Township sees dim future for Gulick House

The township’s historic prservation ordinance can delay, not prevent, demolition of the historic house.

By: Lea Kahn
   If the owner of the historical William Gulick House wants to demolish the house, there is little that Lawrence Township or the residents can do to prevent it.
   The township’s historic preservation ordinance can delay demolition of the house because it is on the town’s list of historic properties — but the ordinance cannot prevent its destruction.
   And there does not appear to be a groundswell of support for preserving the 19th century farmhouse, according to several Township Council members. Their telephones have not exactly been ringing off the hook, they said.
   Two weeks ago, township officials went to court to block the demolition of the Gulick House until an application for demolition has been approved or denied. Lawrenceville Realty Co. wants to tear down the house, located on the corner of Route 206 and Province Line Road.
   To demolish a building, a property owner must apply for a demolition permit. If the house is listed on the township’s list of historic properties, the owner must appear before the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee for permission to tear it down.
   "The owner must plead his case to us why it should be destroyed," said committee Vice Chairman Douglas Sargent. "The owner would have to plead his case why it is not useable in any way — why destruction is the best option for this property."
   The HPAC can approve or deny a request for demolition, or it may call for a postponement of the demolition, Mr. Sargent said. If the committee opts to postpone demolition, it must work with the applicant to consider alternatives, according to the township ordinance.
   If the HPAC denies the demolition request, the owner’s next stop is the Planning Board, he said. The Planning Board may postpone demolition for up to one year, if six of the nine members agree. If the board decides to postpone demolition, then it must work to find ways to preserve the house.
   "For the Gulick House the answer could be, if the township wants to preserve it, then it has to find a buyer for it or move it," Mr. Sargent said.
   But in the end, the William Gulick House is private property and the owner may demolish the house even though it is on the township’s list of historic properties, he said.
   Township Council has taken a hands-off stance on the fate of the William Gulick House. None of the council members has favored buying the house and preserving it.
   Mayor Doris Weisberg said she was surprised when she learned that the owner wants to demolish it. She said she would like to see the house used in some fashion, rather than torn down.
   "As far as Township Council is concerned, I don’t know (about the possibility of buying it). It’s easy to buy a property, but then there is the upkeep. I would love to see it preserved, but I am in a quandary at this point," Mayor Weisberg said.
   Deputy Mayor Pam Mount said she could not find a good reason for the township to buy the house. It is not as historic as the Brearley House, which belonged to one of the pioneer families in the township, for example, she said.
   Although it is a nice house, she said, it does not compare to the Princeton Township-owned Mountain Lakes property. That house is set in a more attractive location and it is often used for parties, she said.
   "There is no reason for the township to buy the Gulick House. It is just a corner lot. It is not contiguous to another township park. There are better candidates, like the John Feaster Phillips House," Mrs. Mount said.
   The John Feaster Phillips House is located next to township-owned land that has been permanently preserved for open space on Princeton Pike, near Fackler Road. A Princeton Township-based church is eyeing it for its new home.
   Mrs. Mount said she would like to see Lawrenceville Realty Co. sell the Gulick House to a family who would live in it. That would be a better solution than for Lawrence Township to buy it, she said.
   Councilmen Greg Puliti and Rick Miller said it is unlikely that the township would buy the Gulick House. The house is not as historically significant as the Brearley House, they agreed.
   Also, the township is facing tough economic times, Mr. Puliti and Mr. Miller said. The township has undertaken debt to pay for the new police and municipal court building and for open space preservation. The municipal tax rate increased for the first time in several years, they added.
   The Gulick House is noted for its architectural qualities, Mr. Puliti said, but the township is not in the business of buying properties for that reason alone. Besides, there are other parcels that the township might want to buy, he said.
   "It’s one thing to save a house where something historic happened and we can teach our children about it, but here we are talking about a house that is architecturally important," Mr. Puliti said. "The township doesn’t have the money to buy it. Open space preservation is for green, not bricks and mortar."
   Mr. Miller suggested that if the public wants to save the Gulick House, there should be some private fund-raising efforts to generate money for its purchase. That’s how the township acquired the Carson Road Woods property last year, he said. A public-private fund-raising campaign also paid for the restoration of the Brearley House, he added.
   Mr. Puliti and Mr. Miller said they had not heard from the public about the fate of the Gulick House. Mr. Puliti said he had not received one phone call from citizens, and Mr. Miller added that he had not had any discussions with the public about it.
   Councilman Mark Holmes said the township likely would not be interested in buying the Gulick House because there are other properties that it is considering for preservation. The Gulick House is not a top priority for preservation, he said.
   "I have not heard enough from the public about what they want. I am always open to hearing the thoughts of the residents. If the residents are serious about preserving the Gulick House, they would have to do some fund-raising," Mr. Holmes said.