Although intended to preserve the town’s historic roots and charm, a growing number of residents believe Cranbury’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is simply stalling progress.
Due to Cranbury’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the role of the HPC is to ensure it continues to meet or exceed the requirements needed to maintain that status. Among other functions, the HPC has the job of approving all zoning and construction permits for buildings within the town’s historic zone. Nearly one quarter of all structures in Cranbury fall under that category.
“Our job is to make sure this town maintains its unique character even as the world evolves around it,” said one HPC member, who asked to remain anonymous. “While some residents believe we’re overly particular, our sense is that home values would plummet if we started letting Main Street homeowners shop at Home Depot.”
Many Cranbury residents – especially those with permits that seem stuck in limbo pending HPC approval – agree the HPC serves a vital role, but believes it needs to be a bit more agile in considering homeowner requests.
“It’s taken me seven years to try to replant a little bush in front of my house that was killed by frost,” said one Maplewood Avenue resident. “Apparently the HPC is trying to figure out exactly what species of azalea the original owners had. And once they figure it out, that’s the only thing I’ll be able to plant there.”
Kenneth McKay, owner of a large colonial home on South Main, has encountered similar issues.
“My home has a slate roof, and the HPC tells me I can only replace it with another slate roof,” he said. “A new slate roof these days costs upwards of $65,000. Asphalt would cost me $12,000. It’s just asinine – who the hell is looking at my roof anyway?”
According to the township’s construction office, there are 846 permit applications pending HPC approval. The office said the last HPC approval came in 1997, when the committee approved a replacement mailbox for a Bunker Hill Road home.
The HPC’s heavy influence has also deterred some builders from performing work on the township’s historic homes.
“I won’t even bid on a project in Cranbury’s historic zone,” said one local contractor, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal. “The stress of those projects is intense. If you even hammer one nail that’s not consistent with the original build they threaten to yank your license.”
Cranbury mayor David Stout said complaints about the HPC are nothing new, and stressed the importance of the committee in preserving the town’s unique heritage.
“Sure, it can sometimes take a little longer to get projects done in the historic district,” said the mayor. “But without the HPC we’d probably just be another Hightstown.”