Last month, the New Jersey Historic Trust announced more than $14 million in grants, including a $75,000 planning grant for Moorestown. We’ve received a number of comments and questions since that grant was announced, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why we applied and what it means for Moorestown.
First, it’s important to recognize that although Moorestown is home to about 400 structures on the National and State Historic Registers, we currently have no ability to protect those structures from demolition. Many residents became aware of this reality last year when we learned that the new owner of the beautiful and historic funeral home on Chester Avenue had submitted plans that sought to demolish the building in order to build three new houses. Although many people have been trying to work with the owners to find a way to preserve the home, the township currently has no authority to stop the demolition if that’s what the owners choose to do.
For this reason, Councilwoman Sue Mammarella and members of the appearance committee have been working on steps the township can take to better preserve the historic buildings in our community.
The planning grant from the Historic Trust will be used to hire a planner with experience in historic preservation to help us think through the right way to do this for Moorestown. Our goal is to create a Local Commercial Historic District (LCHD) around the commercial portion of Main Street and include important landmarks like the Perkins building. We are also planning to create a Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) that would be tasked with regulating the historical appropriateness of significant modifications, but only to the exterior faces of buildings in the LCHD that are visible from the public right of way.
Critically important, creating an HPC would give us the ability to prevent demolition of valuable historic properties in the LCHD. I think most Moorestonians would agree that replacing historic buildings with new construction would significantly alter the look and feel of our beautiful Main Street. And if you think this isn’t really something to worry about, know that the township was recently contacted by a developer who wants to tear down the two yellow houses (formerly occupied by Weichert Realtors) on the corner of Main Street and Church in order to build condominiums.
As much as council values and wants to preserve the historic treasures in our community, we also value and respect the rights of private property owners and recognize that maintaining a building in a historically appropriate manner can be costly. For this reason, we are planning to declare the LCHD an area in need of rehabilitation while maintaining the underlying zoning regulations. This designation will allow us to provide five-year tax abatements on any improvements to buildings in the LCHD, including interior improvements that won’t be regulated by the HPC.
Furthermore, by creating an HPC, we can apply to become a Certified Local Government, which would allow us to access additional funds for historic preservation. We are also exploring the possibility of creating a local fund, administered by a third party, that could be used to provide grants to property owners in the LCHD for historic preservation.
We will be appointing a planner, funded by the grant, to help us draft an ordinance creating the HPC in the next couple of months. Once the HPC has been created, the planner will work with them to develop design standards for the LCHD based on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s standards. And there will be multiple opportunities for public comment as these standards are being developed.
We’re going to take our time figuring out the right way to preserve the history and charm of the commercial area around Main Street and there will be many opportunities for residents and business owners to provide input along the way. In the meantime, as always, we welcome your questions or comments and can be reached at email@example.com.