This website is dedicated to the Michelin Plant on Ford Avenue, the Evans Family, Dr Forney and his sons, who they have given so much to the town of Milltown and for playing an important role in forming the town we love and respect. Also dedication goes to the remaining historical sites that are remaining that we hold dear to our heart, also to the ones that we have lost to the senseless disregard of our town history and to what makes this town so special, the residents that live and work here. We need to stop the senseless destruction of our historical landmarks and Milltown's history now before its to late and is lost forever.
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We're all from “someplace” … a place that has special meaning to us. But those “someplaces” are being lost – torn down, destroyed – and are becoming “anyplace.” They look the same as everywhere else.
January 23, 2009
A group of about a dozen residents, including Mayor Gloria Bradford and Councilman Brian Harto, gathered to watch as demolition began on the nearly 150-yearold house.
"It was definitely sad to see it come down," said Harto, a member of the town's Historic Preservation Committee.
The Evans family, whose son served as Milltown's first mayor, built the Forney House in the 1860s. It was converted into a medical facility by John C. Evans and operated as such from 1907 until the 1970s. During many of those years, Dr. Norman C. Forney Sr., the borough's first surgeon, ran it.
While Harto was not happy to see the borough landmark meet its end, he said there was nothing the council could have done to prevent it, as the house is privately owned.
"If we stepped in on that, we would just be opening ourselves to a lawsuit," Harto said. "It wouldn't have helped at this point, but it would have helped 20 years ago when Dr. [Bhudev] Sharma started neglecting the property."
Controversy surrounding the Forney House began in 2006 when Valley National Bank brought an application before the borough's Zoning Board of Adjustment to bring a branch to the North Main Street site. Despite vocal opposition on the part of a number of residents, the Zoning Board granted a use variance to allow for the bank, complete with drive-through facilities, in March 2007.
Soon after, those determined to save the Forney House mobilized to form the John C. Evans Project, a group whose members reached into their own pockets to fund efforts to prevent demolition of the landmark. Efforts to have the Zoning Board decision overturned in state Superior Court proved unsuccessful for the group, but not to be discouraged, they subsequently filed an appeal with the New Jersey Appellate Division.
Valley National Bank was equally determined to see their plans through. The bank filed a counterclaim against the John C. Evans Project in August 2007, alleging that the citizens' group interfered with its economic advantage, as well as with its rights under the sale contract between the bank and Sharma, who still owns the house.
Amid the litigation, the John C. Evans Project worked with preservation groups at the county, state and national levels in order to gain support for saving the house. In the process, they learned that the house's status as a medical facility made it eligible for the state and national registers of historic places.
In the end, the grassroots movement did not prove strong enough to stand in the way of the bank, whose resources far exceed those of the Evans Project.
Resident Michael Shakarjian, president of the citizens' group, said the demolition of the house could have been prevented if there had been greater scrutiny of the process on the part of elected officials.
"The mayor and council are elected to represent the residents," Shakarjian said. "At the very least, they have some clout."
Shakarjian particularly called out Bradford, saying she did not do anything to help matters during the process when he sent her a letter outlining what he, and 400 others who signed the letter, perceived as a failure to follow protocols on the part of the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), whose approval was necessary before the bank could move forward.
"She does not think it's a serious situation," Shakarjian said of Bradford. "That's what the problem is — none of these people think it's serious."
Bradford said in the past that there was no money available to save the aging structure, which had fallen into a state of disrepair. Shakarjian said the borough should have sought funds from the county in order to save the house, but acknowledged that county officials, including the late David Crabiel, a resident of Milltown, did not express much interest.
Resident Michael Lewycky was one of the residents who came out to take one last look at the house and take photographs before it was destroyed.
"I thought it would be a lot more emotional, but I felt numb," Lewycky said. "I was probably more upset to see our elected officials watching it like it was a spectator sport after not doing anything about it for four years."
Lewycky took issue with Bradford and other council members, saying that Bradford watched the demolition in the company of the borough's code enforcement officer, who should have levied fines against Sharma for allowing the house to fall into disrepair.
Shakarjian agreed, saying the zoning officers over the years failed to do their jobs.
Councilwoman Stacy Waters, council liaison to the Historic Preservation Committee, applauded the efforts of those who worked to save the house, saying she was sorry to see it go. Like Harto, she said there was nothing township officials could have done to prevent the demolition.
"I absolutely disagree with that," Shakarjian said.
Shakarjian pointed out that Waters had been a consulting party on all three conference calls that took place among the OCC and other involved parties. She was not a council member when the first two calls took place, but she could have done more to help the group during the third one, when she had taken her seat on the council, he said.
"She does need to know that she has a responsibility to the people," Shakarjian said.
Bradford was also on hand for the third call with the OCC, Shakarjian said, adding that he was disappointed with her lack of support, as well.
"There was a lot of silence," Shakarjian said. "Their silence was enabling. It's like a sick family."
On a positive note, Waters said, at least some pieces of history from within the house have been preserved and given to the Historic Preservation Committee.
Both Harto and Waters are pushing for an ordinance that would create a historic district in the town, a move that would designate historic homes and help to ensure that they maintain their unique characteristics.
"I've gotten a lot more positive feedback on this than negative feedback," Waters said.
The proposal was met with some resistance several months back, from those concerned that it would place too many restrictions on homeowners. Those in favor of the move say it could help to prevent repetitions of the Forney House situation.
Those who sought to hold onto a major piece of the borough's history assert that the destruction of the house should not have been allowed to happen in the first place.
"It's one of those situations where officials have clout when they want to have it," Shakarjian said. "And when they don't think the situation is serious, they don't have clout. I just think the destruction of the house was wrong. A bank branch is not important to the character and quality of life in Milltown. It could have gone anywhere, but the house was important."