My clients and I are very disappointed but not surprised by the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision on Thursday night denying the demolition of 109 Union St. We presented unrebutted testimony from the asbestos expert who had been working on the remediation for three years. After hundreds of thousands of dollars, the property remains asbestos-ridden and the only safe and economically feasible solution is demolition.

The last hearing noted that my client's application hadn’t included a structural engineer to opine on the possibility of preserving the facade. We presented a structural engineer, also unrebutted, who clearly at length opined that while anything is possible given unlimited funds, in this instance, there is no safe and economically feasible way to preserve this structure given the asbestos condition and the nature of the old and uniquely framed construction.

My clients and their family loved the house but have been trapped in a three-year tragic ordeal through no fault of their own. The town’s historic consultant seems to think they are responsible for their contractor’s negligence that set this ball rolling, as if they wanted to be caught between this rock and the Historic Preservation Commission hard place. Curiously, three members clearly understood how devastating this has been and how asbestos-ridden and unsafe this house is. The other three demonstrated a lack of empathy or basic understanding of the situation and seemed to grope for rationales to deny my clients and prolong their ordeal. They rested on “good-faith efforts to sell the property.” That clause in the ordinance presumes a normal or somewhat rundown structure, not a toxic waste zone, and just how protracted and how financially devastated do they have to be to provide a habitable structure for their family?

The house has now been vacant for three years. I’m at a loss to understand how an uninhabitable, asbestos-ridden structure benefits the owners, the neighborhood or Montclair. It’s not going to improve with age.

Rich McMahon
Attorney, Montclair


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