Metuchen receives state grant to help create historic preservation ordinance

59 High St.

METUCHEN – With more than 100 historic homes demolished in a five-year period from 2013-18, and the risk of losing older neighborhoods, the borough is in the process of hiring a consultant to ensure historic significance is considered in planning decisions of older homes.

Borough Administrator Melissa Perilstein said at a Borough Council meeting on Nov. 9 that the borough received a $15,000 New Jersey Historic Trust grant through the work of Nancy Zerbe, chair of the borough’s Historic Preservation Committee and Millennium Strategies, the borough’s grant consultants.

She said the grant will allow the borough to hire the consultant, who will help the borough create a historic preservation ordinance.

Zerbe said the proposed ordinance would evaluate Metuchen’s buildings for historic significance and provide a review process for their protection.

“Not all older buildings can be saved, especially when their upkeep has been neglected; however, establishing a municipal historic preservation program will promote understanding about the importance of our historic resources and ensure that historic significance is considered in planning decisions,” she said.

Zerbe said the borough has review authority over the design of the new infill houses; however, there is currently no legal mechanism for review of demolitions.

“As a result, the character of Metuchen’s residential areas is being significantly altered,” she said.

The consultant will have a three-part task: Conduct background research to develop an understanding of Metuchen’s previous and ongoing efforts that either support or undermine historic preservation; based on input received from the borough and the public, prepare a preliminary draft ordinance; and provide guidance during the borough’s and public’s review of a final draft ordinance, Zerbe said.

Discussions about creating a historical preservation ordinance became heightened in March 2018 with the demolition of two 19th century homes on High Street and again in September 2018 when 59 Graham Ave., known as the David Graham Thomas home built circa 1850, was demolished.

In July 2020, the Planning Board approved three new homes to replace the historic Hester Poole house at 101 Rose St. The house was sometimes known as the Isaiah Rolfe House, constructed in 1850.

Discussions by municipal officials regarding such an ordinance date to the late 1980s, but no ordinance was ever adopted.