county is transitioning to a new role and that until there is a replacement with requisite credentials, there is a moratorium on new farmland preservation applications. He said it also came to his attention that the state program for preserving farms in counties for which there is no county preservation program, such as Sussex County, will have no more funds until that replacement is found. He does not know if it is within the HPC’s purview but would like to make a recommendation that the HPC send a letter to the freeholders encouraging them to backfill the position so that they can accept applications for farmland preservation. Chairman Kadish thought the HPC should go beyond that and offer the town council a resolution. Mr. Stephens acknowledged his bias by stating he has a vested interest. He said Drew Farm has been preserved and that he would like to see the whole road, his neighbors’ properties, be preserved because that part of town still has a rural aesthetic that he does not want to be encroached upon. Mr. Stephens brought surveys with him of what Drew Farm was going to look like as a subdivision plan, and he said it is now going to be farmland in perpetuity.

2. Perry Cemetery - Sammis Farm

Mr. Dupont said he had two things he wanted to bring up. He said he has been in touch with a number of Perry family descendants as well as Sammis family members who lived there. He said they are all aware of the cemetery, they could take HPC members to its location, and they want to see it preserved. Mr. Dupont said he had several phone conversations with Jeff Koffman, CEO of Mountain Creek. Mr. Dupont said Mountain Creek has plans for the Sammis farm but at this point does not know the exact plans. He said Mr. Koffman indicated that they were not aware of the cemetery but seemed to think that the location of it was not an area that would be affected by their plans. Mr. Dupont said he asked Mr. Koffman’s permission to have HPC members examine the site and perhaps add the site to the list of township landmarks. Mr. Dupont said about a month ago, Mr. Koffman said he would talk to his attorneys, and Mr. Dupont said he did not hear back from him again.

3. The Milton School House

Mr. Dupont said over towards Owens Station at the fork of Bassetts Bridge and Liberty Corners Road, there was a small building that was the original Milton School House. It was replaced in 1934 by a bigger, newer schoolhouse. Mr. Dupont said he drove past the location today, and it was gone. He guessed it was demolished in the last couple of months. He said it highlighted the fact that the HPC really needs to work on a system. He said the HPC get applications to review with absolutely no historical issues whatsoever, and yet somehow a very old schoolhouse gets demolished that never gets HPC review. He said he does not know how it happened or why but that they really need to work on a master plan of historic sites so that even if something is not officially landmarked, then there is a flag. Then, if a demolition permit comes up for the building, the HPC at least has the opportunity to make a site visit, document, make notes, photographs, drawings, etc., instead of just seeing it gone one day. Mr. Dupont answered Ms. Anderson that it was part of the Mary Weslowski farm on Liberty Corners Road, which has been vacant for many years. He said there was lots of overgrowth, and he supposes that the heirs settled matters amongst themselves regarding ownership. He said they had been making improvements but that particular building was knocked down.

Adjournment

Motion to adjourn was made by Ms. Anderson and seconded by Mr. Stephens. All were in favor. Meeting adjourned: 8:53 p.m.

Minutes submitted by Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary