Freehold council members reaffirm plan to demolish Christopher House

FREEHOLD – With the authorization of the Borough Council still in effect, the planned demolition of a 19th century building on East Main Street, Freehold Borough, is expected to proceed.

The demolition of the Christopher house, 49 E. Main St., has been sought by the property’s owners, Glenn Freeman and Kevin Freeman, amid concerns of underground contamination.

On April 16, council members said the resolution they passed in February authorizing the demolition was still in effect and that a demolition permit would be granted to the Freemans.

The demolition of the building was authorized by council President Sharon Shutzer and council members Kevin Kane, George Schnurr, Jaye Sims and Ron Griffiths.

Mayor Nolan Higgins, who owns the Higgins Memorial Home, Center Street, and Councilman Michael DiBenedetto, who owns Joe’s Barber Shop, South Street, recused themselves from the issue.

The Freemans, who operate the Freeman Funeral Home, 47 E. Main St., next door to the Christopher house, have been attempting to obtain a demolition permit for about eight months, according to Glenn Freeman. A demolition permit was not immediately issued to the Freemans following the council’s initial authorization due to opposition from the Freehold Borough Historic Preservation Commission.

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.

Glenn Freeman said his family has since owned the house for more than a century.

The Freemans and environmental expert Adam Musgrave appeared before the borough’s ad hoc Land Use Committee in December and before the council in January to seek permission for the demolition. Attorney Vincent Halleran represented the owners.

Musgrave testified before the council and the Land Use Committee that a heating oil tank under the Christopher house leaked and he said oil is spreading toward Main Street. He recommended that immediate action be taken on the property before the contamination spreads.

The Land Use Committee eventually recommended the demolition of the building. Council members supported the committee’s recommendation and determined the demolition was warranted due to the testimony and evidence presented.

Members of the borough’s Historic Preservation Commission argued that under the Freehold Center Core Redevelopment Plan ordinance, the plan for the building’s demolition must be heard by the Planning Board because of where the Christopher house is located in the borough.

The issue returned before the Land Use Committee in March, which again recommended the building’s demolition and determined that a demolition permit should be issued.

Borough Council members determined they had the authority to hear the matter because the building is in the core redevelopment area, which supersedes all zoning, and the Borough Council has authority over the core redevelopment area.

On April 16, council members determined the resolution authorizing the building’s demolition was still in effect.

“We just wanted to get everything straight,” Kane said. “In my opinion, we’ll move forward with the demolition. Nothing has changed.”

Gregory Clark, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the commission maintained its position that the plan for the demolition needed to heard by the Planning Board.

“We still believe this has to go before the Planning Board based on the magnitude of the demolition,” Clark said. “It is the opinion of the Historic Preservation Commission that this still needs to go before a public hearing.”