Historic Preservation Comm. to Trustees: Don’t Sell Village Hall

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9/12: This article was updated with a quote and clarifications from Trustee Stephen Schnall.

Representatives of the South Orange Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) have asked the Board of Trustees to reconsider its decision to sell the historic Village Hall.

“We are very concerned about it,” HPC member Elyse Carter told trustees at their meeting on Monday. “As a united group, we all felt very committed to this position.”

South Orange trustees agreed in June to put the aging building up for sale as it continues to explore different options. Village Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the RFP, which the town issued in July, includes a mandatory requirement that the building’s exterior be preserved and restored.

Still, the HPC believes selling the property to a developer will put the building’s preservation at risk. In addition, the group fears that losing the town’s “centerpiece” and “heart” is short-sighted and will mar the town’s charm and character. “That classic building on that beautifully situated corner of Scotland Road and South Orange Avenue will have a very different feel if [it] becomes a hotel or a restaurant,” Carter said, reading from a letter signed by HPC chairman Gary Hill.

The entire letter is attached as a PDF. 

Download (PDF, 280KB)

Carter said, “The long-term value of saving this building goes way beyond the cost of its renovation.”

Further, the group believes the building is not beyond restoration, and that it is actually more fiscally responsible to proceed with the planned renovation.

Amy Dahn, also of the HPC, noted the economic benefits of retaining ownership of the building.

Trustee Sheena Collum said the town wants the HPC and other stakeholder groups to have a say in evaluating any offers they receive for the building. However, she said the town had already issued the RFP, after contracting with a third-party marketing firm.

In essence, Collum said, the train has left the station.

“Just so we’re clear and honest with each other, it is on the market, we can’t stop that, we voted on that.” Once the RFP deadline approaches on Sept. 30, stakeholder groups may offer their input and recommend next steps to the trustees.

Village President Alex Torpey assured Carter the town would continue to seek the HPC’s input as it moves forward. “We’re not going to do anything without making sure to consult with you fully,” he said.

Bob Barnett, a South Orange business owner and former resident, also spoke against selling the building. “[This] is very important to people who live here and feel strongly about the community,” said Arnett.

“New York did not sell pieces of Central Park” in the economic downturn, Barnett continued. “The United States did not auction off the Statue of Liberty or put out an RFP.”

He also noted that any costs the town had already paid for asbestos removal and a geothermal heating/cooling system would never be recouped if it sells the building to a developer.

He asked if trustees had investigated adaptive reuse, noting that the Salem County Courthouse, the second-oldest courthouse in the country, was renovated two years ago for $1.4 million. He questioned how the estimated costs of renovating Village Hall ($6.5 million) could be so high.

Torpey said the trustees had discussed adaptive reuse. “We are definitely open to it,” he said, noting that he would look into the Salem County Courthouse.

“If anyone has ideas about what to do, we want to hear it,” said Torpey. “We want to put everything on the table… and look at what all of our options are.”

Trustee Stephen Schnall clarified the village’s position in an email to The Village Green. “The reality is that we want to keep options open, but without any financially compelling offer, we will move forward with the renovation of the building and its continued use as Village Hall,” Schnall said.


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