no knock down
The Aubrey Lewis House was razed in May to make way for eight townhouses. The planning board is investigating recommending a no knock-down law. DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF

By Jaimie Julia Winters

In response to a recent increase in home demolitions, the planning board is investigating bringing back a no-knock down ordinance.

Following the demolition of the Marlboro Inn, in 2007 Montclair created “time-of-application rule” or a waiting period of one year for demolition permits of homes 75 years or older. The period was given to derail developers from razing older homes and to allow the permit to be deferred until the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) could investigate the history of the building, analyze its architectural features and consider whether it should be an official, protected historic landmark.  In 2012, planner Janice Talley suggested it be pulled due to changes to the municipal land use regulations, which she said made the local law moot.

“Our planner, rushing the council to change a law that no one contested and with no attempts to even modify it to be in compliance with land use laws, has unnecessarily put the entire old housing stock at risk,” said planning board member Martin Schwartz.

Earlier this month, an application was filed with the planning department to demolish two homes on 28 acres of land on Undercliff and Lloyd roads to make way for “Lloyd Estate.” Both homes would have fallen under the 75 year rule.

In May, the Aubrey Lewis Estate was demolished. In June 2017, BNE Real Estate received the planning board’s approval to subdivide the Lewis Estate’s site and build eight houses on the 2.7 acres. A condition of that approval was that the real estate company had to offer up the sale of the Lewis house to anyone who could move it. BNE offered $10,000 for relocation costs. Even with a sale price of $10, no one took the developer up on his offer.

READ: Two homes could be razed to make way for mega mansion

READ: Aubrey Lewis estate lost to townhouses

At the Oct. 15 planning board meeting, Schwartz presented the board with the suggestion of a “light protection zone” for properties 95 years or older or that are on a list of 1,000 properties from the 1982 “Preservation Montclair” compiled by the Junior League.

Properties in the zone would be flagged on property cards. Suggestions include Historic Preservation Commission oversight for demolition permits for those  properties and a year wait to exhaust all other efforts. Those homes would not be under the same constraints with facade changes as historically designated homes.

Talley said at the meeting, “The law would not stop demolition, only delay it.”

Jersey City has a similar law that prevents the demolition of buildings 150 years or older or those on the historical registry without the approval of the historical commission.