A developer plans to demolish a nearly 200-year-old historic Newark farmhouse to make room for an addition to the senior-living neighborhood Briarcreek.
The project, which had strong support from Briarcreek residents, received the endorsement of the planning commission last week and will now move on to city council for final approval.
Built in 1820, the house was once part of the Leahy horse farm, which spanned both sides of Valley Road in western Newark near the Maryland line. In 2001, part of the farm was developed into the original 28-home Briarcreek neighborhood. In 2016, city council approved the 37-home Briarcreek North neighborhood across the street.
Developer Dan Kandra said that he’s still working through the permitting process for Briarcreek North, so he decided to shift his focus to the farmhouse property and replace the old structure with two semidetached homes that match the style of Briarcreek. They, too, would be restricted to residents 55 and older.
“Since that project is in the midst of a long-term approval process, nearly three years and counting, and the fact that my wife is getting tired of me not having anything to do, and the fact the residents of Briarcreek are ultimately concerned as to what was going to happen to the farmhouse, I decided to turn my attention to this property,” Kandra said.
The half-acre property sits along a cul-de-sac on Kayser Court along with several existing Briarcreek homes. However, the two new homes would face the opposite direction, with their driveways coming off Valley Road rather than Kayser Court like all the other homes in that part of the neighborhood.
The old farmhouse is not occupied.
“Much to the chagrin of residents who live there, I’ve been using the property to store my construction equipment and trucks,” Kandra said.
In 2001, when the original Briarcreek was going through the approval process, the state planning office urged the city of Newark to require the developer to preserve the farmhouse and an old barn, which the state deemed “historic.”
The developer at the time, Edward Sobolewski, told the planning commission that while the barn was too costly to repair, the house would be preserved.
“The house we will maintain….that we agree to,” he said, according to meeting minutes.
That pledge, however, apparently was never codified or added to the subdivision agreement. The city’s zoning code lists three-dozen historic structures in Newark that cannot be demolished, but the Valley Road farmhouse was never added.
“It was merely a recommendation of the state. As a result the city took no action,” Planning Director Mary Ellen Gray said last week.
Shortly after the 2001 project was approved, Sobolewski transferred it to Kandra, who said last week that he was not aware of the promise to save the house.
Kandra said the house has narrow staircases and small rooms and wouldn’t be appropriate for senior housing. He said doesn’t want to sell the property to someone else because he did something similar when he developed Paper Mill Falls, and the senior residents there were upset that a young family with children moved in.
“I might as well tear it down and build something new,” he said.
During the planning commission meeting last week, a number of Briarcreek residents showed up to support the project and sing Kandra’s praises.
Jane Trochimowicz, president of the homeowner’s association, said all but two residents signed a petition supporting the project, and of the two who did not, one was too sick to sign and the other had just moved in.
“I think it’s a rare occurrence that 99 percent of any community would back their builder,” Trochimowicz said. “We’ve here to support the two new townhouses that Dan is proposing.”
Beverly McFarland said Kandra has proven that he builds good projects.
“We’ve worked with Dan Kandra for 12 years. What he says he’s going to do, he’s going to do,” McFarland said. “You can trust this guy.”
Gary Carpenter said the two new homes will make the neighborhood look better.
“This improvement is going to complete the development,” Carpenter said. “Right now, it’s kind of disjointed with the farmhouse. It doesn’t fit in with the whole scheme of the development.”
Terry Taylor called the farmhouse “an old, pretty yucky house.”
Unlike the last two times that Briarcreek projects have come up for a vote, there was no opposition voiced last week.
The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend council approve the project.
The property is zoned properly, but the project requires city council’s approval for a minor subdivision as well as relief from lot width and side yard code requirements. It also requires special approval for semidetached houses, which are not allowed under the zoning but were approved previously for Briarcreek.