New Garden supervisors delay vote on proposed change to historic ordinance
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
On one side of the discussion at the New Garden Board of Supervisors' April 22 meeting sat several dozen township residents, many of whom voiced their concern that a proposed amendment to a township historic ordinance would place all decisions regarding any future construction upgrades to their historic homes in the hands of the township's Historical Commission.
It's my home, they said, and I have a right to make any alterations I wish.
On the other side, three members of the Historic Commission tried to assure the residents that the proposed amendment would not dictate what a homeowner can do with his or her home, but merely allow Commission members to act in an advisory role.
We are only here to help, the members told residents.
After nearly an hour of back-and-forth opinions, potential scenarios and assurances that were brought up at a formal hearing, several supervisors said that more back-and-forth was needed in order to fine-tune the wording and purpose of Article XXI, Chapter 200 of the township’s zoning code. Subsequently, they voted unanimously to table their ruling on the proposed amendment.
At the center of the controversy are the proposals submitted for consideration by the Historical Commission that were outlined by township Solicitor Vine Pompo at the start of the hearing.
If the proposed amendment is approved, it will redefine the purpose and authority of the Commission. As stipulated in the reworded amendment, the Commission’s role is to “promote, protect enhance and preserve historic resources for the educational, cultural, economic and general welfare of the public,” as stated in Section 200-165 of the proposed amendment. To best achieve this purpose, the amendment proposes that the Commission serve as an advisory board to the supervisors and township zoning officer in matters of the future of historic properties and historic resources in the township.
This authority would extend to any planned renovation or addition to the exterior of a historic home only – not the home’s interior.
Further, the proposed amendment establishes “a process by which proposed alterations, demolitions or relocations affecting historic properties in the township are reviewed by both the board and the Historical Commission.”
In introducing the revised ordinance, Historical Commission member Lynn Sinclair said that it represents “a refinement of language and an expansion of procedures, especially when it comes to alterations and demolition.” Sinclair was soon joined by Commission members David Hawk and long-time township historian Dr. Margaret “Peg” Jones.
One township resident expressed concern that being forced to meet with the Historical Commission before making a house renovation presents homeowners with the added burden of having “to go through two hoops” for approval, he said.
“It does go without saying that if you have a property that is located on the historic map, there is another overlay of zoning regulations that you would be responsible for,” Pompo said.
Jones attempted to quell the audience’s concerns that the proposed ordinance, if passed, will give the Historical Commission the final say on any alterations proposed for historic properties in the township.
“What seems to have escaped a lot of people’s attention as they fret about this revised ordinance is that number one, this is just a revision to an existing ordinance,” Jones said, making reference to the historical preservation ordinance that was originally enacted in 2009. “Very little has changed, and then, in terms of what the Historical Commission can do, the Commission’s role is to advise, make recommendations, research and educate. I don’t hear anything compulsory in any of those words. “People who are distressed about this don’t realize that the Historical Commission is an organization designed to help and support the residents of the township who either own or admire historic properties, so that we can keep as much of what we have, as best we can, and [to assure] that we [township residents who are historic property owners] don’t make silly changes because we [they] didn’t know any better.”
Jones said that the only voting influence in matters of historic significance in the township belong to the supervisors. “We have no ability to act,” she told the audience.
Several other residents said that they were surprised to receive a letter from the township that indicated that their home had been listed on the historical resources map, and therefore will subject them to Historical Commission review if they wish to make alterations to their home. An Avondale resident said that she was surprised to see her home on the list, given that it was built in 1962.
“I’ve lived there for 17 years, and didn’t know until this year that I had a historic property,” she said.
“It surprises us, as well,” Jones responded, saying that there is a state regulation which declares that any structure older than 50 years is considered historic.
Another resident asked the Commission for clarification on which party makes the final decision on a particular renovation or addition to a historic home. Is it the Historic Commission, the township’s zoning code officer, the township’s zoning hearing board, or the homeowner?
“You will have access to suggestions and recommendations, but you will make the decision,” Jones said, later adding, “The [proposed] historical preservation ordinance is not telling you what to do with your house, but in terms of the history of our house, we’re here to advise, to make recommendations and have a dialogue with you. That’s not a regulation, is it? That’s not going to interfere with selling your house.”
While the hearing may have smoothed the waters a bit on the proposed authority the Commission may have in the event Article XXI is passed, the supervisors felt their decision to place a hold on their ruling will give them the opportunity to advertise for a follow-up hearing, when they will get to hear additional comments from the public, and be able to render a decision on the proposed revisions.
The general public is invited to attend the Historical Commission’s meetings, which take place on the first Wednesday of every month, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Township Building.
In other township business, the board gave final land development approval to the construction of six box holder hangars at the New Garden Flying Field. The holders, which will be owned by and paid for by private entities, will be 60' x 60' in size, and will be located at the west end of the airport. The project is being designed by the engineering firm of L.R. Kimball. The project will go out soon for construction cost estimate bidding.
The public is invited to a May 14 workshop that will discuss the conceptual plans for the revitalization of Toughkenamon. The event will be held at the Harvest Ridge Winery tasting room on Newark Road, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.