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Emerson Looks To Replace Historic Preservation Commission

Bill Wassmann, chair of Emerson's Historic Preservation Commission.
Bill Wassmann, chair of Emerson's Historic Preservation Commission. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

EMERSON, N.J. — The Emerson Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday that would change the nature of the board charged with helping to preserve borough history.

It will vote Feb. 7 on whether to abolish its Historic Preservation Commission, chaired by Bill Wassmann.

Simultaneously, the law would create an Historic Preservation Committee.

What’s the difference?

“There will be the same number of members,” said Borough Administrator Bob Hoffmann. “All the powers and duties would be the same and transfer from the commission to the committee.”

While the commission operates independently, Hoffmann explained, the committee would report to the Borough Council and have an advisory role.

As such, he added, the committee would not need to have public meetings or a secretary taking minutes.

“It makes it easier for the volunteers to function,” Hoffmann said.

That’s important because the present commission, chaired by Bill Wassmann, has four vacancies and hasn’t convened much in the past two years.

“(The committee) would be reconstituted and, hopefully, have some new members,” Hoffman said.

The issue has captured the attention of borough residents as talks continue about renovating, replacing and/or adding to a variety of municipal buildings, including the Borough Hall.

The Borough Hall on Linwood Avenue was a Works Progress Administration project that opened to much fanfare in 1939.

“I don’t care if you throw me off the commission,” Wassmann told the council. “But to abandon it for some weak substitute is ridiculous.

“You’re accusing us of not doing anything,” he added, “when it was the council that wouldn’t let us do anything.”

Wassmann said the commission came up with a list of 12 buildings worthy of preservation, including Borough Hall, and asked that they be protected by being included on the borough master plan.

But, he said, the council voted again inclusion in the plan.

“If you want us to do this job, we can do it,” he said, “but you’ve got to give us the legal authority to do it.”

Resident Jill Manell McGuire has started a Facebook page devoted to saving Borough Hall.

She presented the council Tuesday with a report she authored.

“It documents that our Borough Hall and its murals meet the criteria for landmark designation,” she said.

She accentuated that the criteria are met under the “preservation verbiage” in the ordinance being repealed.

“We’re not looking to tear down Borough Hall,” Mayor Lou Lamatina said.

Other council members, including Brian Downing, Danielle DiPaola, and John Lazar, all expressed a desire to preserve the history of the borough.

“Definitely, we have to preserve what is here,” Lazar said. “This is our history.”

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