Let’s understand the factors that created, complicated, and guided the HPC’s reviews and determinations of the 109 Union Street application, now labeled a “toxic waste zone”, in finding the path forward.
In the first HPC hearing the members reached an unanimous decision – based on fact finding and guided by our ordinances – to deny the demolition. What the public should understand is the material facts for the justification of the applicant’s case for demolition did not, in my opinion, change with the submission of the second application. If the applicant had had a demolition expert testify then this would be an example of introducing materially new facts and further assist in the HPC’s findings.
While such demolition expertise is not required at a demolition hearing, I can’t explain the absence of the common sense need for such testimony, especially when taking a second bite from the due process apple.
What I believe has materially changed is various interested parties are trying to suggest the presence of issues of HPC character and integrity in handling this application. That the path to date has not been genuine, honest and respectful. I do not know if these are based solely on this specific application or a more generalized perception of the HPC. These words are now part of this application’s record and of a harsh, public rebuke. We can’t un-ring that bell, so now we should try to understand the genesis.
I certainly don’t understand. I have taken the Historic Preservation Commission to task many times over the years, both as a member and a resident onlooker. I often made my cases passionately, and harshly at times. However, in the decades since the HPC’s inception, I never doubted the character or integrity of this body charged with a thankless mission – one often unsupported by our property owners and our municipal government.
I don’t know these applicants or their named supporters. I do know their current attorney. I have followed their applications as well as the impetus in creating the demolition ordinance, the intent in its crafting, and the public process it was subjected to. As such, I say this is a flawed ordinance, both in it authorities and execution and it will require significant remedies by the Council. As to this case, I don’t think a remedy exists with an appeal to the Zoning Board. My reasoning anticipates conflicts hearing an appeal yet to be filed, but also derives from our existing ordinances and NJ Municipal Land Use Law.
We don’t need to fix the HPC’s character or integrity. We need to make public health and safety paramount in dealing with a highly contaminated site whether the ultimate determination is to rehabilitate or to demolish this structure. These are my two issues.
Frank Rubacky is a resident, a former member of the Historic Preservation Commission, and frequent commentator on Montclair’s land use matters.