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Property Owners Oppose Historic District

The Westwood Historic Commission is considering designating Westwood Avenue and some surrounding properties as a historic district.

A plan to designate Westwood Avenue and surrounding properties as a historic district has drawn criticism from owners of the affected buildings.

Preservation Consultant Gregory Dietrich presented a report about the plan during a meeting of the Westwood Historic Commission Wednesday. Dietrich said the plan would benefit the community by ensuring new developments will match the surrounding area. Historic district property owners can also waive application fees when filing for construction permits, Dietrich said.

Property owners said they were concerned about a review by the commission for work done to the exterior of all buildings in historic districts.

"There's so much bureaucracy out there," Steve Oder, an owner, said. "We don't need more."

Westwood ordinance requires applicants to bring their plans to the commission if proposed work would effect the exterior of a building in a historic district. The commission then makes a recommendation to the borough's planning board. Dietrich described the process as "a dialogue" rather than an approval or denial.

Ken Katz, who owns the , said he was concerned that a difference of opinion on aesthetics could prevent attractive buildings from being made. Katz noted that some iconic structures, such as the Guggenheim Museum and the Eiffel Tower, were considered ugly by some when they were built.

"The French hated the Eiffel Tower," Katz said.

Bruce Meisel, who also owns Westwood Avenue property, said the cost of bringing in tenants or doing work is already high because of applications with the borough. In one case, Meisel said getting approval from the planning board for a new tenant's sign cost about $8,000 in legal and professional fees and about $1,500 in board fees.

Meisel said he believed making a historic district would drive costs higher and drive businesses away from the area.

"They'll be in Ridgewood, they'll be in Englewood," Meisel said. "They'll be anyplace but Westwood."

The commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the historic district September 12.

Councilman Robert Miller, who is the liason to the commission, said they would hold more hearings if needed.

"Nothing has been predetermined," Miller said.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Jim Leggate at Jim.Leggate@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Brian Kearney August 09, 2012 at 05:28 PM
At the meeting Mr. Meisel warns us that big box stores and chains will not want to come to Westwood. Yeah - EXACTLY. What is ironic is that Ridgewood HAS a historic district which serves is well. http://www.ridgewoodnj.net/pdf/engineering/wsu/ActivitiesResources/FormsApplications/Historic/HPCGuide/2-Introduction.pdf
scruffy August 09, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Thank you Brian,,my point exactly that Meisel wants what he wants and thinks he has all the answers.
Pete August 11, 2012 at 07:13 AM
As I've alluded to here before, Westwood's central business district has more going for it than any adjoining town's, but it's still not immune to the fever for bulldozing and consolidating lots for ever more chain store outlets that displace local businesses. It may be more common in surrounding towns, but Westwood isn't immune to this kind of business core erosion. A historic district may or not be the answer, but the issue remains either way -- a solid, interesting business district like Westwood's will draw people and money in ways one pock-marked with haphazard teardown infill won't. It's not the buildings that need safeguarding, it's the district as a whole. Fail to appreciate that, and pretty soon your downtown's just another River Vale.
B@B August 11, 2012 at 11:27 AM
We are 10 minutes from the soulless chain store malls in Paramus. Why would anyone want to turn Westwood's downtown into another one? The old buildings are charming, irreplaceable, and a reminder of a slower, nicer time. Westwood has done well with its good assortment of local businesses and restaurants. I am all for trying to keep Westwood as Westwood, not another ugly mall.
Joseph Rivers August 20, 2012 at 08:49 PM
We need to protect the the historic structures and limit permissible types of construction in the heart of Westwood! I agree we can't make it impossible for property owners to do upgrades, especially if safety concerns become an issue. We do however need to assure the residents that upgrades and or changes to buildings within the downtown district will fit in with the general character of Westwood. Could you imagine one day if The Iron Horse or Parian Jewelers' decided to demolish their buildings and rebuild a large 2 story black glass and chrome office building? It just wouldn't fit! It's a touchy subject that needs to be addressed cautiously. There should be discussions on all the advantages and disadvantages, reach out to other communities who have similar zones. In the end it should come down to what the taxpayers want, maybe try reaching out to all the registered voters in town and see how they feel.

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