Historic panel wants planning board to review pending demolition

FREEHOLD – The Freehold Borough Historic Preservation Commission is appealing the Borough Council’s authorization of the demolition of a 19th century building on East Main Street and requesting that the proposed demolition be heard by the Planning Board.

The demolition of the Christopher house, 49 E. Main St., was authorized by the council on Feb. 5. The property is owned by Kevin Freeman and Glenn Freeman, who sought approval to demolish the building amid concerns of underground contamination. Council members determined the demolition was warranted due to the testimony and evidence presented.

The Historic Preservation Commission has opposed the demolition and recommended against the action in notifications to the ad hoc Land Use Committee and to the council. Letters have been sent to borough officials from commission Chairman Gregory Clark requesting that the council provide evidence as to why the commission’s recommendation was rejected and asking that the issue be presented to the Planning Board.

According to borough historian Kevin Coyne, the Christopher house was built circa 1830-40 and is named after former owner Daniel Christopher, who served as the Monmouth County clerk in 1846 and as president of the Farmer’s Bank of Freehold in 1853. Christopher was identified as the house’s owner in 1851, 1855 and 1860; its original owner is not known.

Kevin Freeman and Glenn Freeman operate the Freeman Funeral Home next door at 47 E. Main St. Testimony presented at previous meetings indicated a heating oil tank under the Christopher house leaked and that oil is spreading toward Main Street.

The Land Use Committee recommended the demolition due to the danger of the contamination continuing to spread and the likelihood of the building sustaining significant damage if lifted, which would also be costly, according to the council’s resolution authorizing the demolition.

Clark has asked council members to provide evidence that led to the rejection of the Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation not to demolish the Christopher house and more conclusive evidence necessitating the demolition. He said the commission was skeptical of evidence provided.

“The verbal testimony stated there was no ‘in-depth’ investigation completed as of yet regarding the extent of the oil spillage,” Clark wrote in a letter to the borough. “Without formal investigation, it is hard to assess the actual magnitude of the leak, and is harder yet to attach a monetary figure to the expense.

“While this situation is apparently conclusive enough to warrant an approval for demolition of the entire structure, the [Historic Preservation Commission] voices its skepticism regarding the continued lack of evidence, both written and actual, based on what is certainly preliminary and speculative work put forth on the leak investigation thus far.

“If it is at all possible at this point, the [Historic Preservation Commission] would like to see more conclusive materials leading to the conclusion that taking down one of the only pre-Civil War structures left in town, as well as the only example of temple front residential architecture left in town, is indeed the only solution to the issue,” he wrote.

In a second letter, dated Feb. 14, Clark said Freehold Center Core Redevelopment Plan ordinances required the proposed demolition to be presented to the Planning Board, which has not occurred.

“While the decision was made by [the Borough Council] to grant approval of the demolition based on the stated substantial costs and extensive remediation scope, the actual magnitude of the contamination has not been clearly defined.

“All testimony was based on speculative information and not on definitive scientific exploration of the magnitude of the contamination. At the very least, there should be a forum to fairly and objectively assess the scope of the contamination based on solid evidence. That forum is the Planning Board,” Clark wrote.