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UPDATE: Ridgedale Ave. Could Be Added to Endangered Historic Sites List

New group wants to preserve street's heritage.

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 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.

Related story: Landlord Fined, Tenants to be Moved From 64 Ridgedale Ave.

lisa sapio February 10, 2012 at 03:00 PM
So glad to see that there are people in Madison that really care about what is happening to our town. These people should be commended and be supported by our town to insure that what is left of old Madison history remains intact. You drive through some towns and all you see are condos and plastic houses, Ridgedale along with many other roads like Green Avenue, Central Ave, Prospect etc etc have beautiful historic homes too. With all of the negative issues on Ridgedale recently, we may see some of the guidelines change concerning the neglect issues on these homes to insure they cannot be torn down and the street scape changed for good. Once you knock down a historic house it cannot be replaced. Good luck to this new group - you have my support and I hope the support of the rest of the town.
J February 10, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Not a good idea to prohibit knockdowns outright. Nothing lasts forever, especially if it has not been maintained. Take the property that just had a fire, and is allegedly being operated as an illegal rooming house. Assuming for the moment that the allegations are true, one would not expect such a landlord to invest a lot of money in repairs and maintenance of the property. The property might deteriorate to such an extent that historically accurate renovation was no longer economically feasible. Then what? If you can't knock it down under any circumstances, the property is unsaleable, and you're left with an abandoned property or an eyesore in the hands of a slumlord. Better to have some avenue for knockdowns in limited circumstances, subject to replacing it with a structure that blends with the historic homes in the neighborhood.
Adrienne February 12, 2012 at 11:14 PM
I agree with J. If you abolish demolishing properties that are too far gone to save, then you run the risk of decreasing the property values of the surrounding homes next to the eyesore, you also discourage any sort of investment in the area. We all need to remember that there is a historic preservation committee in place already. We have a national historic registry also. If a property is of historical importance and the current owner would like to have it recognized as such and therefore protected from being knocked down at some point, then they have the ability to do so. Basically, we need to put the authority into the hands of the current owners, (who pay the property taxes) not into some group!
Kevin February 12, 2012 at 11:18 PM
The historical commission is in place to encourage proper development of the district and that is why they are there. I commend Mr Desimone on his application and his numerous revisions to his plan to satisfy the needs of the district. Development, demolition, construction and restoration are all parts of keeping the district going and improving. To ban any activity would be a dis service to the area. Nothing lasts forever and property values and property rights to must me maintained. People like Mr Desimone and Mr. Ramano should be commended for pouring money and time into improving thus district.
lisa sapio February 13, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I agree with you regarding the DeSimone property. This home clearly needed something done. I don't think this home was of any historical value to the neighborhood. Not all homes can be saved however something needs to be done to those owners that allow their properties to go into such disrepair. There are towns that fine owners for just letting go their property.
Victoria February 14, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Thank you Ms. Duffy for your article on the state of our historic district. My family has lived on the street for the past 33 years. We are proud owners of a historic house and have invested time and money in its up keep. Owners of an old home know that if they wish the house to be around for generations to come they must keep up with its maintenance. Speaking with fellow "older home" owners I came to the realize that when my husband and I signed the contract to buy our home, we, along with all the rest, became stewards of Madison's architectural history. A good majority of our houses on Ridgedale Avenue are historically designated the earliest built in 1730. I believe that with continued commitment from the "older home" owner, support from the town through Madison's Historic Preservation Commission, the guidance of the national, state, and county historic preservation departments, we will have something of worth to leave to the next generation.

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