Note: Updated to include comments from Borough Administrator Ray Codey.
Friends of the Bottle Hill Historic District, a new group dedicated to preserving the historical integrity of Ridgedale Avenue, has filed an application with the state organization Preservation New Jersey to list the road on this year’s 10 Most Endangered Sites.
The decision to include Ridgedale Avenue will be made in May, according to Janet Foster, former Historic Preservation Commission chair in Madison and the associate director for urban planning and historic preservation at Columbia University‘s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Foster, a resident of Maple Avenue, helped with the application.
The impetus to form the group came out of a proposal in November to demolish a Dutch Colonial home at 63 Ridgedale Ave. that had been abandoned about 15 years ago and suffered from significant neglect.
Although the new owner, John DeSimone, Jr., has worked with the HPC on scale, massing and building materials to build a two-family home that would fit into the district’s aesthetic, members of the FBHHD are worried there are another half- dozen homes that might share the same fate.
Borough Administrator Ray Codey said the town would encourage the Friends to work with the Historic Preservation Commission in their efforts to improve the avenue. “We’re always supportive of what our residents [are trying to do to help the town] but the better process would be with working with the Historic Preservation Commission.“
Since 2000, Ridgedale Avenue has been listed on the national, state and county historic registers and represents “a virtual textbook of American domestic architecture, encompassing a range of periods and styles including colonial, Romantic Revival — Italianate, Second Empire and Stick styles — and Eclectic Revival also known as Tudor Revival," according to a report published by the National Park Service.
The oldest property is the Luke Miller House built in 1730, the home of a Revolutionary War patriot who also had a tavern and a forge on the property and is said to have entertained George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. The newest are the apartments on the northern side of the street that were built for GIs returning from World War 2, according to John and Kathy Solu who live in the original 1830 Roman Catholic rectory on Ridgedale and are helping to spearhead the group’s efforts.
Change is already coming to the portion of the road that runs from Route 24 at the border of Florham Park to its end at Park Avenue. As early as this fall, three homes at the western end, nos. 21, 23 and 25, will be demolished or moved to be replaced with 17 “flats,” according to owner and developer Richard Romano. Currently, he has seven luxury townhomes under construction on Cook Avenue.
Although the Cook Avenue condos are red brick exterior, the flats around the corner, designed with HPC guidance, will be clapboard. "If you look at my designs, they are very similar to many of the buildings…periodesque, mansards. I designed them to look like three separate homes with different color clapboard and shake. If you look down Ridgedale Avenue, the traditional homes, most of them are made out of wood. There isn’t a lot of brick on that road, and the houses we’re taking down are clapboard siding."
One of those homes should be moved to nearby Community Place to satisfy the the state’s COAH (Coalition of Affordable Housing) requirements, Romano said.
DeSimone, who has said the home will be built for his family to live in, has not filed any application with the borough’s Planning Board. He did meet with the Historic Preservation Committee, a mandatory review required because of the historic designation. Although the review is mandatory, compliance is voluntary.
"Folks driving through here would never dream this is a neighborhood," said Kathy Solu, who outlined some of the group’s goals. “We want to go from 30 [mph] to 25,” because of the very narrow roadway, look into traffic-calming measures that might possibly include curb cuts, and file for a grant to record oral history.