By DON STINE
The Neptune Township Committee tabled a controversial ordinance this week which would have allowed, what some residents called, drastic changes in the historic Ocean Grove district.
Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson Deborah Osepchuk said the commission was “absolutely against the changes.”
“Very drastic changes have been (proposed) to the HPC guidelines and people were beside themselves. The HPC is absolutely against these changes, completely. It knocks the feet out from under the HPC and puts the historic district in jeopardy,” she said.
The seven-member HPC reviews proposed exterior alterations to existing Ocean Grove properties and proposed new Ocean Grove construction. Certificates of Appropriateness are issued when applications meet approved standards
Osepchuk said the township does have the right to amend the HPC regulations even though Ocean Grove is a registered state and national historic site.
“The township can set up the parameters of how the HPC functions. But they need do it in a conscious way. There is much to be concerned about and this new ordinance doesn’t have any teeth in it. I can understand making some guidelines flexible but not changed with such a broad brush stroke that it destroys the community and its historic status, which is extremely important to people who live here,” she said.
The changes would remove HPC jurisdiction from any façade of an historic building that does not front on a street.
“We don’t even know what the changes really are and they may be so subtle that we don’t know what the ramifications are,” Osepchuk said.
At this week’s meeting, residents complained that the ordinance was posted to the public only on the Friday before the Township Committee meeting and erroneously states that the changes were suggested by the HPC.
Other residents said the changes weaken historic preservation codes, will lower property values, and reduce the historic significance of Ocean Grove.
Township Committee members said that the governing body will now hold a public forum on the matter and provide annotated copies of the ordinance that will show both the wording in the old ordinance and the revisions being incorporated into the new ordinance.
Instead of a public forum Ocepchuk suggested a workshop be held with township officials and HPC and Ocean Grove officials.
“You need to take a more measured and professional approach,” said Barbara Burns, president of the Ocean Grove Homeowners Association.
“These changes emasculate the ordinance and that is sad,” said Kennedy Buckley of Ocean Grove.
HPC member Jennifer Schaffer said she is “alarmed” by the new ordinance and that it is “embarrassingly unprofessional.” She added that the ordinance is “truly shocking and ignorant” on issues concerning Ocean Grove’s historic district.
“Ocean Grove is not like a bad Western (movie) set,” she said referring to the change that only the front of houses need to meet current HPC requirements. “This ordinance is amateurish and a dangerous mess. What you need is a clear, professional update to the preservation ordinance,” she said.
Township Committeewoman Carol Rizzo, who lives in Ocean Grove, said that one of the problems with the HPC is that decisions can sometimes clash with township zoning.
“But it is zoning that counts. Some people can be upset, not everybody, feeling that HPC regulations are too much overboard,” she said.
“People are not fixing up their houses and some are deteriorating – and some go without the proper approval, including from the HPC. We want to make sure that people don’t so things on the fly and that’s been happening,” she said.
Rizzo said she understands that financial considerations come into play when an owner is renovating their property.
As far as any revisions to the ordinance, Rizzo said she wants more information.
“I am still trying to learn a lot and digest all kinds of information,” she said. “Complaints from some residents is really what it comes down to. And things are being done without proper approvals because people don’t want to come before the HPC. I don’t want to see my community destroyed but I want to find the right balance.”
Rizzo said she supports a public forum on the issue.
“Let’s get together so people can see each side of the argument,” she said.