The Montclair Planning Board met Monday night to discuss the application for the planned Vestry Montclair apartment building along Bloomfield Avenue, which would replace the Mount Carmel Holy Church along Bloomfield Avenue (again, not to be confused with the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church nearby) and complement Richard Polton’s Montclarion II apartment building next door. Both projects were designed by architect Paul Sionas. (The Vestry is joint venture between Greenwood Development and Sterling Properties (who also own the Bellclair).
Though unanimously praised by Chairman John Wynn and the board members, the Vestry application hit a wall when it came to Greewoond’s David Genova’s snag with getting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Genova explained he looked into his investigation of the LEED requirement for the property, and said that it would be onerous to hit the minimum number of points for LEED silver certification, which the board has demanded. The problem is that Genova and his engineers don’t know how much energy consumption will be necessary to run the building and whether the energy components they hope to include, such as solar panels, will be cost-effective. Genova said that more information is needed before they can commit to a plan.
This explanation did not sit well with board members such as Anthony Ianuale and Keith Brodock, who reminded Genova that he must deliver on LEED silver certification. Brodock said that he would vote against any resolution for the application if it did not guarantee the minimum number of points for LEED silver certification. Chairman Wynn said that the project was only getting five out of 38 available points for energy, which he recognized as a cost issue.
“In order for us to evaluate a cost issue, “Wynn said, “we need a cost-benefit analysis . . .. And you’re saying, if I’m understanding you correctly, that you don’t have enough information at this point in time because certain things haven’t been designed, certain things haven’t been engineered.” He said Genova might be able to get to the number of points he needs for LEED silver certification if they had enough groundwork done. Engineer Keith Lesser, speaking for Genova, said they wouldn’t know until construction actually started.
“Right,” Chairman Wynn said. “We’re asking you to commit to a design for it, so you that you get at least 10 or 12 more points . . . and your problem’s solved.”
Genova and Lesser conferred on the issue in private and Genova’s attorney, Neal Zimmerman, informed the board that there should be a LEED silver-certification strategy available for the board at its December 5 meeting.
Sionas, meanwhile, went over a revised version of the plans for the Vestry with the board. The revisions included second-floor patios on the west side of the building, providing shelter for the parking spaces underneath from inclement weather, rigid supporting strips, or muntins, between glass panes, double doors at the base of the four-story glass tower, the fifth floor set back seventeen and a half feet from the front façade, and detailed brickwork, among other changes. The design had been reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission.
Sionas’ plan gives the first-floor level over to parking, except for 1,628 square feet of retail space, and engineer J. Michael Petry presented a parking configuration that provides for 47 spaces, with seven spaces outside the garage, two of them being car-share spaces. The forty spaces under the building would be shared by the residents, but board member Carole Willis was concerned that forty spaces between 46 apartments would be impossible to manage. Parking engineer Gerard Giosa, testifying on the parking plan, said he didn’t see a problem, saying that not every car owned by every resident would be parked at the same time. Genova said he would go to the Montclair Parking Utility on an as-needed to basis to get available spaces at the Bay Street station to lease to tenants an idea suggested by board member Marin Schwartz.
Some revisions were made to the parking garage itself, the main concern being the columns in the parking area, which would make it difficult for cars to turn, and the possibly insufficient width of some spaces to accommodate vehicles. Nicholas Verderese of the Dynamic Traffic consulting firm proposed sliding some of the spaces to one side or another, in part my relocating some of the columns. Giosa, who had found issues with the earlier parking configuration, thought that Verderese’s proposed solutions were effective. A proposed bicycle rack was moved from the north-center part of the paring area to the building’s northwest corner.
Also, Peter Steck testified on behalf of variances sought for the project, allowing some parking spaces less than nine feet wide, a 17.25-foot setback at the rear of the property to conform to the irregular shape of the Montclarion building along Pine Street, and the large sign planned in front of the Vestry to hide a transformer mechanism, though Genova has said he can be flexible with the size of the lettering.
Apart from the as-yet unresolved LEED issue, the Planning Board’s members gave the Vestry project high marks. Board member Carmel Loughman singled out the use of high-quality materials and the commitment to affordable housing for special praise, and Chairman Wynn said it would complement the existing buildings on that block of Bloomfield Avenue.