Zoning Board Defers to Preservation Commission on Demolition
Board members state that commission has ultimate authority on demolition of historic property.
John Lazorchak's appeal of a Historic Preservation Commission decision to prevent the demolition of a historic property on Amwell Road was remanded back to the commission from the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the latest development in Lazorchak’s ongoing quest to build an office building on the property.
Members of the board cited a lack of an audio recording—and therefore, a transcript—from the previous commission hearing on the matter as a reason to send the appeal over to the commission.
“It still comes down to fact that this board is being asked to make a determination on basically almost hearsay. We really don’t have a transcript of what the historic commission actually said or wants,” said Zoning Board member Walter Dietz. “If they come back to us, we’ve got a transcript, and we’ve got something where we can say, ‘this was said, that was said, this is what the solution is.’”
Bruce Afron, the lawyer representing the Neshanic Coalition, who oppose Lazorchak’s plan, seemed to be in agreement with the board’s decision to push the appeal over to the Historic Preservation Commission, citing the commission’s overall authority to make a decision on the matter.
“The governing body has said the jurisdiction on this particular kind of matter rests with the commission, and it has invested it with specialized knowledge in the form of certain members who have specialized knowledge, interest or background,” said Afron. “That’s a decision of the governing body, and that ordinance governs this body, as well. The Zoning Board does not have jurisdiction with ordinance.”
Meanwhile, Michelle Lamar, Lazorchak’s attorney, disputed this notion, citing a provision in the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law that, she said, only authorizes a Historic Preservation Commission as a consulting body.
“What Mr. Afron is attempting to do is he’s attempting to create new law by claiming that only the Historic Preservation Commission has exclusive, mandatory power with demolition purpose,” said Lamar. “However, he misinterprets the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law and he misinterprets the ordinance. He’s attempting to give greater power to a Historic Preservation Commission other than state law.”
“(The Historical Preservation Commission) has no statutory powers,” continued Lamar. “It only has the responsibilities to make recommendations to the Planning Board, advise the Planning Board and carry out other advisory, educational or informational functions.”
Dietz disputed that notion, explaining that, while most Historic Preservation Commissions across the state do not exercise the power to make a decision on the demolition of a historic building, Hillsborough’s ordinance is a unique case that allows for such a decision to be made.
“I don’t think any other towns have this, and we are in a unique and interesting position here,” said Dietz. “You’re trying to make the state law into ours, and it’s not.”
Board Attorney Mark Anderson seemed to agree with that notion, as well.
“This board has to decide what’s definite and what is not,” said Anderson. “The question of the jurisdiction of this board came up. I would advise this board that I believe Mr. Afron’s position on jurisdiction is correct.”
“All I can say is that this board needs to follow the ordinance,” continued Anderson. “The board doesn’t get to decide if the ordinance is right or not. The board has to accept the ordinance and follow it.”