WESTFIELD — Over the course of the coming weeks, Westfield officials will be seeking input from local residents as the town continues to work to update the Historic Preservation Element of its Master Plan.
“This is a very important document for us,” Town Planner Don Sammet said Thursday, speaking during a public project presentation led by H2M ArchitectsandEngineers,thesameplanning group that helped the town to amend its Master Plan back in 2019.
“This update will give us a much better inventory of our historic and architectural resources,” Mr. Sammet said, adding that the project also will serve as a “valuable foundation” from which the town will be able to draft new policies and ordinances related to local preservation efforts.
H2M was awarded a $60,000 contract to complete the project earlier this year, $45,000 of which will be covered by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Preserve New Jersey Historic Preservation Fund.
The remaining $15,000, Mr. Sammet said, will be funded by the town.
In October, shortly before the group’s first public-input session, representatives from H2M, the town and Easton Architects (a sub-contracted firm based out of New York that specializes in historic-preservation projects) conducted a three-hour walking tour of the downtown area to start assembling a more cohesive inventory of the community’s relevant properties.
“These initial steps represent a broad look at the historic, architectural, and potentially even culturally significant properties within Westfield,” said preservation architect Siri Olson. “The inventory gives us the chance to review information about properties that have already been recognized or locally designated and also allows us to identify new potential resources that the town or its residents may be interested in preserving.” Westfield’s last official town-wide historic survey was completed in 2002, Ms. Olson said.
“Since then, we have lost properties to demolition, we have had properties altered to the point that they can no longer be considered significant and we have had new properties become age-eligible for potential designation,” Ms. Olson said.
Once completed, Ms. Olson continued, the new inventory will serve as a “much more comprehensive list” of Westfield’s historic homes, neighborhoods, districts and other properties.
“Just because something is old doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily significant. That’s why this survey is so important. It gives us a place to start in terms of identifying those properties that really stand out,” H2M planner Sanyogita Chavan said.
According to information provided by the town, the update also will help the community to better analyze local, state and federal preservation trends and provide recommendations for “enhancing existing historic preservation initiatives and policies” to better protect the “history, culture, community and character of Westfield.”
Representatives from H2M and Easton additionally have been tasked with nominating downtown Westfield for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
The national recognition, Ms. Olson said, could open the door for further grant funding and preservation incentives without adding any new undue restrictions to Westfield homeowners.
“State and national registry listings are largely honorific and have no impact on privately-owned residences,” she said, adding that local designations, which are mandated by municipal ordinances, are more likely to be subject to review.
Mr. Sammet explained that a state- or national-level designation would not automatically qualify a neighborhood or property for inclusion in the local registry.
“A local designation actually represents a change to the town’s land-use ordinance,” he said. “To date, these designations have always been enacted with the consent of the property owners involved, and we don’t have plans to change that as of this time.”
Residents are invited to email Mr. Sammet at email@example.com with questions, concerns or suggestions related to the project.
Information will be posted to the town’s website as the update progresses.