Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission Debates Installation of Canopies and Fences at Historic Temple Beth-El

A recent meeting of the Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission centered on the discussion of proposed security and weather mitigation structures at Temple Beth-El. The commission reviewed applications for the installation of metal canopies and a 6-foot tall areaway fencing, with concerns about the impact on the property’s historical integrity, visual aesthetics, and the necessity of the projects.

The commission’s meeting opened with the approval of minutes and routine matters before diving into discussions on the new business. The primary focus was the presentation by representatives of Temple Beth-El, advocating for the installation of metal canopies and areaway fencing. These structures were presented as critical solutions for protecting the historic property from water damage and enhancing security.

The canopies, according to the applicant’s architect Joshua Zinder, were designed to address severe drainage issues that became apparent after Hurricane Ida. The design included black metal diamond shingles and concealed lighting, with an emphasis on reversible anchoring points to minimize impact on the historic structure. Further, the canopies featured a gutter system connected to a plumbed drainage system. The applicant highlighted FEMA’s stance, regarding the canopies as a required mitigation effort and expressing that without them, FEMA might be unwilling to insure the property.

Security concerns were also at the forefront, as the congregation had received a Homeland Security grant for the installation of security fences. Described as black aluminum picket fences with pinched pickets and flat caps, the fences aimed to blend in with the existing historic railing system while deterring unsavory activities reported in the area, such as drug use and trespassing.

Commission members engaged in a thorough discussion, raising questions about the necessity of the proposed security fences and the visual and practical implications of the canopies. The debate included concerns about visual cacophony, the removal or alteration of original historic fabric, and the potential impact on the visual aesthetics of the historic district. Commissioner Gunther voiced apprehensions about replacing the original fence with aluminum, while Commissioner Cronin was reluctant to remove historic elements from the building.

The installation of an additional fence on the north side of the site, approved administratively, was noted for its potential to compound the security measures. The necessity of the canopies as a water mitigation strategy was questioned, with members inquiring whether other methods could be employed. The congregation, represented by Tom Rosen, emphasized the importance of the structures for the building’s long-term health and safety.

The commission considered the balance between functional needs and preservation, with discussions on the potential reversible nature of the canopy installation and the conditions for approving the fence project. Debates also touched on the role of climate change in necessitating more robust mitigation measures for historic structures.

Despite the urgency expressed by the applicant regarding the need for the canopies and fences, the commission decided to carry the application for the canopies to the next hearing for further consideration. This decision allowed for additional input from engineers on the matter. The fence application was moved forward with specific conditions, focusing on the potential visual impact and the material’s durability.

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Steven M. Fulop
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