Bedminster is a small well-to-do town in New Jersey.
One would think that the town of Bedminster is fortunate to have a Historic Preservation Commission responsible for overseeing their historic buildings.
Unfortunately the HPC in Bedminster does the opposite of preserving their historic assets. Opposite of what the residents of Bedminster and other town expect a historic preservation commission to do.
After driving down their main street and seeing all the changes I finally decided to contact the Bedminster Historic Preservation Commission. I spoke with the chairperson on the phone.
The conversation was very disappointing and I therefore followed up with a letter and photos to better explain certain issues in hope of educating a government entity that is having a huge negative impact on buildings they should be protecting.
The following are excerpts from that letter.
Letter to the Chairperson, Mayor, and the Bedminster HPC
Today, we are all bombarded by and brain-washed by the media to do things to our homes such as replace our windows and make other changes so these businesses can profit off their sales. Many beautiful buildings are quickly disappearing as a result of bad insensitive changes to the exterior of these buildings that some refer to as “improvements”. Historic Preservation Commissions are established to prevent this from happening for we are losing the character of our old buildings way too quickly.
I have noticed many terrible changes to a once nice historic section on Route 202-206 stretch between Kings and Fresh Market — an area that I frequently travel. As someone with a passion for beautiful buildings, seeing the destruction in this area really saddens me.
Being in the preservation business I am contacting you because I care for old buildings and I would be willing to offer my consulting services to anyone in Bedminster totally free of charge.
These are the buildings I am referring to in this letter:
- 327 Rt 202 – Victorian known as the Float House
- 285 Rt 202 – Colonial Revival – Habitat for Humanity Office
- 243 & 247 Rt 202 – two small Craftsman buildings
Regrettably, it took me some time before I finally had the opportunity to contact the Bedminster HPC. This was a few months ago and, unfortunately, I am just getting around to writing this letter now. I believe I spoke with Wendy Weinstein Hickey who stated that “the HPC is very pleased with the results of all the buildings and work performed”.
I understand that the Bedminster HPC is an advisory commission, as most are. I also understand that the board is composed of volunteers and not professionals. However, I am so sorry to say that the HPC’s way of preservation has basically bulldozed down all of these properties. From my conversation with the chairperson, it was plainly evident that the HPC did NOT exercise the minimal effort to protect these properties and guide the owner to renovate these buildings in a proper way. Instead it allowed the owner free reign to do what they thought was right — not knowing themselves what was appropriate or not appropriate.
Again, I understand that the entire HPC is composed of volunteers. That is no excuse for their lack of understanding the responsibility placed on them by being in this position or, their lack of knowledge of how to preserve the integrity of these historic buildings. It is very unfortunate, but The Bedminster HPC is grossly negligent in their responsibility. What really concerns me is when I explained these rehabilitation horrors, The chairperson defended the HPC stating that the work was performed correctly and was not willing to consider understanding any of the atrocious changes mentioned. I was told that I was being negative about a very “successful” restoration.
The chairperson did invite me to attend a HPC meeting. I had planned to attend the meeting two days after our conversation but that was cancelled due to the start of the pandemic. My intent was not to attend meetings to police every unsympathetic change to a historic building but to show the serious need for an understanding of a buildings historic design and the responsibility and importance of preserving the character of historic buildings. The same information which is stated in this letter.
A lot of people really do not pay attention to the design or features on an old house. They really don’t understand the importance of, say for example, one size trim to another, window style, proportions, etc., and, how much of an impact it can make. That is why there are historic preservation commissions. HPC members are responsible for protecting the historic buildings, informing and educating homeowners of what is correct and what is not correct and why! If HPCs don’t know what is correct for a particular style and age of a building, then what good are they? Because of this lack of knowledge, and lack of understanding their responsibility, the above mentioned buildings have survived over 100 years only to be destroyed by the Bedminster HPC. There is an old adage — “Having a good rapport with a business or home owner is important; but, performing as a yes person(s) comes at a high price.” It is obvious the Bedminster HPC says yes to anything a builder want to do and this is disgraceful.
Let me make show some simple examples starting with a house locally referred to as the Float house.
The “before photo” shows a historic house that could use a new paint job.
The current photo to the right shows a grossly remuddled house.
Let us first focus on the shutters. The original shutters were wood and probably needed painting. Instead of being advised to restore the shutters, or replace them with exact replacements, they were permitted to be replaced with plastic shutters that are #1 – too narrow and #2 – mounted incorrectly on the windows.
The before image of the house was taken from Google maps and its quality is not very good. I am using another image as an example instead of the shutters from the “before” image above.
Notice the nice shadow line and depth the look of real shutters create in the image on the left. Compare this to the plastic shutters on the right which appear flat and look cheap. The builder did not even mount them correctly. The HPC should know this. Windows are the eyes of a house and shutters can ruin the entire look. This is a simple request the HPC could have made and I doubt if the owner would object for such a simple request that makes such a huge impact.
For more information so you can really understand the importance shutters have on curb appeal click here. https://www.oldhouseguy.com/all-about-shutters/
Look at these shutters above. Absolutely no sensible thought was put into this creation. What kind of person would do this yet alone condone such work? The HPC is responsible for overseeing this project; yet, the Commission authorizing this as looking acceptable proves they have absolutely no credibility. FYI – you do NOT put shutters on an accent window like the little one above!
Historic Windows Replaced by Bedminster HPC
Windows are the eyes of the house and are the first thing that is usually replaced by uninformed homeowners. Everyone that respects history and historic buildings know that new windows are basically a marketing scam for manufacturers to make money. Window manufacturers pay for studies which they show their customers in their high-pressure sales talks. Independent studies confirm that a historic wood window combined with a low-e glass storm window are as efficient as new replacement window. Replacement windows are a foolish investment. On top of this, the new plastic windows are white which is wrong for a historic home of this period. The builder however has some white window sashes and some red. I don’t know why the HPC did not want all the windows to match?
When speaking to the chairperson, she stated that “the windows may have been replaced because they were drafty.” What an ignorant statement!!!
First, the responsibility of every HPC is to retain the original windows. If they need repair, they can easily be restored with a life-span of an additional 100 years, assuming regular maintenance. Making such a statement with a reason that “they may have been drafty” is a uneducated statement for someone representing the HPC. Even though the HPC is only advisory, the purpose of the HPC is to strongly guide the homeowner and follow the design guidelines of the town which is based on the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation .
To learn all you need to know about windows can be found here: https://www.oldhouseguy.com/windows/
This is not the only place this information can be found. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has Technical Preservation Briefs explaining in detail what the HPC should be strongly advising the homeowner to do. While this information may not be known to a homeowner, this information should be nothing new to anyone involved with historic preservation.
Porch Rail Height Destroys the Architecture
NJ building code states that a hand-rail must be 36 inches high. Historic buildings in a historic district are exempt from this requirement. Those with existing lower railings are grandfathered.
An architecturally correct railing must not exceed the height of the window sill. There was no need to waste money on replacing the original balustrade that was in good condition just for the sake of replacing it. This was a meaningless expense. A properly functioning HPC would have saved the homeowner additional expense, retained the historic rail height and in turn allowed the house to have curb appeal instead of a high rail that is aesthetically unpleasing.
To better understand the impact of an architecturally correct railing versus one to code please read this. https://www.oldhouseguy.com/porches/
Beautiful Victorian Porch Ornamentation Needlessly Destroyed!
This is another of the many crimes permitted by the HPC. Notice the porch frieze on the first picture – that is the decoration that looks like an upper railing on the porch. That historic feature was destroyed in favor of cheap looking tacked on fan brackets. This house did not have this originally and the new house is showing a false representation of history. The loss of this beautiful feature and the addition of what many consider as junk is an insult to historic architecture and those of us who promote preservation. They actually had to really go out of their way to destroy the historic features on this house.
243 & 247 Route 202, Bedminster – Craftsman Buildings
The shutters on these buildings are incorrectly sized and mounted. Most Craftsman buildings do not have shutters. Windows again are plastic. The window design should be “six over one” which is correct in the house on the left but not correct for the house on the right. Hardiboard was installed which is acceptable but the type chosen was that to imitate vinyl siding instead of wood. Why would that be permitted?
Hardi produces a product with fake wood grain to simulate vinyl siding for the simple-minded people that think this replicates wood clapboard. Have you ever in your life seen real wood clapboard look like this? You may see older generations of paint but never wood grain.
285 Route 202, Bedminster – Colonial Revival – Habitat for Humanity Office
The sign says Office of Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity is a very good organization but it seems that they foolishly wasted a lot of money needlessly that could have been used to assist the poor.
- Didn’t the HPC advise them that the original heart-grown wood siding is hard like iron and will last for a very long time?
- Didn’t the HPC think that the original siding is historic and shouldn’t be changed as stated in the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation that should be followed?
- Didn’t the HPC think of advising them that replacing the windows are not only wrong but the “two-over-two” design windows were authentic for a late 19th century building and “six-over-six” predates the construction of this building by many years?
Additionally, the new windows appear flush with the siding – not recessed as shown in the before photo which is completely wrong for a historic building.
Historic preservation commission members have a very important responsibility to protect the historic assets of the township. Once a building is compromised that is it! Those on the commission permitting this destruction will be remembered in history as the responsible party for this destruction. Advisory members must have some understanding of historic architecture and educate the homeowner to what is and what is not acceptable. Advisory does not mean saying yes to everything in a desperate need to bring in new business to town. Nor does it mean to look for the least expensive solution making the buildings in town appear cheap in a town with a such a wealthy population.
Unfortunately, the Bedminster HPC wants to be thought of as being friendly and, therefore, say yes to everything the homeowner-builder says. This provides a false sense of security for residents. Promoting Disney Land design is irresponsible and a waste of taxpayers’ money to support a commission.
I have been in contact with a representative from the NJ State Historic Preservation Office and he welcomes any questions the Bedminster HPC may have. Rutgers University offers workshops for HPC members; although unfortunately, they are located at Rutgers in Camden at this time. They were previously held locally at Drew University for many years. Has anyone in Bedminster bothered to attended the Drew Historic Preservation classes?
I apologize for the harshness of this letter. My conversation with the HPC was very frustrating and sad. This is extremely important because over 100 years of history has been unnecessarily destroyed forever and the responsibility of a commission entrusted with these properties must not be taken lightly. Again, I am willing to offer any advice I can to prevent any further damage to any historic building.
Update – Bedminster HPC has been busy demolishing more.
Two more Craftsman buildings were destroyed that were right next to the other two Craftsmans.
Sadly in a few weeks no-one will ever remember that a historic building ever existed there. In the third photo to the right, it is all erased. Thank you Bedminster HPC.
And another historic house is gone below.
So yes I realize this is a harsh letter but my conversation with the chairperson fell on deaf ears. I am very angry do to the lack of concern and responsibility of a Historic Preservation Commission. I never did get any reply after sending this and it was sent to several people within the town and the county. Did writing this make a difference? Who knows. This is just one example and I am sure there are other commissions bad also. It is my hope that the HPC will make an attempt to understand their responsibilities and do no more harm otherwise it would be best for this commission to be abolished. If you see something like this happening in your town you need to speak up. Don’t let people like the chairperson of the Bedminster HPC and their members destroy the character of our historic buildings!