Future Unknown for Historic Amwell Road Property
Owner of building destroyed by fire uncertain if he'll still pursue construction plans.
The future of an Amwell Road property, where a vacant historic building was destroyed by fire earlier this month, has yet to be determined.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said John Lazorchak, the owner of the property.
Zion Road resident Curtis Westover, 69, has been charged with arson for allegedly setting the blaze on March 18.
After buying the property in 2005, Lazorchak, who also owns the adjacent JML Landscaping at 695 Amwell Road in the Neshanic section, developed plans to build a 6,700-square-foot office building on the property. Those plans, approved by the planning board, called for the demolition of a vacant building on the site, a home dating back to the 1800s that had fallen into disrepair.
But neighbors opposed to the plans organized a group, the Neshanic Coalition for Historical Preservation, and filed suit against the Planning Board, arguing that the board was not aware the building was in the Neshanic Historic District when it voted on Lazorchak’s application.
In July 2010, Superior Court Judge Peter Buchsbaum ruled for the Neshanic Coalition, stating that Lazorchak’s public notice failed to meet requirements of the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law because it omitted the fact that the building was located in a historic district.
Because it was in a historic district, the demolition had to be approved by the township’s Historic Preservation Commission. When the commission denied the demolition permit, Lazorchak appealed the decision to the township Zoning Board of Adjustment where it has been bogged down by legal issues, including allegations of conflict of interest and whether the Historic Preservation Commission had the authority to deny the demolition permit.
However, the March 18 fire burned the wooden structure, which was demolished the following day. The property has now been cleared, graded and covered with straw.
Westover, who also owns a nursery business, is free on bail after being charged last Saturday. Westover, who is friends with Lazorchak, has his own zoning dispute with the township and appealed this week to the Township Committee for help.
Lazorchak, who is the chief of the Neshanic Fire Co., was away on his post-winter vacation in the Caribbean when the building burned.
Lazorchak admitted it was “awkward” for his fellow firefighters from Neshanic and the other fire companies to respond to the scene.
“But everybody had to do what they had to do,” he said.
Lazorchak said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next or whether he’s going to continue to pursue the construction of the office building. If he goes forward with the plan, he would need to obtain Planning Board approval again and the Historic Preservation Commission would be asked to give a non-binding advisory opinion on the application to the board.
Greg Gillette, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said at Thursday’s commission meeting that the board would have no comment on the fire or the property because Lazorchak’s proposal could return to the commission if he went to the Planning Board again.
Township resident Curt Carnes told the commission on Thursday that the fire “raises other issues,” such as the restrictions on properties either designated as historic or located in historic districts. He said dilapidated structures like the vacant Amwell Road building may become “targets for arson.”
“I’m interested in preservation,” Carnes said, “but I’m also interested in the rights of private property owners.”
Carnes said the challenge for the Historic Preservation Commission is to find a way to preserve township property without restricting the rights of property owners.
”Where do we go?” he asked, wondering if there was an option for owners to remove the historic designation from their properties.