After mansions are razed, Montclair NJ issues moratorium on knock-downs

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Two days after the 1865 Mansion at 14 Undercliff was knocked down, its neighbor suffers the same fate.
Montclair has issued a temporary moratorium on the demolition of residential structures in town, according to Township Manager Timothy Stafford.
The announcement comes after an outcry over the demolition of two older mansions on Undercliff and Lloyd Roads on February 8 and 11. The new owner, 14 Undercliff LLC, has an application before the Planning Board to build one much larger house on the combined properties, with a gym, spa, bowling alley, basketball court, indoor and outdoor pools, a staff wing, two elevators and a master suite with a kitchen and his-and-her balconies.

On social media and in a letter campaign to town officials, residents expressed their frustration with the loss of the homes, one of which dated to the Civil War. Both were recently renovated and sold for well over $3 million each.
14 Lloyd Road, an 1865 mansion on 3.4 acres, sold last year for $3.9 milion; 172 Undercliff, in background, a center-hall colonial on 2.4 acres, sold for $3.4 million. February 2019

Many residents also lamented the Planning Board’s recent approval of Pinnacle Properties’ application to develop 7.58 acres of the Lackawanna Station property, which will involve demolishing the station’s train sheds, or canopies. The station is a state, local and national historic landmark.

“I am losing my charming old town on a daily basis,” wrote Ryan Smythe, who described himself as “a 4th-generation Montclair resident who is completely fed up.” Smythe asked residents to email their ward representatives on the town council.

Later on Feb. 15, Stafford wrote in a letter that he was instituting a 30-day moratorium on residential demolition permits. During that time, he wrote, “the governing body can consider any relevant amendments to the Town Code.”

He said the decision was “based upon feedback received over the last five days, given that the Township has many one-, two-, three-, and four-family buildings and structures that are culturally, architecturally and historically significant.”

Prior to 2012, the township had a “No Knock-Down” law requiring developers to wait for one year for demolition permits for homes 75 years or older, according to Planning Board member Martin Schwartz. That gave the town’s Historical Preservation Commission time to decide if it should be a protected landmark and slow down the destruction. Schwartz said the law was scrapped in 2012 at the recommendation of director of planning Janice Talley, who cited changes in municipal-land use regulations that, she said, made such mandates illegal.

Schwartz has advocated for the reinstatement of the yearlong waiting period, and said other towns have found ways around the law changes. In April, Jersey City adopted a law requiring a historic preservation review before a demolition permit would be issued

Though the homes on Undercliff and Lloyd were knocked down in advance of hearings on the development of the property by the Historical Preservation Commission and the Planning Board, the owner had obtained a demolition permit and they were demolished legally, according to township attorney Ira Karasick.

Julia Martin, North Jersey Record

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