Montclair Planning Board: The Hotel Controversy That Wasn't

BY  |  Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014 7:35am  |  COMMENTS (22)

Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley explains the need to amend the maximum linear width for a proposed hotel in the CentroVerde project while Luther Flurry of the Montclair Business Improvement District listens.

Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley explains the need to amend the maximum linear width for a proposed hotel in the CentroVerde project while Luther Flurry of the Montclair Business Improvement District listens.

When the Montclair Township Council passed an ordinance on first reading at its February 4th meeting increasing the permitted linear width of a hotel that could be built as part of the CentroVerde project – from 175 feet to 245 feet – there was a fear that it could lead to a building taller than the proposed eight-story building with a rooftop bar.  When the Montclair Planning Board’s monthly regular meeting on February 10th began, with the council referral for the ordinance on the agenda along with Michael Pavel’s application to add a second floor to the old Charlie Brown’s restaurant, a long night appeared to be in store.

But the meeting was over in less than forty-five minutes.  The Planning Board accepted the logic for amending the hotel plan to allow a wider building, and Pavel’s failure to provide parking information for his project led his application to be postponed until March. A minor site plan subdividing a lot on Douglas Road was also quickly approved.

Planning Director Janice Talley used a slide presentation to explain the reason for increasing the linear width of the hotel by 70 feet.   She noted that when the hotel, originally planned for the corner of Valley Road and Bloomfield Avenue, was moved to the corner of Orange Road and Bloomfield Avenue and the maximum linear width along Orange Road was settled at 175 feet, it turned out that 245 feet–not 175 feet–was the full length of the property along Orange Road.  Amending the plan to permit 245 feet in the hotel’s linear width, she said, would allow the entire property to be developed for use as a hotel, whereas the previously allowed 175-foot dimension would allow only part of the property to be developed.  Keeping the linear width at 175 feet, she said, would only allow Pinnacle to develop a little more than half the site, and such a limitation would make a hotel unfeasible.

“I know that [the development company] Pinnacle is working on their plans to build a hotel,” Talley told the board as Pinnacle CEO Brian Stolar sat in the gallery.  “But they cannot proceed with their plans until this is addressed.”  She said that a use variance to allow the hotel to have a width measuring 245 feet along Orange Road cannot be granted with the redevelopment plan already in place–a permitted maximum width of 245 feet has to included as part of the original plan.

The questions from the board mostly pertained to how the amended width would change the plans for the hotel and the area around it going forward.  Board member Paul Rabinovitch asked if it would change the size of the proposed plaza along the corner of Orange Road and Bloomfield Avenue.  Talley said it would not, saying that the plaza would remain 30 feet long along each street from the corner of both streets.  The 245-foot measurement for the use is from the property line, which is farther down from the corner.

Board member Martin Schwartz, who has asked tough questions about many of CentroVerde’s planned elements, asked if any square footage was contemplated based on the original linear width when the plan was written, or if there was a count of the number of hotel rooms anticipated.  Talley answered no to both questions.  She also explained to Mayor Robert Jackson that it would not change the bulk of the building.

“The footprint of the building stays the same,” Talley said.

Board Chairman John Wynn noted that when the plan for a hotel  was approved, the Planning Board looked at the pictures and the drawings for what Stolar’s company was proposing. They focused on the footprint of an eight-story building without looking at measurements.

“I think we relied on the measurement that we were given,” he said.  “I think that what this amounts to is an indication that that measurement was wrong, they mismeasured.  It’s a typographical error, in essence.  So we’re not looking to change the bulk of the building,  we’re not looking to change the footprint . . . we’re not looking to change anything else about what we approved, we’re just looking to change the measurement,  so that it reflects the actual measurement from the corner to the end of the building, as the footprint has shown, on the plans that we looked at and approved.”

The final design for the hotel, which is to conform to the redevelopment plan,  has yet to be submitted. But the Planning Board’s recommendation of the change to the maximum linear width, which clears the path for the council to give final approval to the ordinance, left Stolar relieved and ready to go forward.  Having been passed unanimously on first reading, the ordinance is in all certainty to be given final approval by the council.

Luther Flurry of the Montclair Business Improvement District, one of the few people who attended the meeting, said afterward that he expects the hotel to be a quality building that would be a great benefit to Montclair Center.

22 Comments

  1. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  February 11, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

    Thus providing more space for redrum to “stay in town and open up shop” at a place where “cathar and I could drink bourbon at the bar and make snide remarks all day.”

  2. POSTED BY hrhppg  |  February 11, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

    I really don’t see the benefit for the town in this ? There are rental venues in town that go un-rented for weeks at a time, it’s not close enough to the college to be certain hotels on rt 46 won’t be parents first option, and I can’t name any towns with a huge hotel in them that maintained their charm and didn’t attract more of an hourly crowd.

    Do any baristanet regulars have their own uses for this project. Serious ones not the maybe one day it would be nice in the event of…. An actual yes I plan on booking it for…..

  3. POSTED BY walleroo  |  February 11, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

    a place where “cathar and I could drink bourbon at the bar and make snide remarks all day.”

    I’m in.

  4. POSTED BY cspn55  |  February 11, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

    a hotel can be a nice event space where the guests can then stay over after the party. i can’t see this being a vacation or business destination primarily – but do see it possibly successful as a restaurant/catering facility and then maybe some business from those who are at the wellmont for shows and want a place to stay.

  5. POSTED BY floyd  |  February 11, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

    Can’t imagine there is a need for a hotel here. Therefore, suspect that this is a Trojan horse for a condo conversion.

  6. POSTED BY hrhppg  |  February 11, 2014 @ 4:21 pm

    It is difficult to find an event space that also includes overnight accommodations and the only one I know about has VERY strict rules on types of drinks they serve. They had problems in the past as the type of crowd that wants their bed and their bar under one roof tends to be a bit rowdy. Even shuttles from a venue to a hotel require a few minutes of down time from drinking. I worked for a catering hall in Montclair ages ago bartending and do not be fooled into thinking Montclair doesn’t have its share of rowdy or is above that type of behavior.

  7. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 11, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

    So now that there was all of that outcry and consern to have 6 stories instead of 8… then, no more than 6 stories were decided and now we’re back to 8? UNACCEPTABLE!!! Time for the community to react again. AND…from 175 feet to 245? Ridiculous!

  8. POSTED BY cathar  |  February 11, 2014 @ 5:41 pm

    I don’t for some reason recall wishing a dialogue with you, leafy. Nor with your ever-affable wussy self, walleroo.

    And I certainly can’t ever imagine hanging in Montclair for any conceivable reason. A movie, yes. Conversation with the liberal lugs who post here, no, not at all.

  9. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  February 11, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    Well now cathar, that you’ve managed to get that off your chest I’m sure you feel a lot better.

    And since you brought up movies, perhaps a more “conservative” conversation with a second rate movie director, say Budd Boetticher, would be more to your liking.

    Reminds us again, which one of his films is considered a masterpiece of the cinema, was it “The Bullfighter and the Lady” or “The Killer is Loose”?

  10. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 11, 2014 @ 7:12 pm

    floyd,
    Maybe. The backup plan is also working well. If the hotel falls through, the mixed use building just potentially increased by almost 50% in size to 120,000 sf from 82,000 sf.
    The good news it is more $ for the township. The bad news is the Planning Board’s engineer has to be rethinking the laterals and the Planning Board has to really get more serious in reviewing the Preliminary Site Plans before they rubber stamp them.

  11. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 11, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

    And what are the odds that the subdivision application approval by the Planning Board had the wrong numbers, too! Seriously, they were wrong also. I am just annoyed at myself because the mistakes were there for any layperson to see and I missed them.

  12. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 11, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

    Of course, I do this for a hobby.

  13. POSTED BY walleroo  |  February 11, 2014 @ 9:07 pm

    Nor with your ever-affable wussy self, walleroo.

    Cather won’t meet me for a bourbon? Oh please, please don’t throw me in the briar patch!

  14. POSTED BY townie  |  February 11, 2014 @ 9:34 pm

    Let’s say no hotelier comes forward. The project was sold as a hotel, rooftop martinis and all. What latitude would the developer have if they fail to sign a hotel tenant?

  15. POSTED BY spoonman  |  February 12, 2014 @ 1:24 am

    why the big opposition against a hotel downtown? What are the compelling arguments? People visiting Montclair and god forbid they get to stay in the town and sleep overnight. Oh the travesty.

    Also who cares about 2 extra stories to the building. an 8 story building is hardly anything tall. If anything Montclair should build this project and a few more downtown.

    The downtown will become more vibrant and all those vacant storefronts will go away when more people are downtown constantly walking around.

    Is this just fighting against this project b/c you see it as some developer trying to make money? Who cares. So a developer makes some coin. he leaves a good project downtown that will probably be filled with a bunch of late 20 and young 30 year olds with money who will spend it and not overwhelm schools. The best kind of buyer / renter.

  16. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 12, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    There is no need to build a hotel in Montclair. It is not an intelligent choice since Montclair is known and characterized by beautiful vintage houses AND because the property taxes on our houses are so high. It would be intelligent to create bed and breakfast businesses in vintage houses so that these properties could become economically sustainable. Privite property owners should be given the possibility of earning money with paying guests and bed and breakfast situations, that would help ease the burden of taxes and other expences. In turn, tourists and guests would have a richer and more characteristic “Montclair Experience.”

  17. POSTED BY townie  |  February 12, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

    @frankgg Not everyone enjoys B&Bs. I don’t. I have learned they are not my cup of tea so I avoid them.

    Anyone take up my question from yesterday? What happens if the developer cannot attract a hotel tenant?

  18. POSTED BY redrum  |  February 12, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

    Then it sits empty, windows boarded up, and blends in with the rest of the vacant streetscape in Montclair.

    To convert it to condos, the developer would need to apply for a use variance, which the desperate and embarrassed Planning Board would hastily approve.

  19. POSTED BY martinschwartz  |  February 12, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

    townie – here is the answer to your question. The original redevelopment plan contemplated two scenarios at this site. A mixed use retail and residential building at 6 stories and a bonus of 2 stories more if the “use” was a hotel. Both “uses” were approved. So if the developer cannot secure a chain or a hotel operator, they have to build the six story building per the original redevelopment plan. That is the answer.

    Nonetheless, there are a couple of issues impacting all this which are kicking around in this thread. First is the “use” for a hotel. In my opinion, a hotel is an excellent economic driver for Montclair’s downtown because it brings in people who are clearly there to spend money in surrounding businesses and restaurants and who do not require substantial town expenditures of services in the process (i.e. schools). A hotel in the downtown supports all other businesses and makes all commercial real estate more valuable. Our BID wisely supports a hotel in the downtown. So while a B&B policy is certainly a good one for the township overall and should and can be further explored per our friend Frank G.’s comments for a more “authentic” Montclair experience — I have to part ways with him when he says that a downtown hotel is not helpful. Both are great.

    The problem instead is one of balance for this hotel’s BUILDING SCALE at the Centro Verde’ site and really — for all the buildings there. That is really what I think is of concern to Frank and for many residents I’ve spoken with. Remember, 120 people showed up at the Planning Board screaming not to give up two more stories as a trade in for a park on top of already approved residential buildings 1 and 2 – now set at 6 stories.

    In terms of the bulk and size already approved, our other friend Frank Rubacky adeptly points out that the square footage for the hotel building is indeed quite large, and that the Planning Board approved this early on along with all the other building footprints there. These approvals came at the start of the process as a ‘preliminary site plans’ (approximately 2 years ago now) based really on pictures and it seems (I was not on the board then) measurements provided by the developers.

    Those footprints and heights are a done deal, which is why I will comment now. There is really no issue to adjudicate for these building footprints. They are approved. The decision voted Monday was just a ministerial correction to allow the “use” for the hotel (again already approved) for the entire building footprint — again already approved. Had it not been corrected, you would have a mixed hotel and residential building – potentially inhibiting the hotel use – which again was already approved.

    But it is those large footprints and building sizes already approved where I and other residents take serious issue. Why? Because it appears a canyon effect has been created at this important gateway corner. And unfortunately, the time for everyone to comment and impact that decision was way back then. Again, in my personal view, and I testified to this before the HPC at the time which was reviewing the developer’s original proposals, the amount of site bulk originally proposed by the developer with only limited, 5 foot set-backs ultimately agreed to by the board and Fried Council – is too overwhelming. It therefore appears out of character for our downtown. Again, in my opinion only, these preliminary site plans approved actually undermine one of our key commercial selling features why people want to come here – for our character and our charm. Building large hulking structures which take up entire blocks downtown without substantial relief from larger set-backs and more architectural detailing to mitigate – just add to a Route 46 NJ. development feel that has killed many NJ. towns around the state.

    It was, in my opinion, a major decision-making mistake. Board members should have better realized the impact of what they were approving. I’ve said this publicly before and will continue to say it given the important location of this site – and as a warning for future activity. We do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water for the downtown and ruin what makes Montclair unique.

    Now obviously, some planning board members felt and feel differently. Two members still on the board today were quoted in the Montclair Times saying they had no problem with 8 stories for ALL of the commercial structures at Centro Verde. I disagree. In my opinion, further due diligence was required to contemplate the impact of bulk and square footage approved, vs. the number of hotel rooms needed and ultimately — the total construction footprints agreed to at the site.

    While it’s great to maximize taxes for every development on one hand, simultaneously throwing off the balance of our downtown, and starting to become like corporate Stanford CT. — is not smart planning. More set-backs and more visual relief and less bulk were needed — and my colleagues should have known this.

    But again, this is now spilled milk. The building footprints and limited 5 foot set-backs at the 5th story were previously approved and formalized in the redevelopment plan. And that is what must be worked with at this time.

  20. POSTED BY townie  |  February 12, 2014 @ 5:52 pm

    Thanks for the info Martin.

    So if they get a hotel tenant, they go up to 8 stories, otherwise 6. I hope they land a hotel.

    I’ll chime in on 3 points. First is Montclair’s charm is not uniform. I find nothing at all charming about Bloomfield Ave. Second, the main issue I have with the entire development is not bulk it is the cheap finish on the buildings, someone rightly called them foam boxes. Third I never liked the park idea, it eliminated important parking in exchange for an amenity that would primarily benefit the tenants of the new development.

  21. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 13, 2014 @ 9:55 am

    The idea is outdated and out of place…..focus on the houses and whats existing first.

  22. POSTED BY Nellie  |  February 13, 2014 @ 11:46 am

    Holly will have to feature her drinks at the hotel’s bar.

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