Historic structures to be protected

Historic preservation ordinance will create commission


Members of Long Branch’s preservation community are anticipating a long-awaited ordinance that would protect Long Branch’s historic structures and sites. The ordinance will be introduced at an upcoming City Council meeting.

Star of the Sea Academy Star of the Sea Academy “The only way to really protect private historical buildings is to have a local historical preservation ordinance,” said Beth Woolley, trustee of the Long Branch Historical Society.

“Most may not know this, but Long Branch is an extremely historic town,” Woolley added. “Long Branch has the potential to look like other towns that have embraced their historical buildings.”

The historic preservation ordinance, initially proposed by Councilman Brian Unger in August 2007, aims to protect historic structures in the city by implementing regulations to prevent demolition of the structures and to regulate the preservation of historic structures and sites.

The ordinance would establish an advisory historic commission that would compile an inventory of historic sites and structures in the city that could qualify for historic preservation.

The commission will consist of seven members and two alternate members, with alternates appointed by the mayor.

Of the seven members, three must be either knowledgeable in building design and construction or architectural history or have a demonstrated interest in local history.

The remaining four members will be residents who do not hold any other municipal office, position or employment but may be members of the Planning or Zoning boards.

Unger said last week that he is hoping to introduce the historic preservation ordinance at the April 28 council meeting.

“We hope to introduce the ordinance at the April 28 council meeting when Mark Aikins [the attorney drawing up the ordinance] is back,” said Unger, who has been pushing for more than a year to get the ordinance adopted.

The ordinance had been expected to be introduced at the Feb. 24 council meeting, but Unger requested sections be rewritten to strengthen the role of the historic commission.

“Someone … put in language taking away from the Historic Preservation Commission the ability to adopt and utilize their own best-practice professional guidelines for designation of historic properties,” Unger said at the time.

The ordinance creates a commission to review the potential effect of development and permit applications on designated historic sites and to work with and advise the Planning and Zoning boards and individual property owners.

The ordinance will regulate only designated sites that require a permit and application for development.

It also states that new construction on or near a historic site should not necessarily duplicate the exact style of the site, but should not detract from the historic site.

The ordinance defines the goals of the advisory committee.

“Maintaining, preserving, and rehabilitating these visual links to the past is an important function of government, not only to provide a sense of stability and continuity for future generations, but to provide impetus for the revitalization of the city’s economic base and for the resulting increase in property values,” the ordinance reads.

The ordinance lists specific goals, which include: safeguarding the heritage of Long Branch, encouraging the continued use of historic landmarks, and maintaining and developing a “harmonious setting” for the historic and architecturally significant buildings.

Other goals listed are: to stabilize and improve property values, to promote appreciation of historic landmarks, to encourage the beautification of and reinvestment in historic sites, and to discourage demolition of historic resources.

The responsibilities of the commission include preparing and maintaining preservation guidelines, reviewing applications that affect the historic properties, recommendations on designs, and preparing an inventory of historic sites and landmarks.

According to Woolley, more than 50 Long Branch buildings or sites are listed on a county inventory of the city’s historic properties, among them St. Luke’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Star of the Sea Academy, and the Church of the Presidents.

Ten of the buildings on the original list have already been demolished or torn down, including the Benjamin Watson Leigh House, the Brothers of Israel Synagogue, and the Edgar A. West building.

Woolley sees the value to both the town and the property owner that a historical preservation ordinance would create.

“Having a historical preservation ordinance can increase property value and increase the value of the town,” she said.

According to Woolley, one of the obstacles to preserving historic structures in Long Branch is that until now the city has had total autonomy of control over historic landmarks.

“Even if it’s listed by the state as a historic structure, it can be knocked down if it is privately owned,” Woolley said.

This fact has led to the demolition of some historic properties, she said.

“The one that really bothered me was the house at 364 Cedar Avenue,” Woolley said. “That house was designated as a historical building by the National Registry in 1979. Just last year the city issued demolition permits for it and now it’s gone.”

It has been almost two years since the ordinance was first introduced, and it has yet to be passed, but Unger said changes to the proposed ordinance were made and still may be made.

“One of the complaints is that it is too long,” Unger said. “I am all for thoroughly editing the ordinance and making it shorter.”

One point of contention has been the proposed opt-out clause.

The clause would allow homeowners to opt out of a historical designation.

One possible drawback of the opt-out clause would be the city would no longer be eligible for state status and would lose out on federal funding and grant money.

State status would permit the city to receive technical assistance and grant money up to $75,000 to support the city’s historic preservation program, according to Unger.

Unger, who back in January went on record as the lone council member against the opt-out clause, now supports it in order to get the ordinance passed.

“I now support the opt-out clause if it means getting the ordinance finally passed,” Unger said. “The downside of the optout clause is that we lose funding, but I think it is very important to have a public forum for the preservation of our historical buildings.”

Woolley stressed the importance of the ordinance for the historic buildings in Long Branch.

“Historical preservations only encourage owners to keep their land,” Woolley said. “You can’t do anything to protect the buildings without a local preservation ordinance.”

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