Why does Maplewood need Preservation?

Maplewood is a unique community. Much of what makes this town special is that it is largely an intact historic commuter suburb. Most of the architecture and planning was completed before 1935. The town is defined by its sense of scale, sidewalks and tree-lined streets, fine examples of architecture, variety of neighborhoods and the charm of its downtown. Special features such as the stone gates, gutters, street lighting and century old trees add to its unique character. These elements are so much a part of what defines Maplewood that some might think they could never change. But in fact, it is only through local historic designation that the Township can protect a building, structure, site, object or district. The Township of Maplewood believes that its buildings, structures and streetscapes are worthy of protection and sees the ultimate value in the historic designation of both individual sites and districts.

What is the law governing historic preservation?

Local governments in New Jersey derive their authority to identify, evaluate, designate and regulate historic resources from the state Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), the enabling legislation for historic preservation zoning. Since 1986, the MLUL has allowed municipalities to designate and protect historic sites and districts. Currently, there are more than 165 communities in New Jersey with Historic Preservation Commissions. A local historic preservation ordinance was passed in July 2001 by the Township Committee, following two years of study by a group of Maplewood residents. Subsequently, the Historic Preservation Commission was appointed to carry out the provisions of the ordinance.

How is a building designated a landmark?

The first responsibility of the Commission is to survey the Township for potential buildings, sites and districts worthy of designation, according to the criteria set forth in the ordinance. After a review of potential buildings, sites or districts, the Commission will consider whether to designate them as historic landmarks. Property owners will be notified and a public hearing will be held to review the Commission’s nomination report. The Commission will forward its recommendations to the Planning Board and the Township Committee, which will vote to approve, reject or modify the proposal. If approved, the buildings, sites and/or districts would be designated as Maplewood Historic Landmarks and notice of the designation will be announced.

How does designation affect a property?

If your property is designated, it means that any proposed demolition, relocation, significant exterior architectural changes, new construction, subdivision or variances must be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission prior to the issuance of permits and application approvals by other Boards. Certain types of work are not subject to review by the Commission, such as exterior painting, interior renovation, or repairs made to the exterior with in-kind materials.

The Commission seeks to work with property owners and neighborhood associations, to provide technical assistance, to work with applicants and offices of the municipality and to provide research guidance to help in the sensitive design of improvements. Early consultation can offer the property owner historically appropriate solutions to their design requirements.

What is the authority for the Historic Preservation Commission in Maplewood?

The Historic Preservation Commission was created by ordinance of the Maplewood Township Committee in July 2001.  The power to create a preservation commission is granted to municipalities under the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL).  There are currently 165 communities in New Jersey with Historic Preservation Commissions. Because the Historic Preservation ordinance falls under the MLUL, it is considered a type of zoning law, with the same goals and legal authority as other local zoning laws.

The Maplewood Historic Preservation ordinance has been reviewed by Township attorneys as well as by the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office to make sure that it meets the criteria of the New Jersey MLUL as well as the state’s program goals of providing protection and review of local historic resources.  Because the local ordinance and the local Historic Preservation Commission meet a required level of expertise, the Maplewood HPC has received the status of Certified Local Government, enabling it to represent the State Historic Preservation Office in local preservation issues.

Who sits on the Historic Preservation Commission and what are their qualifications?

The Historic Preservation ordinance defines the members of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and their responsibilities.  The seven members and two alternate members of the HPC are appointed by the Township Committee on the basis of ability and interest and  serve for four-year terms. Except for one “Class A” member (who must be a professional in the field and can come from any locality) all members of the HPC are homeowners in Maplewood and all are volunteers. Members of the HPC have included architects,  preservation architects with a specialty in materials,  architectural historians, professional historic preservationists and a local historian, realtors and other interested members of the community.  A member of the Township Committee and the Planning Board serve as liaisons to the HPC.

Is there transparency in the work of the Historic Preservation Commission?

The HPC meets at the Maplewood Municipal Building on the third Wednesday of every month at 8:00 pm. Meetings are advertised and open to the public. Agendas are posted on the town website prior to the meeting. Minutes of each meeting are available on the town website and in the office of the Township Clerk. All designations and applications are considered at open Public Hearings.

What are the Responsibilities of the Historic Preservation Commission?

The responsibilities of the HPC  include identifying and evaluating buildings, sites or districts in town that have historical, cultural or architectural significance.  To this end, the HPC with the help of numerous local volunteers has conducted architectural and historical surveys of several areas of Maplewood, including Ridgewood Road, the area around Memorial Park, and parts of Valley Street, Prospect Street, Boyden Avenue and Tuscan Road. Survey efforts are ongoing and gather information about the history and development of the buildings and the township.  The results of these surveys are available at the main library and the clerk’s office. The long-range goal of the HPC is to survey the entire town.

In 2003-04, the Historic Preservation Element of the Township Master Plan was updated as part of a revision of the entire Township Master Plan.  The purpose of the Master Plan is to help the Planning Board and the Township Committee in their decisions about development and changes to the physical environment of the township, and the plan includes various elements that pertain to specific parts of the community.  The Historic Preservation Element contains a brief history of the town, a history of the HPC, a listing of the responsibilities of the HPC, as noted in the ordinance, and a list of buildings within the Township known to have been constructed before 1860.  The list of pre-1860 buildings is informational only and is included as an historical reference. Most of the buildings on this list are not currently designated landmarks, but some may receive designation in the future.  Buildings on this list have no special restrictions or honors associated with them.

What is the process for designations and who has authority?

The HPC recommends to the Township Committee, buildings, sites, objects and districts for designation as local landmarks. The criteria for this designation are stated in the ordinance. Before a building is considered for designation, a “Nomination Form” is completed by homeowners, interested citizens or members of the HPC.  This form contains historical information (with bibliography) and reasons why (according to the ordinance) a building might be eligible to become a locally designated landmark.

Once the HPC has decided to pursue designation, it notifies the homeowners about the nomination and invites them to discuss the proceeding and its implications. A public hearing is scheduled, at which time owners and other members of the public are invited to testify about the designation.

At the public hearing, the HPC discusses the historical information and criteria for designation as presented, as well as any testimony, and then votes for or against recommending the property to the Township Committee for designation.  Only the Township Committee (an elected body) has the authority to designate a building as a landmark. To date, eleven buildings or parks have been designated as landmarks in Maplewood. The designation reports for these buildings are available in the office of the Township Clerk.

Can owners make alterations to designated buildings?

Once a building is designated, changes to the exterior of the building must be approved by the HPC.  Maintenance and repairs of existing materials, paint colors and emergency repairs are not required to come before the Commission. Changes to the building, such as additions, change of materials, window replacement and demolition must be approved by the HPC at a public hearing.  Review of these alterations ensures that they are sensitive to the character of the historic structure.   The process for applying to the HPC and the criteria for proposed changes to be reviewed is outlined in the ordinance. Application forms for such changes are available on the township website.

At the public hearing, the applicant has the opportunity to show the proposed work and make the case for the proposed changes.   The HPC evaluates the proposals according to the criteria set out in the ordinance.  If an owner disagrees with the decision of the HPC, the applicant may appeal the case before the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.