Coaster File Photo
The rear portion of the iconic Casino building on Asbury Park’s boardwalk was demolished many years ago.
By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Whether Asbury Park will create a historic preservation committee – in view of the fact this past year or so has seen threats to iconic sites there – is a matter most likely to be pursued aggressively in the new year after new City Councilwoman Angela Ahbez-Anderson will be sworn in.
Kay Harris, president of the city’s Historical Society – says she and Councilwoman Eileen Chapman have been working behind the scenes to gather information about what sort of committee or commission should be created to protect city icons.
This is not a new issue for the city but issues including the possible demolition of the Holy Spirit Church and the deteriorating conditions of Convention Hall and the Paramount Theater have thrown Asbury Park’s history into sharp relief, particularly as redevelopment fever remains high.
The 2017 master plan, for example, carrying over recommendations from an earlier study established historic preservation as a planning goal:” to encourage historic preservation to promote the city’s history, maintain the city’s unique character, protect existing historic resources and complement economic development and efforts.” A master plan forms the legal foundation for the zoning ordinance and zoning map.
In 2017, the report recommended performing a historic preservation study that would confirm or amend the appropriate boundaries of a local historic district, update the inventory of historic sites and structures and identify architectural features that distinguish historic districts.
Ideally, such a study would address the need for a historic preservation commission and identify incentives, such as grants and loans, to encourage maintenance and proper facade restoration of noteworthy buildings.
The study also should provide guidance on appropriate historic building preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction standards and explore whether it should be a regulatory or advisory body. Once created, the commission could apply for certification from the state Historic Preservation Office to become eligible for grants and other incentives.
Harris noted that whether the commission would be strong, meaning it would have statutory power to compel action, or merely advisory is one matter under consideration. Many historic preservation advocates support a statutory body such as exists in nearby Ocean Grove so it would have power.
The Asbury Park Historical Society has begun a review of the proposals in the 2017 master plan related to historic preservation, Harris said. Add to that efforts by a new grassroots effort to accomplish the same. Ronnie Mennie, a local merchant and also local lover of history, and Robyn Smith recently discussed their own initiative to draw attention to endangered historic buildings, particularly those that are faith-based.
The Holy Spirit Church on Second Avenue has been the subject of a planning proposal that would see its demolition. Items from the church, still owned by the Catholic Church, have been removed and sent to an Ocean County church.
Local efforts also could potentially opt to strengthen local preservation measures although they would most likely be limited to protecting building exteriors, Harris said.
“This is definitely a threat,” Harris has said of a number of sites. “This is definitely a series of buildings we want to get ahead of before they become another Holy Spirit situation.”
Consensus seems to be building among those looking at the creation of such a commission that initially at least it would focus on business districts. Residential property owners could opt in but at the outset, the commission would look at business and commercial zones, some of which already have a national historic designation.
Harris, who also has founded the Asbury Park Museum – which does not have a physical structure – said ordinances would be reviewed as well and there would be a public education effort component.
“We want people to understand what it means and what it doesn’t mean,” Harris said.