The Montclair Township Council had another long conference meeting on November 20 and discussed an array of issues, with revitalization of Bloomfield Avenue the hottest topic of the night.
Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley spoke before the council regarding a trio of resolutions aimed at rehabilitating a block of Bloomfield Avenue at its eastern end in Montclair and completely redeveloping it near its western end, specifically on the corners at its intersection with Valley Road not affected by the CentroVerde project. The former two resolutions would designate the Whitfield’s Shell service station, the Montclarion, and the Mount Carmel Holy Church. Both properties are part of an urban renewal zone created in 1977, in which new multiple-unit housing was built and Cherry Street, which Mount Carmel Holy Church faced, was obliterated.
Talley said that rehabilitation would keep the properties as they are while addressing the improvement of the northern side of Bloomfield Avenue, the appearance of which she said was ignored in the urban renewal plan. “What you have right now are fences, and trees, and parking lots that front Bloomfield Avenue,” she said, “and the intent is to revitalize the Bloomfield Avenue frontage.” She expressed hope that improving the frontage on the northern side would incentivize improvements for the southern side. She said that if any of these three properties, especially the church, were to be sold, there would be the creation of a zoned district “with appropriate controls so that it [the property] can be redeveloped to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.” Rehabilitating these properties, Talley said, would allow for the creation of a redevelopment zone in the area.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, whose ward includes the properties, asked how the resolutions differed from urban renewal. Talley explained that several properties in the 1977 urban renewal zone had been taken out of the zone as they had been developed and sold.
“Rather than take that urban renewal plan and try to re-craft it to apply to three properties, I don’t think that makes sense,” Talley said. “A better way would be to craft something new for those three properties.” She added that the resolutions would allow the council to come up with design standards to refresh the streetscape.
Talley moved on to a resolution updating a proposal to redevelop the northern and southeastern corners of Valley Road, which would enable Montclair to take another look at the three corners and see how they fit the criteria for redevelopment while the CentroVerde project is about to get underway. She cited the Leach Building, the stodgy storage tower next to the police headquarters, and storefronts adjacent to the Leach Building, and properties along Portland Place that may be considered. The chief difference between rehabilitation and redevelopment, Talley explained, was that redevelopment would enable the township to acquire properties as opposed to setting standards for rehabilitation.
Township Manager Marc Dashield explained the process of condemning properties to facilitate redevelopment. “It has to be designated as part of a plan,” he said, “so we identify those parcels that we would say . . . we need to act to acquire. Then there’s the whole process in terms of acquiring the property [and giving] it market value at a reasonable price for acquiring that property. There’s a whole legal process you have to go through to do that.”
The resolutions would only give the Planning Board the opportunity evaluate the properties in question for rehabilitation and/or redevelopment and begin a process that would allow for any redevelopment plans to go forward.
The council also returned to the thorny issue of dredging the Edgemont Park pond, with a resolution for awarding a contract for a project up for consideration on November 27. Dashield reported that there were few takers for the nearly 3300 cubic yards of material that would be dredged and could be used as fill by other communities or government entities. The cost was broken down by the contractor to $138,000at $42 per cubic yard, with $64,000 for disposal of dredging material and $39,000 for the trucks used. Mayor Robert Jackson said the township was negotiating the cost line by line with the contractor.
“If, from that perspective, that we can say to [the contractor], ‘Look, you get to do this job and we want to pull the trucking out because we can get that done [for less],’ then he just does [the dredging],” Mayor Jackson explained. “If there’s a company that will do it cheaper than this, then there could be savings.” Dashield said that negotiations with the contractor would continue before the November 27 vote on the resolution.
These resolutions were among nineteen ordinances and resolutions previewed for the November 27 meeting, which also included changes to the café ordinance. Among the changes are defining partitions as only delineations of the passageways for pedestrians and reducing the usages fees for sidewalk to $1.25 per square foot.
General discussion concerned the Montclair Arts Council and the query over whether the township should take over its 501(c)(3) tax exemption status. Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager reported that the arts council would like to see its apparatus become an active and viable program, with its continued tax exemption, or else they will dissolve the 501(c)(3) status at the end of the year. Dashield suggested that the township could appoint people to an community arts board that could act separately from the council, but without 501(c)(3) status. Dashield also recommended that the new rule requiring the issuance of permits for the removal of trees greater than eight inches in diameter by a licensed contractor be delayed until January 1 to facilitate cleanup from Hurricane Sandy. A measure allowing the delay is likely to be considered for the next regular meeting.