Hands Off Our Houses

June 17, 2020

Maybe you’re like me, and thousands of other Westfield homeowners.  You own a typical 1920s or earlier Colonial, or Tudor, or Cape.  It has been updated and well-maintained over the years, but it doesn’t include many of the amenities that current homebuyers demand.  For example, it has a detached garage, no open floor plan, and no first floor powder room or guest bedroom.

If we were to put our house on the market, we certainly would attract buyers.  But given our homes’ somewhat dated style, those buyers may not be willing to pay as much as, say, a builder, who would replace the house with new construction containing everything today’s buyers expect, and could do so while complying with all applicable zoning rules.

This free-market evolution of housing has been going on for centuries, and it is a healthy way for a town’s housing supply to continue to meet demand, keeping the community fresh and flourishing.  The Brindle Administration, however, is changing that.

Mayor Brindle’s new historic preservation ordinance automatically prevents any house in Town built before 1930 (a date covering one-third of all Westfield homes) from being replaced unless the Town consents.  So if the highest offer for my (or your) 1920s or earlier home is from a builder who intends to replace it with a new, more saleable house, that offer can only be accepted if the Town says so.

It does not matter that the house may look nothing like it did 90 or more years ago, or that a new house could be built strictly within existing zoning laws, or that I (or you) might lose hundreds of thousands of dollars on the higher offer.  The Town can unilaterally say “no sale.”  The Town also can change the arbitrary 1930 date anytime in the future to 1940, 1960, or even 1980.

The Brindle Administration’s new historic preservation ordinance is a remarkable assault on private property rights, and I commend Councilman Mark LoGrippo for voting against it.  Unless other Council members join him, not only will the Town be able to declare our houses and neighborhoods to be historic without our consent, thereby preventing us from making any exterior changes, but potentially thousands of Westfield residents, including retirees, will have less of an opportunity to maximize the return on their real estate investment because the Town can prevent them from accepting the highest offer for their home.

I hope you will join me in opposing this unfair and unacceptable government overreach, and telling the Mayor and Council to keep their hands off our houses.

Sam Della Fera