Since 1995, the William Gulick House, located at 3641 Lawrenceville Road in Lawrence Township, has been vacant and the subject of lengthy court battles and neglect.
The Gulick house, now owned by CareOne Management, LLC, a senior care company with centers across New Jersey, may be demolished.
The 7,000 sq. ft., three-story home was built in 1855 on 7.13 acres, in the Italianate style, by William Gulick, a prominent Lawrence farmer. The once idyllic property sits within Lawrence’s historic district and was purchased by CareOne’s predecessor, Lawrenceville Realty Co., for the purpose of building an assisted living facility. The Gulick house was originally going to be leveraged as part of the facility but years of neglect has made that impossible.
On August 17, 2015, CareOne submitted a demolition permit to the township. The Gulick home, in CareOne’s estimation, is now too costly to repair and they would like to demolish the structure.
The demolition permit was submitted to Anthony Cermele, Lawrence Township Division of Code Enforcement Construction Official, for approval. He was obligated, however, per the township’s Land Use Ordinance, to pass the application on to the township Health Officer and, because of its location in the township’s historic district, the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC). In response to the demolition application Cermele sent a letter to CareOne on October 31, 2015, informing them that the Health Officer denied the permit on the basis that a septic tank had been abandoned on the property. On November 9, 2015, HPAC notified Cermele that they also denied the permit, which was conveyed by letter from Carmele to CareOne on December 8, 2015.CareOne received Cermele’s notification on December 17, within the 45-day requirement, outlined in the Land Use Ordinance.
The dates are important, according to Guliet Hirsch, lawyer for CareOne. In her interpretation of Lawrence’s Land Use Ordinance, CareOne should have received their denial letter 45 days from their initial application, not November 9, 2015, the date of HPAC’s denial decision. If she is correct, the denial letter missed the 45-day window and, by default, the demolition permit must be approved.
At last night’s Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, Hirsch appeared before members, addressing CareOne’s appeal application. She presented expert witnesses who testified to the building’s poor state, its cost of repair, and appraised home value once repairs were made.
Ronald Brokenshire, Associate Director of Structural Engineering at Jarmel Kizel Architects, reported on the structural assessment he performed. He found evidence of the September 2011 fire in the foyer, stating that “the bottom of the weight-bearing wall had been burnt out as well as some of the floor joists in that area.” Additionally, he noted finding rot in roof joists due to water infiltration, damage to the foundation, as well as rot and termite damage to floor joists.
When asked by Hirsch if the structure could be moved to another location, thus preserving the building, Brokenshire said, “I would have to say ‘No,’ simply because there would have to be quite a bit of repair work done prior to moving it. Because there is nothing structurally sound left in the base of the building, it’s very difficult to grab something without doing further damage to the structure.”
Brokenshire estimated a cost of $1.7 million in order to bring the building up to code and ensure its habitability. The cost includes the use of current materials, not those of historically accuracy. Richard Carabelli, a real estate appraiser for CareOne, testified an estimated appraisal price of 1,525,000 based on the assumption that all repairs, inside and outside, were made.
The board requested that Brokenshire provide an estimate for repairs to stabilize the structure thus enabling a possible location move.
CareOne’s appeal application will continue before the Zoning Board of Adjustment on June 15, at 7pm, in the Lower Level Conference Room, Municipal Building, 2207 Lawrence Road.