A former commissioner clashed with Belleville Township Council members Tuesday night over failed efforts to have the more than 300-year-old Dutch Reformed Church designated as an historic landmark.
A successful designation would help bring funds to pay for needed repairs to the church's damaged steeple and the entire structure.
The steeple at the church was braced to keep it from collapsing after Super Storm Sandy caused damage more than two weeks ago.
Vincent Frantantoni, a former commissioner and frequent critic of the council, told officials, "We only needed about six months to a year to get the historic designation, and all we needed was the local designation, but it was never done."
Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli said the township's Historic Preservation Committee will take up the application again. He is a member of the committee.
"We will meet in the next couple of weeks," Cozzarelli said.
Frantantoni and Mayor Ray Kimble exchanged angry words over accusations that the council has failed to act.
"I thought that those plans had been rejected," Kimble said, referring to an effort by Rutgers University to help the church earn historic status several years ago.
"You don't even know what you're talking about," Frantantoni said, which prompted Kimble to instruct him that he had less than two minutes to finish his remarks as part of the council meeting's public participation portion.
Township Manager Kevin Esposito said the structure, which now houses a Spanish-speaking congregation, had to be secured so that Rutgers Street, a state highway thoroughfare, can reopen to allow access to the Belleville-North Arlington Bridge.
Belleville police had closed off Rutgers Street a few blocks west of the bridge for a few days before the steeple was secured, and during that time the bridge could only be accessed from the Main Street side in Belleville.
Every effort is being made to save the steeple, with the brace of scaffolding built, and officials will do everything possible to keep the church from being demolished, Esposito said.
The church's current tenant, Iglasenda Antigua, a 65-member church, has no insurance, Esposito said, so the township stepped in and awarded a contract not to exceed $43,000 to a restoration company to secure the steeple, while the town is placing a lien on the property, and expect a 100 percent reimbursement.
The church was founded in 1697 by Dutch settlers, and then rebuilt three different times, according to officials. The church is considered a priceless historical landmark and a link to the township's Revolutionary War past.
Several years ago, the Dutch Reformed congregation, which was dwindling and elderly, decided they could no longer maintain the property and opted to sell to Iglasenda Antigua for $250,000, officials said.