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Council Wary on Preventing Demolition of Historic Homes

Discussion on how to buy time to prevent demolitions in Ridgewood complicated by potential legal issues and an expansion to the powers of the Historic Preservation Commission.

Citing a concern with potential legal liabilities and an infringement of homeowner rights, the Ridgewood Village Council was cautious in pursuing a policy to dissuade owners from .

The discussion, held last Wednesday, fell two days before the was ripped apart by a developer, against the wishes of angry preservationists.

Ridgewood's planning board has designated several homes and facilities as locally historic, though the distinction carries with it little weight.

Homeowners of historic properties are currently free to largely do what they wish with their own properties, even if it means turning it to rubble and erecting a McMansion in its place.

To counter such developments, the planning board has requested of the council that the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) be consulted when plans are set in motion to tear down history. The board further asked the council to develop a mechanism that the village be notified, keeping open the window to act for an undetermined amount of time.

"Not that we can prevent its demolition," said Deputy Mayor Al Pucciarelli, who also serves on the planning board. "But rather that if we have some prior notice that the homeowner intends to demolish a historic home – and I'm told we've lost many of them over the years – that maybe, somehow, somewhere, someone can come forward and find a way to persuade the owner not to do that and possibly even make an offer to purchase the home."

Councilman Tom Riche had concerns with handing the HPC broader powers. The committee currently only has regulative authority in the Central Business District.

"Previous councils have stayed away from allowing that extension of the reach because it's always been felt that it would be an infringement upon homeowners' personal rights in terms of what they can and cannot do with their own home," Riche said, adding there may be legal liabilities should the village hold up a sale of homes.

Per the Master Plan, the village is required to compensate the owner of any property if their acquisition of property is held up, Riche said prefacing his statement that he was unsure if such rules would apply in demolition matters.

The council will be shooting the concept back to the planning board for a clearer sense of direction.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor James Kleimann at James.Kleimann@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Peggy Norris July 18, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Government infringes on property owners "rights" with all sorts of small and large regulations, not the least of which is the permitting process for subdivision or new construction. A 6-month delay for a demolition permit for an historic property is not unreasonable and provides all parties a chance to explore options. As we sadly learned in Paramus (273 Dunkerhook Road) the property owner retains many rights, even regarding protected property and even with the 6-month delay specified in Paramus's ordinances. Ridgewood's historic fabric enriches our lives immensely--not only in the beauty of the architecture and the pleasing streetscapes, but also in the ways it connects us with our past and its importance to the present. Let's look at this, not as "handing broader powers" to the Historic Preservation Commission, but as a way of adding a little more power to the Planning Board (the HPC is advisory to the Planning Board) to guide development according to Ridgewood's Master Plan and it's zoning regulations. Peggy Norris, Village of Ridgewood Historian
Keith McElwee July 18, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Problem is that the people that are doing the {redeveloping) building most likely are not from the area,did not grow up locally or even in this country. They had no connection to the history of our area nor interest in learning,much less preserving our local heritage. All they see in a historic property is are dollar signs($$$$$$) and how they can maximize profit. Sorry if I offend anyone,but it seems to be the reality,because growing up in the area I was reminded of the our past everyday. Future generations will not even learn of local history,it's not taught in school,and you can no longer ride or walk past it everyday.
Taximan Steve Lindsey July 18, 2012 at 03:39 PM
No one wants to offend the realtors, property managers, bank loan officers and other connected personalities who populate our governing boards. Tied to the successful Tea Party revolt against government regulation and you can see why the Preservation Movement is doomed.
Irene July 18, 2012 at 05:54 PM
I agree with the above comments. My house is about 110 years old (do not know the exact age since the tax records were destroyed by the flood in the early 1900's), but I would no sooner think of demolishing my home than I would of chopping off my arm. I have lived here 23 years and, while I would not want anyone to tell me what I could or could not do with my home, I believe that there should be some limits in an effort to preserve our heritage in the history-laden Village of Ridgewood.
Bo July 18, 2012 at 08:56 PM
VERY well said Keith.
Chris Peters July 19, 2012 at 12:05 AM
"Ridgewood's historic fabric enriches our lives immensely--not only in the beauty of the architecture and the pleasing streetscapes, but also in the ways it connects us with our past and its importance to the present." so well said!
Chris Peters July 19, 2012 at 12:53 AM
But meanwhile the village now owns a 190 year old house, the Zabriskie-Schedler house - built in 1823, which is one of the few remaining Dutch wood frame houses left in Bergen County. and yet, it seems destined to be demolished because no one can find a use for it. so even when the village should be proud to have such a rare, old house as part of its history, it will be torn down because there is no use? only 'useful' history is worthy of preservation? People need to step forward and become more vocal or there will be nothing left to save....
Michael July 19, 2012 at 01:27 AM
I'm somewhat surprised that the people who are most in favor of preserving even quasi-historic look for other people to pay for it rather than buy the property themselves. We can barely afford the infrastructure we have in place let alone buying up every last "historic" property because we feel the need to cling to the past. Better that some of these rotting and potentially dangerous structures be cleared and improved by a new owner than to set aside public tax money to rehabilitate them for a select few people.
Chris Peters July 19, 2012 at 12:51 PM
The Zabriskie-Schedler House is the only structure on 7 acres of land that the Village bought with Open Space funding. A sports field and walking trail are planned to be built there, using non-village funds. The house, which is solid and in extremely good shape (its only been empty a few years) is not in the way of the proposed field, trails or parking lot. Many ideas for usage of the house have been suggested, such as additional office/rec space in the same way The Stable has been preserved and utilized. This will be the first 'community amenity' on the East side of RW, (past route 17). For more information, please see the Facebook page about the house and land (Revolutionary battles were also fought on this very same property).
Chris Peters July 19, 2012 at 12:52 PM
for more info on the 190 year old Zabriskie-Schedler house that RW plans on demolishing, see the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Zabriskie-Schedler-House-Ridgewood-NJ/141857895884672?ref=hl
Fan of Ridgewood August 06, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Ms. Norris your noting 'rights' of propertyowners in quotation marks makes it appear that you dont believe property owners dont deserve them. They've paid for their property, pay taxes on it, maintain, and are held responsible for it. If you show little respect for their rights, how much respect should be shown a third party's interest their property?

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