Why is the Oakcroft neighborhood being surveyed?
The Township enacted its first historic preservation ordinance in 1994, and Montclair now has four locally designated commercial historic districts and five National and State residential historic districts.
In 2016, the Township updated its Historic Preservation Plan with input from residents, historians, preservation consultants and town planners. That plan recommended seven residential neighborhoods and six town parks for in-depth surveys because they “possess a moderate to high level of integrity, a high level of design cohesion, a distinct architectural identity, and/or clearly convey a historic context.” These areas, among them the Oakcroft Residential Park Area, have been designated “potential” historic districts. The survey is a preliminary step when considering historic designation. Oakcroft and the Wheeler Street Area are being surveyed in 2019. In coming years surveys will also be conducted of the Estate Area, Hitchcock Place Area, Christopher Street Area, Tremont Place Area, Upper Montclair Commuter Area and Township parks.
What’s historic about the Oakcroft neighborhood?
The homes in this neighborhood exemplify a suburban commuter subdivision of the early 1900s. In addition, Oakcroft is also distinguished by its direct connection to Anderson Park, having been designed and built specifically as a neighborhood linked to that newly created Olmsted park. Its roads were aligned with the park’s pathways, and it was marketed as a “residential park.” The connection between park and neighborhood remains strong, and the neighborhood has retained much of its original historic fabric and integrity over the past 110 years.
What are the boundaries of the potential Oakcroft district?
The area includes 115 homes and is bounded by Anderson Park to the north, train tracks to the east, North Mountain Avenue to the west, and Brookfield Road to the south. The area, and notable buildings within it, can be viewed on the Township’s Historic Inventory Viewer.
What does the survey involve?
According to the Township, preservation consultants funded through a state grant will conduct the survey. They will research the neighborhood’s history and compile a building-by-building inventory, photograph representative buildings, provide a property map showing the district’s boundaries, and prepare a physical description and statement of significance for the district. Surveyors do not enter homes; only exteriors are assessed. The Township will hold an information session to explain the process and answer questions.
What happens once the survey is completed?
The consultant will prepare a nomination report available to residents. If designating a historic district is recommended, the Historic Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing. Property owners will be notified of this hearing at least 20 days in advance, and owners may comment at the hearing. The report then goes to the Town Council, which refers it to the Planning Board, which reports back to the Council with recommendations. The Council can approve, reject or modify the designation. These steps are detailed in the Township’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, Section 347-135.
How do historic districts affect property values?
Properties within local historic districts appreciate at rates greater than the local market overall, as well as faster than similar, non-designated neighborhoods. For example, a study from Raleigh, N.C., shows that between 2000-2008, single-family residential properties in three local historic districts increased in value between 84 percent and 111 percent, while in the rest of the city their value increased only 49 percent on a per-square-foot basis. For links to other studies, see the Economic Benefits section of this website.
Designation, like other forms of zoning, also protects your property. It ensures that the ambiance that makes the neighborhood desirable will endure, and that you can confidently invest in your home without fear that a neighbor will undermine your investment with renovations or new development that is out of character with the neighborhood.
How is a historic district different from ordinary zoning?
Montclair already has zoning that regulates such things as building height, land use, fence heights, setbacks from the street, etc. A historic district is a “zoning overlay,” a second layer of zoning that regulates architectural design elements. As a form of zoning, historic districts have been a long-established land-use planning tool in Montclair and nationwide.
Homeowners can still make significant improvements. Districting does not prevent change; it manages change.
There haven’t been any demolitions or monster renovations in the neighborhood, so what would be gained from historic designation?
Often there is a call for a historic district only after egregious changes trigger alarm. Creating a historic district before that moment comes is a smart move. The most extreme examples of what can damage a neighborhood’s historic integrity are demolitions, rebuildings after a fire, or radical renovations that don’t harmonize with their surroundings. But it is incremental changes over the years – altered windows, added siding, changed doors, removed porches – that most commonly erode historic character.
What would homeowners need to do before altering a home in a historic district?
Nothing would change for residents altering home interiors, exterior or interior paint colors, or making repairs or replacements that do not change the design, scale or appearance of the house. For example, repairing or replacing windows, doors, shingles, or roofing with identical ones would not require review. Making structural repairs that do not alter a home’s exterior appearance would also not require review.
A Certificate of Appropriateness, granted by the Historic Preservation Commission, would be required for changes such as demolition, relocation, and alterations to the exterior (building an addition, for example, or covering wood shingles with siding). More details are on the Township’s Certificate of Appropriateness web page and in the Township’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, Sections 347-136 through 347-143.
In evaluating applications, the Commission considers the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Buildings, which is the national benchmark. It also relies on the Township’s own Historic Design Guidelines.
A 2014 study of historic districts in Raleigh, N.C., found that the approval process of changes and modifications is equitable and efficient, with 98 percent of all applications being approved.
Would being in a historic district increase the cost of home alterations?
It depends on each individual project. For maintenance, repairs and improvements that do not require a Certificate of Appropriateness (C/A), no extra expense would be incurred.
For projects that do require a C/A, there is a $100 filing fee. Owners or their representatives need to appear before the Historic Preservation Commission when applying for a C/A. For complex projects (a major addition, for instance), homeowners may want to have their architect present the project, which is an added expense.
The Commission’s review standards favor restoring historic material over replacing it with new, incompatible material. So, for example, it might cost more to replace and paint deteriorated wooden shingles than to cover them up with vinyl siding. But restoring historic elements is not always more expensive.
Why create a historic district?
The Township’s ordinance lists 12 reasons to foster historic preservation. Among them are:
- Stabilizing and improving property values.
- Discouraging demolition of historic resources.
- Maintaining and developing a harmonious setting for historic and architecturally significant buildings and districts.
- Regulating appropriate alteration of historic buildings as well as new construction within or near historic districts to ensure compatibility with existing buildings.
- Encouraging proper maintenance of and reinvestment in buildings.
The complete list is in the Township’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, Section 347-127.
“Local [historic] districts are the safest, strongest safeguards for historic preservation.”
– Kathleen Bennett, Chairwoman, Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, in The Montclair Local, Feb. 21, 2019