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Op-Ed: How To Save Verona’s Landmarks

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The Civil War-era house at 20 Mountainview Road was demolished in late April. Its original builder had donated the land for Verona Park.
The Civil War-era house at 20 Mountainview Road was demolished in late April. Its original builder had donated the land for Verona Park.
Here we go again. A 19th century Queen Anne-style home is up for sale on Fairview Avenue and it’s in need of renovation. The land is ripe for redevelopment. Just like the house on Mountainview Road that was torn down last week.

Many people have asked me why the Landmarks Preservation Commission did not step in and prevent a builder from tearing down the house on Mountainview Road to build a new house. Simply put, we can’t.

The ordinance protects only those houses that are designated landmarks, and the way our ordinance is written, owners must consent to having their houses designated. Furthermore, once a permit has been granted on a property, you cannot take any steps towards changing its status and designating it as a historic site. Right or wrong, the law is written to protect the homeowner’s right to do whatever he or she wants with the property. Including demolition.

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Unfortunately, while the current owner may recognize the value and charm of a historic home, a new owner might be more intrigued by the land on which the house rests. The old house doesn’t stand a chance. Although it may be easier to clear the land and start from scratch, it doesn’t always make cultural or economic sense. There’s plenty of literature that speaks to the benefits of restoration over new construction and there are plenty of architects and craftsmen who can turn that house into a dream home. Preservation NJ is great resource for people who want to restore older homes.

70 Fairview Avenue in its heyday. It was listed for sale as a possible subdivision over the weekend.
70 Fairview Avenue in its heyday. It was listed for sale as a possible subdivision over the weekend.

The house on Mountainview Road that was demolished last week witnessed the transition of our town from a farming community to the suburban community it is today. Its true beauty was unearthed as the builder tore off the stucco to reveal its original shingles. The house at 200 Bloomfield Avenue (next to Everett Field) and the Annin Flag factory are also vulnerable and unprotected.

More and more houses will continue to go the way of the wrecking ball unless owners are willing to step up and talk with the Landmarks Preservation Commission about ways to ensure that their beautiful old home will continue to be a beautiful home and not a site for new development.

What can we do to protect this house? 1) With the owner’s consent, the Landmarks Preservation Commission can designate the site. Once a site is designated, it’s more difficult (though not impossible) to tear it down. 2) The owner can place a restriction or easement on the site, preventing the house from being torn down. 3) We can work together to find an owner who recognizes the beauty of the home and will restore rather than raze it.

If you are homeowner who is proud of the historic house you live in, please speak with the Landmarks Preservation Commission about what you can do to protect the house. You can reach us via email at [email protected] or call 973-239-3220. We also plan to have a meeting to discuss saving this house soon. Stayed tuned for location and time.

Verona has lost too much of its history already. Let’s begin to work together to protect our history for future generations.

Jane Eliasof is the vice chairperson of the Verona Landmarks Preservation Commission and executive director of the Montclair Historical Society.
Photos copyright Martin Golan (top) and Bob Williams (bottom). Used by permission.

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