- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

SOMERSET, N.J. (AP) - A decision on whether to demolish a historic mansion on Duke Farms in central New Jersey was postponed until next month after a more than three-hour hearing Thursday.

The Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission’s hearing ended with more than a dozen opponents to bulldozing the structure still waiting to comment, NJ.com reported (https://bit.ly/1LS0pcB ).

The Duke Farms Foundation pressed for a decision Thursday night, but residents loudly protested that they be heard before a final vote is taken. About 150 residents attended the hearing.

The foundation wants to demolish the 67,000-square-foot mansion, which has been empty since tobacco heiress Doris Duke died in 1993. The building, erected in 1893, has fallen into disrepair, and would take $10 million to $20 million to bring it up to code, foundation officials said.

A grass-roots community group called DORIS, for Demolition of Residence is Senseless, is fighting the foundation’s plans and disputed the its claim that it would cost more than $10 million to rehabilitate and maintain the estate.

“The residence has the potential to be the jewel of the property,” said real estate appraiser Russell Sterling, adding the mansion was once “immaculately maintained” and can be restored to its former grandeur. “I’ve read reports where it would cost between $10 and $20 million to refurbish the mansion, but you won’t know how much it’ll cost until you determine what the intended use of the structure is.”

Elizabeth McCondille, who worked as a personal assistant for Doris Duke, said she was “happiest at her residence” and wouldn’t want the mansion to be demolished.

But Bill Bergman, a lawyer for the foundation, said Duke gave trustees of the foundation the discretion to decide what to do with the mansion through her last will and testament.

The next hearing will take place Oct. 15, when the public will have a chance to comment and both sides will deliver closing arguments before the commission votes.


This story has been corrected to show that the mansion is 67,000 square feet, not 65,000.

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