Belleville Council, Resident Debate Historic Church Designation

Former Commissioner takes officials to task for abandoning efforts to have the Belleville Dutch Reformed Church designated as historic landmark as steeple needs repair.

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. 

Nelson Barrera November 15, 2012 at 12:49 PM
How can this property not have insurance?? Why is it that such an old historical property was never made part a historical landmark? These are valid questions and interest that our town representatives should have been addressing since day one! So past administrations obviously dropped the ball on this as well. This is weak representation for the best interest of Belleville and it's residents. I hope this get's resolved in a timely manner, residents vote the representing candidates trusting their ability to do the best for Belleville and it's residents and this shows poor representation, again thru various administrations thru the years!!
Nelson Barrera November 15, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Thinking positive and trusting that our representing administration will do the right thing. We can look forward to School No 1, being added as another landmark, fully restored to it's full glory and servicing the enjoyment of our children - THE FUTURE OF THE UNITED STATES.
Christian Fabian May 14, 2013 at 02:37 AM
I heard that school #1 is sold now. Also organized a few saturdays last december to help clean up the grave yard at the church. We need help and need to get organized. Call if you want to help save the church/grave yard. I'm not connected to the congregation but they are very nice people and need help. Christian 646 522-4120
Brian Radom(ski) May 27, 2013 at 03:31 PM
To call this church building historic is still not enough. having studied its history I firmly, I admantly believe it is more historic more priceless than "old North church" (also called Christ Church) of Boston.....making Belleville N.J's Boston! NOT that the new congregation did any wrong BUT I thought it that the new congregation had repaired the church enough it is cleared for occupancy???!!! BOSTON WOULD NEVER ALLOW anything to happen to its "old North church" so BELLEVILLE as president Reagan would have said: YOU BELLEVILLE ARE NEW JERSEY'S BOSTON, YOU RESCUE YOUR OLD DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH BUILDING!!! It acted as a fort during a revolutionary war battle.....old North church only had a lantern or two in it.
Brian Radom(ski) May 27, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Mr. Fabian I'll take this risk I am in NJ I grew up in Belleville I hope you will email me at brbrianradomski493@gamil.com for assisstance


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