BLOG: Montclair Needs Historic Districts To Save Its Homes

Monday, May 19, 2014 9:07am  |  COMMENTS (50)

A reader writes to express his fears of Montclair’s histroric homes slowly disappearing:

It’s become an all too common site in Montclair. Take a left turn instead of a right. Drive down a street that maybe you haven’t been down in a while, and you notice, where a pretty Victorian once stood, you come across, well, something like this in its place.

It becomes scary for homeowners in their neighborhoods. My wife and I bought our house in a part of town where the homes were built largely from 1890 to 1910; most of them still resembling how they would have looked when they were first built. It’s a big part of why we bought here: charm. Yes, we pay extra for it, Montclair’s home prices, and taxes, are a lot more expensive than many surrounding communities, but its old homes and tree lined streets are a massive part of its draw. And it’s a major reason why New York City families have been moving here since the 1860s.

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But most of you probably know this already. It’s likely a big part of why each and every person reading this decided to move here in the first place.

What I do wonder, is if most of you get the pit in your stomach that I every time a for sale sign goes up in your neighborhood. You start to get nervous. What will the new owners do with the house? Will they knock it down, and put a new, cheaply built multi-family unit in its place? Will it undergo a cheap and tasteless renovation by an absentee landlord, looking to turn the home into a cash cow? Will a huge McMansion be put up by a builder who has little concern for the atheistic of the neighborhood? Will my property value, and my neighbors’ property values, plummet because of what gets done to this house? Will this start a chain of blight and cheap construction in my neighborhood? Do you stop and think: how can this be allowed to happen, again and again, in a town with a history as rich as Montclair’s?

Teardowns aren’t a new thing in any historic community. Many towns, Montclair included, saw a good number of its old, grand homes get demolished, mostly from the 1930s to the 1960s, when many of these homes were old enough to be old, but not quite yet old enough to be historic. Sometimes an old Queen Anne made way for a modern ranch. Sometimes entire blocks were leveled to make way for garden apartments. Many of Montclair’s neighborhoods where this was done to excess have still never fully recovered. Many of its most sought after neighborhoods, are the ones that survived largely unscathed.

But many towns have learned from their mistakes, and now have rules in place to prevent exactly that sort of thing from happening today (more on that later). Montclair, it seems, likes to leave a little more to chance than other towns. There are a small number of historic protected neighborhoods, such as Marlboro Park or Erwin Park, but the vast majority of town is left to fend for itself, with little protecting its homes from the wrecking ball (you can see all of Montclair’s protected districts here: http://www.montclairnjusa.org/dmdocuments/Historic-District-and-Bid.pdf). The evidence of this becomes more and more apparent with each passing year.

Think about how you would feel, and what would happen to your resale value, if any of Montclair’s newest teardowns happened right next door to you:

New home on Lansing

New home on Lansing

Say hello to the newest home on Lansing Place, a charming little street in Upper Montclair (Upper Montclair, by the way, has almost no historically protected residential neighborhoods). Lansing Place is filled with small, but charming, turn of the century houses, one of which was recently knocked down to have this two unit condo building put in its place. (The home just to right of this one, in probably a smart move, was put up for sale immediately when the demolition happened).

Ironically enough, the house right across the street was beautifully and tastefully restored, after being almost condemned, just a year ago/

It would seem one of these two would be positive for the street. It would restore a home on the block, it would likely be bought by a young family who would care for it, and it would increase the appeal of the block, and the value of everyone’s homes.

The other, neighbors say, was done by a landlord who lives down in the Estate Section, who realized that since the town would do nothing to stop him, there was more profit to be made in knocking down what had been a single family home since 1905 and putting up two units in its place.

One would have been good for everyone, the other was done for one man’s good, at the expense of everyone else.

Not sure if this was a full on demolition, or just top to bottom renovation, but the principle is the same. Check out this house that just went up on Grove Street:

New construction on Grove

Stucco and foam in the front, and vinyl on the side, but what’s to stop the contractor from using the cheapest materials possible, when the town has no codes and regulations for working on its homes? What happens now to the values of the two homes next door?

Again, more on this below, but Montclair and its residents need to start making a decision on whether they’re okay with this happening in their town and neighborhoods. In other neighboring communities (including one just around the corner from this house) that protect their town’s architecture, character, and historic home stock, this wouldn’t be allowed to happen. Neighbors don’t have to worry about their own property value suffering because of what someone (who likely doesn’t even live in the neighborhood themselves) is doing to a home next door.

I have a hunch the owner of the charming colonial next door is wishing stricter rules were on the books.

And last, but not least, let’s look at the demolition of a 1960s split level on South Mountain Ave.

Now let me start by saying this, the reason a lot of these homes from the 1950s and 1960s exist in late 19th century neighborhoods to begin with is because, back then, a developer either knocked down or subdivided the property of an older home, with little care for the neighborhood’s architecture. Some of Montclair’s better builders have actually built new construction of the foundation of these out of place homes, that’s fits in better with the original architecture of the neighborhood. Seems to be a win for everyone.

For example, this incredible, newly built tudor (built by Classics Reborn) off of Park Street in Upper Montclair fits in seamlessly with the other tudors around it:

New Tudor on Park Street

New Tudor on Park Street

Or this newly built, beautiful home on Marion Road, which was built on the frame of a 1960’s split level by Oasis Architecture, fits in perfectly with the other early 20th colonial revival homes on the street:

New home on Marion Road

New home on Marion Road

But here’s what we have going up on South Mountain Avenue:

New construction on South Mountain

New construction on South Mountain

It’s still early, but it doesn’t bode well for matching with the home next to it, built in 1897:

South Mountain home built in 1897

South Mountain home built in 1897

And no, South Mountain Avenue, one of the country’s most beautiful and historic suburban streets, is not entirely protected by a historic district. Which means there’s absolutely nothing stopping a builder from putting whatever that is, next to this house above.

So while builders and developers slowly but surely chip away at Montclair’s homes and streets, what do other suburban towns in Essex County with historic home stock do? How do they battle this problem?

Well, let’s quickly look at a few, starting with Nutley. Nutley, save for two small dead end streets, offers no historic protection for its neighborhoods. Which is why it’s not uncommon to see sights like this, with new construction wedged between two of the town’s early Victorian homes:

New home sandwiched between Victorians in Nutley.

New home sandwiched between Victorians in Nutley.

Yikes. Compare that with Montclair’s neighbor, Glen Ridge, which has over 80% of its homes protected within the confines of its historic district (you can see the map here: http://www.glenridgenj.org/pdfs/historicdistricmap.pdf). As most of you know, teardowns and cheap renovations are not an issue in Glen Ridge. Homeowners can feel safe and secure whenever a house goes up for sale in their neighborhood. Their investment, and the town’s character, is protected. Historic Districts are one of the few legal means a town has to protect itself, and homeowners.

But some of you will undoubtly say, Glen Ridge is small, and mostly wealthy. What about a town that has more in common with Montclair? A town with a rich architectural history that spans from the 1860s to the 20th century, a town that prides itself on racial and economic diversity, and a town with a central business district that it’s trying to invigorate and grow. What about South Orange?

Along with Montclair and Glen Ridge, there are few towns as visually stunning and that have the rich architectural history of South Orange (As a bonus, South Orange, like Glen Ridge, is gas lamp lit, with all of utility poles located behind houses and off of the streets, leaving all of its roads tree lined).

So I took a look at their historic preservation committee, and here’s what I found (you can view the entire document here.

The document opens with this:

South Orange is a community in which its residents take great pride. Many of its residents speak of moving to the Village because of the historic character evident in both the downtown and the residential neighborhoods and the strong sense of community that is evident everywhere you look…This plan is designed to be a blue print for the Village to preserve its heritage while preparing for the future.

Further in the document is a map of the town’s historic districts. It encompasses about half the town, and almost all of its homes built between 1860 and 1930 (excluded in the Newstead section of town, largely built in the 2nd half of the 20th century):

South Orange, a town that has faced many of Montclair’s struggles, realizes that what has kept its town going for so long, and what keeps attracting new young families to it today, is its historic charm and character. What this means is that Victorian houses like this one in South Orange, don’t have to worry about what’s happened to the above homes in Nutley and on South Mountain Ave, happening to it.

And for those of who upset with Montclair’s Master Plan, check out South Orange’s plans for downtown redevelopment, which include clauses such as:

New buildings shall relate to existing buildings and other structures in the vicinity that have a visual relationship to the proposed site. Any new development shall attempt to achieve appropriate scale in relation to neighboring structures. Balance shall be achieved so that the new development will not overwhelm or be dwarfed by neighboring buildings.

So residents of Montclair need to think long and hard about the direction they want to town to go in. Are they okay with the Nutley model, with allowing builders and developers to do as they please with private property – are they okay with the things happening in the town as we speak – or will we take the route of towns like Glen Ridge and South Orange, and fight to preserve our town’s character, history, and its residents’ property values?

If you’re like most Montclair residents, and you live here because you believe we have something special that’s worth saving, I encourage each of you to reach out to the mayor and council, and demand that Montclair expand the number of historic districts, to stop the chain reaction of cheap construction and blight, and to stop Montclair from becoming just another suburban town in New Jersey.

You can find the e-mails for the mayor and the town council here.

Historic districts are really the only protective tool we have to save Montclair’s homes. It’s time we actually started to use them.

50 Comments

  1. POSTED BY cathar  |  May 19, 2014 @ 10:41 am

    Shouldn’t this, as per standard journalistic practice, be bylined?

  2. POSTED BY redrum  |  May 19, 2014 @ 10:58 am

    We know it was Zidarich, who went on a tyrade last week about the onslaught against Upper Montclair, and its superiority, despite all the references being in the undesirable 42.

  3. POSTED BY nickavisa  |  May 19, 2014 @ 11:34 am

    Well done! Well Put. Great examples. That house on Grove Street with the stucco over foam is terrible. I don’t even like that look on commercial properties let alone a private residence. When is this town going to wake up and protect the very special architecture and feel that it has but is losing? It’s a terrible and slow crime that is happening. Take a look at Bayside NY before and after. It’s horrifying.

  4. POSTED BY kay  |  May 19, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

    Honestly I don’t understand the process. Why did the planning board (or whomever it was that we had to go before, I have kind of shut out the memory) deny my original application and tell me I had to build a full porch instead of half the width of the house, “in keeping with the neighborhood”, when the house across the street had exactly the same proposed porch, and another neighbor ripped down their porch entirely and built and non-code-compliant stairway, one has never had a porch, and the slumlord next door is allowed to let moss grow on the house, and go for years without replacing pieces of siding that fell off during Irene? Hunh?

    And yet they will allow things like the foam-frosted monstrosities on Walnut and Grove?

    I don’t know if this link will show up, but there wasn’t much wrong with the house on Grove that couldn’t be fixed with a little facelift.
    http://goo.gl/3Igbyr

    So I get that they wanted a third floor. So I see what they were trying to do with the bump out over the garage and the gable front in order to pull in the dormer, but my God! The columns??? and Orange foam? I’m sure they will finish off the first floor with fake bricks too.

    Oh Spiro, where are you?? Can you please stop by and help those people, please, for the love of heaven!

    p.s. I *Super-Like* the A&C style house on Marion!

  5. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  May 19, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

    I’m here, kay. I help where I can, thanks for the shout out! The Marion house is one of my favorites, too.

  6. POSTED BY kay  |  May 19, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

    and that house on Lansing looks like it’s missing its front soffit or something! Besides the fact that it desperately needs a porch (here’s a perfect example!) it also could use a gable vent or something, up at the peak on the right side. Just saying, imho it looks a little off. Maybe if the fascia were white?

    I especially like the big stone pedestal columns on Marion! I tried to get hubby to do those at my place and he wouldn’t hear a word about it. Probably because the money was running out!

  7. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  May 19, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

    Kay, the Lansing project is a good example of someone seeing a house as little more than a cash cow, all benefits to them, neighbors be damned. On the other hand, the Marion project is a good example of someone seeing a home as something more, a gesture of good will to the neighbors they share their block with, and whom they will hopefully befriend and share great times with for years to come. I think it boils down to social vs antisocial behavior. BTW, the architect of the Marion house has an extensive photo spread of this project ( and others ) on their Houzz page. You might like what you see, even if the interior is more “modern” than the exterior. Nonetheless, the spirit of graciousness, fellowship and joy carries through, inside and out, in a big way. http://www.houzz.com/photos/1958558/Upper-Montclair–NJ–New-home–Marion-Road-contemporary-living-room-new-york

  8. POSTED BY pat gilleran  |  May 19, 2014 @ 5:57 pm

    I like the fact that the houses all don’t match each other- there are some new housing that is much much better than the old

    Here’s an example – ranch becomes craftsman
    http://baristanet.com/2007/01/building-the-anti-mcmansion/

    https://maps.google.com/maps?q=115+Stonebridge,+Montclair,+NJ+07042&ie=UTF8&ll=40.802375,-74.233031&spn=0.013741,0.036092&om=1

  9. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 19, 2014 @ 6:17 pm

    “If you’re like most Montclair residents, and you live here because you believe we have something special that’s worth saving…”

    This is wildly inaccurate. Very few people actually care.

  10. POSTED BY jcunningham  |  May 19, 2014 @ 11:02 pm

    so, spiro, when pseudonymous posters make snarky judgements on blogs about what their neighbors choose to legally do with their property, is that social or antisocial behavior?

  11. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  May 20, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    Good point, jcunningham. Property owners are entitled to build the bare minimum allowed by law. If that’s all they can afford, so be it.

  12. POSTED BY PAZ  |  May 20, 2014 @ 8:37 am

    Aesthetics is a hard concept to grasp in a country who’s education system is into skipping the classics and has no need to harken back to the past.

    Go forward….revise and conquer, don’t look back….It’s all about you and nobody else, least of all your neighbors.

    Get out there and code yourself a life.

  13. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 20, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    The author of this blog expresses the sentiments of most residents in town who choose to live here despite high taxes and and high costs of proudly maintaining their homes. For all of the sacrifices and spendings, one wants to feel that their investment is protected. There is a new townwide awakening of awarness and desire for the preservation of our neighborhoods. The real estate market for Montclair’s vintage homes is thriving as well.

    Last nights planning board meeting to present the revised Master Plan was a confirmation the community’s increased awareness and desire to protect themselves against unwanted development. A third of the packed room was from Forest Street, who came out to defend their neighborhood from being raised and developed. There was a gentleman from the Anderson Park community group who gave very specific reasons why a moratorium should be called on further development. The room cheered. (I think so too) Chairman Wynn asked the crowd who was reacting …”what.. so you dont want development?” the room cheered again. There was townwide representation against the township’s direction to develop. There is a new elefant in the room and its growing bigger and bigger.

  14. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 20, 2014 @ 9:35 am

    “Chairman Wynn asked the crowd who was reacting …”what.. so you dont want development?” the room cheered again. There was townwide representation against the township’s direction to develop. There is a new elefant in the room and its growing bigger and bigger.”

    “most residents in town”? Unless you can verify that this is the sentiment of 7,000 or so people lets stop using “most”.

    And, “crowd”?? I really hope there was at least 500 people in attendance.

    The reality is that very few people actually care and I would guess (just a guess) that quite a few welcome the new development.

  15. POSTED BY mikegillott  |  May 20, 2014 @ 9:36 am

    Delighted to see an upsurge in the desire to maintain the heritage of this beautiful town. Lobbying for tighter rules/regs should surely be the first port of call and I would love to see a summary of the Master Plan meeting (I spent the evening feeling somewhat sad at the mud slinging meeting re: addressing the issues on parkhurst – my points made elsewhere on baristanet still stand on that topic).

    We bought our house in the knowledge that we would need to treat it as one would a classic car – it needs lots of TLC, OEM parts, time and effort. I was delighted to see a picture from c.1907 of our house to see it looks almost the same. Probably less happy to find out that the water pipes are probably about that old! Such is the duty of someone who is ultimately taking care of an antique for the next generation. Different character houses along the streets is nice to see, nicer still is that we still have so many original properties, I’d love to see it stay that way.

  16. POSTED BY jcunningham  |  May 20, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    “The author of this blog expresses the sentiments of most residents in town who choose to live here”

    —more unsubstantiated emotionalism from Frank. But since the blogger is anonymous, your faith in their actually being a resident is sweet.

    “A third of the packed room was from Forest Street, who came out to defend their neighborhood from being raised and developed.”

    —hmmm…missed the “razing” part of the plan. This couldn’t be overstated blather as well, could it?

  17. POSTED BY willjames  |  May 20, 2014 @ 9:58 am

    If a third of the attendees at last night’s meeting were Forest Street residents, then almost by definition the vocal crowd who showed up last night does NOT represent the town’s population as a whole.

    A “moratorium on development” is a great path to making this town completely unattainable to anyone other than the very wealthy (because of the constrained supply of high-end housing) and the very poor (because of the awful condition of whatever affordable multi-family housing currently exists in town). If that’s the social outcome you desire, then sure–seal the town in amber and “preserve” it to your heart’s content.

    I continue to believe that most people who say they oppose the Master Plan haven’t done their civic duty to actually *read* the document (and its Conservation supplement) prior to having an opinion about it.

  18. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 20, 2014 @ 10:29 am

    No it’s not overstated blather … It was just that…. Were you present at the meeting? Didn’t you hear the comments and conversations? The meeting was televised and the press was there to document…

  19. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 20, 2014 @ 10:48 am

    Speaking of Civic Duty… It came out in the wash last night at the meeting that although the township has spent great amounts of $$$ on consultants fees, no $$$ were spent on traffic studies or view corridor studies. (What was the criteriae for selecting which studies do do? You can’t do selective studies like that .. It’s not correct.) This Master Plan proposal is not completed enough to submit for public review. It’s not a valid working tool yet.

  20. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 20, 2014 @ 1:25 pm

    What is overstate is the amount of people that care. Very few do.

  21. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 20, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

    Totally not true…were you present stayhyphy?

  22. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 20, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

    It is a serious miscalculation to say people are for or against the master plan regardless of whether they have read it in its entirety and fully understand the intricacies and implications of of the various concepts being proposed. All of us in that room probably don’t fully understands all the concepts, and, respectfully, that includes all members of the Planning Board. Several concepts are new and untested in an environment like Montclair. Other concepts have a decidedly mixed tract record of implementation like in NYC. This is an extremely ambitious document that rightfully attempted to integrate circulation with land use. It will never be 100% right and the PB will hopefully regularly add and amend it over the next 10 years.

    The Master Plan is the public policy document based on the resident’s vision, values and priorities. Most speakers last night expressed what they wanted or didn’t want in the MP. But, many also included why they didn’t want certain things. The Planning Board now has to go back and figure out the what part satisfy the why part. Based on what I heard last night, it does not seem to be an insurmountable.

    PS: the MP 2007 Conservation Element never got out of the draft stage.

  23. POSTED BY willjames  |  May 20, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

    Oh, bring back the days when planning documents could formulate their recommendations in language more along these lines:

    “This location appears not only well suited but available, for as yet no buildings of importance* have been erected upon the adjacent property affected. Indeed, some parts of the section have developed in such an unfavorable way as to make a radical transformation highly desirable.

    (caption for accompanying photo:) The owner of this would probably clean it up, if he thought his reputation in the neighborhood depended upon it.

    Fortunately, the extension of Park Street would destroy no property of great worth*; on the contrary it would open up valuable frontages for business use.”

    –Montclair: The Preservation of Its Natural Beauty and Its Improvement as a Residence Town, John Nolen, 1909

    *I wonder what the owners of the “no buildings of importance” and “no property of great worth” thought of Nolen’s plan.

  24. POSTED BY jcunningham  |  May 20, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

    my apologies, frank—let me clarify for you:

    “The author of this blog expresses the sentiments of most residents in town who choose to live here”

    –you have no evidence that this how the majority of residents in this town feel. Attendance at the meeting—or more pointedly, your perception of it—is not evidence of this “fact”—it is overstated blather.

    “A third of the packed room was from Forest Street, who came out to defend their neighborhood from being raised and developed.”

    —no one is suggesting that this neighborhood be “razed”—that is your hyper emotional contextualization—it is overstated blather.

    better?

  25. POSTED BY kay  |  May 20, 2014 @ 4:38 pm

    Spiro, thanks for sharing that link – I very much like what I saw on the architect’s pages!

    I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I am quite sure that there are plenty of folks who think the house on Walnut and the one on Grove are gorgeous. I don’t mean to denigrate people for their views and hope I didn’t come off sounding that way. They are not my cup of tea but since I am not Queen of the World, what I say doesn’t really matter.

    I do have a question though, in the hope that someone smarter than I am can enlighten me:

    Some of you may know I’m a SoCal gal at heart and last week’s fires were just astonishing. Luckily all my peeps are safe. In catching up with the news I saw an article about the ongoing drought problem. Thousands of new homes and apartments have been built over the past decades (I hardly recognize some parts of the county any more), but yet the water supply remains the same. So it occurred to me, when is the point of equilibrium, when resources won’t support any more growth? How many red-hots can you stuff into a thimble before some start falling out? I realize development has its benefits – more housing for all income levels, more local shoppers, more tax base, and income for the developers – but at what cost? Water supply? Traffic? Smog? Public school class sizes?

    And so, in all sincerity, this is my question about the Master Plan: is that why we need to cram more people in – to make it attainable – for more people? Would we really be freezing ourselves in time, if we were to say no to 6-story apartment buildings?? How many more people do we want to attract? When does our population reach its maximum?

  26. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 20, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

    OK fine, jcunningham…I will defer my overstated blather to what the journalists will be reporting in the next few days…thats more documentable cronacle.

    Its not hyper emotional contextualization, I’m just happy about the meeting’s turnout and for the likeminded sentiment.

    Please read the Master Plan proposal and see what could actually happen if developers started buying the homes on Forest Street as teardowns….its quite understandable why so many residents are upset and came to speak out.

  27. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 20, 2014 @ 10:45 pm

    I personally did not attend.

    Was there 500 people at the meeting? Trying to figure out what “most” means.

    There is ~15,000 households in montclair, can we demonstrate that > 50% feel this way?

  28. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 20, 2014 @ 11:34 pm

    frankgg’s “most residents in town” vs. stayhyphy’s “Very few do.”

    well, let’s see…
    Mtc Times says audience tipped 150. 1 Point to stayhyphy.
    I say about 140 wanted significant changes to the plan. Only a half point to frankgg.
    The Nolen Plan was cited in a positive way by the Planning Director. Another half point to frankgg.

    And the tiebreaker goes to….
    frankgg!
    Since 6 of 7 Council members attended, including both At-Large Councilors, the entire town had their duly elected representative there. Using a voice level vote, frankgg wins this argument.

  29. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  May 21, 2014 @ 9:35 am

    Frank R. Terrible tiebreaker logic, our elected officials only serve as proof that no one cares. Such a small percentage even vote. I get it, some people care but MOST do not.

  30. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 21, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    What you’re saying about people not caring is not inaccurate, stayhyphy, but beople are begining to wake up from the smell of the coffee and have begun to care about whats happining around them and to themselves money wise. People have usually trusted the local government to work in the interest of the community but now people realize that the local government is only interested in accomodating developers because they think (mistakenly) that this will lessen the tax burden. What the local government does not have the means to understand, is that by giving up Montclair to the developers, the Montclair that we all know and love will be lost forever so all of these pie in the sky development dreams do not come with a guarentee of economic problem solving. Now people are begining to realize that its not worth the sacrifice.

  31. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 21, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    Grazie Frankr!

  32. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 21, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    After 2 years -they started working before they took office – this Council has has far surpassed my expectations and with far less disappointments. Many were elected espousing a pro-development platform. However, the exposure of the Master Plan process has greatly educated the taxpayers on what different levels of development could look like and has elevated the discussion – and this Council, along with the Planning Board, have both demonstrated a high level of “open to listen”. All things considered, the Township is in a much healthier place.

    And yes, I will agree stayhyphy – my earlier post was lame. But, we can’t guess what people believe and can only go by what we all hear. In this regard, my perception is that the majority are saying “less is more”.

  33. POSTED BY flipside  |  May 21, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

    “Most people don’t care” I agree…a big part of the reason is that Montclair is a revolving door. Young families pour out of the city because Montclair looks beautiful, hip, and compared to Manhattan…cheap. By the time their young family is in HS they realize their taxes have doubled and the town has changed…it’s not the same place they moved to 15 years earlier. They sell to the next wave of young families that have no idea what the old Montclair looked like or what it was about. They like how it appears now and now is their only reference point. How many people left in town remember why there is a rooster mural across from the YMCA on Park St.? They days of people staying in Montclair for their lifetime are long gone. Could you imagine a current group of local families banding together to build a hockey rink? I miss the old Montclair too but for better or worse it’s a distant memory.

  34. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 21, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

    after having participated at the Planning board meeting the other night, i do feel that there is actually a postive change and something that i have not see before in the last few years….. politeness and consideration to the public. I agree with what Frankr says above… “and this Council, along with the Planning Board, have both demonstrated a high level of “open to listen”. All things considered, the Township is in a much healthier place.” I am glad and hope that this new positive dynamic remains.

  35. POSTED BY willjames  |  May 21, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

    Just FYI, John Nolen had no nostalgia for old buildings in his era just because they were old. He clearly had disdain for some trends in Victorian-era design. For instance, he hated the old Erie Station, calling it “unsightly” and “unsuitable” and he advocated its demolition.

    Here’s what it looked like: http://postimg.org/image/51434wf3t/

    I don’t know about you, but I bet I would have liked some aspects of its appearance, if the town burghers hadn’t listened to Nolen and bulldozed the building. But in the end, I also suppose that Nolen was right, and that what was needed was a new series of train stations that were “appropriate to modern needs.” Hmmm. That has a certain ring to it!

    And as I pointed out above, Nolen dismissed with the wave of a hand the interests of property owners whose land or structures were in the way of his proposed change. “Buildings of no great importance” and property of “no great value” were, in his estimation, fair game for government seizure and redevelopment as needed to suit his grand plans.

    Perhaps that’s part of the reason that his 1909 report failed to receive anywhere near the votes needed to ratify his plan.

    Anyway, you may like Nolen’s aesthetics and his notions of good planning, but PLEASE don’t hold him up as an exemplar of consensus-building. If you characterize Montclair’s current Planning Board as “bullying,” you cannot with a straight face hold John Nolen up as some sort of counterweight to that after reading his body of work and seeing what he has to say about existing structures and existing interests in the towns and cities where he proposed major (and sometimes quite radical) changes to those communities. Compared to Nolen, who more or less mailed it in and then quit town after one (badly received) public presentation, the Montclair Planning Board has been taking great care over the last two years to solicit public comment and to adapt the Master Plan in responsive ways.

  36. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 22, 2014 @ 9:30 am

    willjames,

    You do have me stumped as I have never seen that version of Upper Montclair RR Station.
    Can you give me the source?

  37. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 22, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    Never mind. My mistake. I think of the U Mtc station because we still call it the Erie parking lot.

  38. POSTED BY willjames  |  May 22, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

    Hi, Frank. The image was snapped from the PDF of Nolen’s 1909 plan.

  39. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 22, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

    Thanks willjames.

    It is historically interesting that the process and lack of broad acceptance of Nolen’s Plan had several key similarities to that of the First Draft of this Master Plan. In both cases, an outside consultant was hired, it involved a select group of stakeholders, and the consultants left town before it was introduced to the general public.

  40. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 22, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

    So, do you think we should put a note in the file so that in another 100 years we don’t make the mistake again?

  41. POSTED BY jcunningham  |  May 22, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

    “So, do you think we should put a note in the file so that in another 100 years we don’t make the mistake again?”

    —are you implying, sir, that there was something wrong with the 1909 plan/process??

    do not peddle such heresy here! the 1909 Masterplan is a sacred text from which we cannot deviate! all knowledge worth knowing is contained therein!

  42. POSTED BY townie  |  May 24, 2014 @ 4:42 pm

    The anonymous author of this piece should modulate their voice and refrain from using class to make an argument.

    On Lansing Place, the author approves of one project (a tasteful renovation), not the other (a tear down where a single family home was replaced, as-of-right, with a duplex) and includes the gratuitous information with their disapproval that the developer “lives down in the Estate Section”. This relates how? If the same project had been carried out by a block resident, or an out of town developer, or the Cat in the Hat, would it matter?

    There are very valid arguments that can be made to tighten what may be as-of-right and to insist on development of reasonable scale, and to somehow inject backbones into the Planning and Zoning boards, but most of this is about offending the author’s Martha Stewart-esque sensibilities. Live and let live.

    The great thing about Montclair is its people, not its built environment.

  43. POSTED BY willjames  |  May 24, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

    Townie, you consider “scale” to be the prime directive re: Montclair’s built environment. Others, including the author of this piece, consider the individual decisions made by small-property owners to be at least as important. I’ll cast my lot with the latter opinion, even though I don’t believe that the author’s proposed solution is the right one. The built environment in Montclair isn’t as important as its people, it’s true, but it is nonetheless important. And I join the author of this piece in feeling that the real damage is being done lot by lot on a small scale. After awhile, the thousand little cuts cause enough bleeding to make the place look old and sickly.

  44. POSTED BY townie  |  May 25, 2014 @ 9:25 am

    Willjames I did mention as of right which would include color and materials in my broad usage. I just don’t think that regulation is necessarily the proper course for these individual property owner decisions.

    What do we ban stucco? Take a ride past 205 Midland Ave which was just gut renovated and the former shingles replaced by stucco. Looks ok to me.

    Maybe it’s color? The orange house on Grove is pretty orange. There is a large house on Grove and Lorraine that years ago was painted green and yellow, looked like a John Deere dealership. Recognizing their mistake the owners repainted. Color is personal and impermanent; it is the more permanent stuff I’d focus on.

    And what about affordability? Many modest homes are lovingly renovated with less costly materials due to budget limitations. They might rip out ornamental details in the process. Do we require that every property pass an aesthetic board, that every can of paint be approved?

  45. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 25, 2014 @ 10:44 am

    The orange house example above is NOT about about the materials or color. It is not a good example of why Montclair needs residential historical districts. BTW, the author is mistaken. Montclair has no residential historic districts. The State recognizes about 5, but we are a home rule state. Local trumps State.

    This house is an example of what’s wrong with municipal land use law. The house is fine overall. Not my taste, but neither is the house next door and this one mimics it neighbor in many key aspects.

    Why one is “better” than the other has little to do with Montclair HP standards or guidelines. The design elements chosen for this house are extremely common & accepted throughout the neighborhood & Montclair overall.

    This houses has an extremely short front yard setback. A significant portion of the front yard is an impervious surface. It has a thick, waist high stone wall with that coach light on the property line which should be illegal. The side yard setbacks actually look like they meet the recent ordinance’s 6′ minimum. The dormer height looks like it runs into the high roof line. The curb cut looks like it is double the minimum required and, from the photo, aligns closely with he front door entrance.

    In short, this might be an building ordinance issue, a as-right issue, a variance/waiver issue, an enforcement issue or some combination of all. An HD overlay would be just a design police board. An that is a weakness of any HPC covering many distinct types of districts.

  46. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  May 25, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

    townie, re: stucco. I doubt the material itself would be banned. Hard coat cement stucco over wire lath and bituminous substrate (not foam substrate) is accepted in many historic districts. If it’s detailed and installed carefully, stucco is a suitable material, and common on many older homes in Montclair, especially from the 1900-1910 era. The 205 Midland House project you refer to detailed the stucco finish carefully, and paired it with painted wood windows and well proportioned trim boards. The selected earth tones in the stucco and the paint work to blend the home into the landscape. There are, also, old cement stucco homes along that stretch of Midland Avenue. All these factors work in unison. Take some of those factors away, and the results will be less successful.

  47. POSTED BY walleroo  |  May 25, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

    We bought our house in the knowledge that we would need to treat it as one would a classic car – it needs lots of TLC, OEM parts, time and effort.

    And money.

    I was delighted to see a picture from c.1907 of our house to see it looks almost the same. Probably less happy to find out that the water pipes are probably about that old! Such is the duty of someone who is ultimately taking care of an antique for the next generation. Different character houses along the streets is nice to see, nicer still is that we still have so many original properties, I’d love to see it stay that way.

    Paging Gatsby!

  48. POSTED BY PAZ  |  May 25, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

    Gatsby took care of his property, old sport. We are the caretakers not just of our little sq. ftprint but of this whole damn lovable, excrutiatably polluted planet of war and not much peace.

    I’m constantly staring out at the green light across my life thinking that something will change before I get low….I’m a praying, optimistic maybe man.

    I’ll pass it on, as best I can, old sport…Foot, line and surveyor.

  49. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 26, 2014 @ 10:02 am

    Not to bum you out PAZ, but this photo accompanying the Master Plan article in the Montclair Times is perfect “time capsule” material:

    http://www.northjersey.com/news/master-plan-redux-1.1022994

    Aside from the red/white/& ‘field of blue’ color symbolism, there is the sea of cars, the only finished building a sizable parking deck and lastly, and the best, a crane to construct an even bigger crane so we can have the kind of density that we currently think is best for our future.

  50. POSTED BY unmitigated gall  |  May 26, 2014 @ 11:46 am

    That crane is going to be bigger than Egon Spengler’s Twinkie.

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