Minutes: January 17, 2018

Call to Order

7:44 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 CilliP
Ronald J. Dupont Jr. - Vice ChairmanP
Dan Kadish - ChairmanP
Paul G. MeleP
Kristi Baldwin Raperto - liaison to the land use boardP
Kirk StephensP

Also Present—Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary

1. Open Meeting to the Public

Motion to open the meeting to the public was made by Ms. Raperto and was seconded by Ms. Anderson. All were in favor.

2. Close Meeting to the Public

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

3. Approval of the Minutes

Mr. Kadish asked for a motion to approve the regular minutes of December 7, 2017, stating that Mr. Dupont and Ms. Anderson were the only ones eligible to approve the minutes. Motion to approve the minutes was made by Ms. Anderson and was seconded by Mr. Dupont. Ms. Anderson and Mr. Dupont approved the minutes. Abstainees: Mr. Kadish, Mr. Mele, Ms. Raperto, Mr. Stephens, Mr. Cilli. After discussion and changes were made to the special worksession meeting minutes of January 11, 2018, motion to approve minutes was made by Mr. Mele and was seconded by Ms. Raperto. All were in favor.

4. New Business

A. Board of Education (BOE) Route 515 Building Discussion and Recommendation

Mr. Kadish asked for comments from each commissioner and stated it is important for the entire body to express itself.

Mr. Dupont reviewed the code in the ordinance and did not see any provision for de-landmarking the building outside of the context of a permit altering to demolish. If an owner wants to demolish the building, they can apply to do so, and that permission can be granted.

Mr. Mele summarized the land use board (LUB) meeting minutes from January 14, 2009. He emphasized that board (of education) would not be opposed to historical designation as long as such designation could be reversed in the future. Mr. Mele surmised that the BOE may have opposed it had they known it would be a problem. Mr. Mele read: “Ms. Paladini advised the LUB and Dr. Macerino that even with the local historic designation, the building can be demolished or relocated in the future. This scenario is what happened to the Willowbrook Inn on Warwick Turnpike. Dr. Macerino commented that as long as future boards and the current board won’t be hampered in any way, as far as not having to spend exorbitant amounts of money to change or upkeep the building, he would (not have any) objection to the [historic] classification.” The minutes reflected that Mayor Carew supported the designation. “A purchaser to this property would not have any restrictions due to this historic designation...the board of education has independent statutory power and that power is not (reined-in either) by this LUB or by the municipality...Mr. Howard Whidden came forward and said that based upon the clarifications he heard tonight, he believes he can safely say that the board of education would not be opposed to this designation. Cynthia Auberger came forward and stated that she feels the building is an important part of Vernon’s history and the building should be designated. Andrew Borisuk made a motion to historically designate the board of education building pursuant to criteria #1 (specific historical significance) pending formal update by way of (the) master plan...” Mr. Mele said that means that the LUB cannot stop the BOE or whoever buys the building from doing anything they want to do with it and that, more or less, this has already been stated. A question to consider is whether or not it should be knocked down.

Mr. Cilli and Mr. Mele added that an important consideration is that in 2009 there would have been opposition by the BOE had the LUB stated the building could never be touched, but this was not the case and the BOE had not objected to the historical designation.

Ms. Raperto (LUB liaison) stated she has not yet had discussion with the LUB. She researched what other townships and areas consider historic, and her personal opinion is that the building does not need to be designated as historic and “untouched.” She is okay with the purchaser of the building doing what they choose to do with it. Her opinion is based on four questions regarding the building: What is the 1) history, 2) architect history, 3) integrity, 4) environment in the community?

Mr. Stephens thinks that the school would not necessarily have to adhere to many of the laws as they are scribed, but he does not know if he agrees that a private person would have those same powers. He would want an attorney to explain the powers of the HPC, to what degree the HPC can hold people accountable or not. Even though the structure does resonate as historic, he would not want it to be knocked down and replaced with anything the owner wants. For instance, he does not want to see another fast food chain or anything gaudy. He stated there is a concept of an historic character, independent of this particular structure, which he feels aesthetically is important to maintain. His feelings about it are mixed. He does think the school should consolidate and trim costs. There is an abandoned building right next to the subject building, and he would like to see something more productive done with it.

History of the BOE Building

Mr. Kadish asked Mr. Dupont to extemporize a chronological history of the building. Mr. Dupont: There had been two earlier schools in Vernon village. One was probably about where Dunkin’ Donuts is located now. That was built around 1810 and operated for about forty years. That was replaced with another school in what is now the parking lot of the Methodist Church. By the late 1890s, that was dilapidated and needed replacement. Around 1901, a new county school superintendent named Ralph Decker was appointed. He was a part of the Progressive movement of the era and felt the kind of schools that existed throughout the area were a disgrace. He felt that one-room log cabins and barns were inadequate. He believed in better public schools, and he supported school consolidation, thereby increasing the size of the schools. He believed in improving the character of the schools. The building’s cupola and columns are examples of such character. Some of the architectural features have been modified, but it is still recognizable as that building. Ralph Decker’s Progressive movement literally brought Sussex County schools into the twentieth century. For many children in the county, that was the first building that they had been in that had central heat. Mr. Decker proceeded to build four or five other schools around the county, but that was the first new school built in Vernon. It served as a school until 1958 and then became the municipal building until 1978 or so when this building was built. Then it became the board of education office. So it became, among other things, the building that has been the longest in public use in Vernon Township. It was the town hall, the town library, and the place where the Girl Scouts and many other groups congregated.

Mr. Dupont continued: One thing to think about is the distinction between something being architecturally significant and something being historically significant. From a purely architectural basis, it’s had some changes. These changes could be undone and the building could be restored and have its integrity brought back. That being said, from an historical significant standpoint as opposed to one of purely architectural significance, the question is, does the building have integrity? In a nutshell, this means that you can look at what the original building looked like and then look at the building today and tell that it is the same building. The answer is that you can tell that it is the same building. From an historical standpoint in terms of representing the Progressive movement in education in the county and the longest serving public building in the township, those would be the main arguments for its historic significance.

Mr. Dupont’s concern is that the HPC has a very soft historic preservation ordinance. It says in the ordinance that if an owner wants to demolish a building, an owner can apply for a demolition permit just like anybody else can. The only difference is that the permit gets reviewed by the HPC and the LUB and then finally by the town council. If at any point along the way permission is given by the LUB or the town council, even if not given by the HPC, then permission is granted. The ordinance was never intended to be so stringent as to shackle anyone. Mr. Mele felt that a more restrictive ordinance would preclude people from buying houses and prevent township growth. Mr. Dupont stated that anyone who buys that building can request for a permit to tear the building down, and the buyer would probably get the permit. At the same time, he believes there is a process the ordinance calls for which should be carried out where everyone can have input and talk about it. While Mr. Dupont stated there is no reason to believe this township has a political will for a more restrictive historical preservation law, he believes that having an historic preservation law that allows for a building to be landmarked and then the owner can at any point in the future say un-landmark is a waste of time and calls into question the value of a landmark.

He stated we have never in the history of this township landmarked a building against the owner’s will; the owner either wanted it or at least consented to it. In fact, a number of private owners in town have requested landmark designation specifically because they wanted a process where they can provide some measure of protection to their house down the line when they are not the owners of it. Mr. Kadish stated that he requested historical designation for his house, with one of the purposes being to permanently prevent it from being demolished. Mr. Kadish is not clear about this issue and stated the HPC would need to check the legal paperwork. On the other hand, Mr. Kadish opined there should be a voluntary check off section to a voluntary application for such a designation where the owner could place that restriction or easement on a house, just the way it can be done on farms or trails. Since various properties can be permanently encumbered in various manners, Mr. Kadish feels that this is an area that needs attention for current owners of property who are also interested in doing so.

Mr. Dupont felt that a broader, more long-term issue is the way the HPC, since its inception, has created landmarks on a helter-skelter basis. He supports having a township-wide survey done by objective, trained professionals of all historic and archeological sites so that the HPC can refer back to the survey to determine historic significance. He believes the survey would be one of the ultimate values of becoming a Central Local Government (CLG).

Mr. Cilli believes this situation is unique because of the minutes from the January 14, 2009 meeting. Mr. Cilli read from the minutes: “The board attorney stated that if the board of education, ten years from now, wants to remove the building from the site, their application before the LUB would be a non-binding review under Section 31 because all the permits and approvals are before the state board of education and not through this municipality. A purchaser to this property would not have any restrictions due to historic designation because the statute that governs this says that when the school board deems it is no longer suitable or convenient for their use, and they put it up for public auction, whether they bought it or acquired it by condemnation, and the purchaser thereof shall acquire title thereto free from any use or purpose, for which it may have been acquired by the board.”

Mr. Cilli believes there would have been more opposition to the original designation had it not been for some misinformation that a purchaser or developer could do whatever they want to do with the building even if it was designated as a landmark. Under that pretense, he believes it would have been fought. He clarified that he thinks there would have been more opposition if it would have restricted the board of ed from doing anything with the building, selling the building or even have the purchaser deal with doing anything with the building. He believes this information convinced the owners to not block the designation. He believes there was misinformation that allowed the designation to happen. Mr. Cilli also feels that structural things done to the building have compromised the integrity of it.

Mr. Dupont was not aware of which ordinance was being referred to in the 1/14/09 minutes, but he knows what the HPC is operating under presently. Mr. Dupont said the HPC needs to understand in no uncertain terms what ordinance they were claiming back then that exempted not only just the board (of education). He said the HPC will be setting a precedent for any future person that wants to come before the board to say they want a house that is designated as a landmark but they do not want the landmark.

Mr. Stephens felt the exact text is not as relevant as who is reading it. He would be curious if there was a town council that was more sympathetic versus a more pro-development council or if the composition of this board was more sympathetic to these sorts of issues, then it might be interpreted differently.

While Mr. Stephens agreed there is no appetite to have a town-wide, highly restrictive preservation ordinance, he envisions people wanting highly visible corridors to have a more restrictive ordinance with a certain aesthetic standard. Ms. Raperto reminded the commission there are certain ordinances that need to be adhered to for future buildings in the town center. Ms. Raperto verified Mr. Mele’s statement that conformity to the town center rules is in the master plan right now. She stated that all the points made were valid and agrees that the HPC should “stand on the leg that we have.” Her opinion is that in this case, though, the HPC does not have much of a leg to stand on, though in future cases the HPC could be “sterner.” Mr. Kadish pointed out that there are some historically important buildings in the town center and that sometime in the past all the zoning was changed to commercial. Now the town center is in a redevelopment zone, and he does not know how this redevelopment zone affects the historical ordinance. Mr. Kadish stated that the only real remainder of what Vernon was is the series of buildings owned by Hans Gross and the library and the post office across the street. He lamented that a lot of time and money was spent on design concepts for the town center, yet all those guidelines were thrown out in the last administration. He stated that there are no real design objectives for what’s envisioned for Vernon, including the town center, and that they should be dealing sometime in the future with what kind of concept is envisioned for Vernon. Mr. Kadish thinks that while this is outside the scope of the HPC, it certainly has some reflection as to the HPC’s objectives. Mr. Kadish believes the town council should put some thought into where this town is going in terms of its vision.

Mr. Kadish acknowledged needing to get this town to bring in new investments and businesses and stated there are people now willing to do that. He said it has been a 25-year problem in terms of the ratio of commercial to residential tax base, and it’s one objective over the other objective. He also thinks the people that designated that building or that site as being historic is a sign of respect, not only the people who did it but to the resources in this town. He stated, “We do have a master list in the master plan of recognized historic sites, including the Indian sites.” His opinion is that even if the building was knocked down and replaced with something else, the sign should remain there, not in that exact spot but as a designation that this was an historical site to reflect its historic importance. Mr. Kadish attended school in the building when it was a two-room school, with two teachers, in which the sixth through eighth graders attended in the south end of the building and the north end was all of the other grades from kindergarten on up.

Vernon 200 A Bicentennial History of the Township of Vernon, New Jersey 1792 - 1992 by Ronald J. Dupont, Jr. provides a history of Vernon’s sixteen schools.

Ms. Anderson agreed in entirety with Mr. Dupont and stated that the reason she joined the HPC is because she wants to preserve historic sites. Even though she understands legally the HPC probably cannot do anything, she emotionally expressed her wishes to recognize the historic significance of the building as having importance to many souls. She suggested the HPC contact the owner who is interested in demolishing the building and make a compelling argument to maybe persuade the owner to change his mind. She conceded that it probably would not change anything because the bottom line is what matters but felt it was their duty as the HPC. Ms. Anderson said that it costs less to tear it down and build something new than to restore it. Mr. Cilli said perhaps the owner could dedicate a wall with memorabilia.

Mr. Kadish stated that it would first go to the planning board and then to the town council. He believes the owner needs to consider the highly visible, prime location of the structure, to which Mr. Mele added that an article explained that Ralph Decker picked that spot for this reason. Speaking from a construction point of view, Mr. Mele said the building is “an abomination” and agreed with Ms. Anderson that any new developer will demolish that building. Ms. Raperto stated she thinks the HPC could make the recommendations mentioned to the developer, including keeping the sign. Mr. Mele agreed with that suggestion.

Certified Local Government (CLG) Discussion

After some discussion about the history of the town library, Mr. Mele said this discussion brings to light his feelings that there are other buildings in town that also should not be knocked down. Mr. Dupont explained that this is one of the reasons that various people have created different lists of historic structures in town over the past fort y years. He said at times the lists have been incorporated into the master plan. Mr. Dupont again stressed the importance of a town-wide survey and document listing all historic structures in town, which he estimated would cost about a hundred thousand dollars. Mr. Dupont brought up the HPC becoming a Certified Local Government (CLG), which he described as a process with the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) in which the HPC ordinance has to meet certain criteria and the setup of the HPC has to adhere to certain guidelines. Mr. Dupont said that once this HPC is approved as a CLG, then the HPC could apply for grants that come from the state HPO, for, perhaps, $30,000 per year. Over the course of several years, the HPC could apply for a grant for the study to be done in phases. Ultimately, Mr. Dupont continued, the problem with any of the landmarks we have is that if whoever wants that building doesn’t want the landmark, even in the rare case that the town council says that a structure should not be torn down because it has historic significance, the lawyer will ask if the person that prepared the landmark form has a graduate degree in history or historic preservation or if that person is a professional in the historic preservation field. The answer is going to be no, and the lawyer is going to deem the landmark form as worthless. Therefore, a professionally prepared document will give the HPC a level of common ground. He thinks it would take about a year to become a CLG and then another four or five years to follow through with the rest of the process discussed. Mr. Dupont said more information could be found on the website of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, HPO, that describes the CLG program along with the entire application process.

Mr. Kadish’s concern was that having the HPC become a CLG would increase the HPC’s authority without being elected to office. Mr. Dupont understood it from speaking with Wayne (McCabe), that once an HPC becomes a CLG, then the HPC becomes somewhat like the local arm of the state historic preservation, and the HPO will have a deadline for providing comments to the HPO. However, even as a CLG, the ultimate decision would lie with the state HPO so the CLG does not increase the HPC’s authority. Mr. Dupont said that while having CLG status would increase the HPC’s workload, it would also afford the HPC access to funding and provide credibility.

Mr. Kadish said the HPC needs to formulate a written response regarding the BOE building. Mr. Mele read the HPC ordinance: “The historic preservation commission shall report to the planning board and the planning board shall report to the administrative officer within 45 days...” Mr. Mele expounded that the HPC did not have 45 days and that it was the planning board that would report.

Ms. Raperto announced the next LUB to be on February 14; there is no application pending so there is no meeting on February 24. Mr. Dupont said that was to his point that there is no application pending for this building. Without a permit, there is no guideline for providing any kind of consultation.

Mr. Mele continued reading: “If, within the forty-five-day period, the planning board, after recommendation from the historic preservation commission, recommends to the administrative officer against the issuance of a permit or recommends conditions to the permit to be issued, the...permit (gets denied).”

Ms. Raperto will look into what that ordinance was based off of in the 2009 minutes. It seemed to her that while there were some mixed feelings over certain points, there was a consensus that the HPC really cannot do anything other than that the HPC will request that the owners have some kind of sign. She also offered to assist with the CLG application process.

Mr. Stephens supported the HPC becoming a CLG to give the HPC more teeth and to allow the HPC to pursue funding. He said the commissioners agree that the building has historic significance but not architectural significance. He asked whether both were needed to be considered significant. Mr. Dupont replied that the HPC landmark law is basically a simplified version but modeled after the state’s National Register of Historical Places application, which allows for four types of historical significance: 1) literally, historical significance, meaning the building might not be architecturally significant but it reflects the broad trends of our history, 2) architectural significance, 3) significant associations due to someone famous living there who made contributions to history, 4) archaeological significance. The criteria allows for any one of those four or a combination.

Mr. Cilli obliged Mr. Mele’s request that the following section of the 2009 minutes be read: “Ms. Paladini came forward and was sworn in by the board attorney. Ms. Paladini reminded the LUB of her prior testimony wherein she advised that the Vernon Township Historic Preservation ordinance states that the board ’shall approve or disapprove’ of the historic designation at the planning board meeting and a report to the governing body shall be submitted, which she says, was not done. She feels that the board of education building’s historic significance lies in the fact that it was one of Vernon’s first schools which satisfies one of the criteria set up by the NJ legislature and federal government for landmark designation. She asked that the LUB vote ’yes’ tonight to designate the building as a historic landmark and also advised that the town council, by law, can override the LUB and designate the building anyway. Dr. Anthony Macerino came forward. He explained that the board of education retains a neutral position regarding the designation for a variety of reasons. One of their questions is would having a historical designation deter a future buyer from purchasing a valuable piece of property in the town center area? He explained that the Vernon Twp. board of education is a ’keeper’ of public property as they don’t own the building. It is the school district’s building and the community’s (taxpayer’s) building. What would happen if a future buyer would want to demolish the building?”

Mr. Mele stated that presently the developer will not purchase the building unless there is a guarantee that the landmark designation is removed, which is exactly what the board back then was worried about, that they would want to sell one of these buildings and that this landmark designation was going to hold up the sale of the building from the BOE, which it is right now. He does not see how anything the HPC writes would stop them. Mr. Dupont interpreted the minutes to read that while the building could be demolished, it did not mean that the building could be de-landmarked at any time. Mr. Mele agreed that it should remain as a landmark but that the HPC should not recommend it not be demolished because it is clear from the minutes that it can be demolished. Ms. Raperto said that the only thing the HPC can do based on the minutes is to request that the owner does not de-mark it and to have a commemorative sign. She said her personal opinion is that the HPC cannot make any argument that the HPC does not want the owner to demolish the building.

Ms. Anderson questioned why the HPC cannot make the HPC’s preference known to the owner that the HPC would prefer the owner not demolish it. She feels it would be derelict as a commission to not make that preference known because preservation is the job of the HPC.

Motion to open the meeting to the public:

Motion to re-open the meeting to the public was made by Mr. Cilli and was seconded by Mr. Stephens. All were in favor. Jean Murphy stated for clarification that Ms. Raperto is the LUB liaison and that as liaison she would make the report to the LUB. Motion to close to the public was made by Mr. Stephens and was seconded by Mr. Cilli. All were in favor.

Mr. Kadish stated that the combined statement of the HPC body will be presented to the LUB and then incorporated into the report that the LUB presents to the town council. Mr. Kadish felt it would be important for each commissioner to make a statement. He asked for the commissioners to email their input this week so it can be compiled into a single statement for approval at the next HPC meeting to be held on February 1.

B. Mission Statement

Mr. Kadish proposed coming together in the future to write the HPC’s mission statement and to define the HPC’s objectives.

5. Old Business

A. Recording Secretary

Laura Lai-Minteer has been approved for a 2018 contract as recording secretary.

B. St. Thomas Complex

Mr. Dupont explained the layout of the area. When St. Thomas Episcopal Church closed, the Diocese of Newark entered negotiations to lease the property to the Highlands Bible Church. HPC was uncertain of the Diocese’s plans and sought the opinion of the HPO regarding the historical significance of the chapel, the community house, the rectory, and the Episcopal portion of the cemetery. HPC filled out an application for the state national register for those resources, and the SHPO determined those resources were eligible for the State Register of Historic Places. The trustee for properties for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, John Garde, an attorney for McCarter & English, contacted HPC to inform HPC that the trustees do not approve of any historic designation for any of their properties ever under any circumstances, even properties that they, themselves, regard as historic because they do not want their hands tied if they want to do anything down the line. Mr. Kadish is going to inquire whether Mr. Garde was acting on his own and expressing his opinion as an attorney with the permission of the trustees or if he was doing it as an attorney without informing the trustees.

C. Vernon United Methodist Church Cemetery Designation

Mr. Kadish raised the point that the past HPC chairman had gotten permission from the Methodist Church to declare the Methodist side of the cemetery as being designated in town as historical. Meanwhile, the chapel is already declared historic from the town’s point of view and is eligible to be declared historic from the state. The list of registered properties and also properties that are eligible to be registered can be found on the state historic preservation website.

D. Glenwood Project-Glenwood Area of Historic Significance

Mr. Kadish stated that none of the current commissioners were here during the formulation of the Glenwood project, which he explained is an effort to set an area in Glenwood as an historic place of interest. A sign saying, “Welcome to Glenwood Historic Area” is to be ordered and placed in the vicinity of Pochuck Valley Farm. HPC needs to contact former commissioner Charles Bates to get clarification regarding intended actual sign placement. There was a bone of contention that the town council approved it but not during a properly designated public hearing. To address that issue, Mr. Dupont will give a ten-to-fifteen minute PowerPoint presentation, which has already been created, on Monday, April 23 during the town council meeting. The presentation will be added to the town council agenda. Mr. Kadish said that ultimately the idea is to have a phone app that explains all of the historical points of interest, which could be coupled with the Appalachian Trail.

E. Historic Farmland Area Designation

Mr. Kadish described the area: From Route 517, the state line, Route 94 up to Barrett Farm, coming down Route 94 to include Van Dokkenburg Farm and Heaven Hill and then going back to 517 to Maple Grange. It is 3,240 acres and 66 parcels of land. Most of it is public/federal/state/local open space and nearly all are preserved farms. The barns themselves are not in farmland preservation; they are in an exempted area. Ms. Raperto explained that if something happened to a structure in this area—part of what comes into it is that a lot of where these existing structures are located will not conform to current laws or ordinances—the structure will not be able to be rebuilt. Mr. Mele said the county would not approve rebuilding. Mr. Kadish feels that areas where farms are being preserved, including existing structures, should be in their own agricultural zone. He said the only other thing that can be done is buy back the easement, which is highly unusual.

6. Review of Land Use Board Applications

Ms. Raperto again stated there are no pending LUB applications. For the February 14 meeting she believes there is one application, which she received today and has not yet reviewed. On February 14 there will be a redevelopment discussion for over 160 pieces of property in the town center.

7. Commissioners’ Comments

Ms. Anderson—questioned how to get the app started. Mr. Kadish responded that the HPC can look into the process. Ms. Anderson stated she started the HPC Facebook page called the Historic Preservation Commission-Vernon New Jersey. Mr. Kadish. Mr. Dupont, and Ms. Anderson are administrators and the remaining commissioners are moderators. All commissioners were in favor of the Facebook page. Ms. Anderson questioned the status of the purchase order to put a down payment for the Methodist Church cemetery sign. Mr. Kadish responded the HPC needs to find out where the project had been left with the former commissioners to then determine which steps need to be taken.

Mr. Cilli—In addition to starting the process of becoming a CLG, he thinks the HPC should put the HPC’s mission statement on the agenda to give the HPC direction and guidance for the HPC’s higher purpose. Mr. Kadish said the HPC should review the HPC’s ordinance, which has a partial statement there.

Mr. Dupont—directed the commissioners’ attention to Volume II, Article X, Section 330-142, Purposes of the HPC, which can be found on the township’s website.

Mr. Kadish pointed out the searchable Sussex County online database of properties found on the Sussex County assessor’s website. Information can be found about town’s properties at njactb.org.

8. Adjournment

Motion to adjourn was made by Mr. Cilli and seconded by Ms. Raperto. All were in favor. Meeting adjourned: 9:51 p.m.

Minutes submitted by Laura Lai-Minteer, Recording Secretary