Does color matter? Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, developer battle over black and white
By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local
For prominent Montclair developer Steven Plofker, window frame paint color at the Carriage House located on the property shared by The George dominated his points of disagreement with the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission and zoning board of adjustment last year.
The issue surfaced when Plofker had the new window frames of the Carriage House painted black as opposed to white.
Plofker’s battles with the board and commission underscore the limits of local government and advisory groups’ power over changes to privately-owned historically significant structures. In the end, the board approved the changes he previously made without their approval — but not before the issue landed him in court and led to several long and contentious meetings with both the board and commission. Maintaining historic details of Classical Revival buildings and differentiating them from each other when they’re on the same site was a challenge, Plofker indicated.
Commission Chairman Kathleen Bennett kept reminding Plofker that the commission works in an advisory role and the zoning board grants approvals. Plofker kept insisting that he would not change any of the work he had already completed.
In the commission’s memorandum to the board, it recommended that the Commission review the final selection of lighting fixtures, and that neutral paint color should be used for the rear lower level fencing. And the black color of installed replacement windows is not historically appropriate for the architectural style of the Carriage House, the commission determined.
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Following a heated board meeting in December, Plofker obtained approval for his amended site plan. The revisions are detailed in Plofker’s architect Paul Sionas’ letter to the Montclair Planning Department detailing site plan revisions, noting that changes to the exterior differ from initial plans presented to the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission and the zoning board.
The window frame color change from white to black was not noted in the letter detailing Pella double-hung aluminum clad wood windows with simulated divided lights. It became a factor that landed Plofker in municipal court where the case was dismissed, Plofker stated, adding that the complaint was brought by the department of planning.
In meetings with the zoning board and the commission, Plofker explained the extent of modifications—including altering the railing design, using Pella double-hung aluminum clad windows, bricking in a wooden trellis area, eliminating a glass canopy in favor of steel, and using a flat steel door as opposed to paneling.
“Color [of window frames] has never been an issue or a presumption in my many years of dealing with the commission,” Plofker told the Commission. “Had I known this was an important issue for the commission, I may have made a different decision.”
Commission member David Greenbaum cautioned the group. “The changes made sets a bad precedent,” Greenbaum said.
Zoning board member Joseph Fleischer went back and forth with Plofker on the color issues, disagreeing over whether the term “representation” in borough code included color details.
“I would argue that it is in the resolution that refers to all representations made by the applicant,” said Fleischer. “The visual representation is shown as white [window frames] which was what we expected, what was shown to us. I expect you to be back many times if you make changes to representations. You’ve done a great job in this town, but renderings are representations of what you decide to do. We have the right to determine if the aesthetic is to the detriment of the town.”
The township nominated The George and Carriage House for the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 2008. The properties are not found in any current listings of state or national historic registers. According to the state Historic Preservation Office, the New Jersey and National Registers provide a degree of review and protection from public actions only. “Local landmarks and historic district regulations that may affect private property owner actions are completely separate from New Jersey and National Register regulations.”
Over 90 municipalities enacted local historic preservation ordinances. They provide strong regulatory provisions including architectural review of alterations, demolition, and new construction within a designated historic area. Locally designated historic districts may be certified by the Secretary of the Interior, according to the state.