Minutes: June 1, 2017

Statement of Compliance

Pursuant to the Open Public Meetings Act, Chapter 231 P.L., 1975, adequate notice as defined in Section 3D of Chapter 231, P.L. 1975, had been forwarded to the New Jersey Herald on January 12, 2017. Notice is also posted on the bulletin board and filed with the office of the Township Clerk.

Roll Call

Nancy AdamP
Charles BatesP
Ron Dupont, Jr.P
Christopher HankeP
Dan KadishA
Ted LaabsA
Laura PettinatoP

Chairwoman Laura Pettinato said she wanted to discuss something that is not on the agenda. She addressed the number of members required in order to constitute a quorum at a meeting. The commission previously had nine members. It now only has seven. Therefore, parliamentary procedure would dictate that four members would constitute a quorum, she said. However, the township website incorrectly states five members are required for a quorum. Ms. Pettinato wants to take a vote to notify the business administrator to change the quorum from five to four members.

Charles Bates moved to ask the business administrator to make the change.
Nancy Adam seconded the motion.

Roll Call Vote:
Ayes: Nancy Adam, Charles Bates, Ronald Dupont, Chris Hanke, and Laura Pettinato
Nays: None

New Business

1. St. Thomas Church Campus Nomination

Laura Pettinato welcomed church representatives John Garde and Highlands Bible Church Pastor Mike Ruel and his wife Melanie. Ms. Pettinato stated while the historic chapel and cemetery are already township landmarks that are listed in the master plan, the historic preservation commission (HPC) nominated the entire campus, including the vicarage and the library, for historic preservation.

Ms. Pettinato opened the floor to Mr. Garde. HPC member Charles Bates said he needed to recuse himself from the hearing because he works for the agency that is contracting with the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, which owns the St. Thomas Church.

Ms. Pettinato asked the record to reflect that Charles Bates has recused himself from the discussion on St, Thomas due to a possible conflict based on his business association with his employer also affiliated with the tenant church that will lease the property.

Mr. Garde stated he is a partner of the law firm McCarter & English. He is also a trustee for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. He said St. Thomas was a mission church of the Newark Diocese. When such a church closes and the congregation is extinct, the title owners of the property are the diocese and trustees.

He said the St. Thomas Church closed around October 2016, and an extinction resolution was passed regarding St. Thomas Church, which means the property became the responsibility of the trustees. The trustees are leasing the property for two years to the Green Pond Bible Chapel. The lease may be extended. The new church will be called Highlands Bible Church. Within the provisions of the lease, there is an agreement about the maintenance of the property. Mr. Garde said the new church would be maintaining and preserving the historic chapel. The Highlands Bible Church would be maintaining some of the popular St. Thomas programs, such as the Hiker Hostel. He said there are no plans to do anything to the property other than to maintain it as a church.

Mr. Garde said the Episcopal Diocese has not received any notice of the intent to extend the historic preservation of the St. Thomas campus or any protection or preservation beyond what currently exists within the cemetery and the old chapel. No notice of any kind has been provided to the diocese, he stated. If the HPC is asking him to consent to the historic designation as a landmark in any way he cannot do so, and he cannot bind future trustees or episcopal bishops. If anything in the future changed with regard to the use of the property, he would be happy to have a discussion with the Township of Vernon and with the historic preservation commission, he added.

Laura Pettinato thanked Mr. Garde for his comments and said she is very pleased with the plans of the diocese, and she welcomed Pastor Ruel to the township and said she hopes the church flourishes.

Mr. Garde said he had not received any notification of the landmark nomination. Charles Bates was HPC chairman when the entire church campus was nominated in October 2016 as a township landmark. At the same time, the HPC filed a preliminary application to the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office for a determination of eligibility for the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Mr. Bates did not copy the nomination or the application for determination of eligibility to Mr. Garde, but he and commission members Chris Hanke and Ron Dupont met with Mr. Garde in January 2017 and told Mr. Garde the HPC would not go forward with the township nomination as approved unanimously by vote by the HPC and agreed to postpone it as Mr. Garde requested.

Laura Pettinato told Mr. Garde she had emailed him the application for the township landmark nomination and apologized that he had not received it. She said he should have had the opportunity to review the nomination prior to coming to the meeting tonight. Mr. Garde said he understands the church has a long history in the township. Ms. Pettinato told Mr. Garde she would send the application for the landmark nomination to him again.

Pastor Mike Ruel spoke and said he was very pleased to start the new church in the township. He said the congregation is using all of the buildings and doing renovations to the main sanctuary. He said the Hiker Hostel would be reinstated in the community house, the old library. He said they are subleasing the vicarage to a ministry called “My Brother’s Place,” which would serve as a place to house people and provide physical and spiritual refuge if they are without housing or employment. There will also be an office in the vicarage. Four groups use the church building during the week: two AA groups, an Al Anon group, and a health food store that cooks in the kitchen. The entire lower level of the main church building will be used as a secure area for children’s ministries. They intend to leave the historic chapel as is. They have no intentions with the chapel other than to preserve and maintain it.

To reassure the HPC, Mr. Garde said the Bible Church would not be able to do anything structural without the consent of the Episcopal Diocese, other than to paint the structures.

At this time, Laura Pettinato informed Mr. Garde that in October the HPC had sent to the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office a preliminary application for the entire church campus for a determination of eligibility for the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. She told him the state had responded to their nomination and deemed the entire church campus eligible for the state register. Mr. Garde said he has no notice of the state’s action, nor does he even have notice of the application sent to the state seeking that relief (determination of eligibility). Laura Pettinato said she would make copies of it available to him.

Doreen Edwards, a member of the public, came forth and identified herself as a former member of the St. Thomas Church. She said she was very involved in the church and helped with the Hiker Hostel. She was sorry to see the hostel close and felt it did not happen under the best circumstances. She addressed the issue of parking on the property. She said she knows for a fact that parking was a problem. Since Pastor Ruel mentioned having nearly 120 parishioners, she wondered how the church accommodated them with parking. She said it was not easy for St. Thomas, and they did not have nearly as many parishioners as the new church. Pastor Ruel said they made arrangements with the dental office next door and also with the Highlands State Bank. He also said the Vernon Township Police Department directs traffic and helps cross people.

Laura Pettinato thanked John Garden and the Ruels for coming to the meeting.

2. Approval of May 4, 2017 Minutes

Charles Bates moved to approve the May 4, 2017 meeting minutes.
Nancy Adam seconded the motion.
All were in favor of approving the minutes: Nancy Adam, Charles Bates, Ronald Dupont, and Laura Pettinato
Opposed: None

Old Business

1. Alternate Candidates

Laura Pettinato asked if anyone reached out to prospective alternate members for the commission. There are currently two vacancies for alternates. No one brought forth any suggestions. Ron Dupont said he asked a few people, but the general consensus is that no one wants to go anywhere near Vernon town hall. Ms. Pettinato asked the commissioners to continue to seek prospective candidates for appointment to the HPC.

2. HPC Budget

Laura Pettinato said the commission’s budget request was rejected. Because they were late in submitting their budget request, they mayor and council allocated the $2,000 budget the HPC has had in prior years. She said there were unused funds in the budget from last year, but those funds do not carry over to the current year. She suggested the commission order the signage for the Vernon United Methodist Church (VUMC) in December 2017, pay a deposit for the sign at that time but pay the balance with funds from the 2018 budget.

Charles Bates offered to create the verbiage for the VUMC sign and get a price quote for it and bring it back to the next meeting. Laura Pettinato said she would like to revise the wording and will then send it to Charles Bates to get a price quote.

Laura Pettinato said the HPC lost nearly $1,000 from last year’s budget because it did not spend it. That money should have been used for community outreach, a way to get residents interested in Vernon’s history, or even for additional seminars for HPC members rather than to lose the money for the lack of use. She also mentioned the hotel occupancy tax and said the HPC should be able to get some funds from those revenues. Commissioner Chris Hanke said those revenues the township receives from the hotel tax are supposed to be used for agro-ecotourism and historic purposes. He questioned why that money was going directly into the township’s general fund and not for the designated purposes. Ms. Pettinato said she thinks the HPC should further pursue additional funding.

3. Project Subcommittees

Laura Pettinato discussed the subcommittees she appointed at the previous meeting. She asked if the commissioners had any suggestions or projects they would like to present tonight.

Charles Bates mentioned the VUMC Cemetery sign. Laura Pettinato said they should resolve the issue of the wording for the sign, see what the sign will cost, and then secure the funding for it. Charles Bates said he would find out the cost of the sign and email it to the commissioners.

4. 2016 Annual Report

Charles Bates said he forgot to email the report to the commissioners and suggested he give them copies of it tonight and have them take it home to review. He then suggested that after reviewing it the commissioners do an “e-vote” on the annual report by email. HPC secretary Jessi Paladini said there is no such thing as an “e-vote.” She said such a vote would be against the law and would constitute conducting business in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. Laura Pettinato agreed and suggested they review the land use board applications and discuss the report at the end of the meeting if the commissioners are willing to stay.

5. Land Use Board Applications

A. Rosemark Realty LLC—Final Major Site Plan Phase 1

After reviewing the application, the HPC determined there is nothing of historic significance associated with this project.

B. Mountain Creek Water Park Master Plan

After reviewing the application, the HPC determined there is nothing of historic significance, and the commission has no objections to the application.

6. Resume Review of 2016 Annual Report

The commissioners read the 2016 annual report prepared by Charles Bates. Laura Pettinato asked if there were any changes or corrections to the report as written. Ron Dupont suggested changing the information regarding the St. Thomas Episcopal Church landmark nomination to more accurately reflect the commission’s actions. Charles Bates wrote the report, which stated the nomination for landmark designation would be discussed in 2017. Mr. Dupont said the report needs to reflect accurately that the HPC had already filed the application in October 2016 for landmark nomination with both the Township of Vernon for consideration on the master plan and also with the State of New Jersey for determination of eligibility on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. The HPC had voted unanimously in October for both nominations to the township and to the state. The commission received a determination of eligibility letter from the state Historic Preservation Office, dated November 1, 2016, that the site is eligible for the state register.

Charles Bates argued they had just discussed the St. Thomas application with the land guardian at 7:30 this evening and the report was accurate. Chris Hanke and Ron Dupont said the original application went to the township and the state in October 2016, and the report should indicate that.

Laura Pettinato suggested keeping the report as is to indicate the application for nomination was submitted in October 2016 but suggested adding a separate sentence after that that states, “Further discussion with the land guardian is scheduled for 2017.”


Chis Hanke moved to adjourn the meeting at 8:44 p.m.
Nancy Adams seconded the motion.
All were in favor
The HPC meeting adjourned at 8:44 p.m.

The next meeting of the Vernon Township Historic Preservation Commission will be on July 6, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

Transcribed by Jessica Paladini
Recording Secretary