MontClairVoyant: After Trump Left Climate Pact, Township Council Should Act

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MontClairVoyant

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Will our eco-minded burg’s Township Council vote to denounce Trump’s awful withdrawal from the global climate accord and (like many cities) also vote to symbolically adopt that international pact?

Sincerely,

We’ll Always Have Paris (Not)

I hope, but the TC was cautious when making Montclair a “welcoming” rather than “sanctuary” town after Trump’s vile anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim push. If there’s no TC vote, and temperatures soar, the Council Chambers’ flip-up seats can be used as waffle irons.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Meanwhile, on June 6, Phil Murphy won New Jersey’s Democratic gubernatorial primary over more progressive opponents. Did the multimillionaire former Goldman Sachs exec basically buy that nomination?

Sincerely,
Rose on Cash

Montclair’s Planning Board could allow six-inch-wide stacks of Murphy’s money to become part of our ever-taller downtown skyline, complete with tiny rooftop bars.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
But Murphy’s a better choice than any Republican. Another local entity, the Board of Education, was scheduled to meet the evening of June 7 at the George Inness Annex. Your take on the gathering?

Sincerely,
A. Jenda

That meeting happened after this column’s 4 p.m. Wednesday deadline, but I’m sure attendees lamented school-district staff cuts. The annex lacks flip-up seats, but chair-seared pancakes could be made after Trump overheats the world.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Speaking of the BOE, what’s with the superintendent search? We’ve now had two interims in a row!

Sincerely,
Trending on Bitter

Near the end of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” the protagonist travels 30 million years into the future and witnesses a dying Earth with only one healthy sign of life: a Montclair interim superintendent.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
It’s troubling to see interim after interim because they’re not questioned by the public before they’re hired and thus their educational views aren’t necessarily known to us. Hey — what edition of “The Time Machine” did you read?


Sincerely,
The War of the Words

If Trump can lie all the time, I can make things up in novels. I love the “Jane Eyre” scene in which Jane joins Meghan Trainor at the Wellmont to sing “All About That Bass.”


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Did Ms. Eyre also stop by Hampton House to buy something before the impending demise of that 70-year-old store?

Sincerely,
Lowood and High Quality

Too expensive for Jane — as it was for me when I moved to Montclair in 1993, needed some furniture, checked out HH, couldn’t afford it, and instead constructed a sofa out of Legos.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Fibbing again! Wouldn’t it be as uncomfortable sitting on Legos as it is to contemplate the HH building’s future under its new ownership?

Sincerely,
Martin Short Hills

Wads of cash would cushion any Legos couch, but it seems I’m one of the few Jerseyans NOT to get money from Phil Murphy. Still, I feel richer after voting to reelect Montclair’s admirable state senator Nia Gill.


Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

40 COMMENTS

  1. Montclair citizens are supporting the building of housing we don’t need, at a pace four times that of the last 20 years, and the citizens want to reaffirm the Paris Accord. Seriously? Walk the talk, please.

    Just because we insist the overbuilding has to be done to green standards is not close to the definition of sustainability. We just want our money. It is really that simple.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Frank! Well said!

    My feeling is that developers, and their enablers among town officials, support the overbuilding in Montclair much more than the vast majority of residents do.

    And, yes, even if some of the new construction is “green,” the sheer mass of the overbuilding — and things like the added traffic — is hardly eco-friendly.

  3. Dave,

    I disagree. The developers and the Council are the tail on the dog. They are just the instruments of what the vast majority of taxpayers of Montclair want.

    Look at all the stakeholders behind this boom. Sadly, the Affordable Housing Commission supports it. Even the Montclair Environmental Commission fully supports this. Pretty much every stakeholder group I can think of supports it. Yes, they quibble about their share and the aesthetics, but that is mostly for show. Seriously, what is the difference between 300 and 350 new housing units at Lackawanna.

    Do the 3rd & 4th Wards really need a 65,000 state-of-the-art, big box retailer in a built-out town of a design that is the antithesis of that mindset?

    Four active development areas alone are adding 1.2MM square feet of housing and commercial space. I’m not counting the 4 others. They total 2,200 parking spaces regardless of whether they are self-drive or not. These spaces will turnover 4 times a day yielding 17,000 trips daily.

    Why? Why are we doing this? Does anyone know or even remember? But, 4 dozen people attending a Council meeting in protest is not a vast majority or reflective of one. And for the vast majority of them, it was a NIMBY issue. If this was happening in the 1st Ward, it would be 4 dozen again and the 4th Ward really would care less. Just like the 1st Ward does now.

  4. I hear you, Frank. Certainly plenty of Montclair leaders and officials support the overbuilding, but I still get the sense that MANY residents don’t want it. Perhaps some residents are grudgingly okay with some new development, but not on this scale. People who do like Montclair’s overdevelopment could include some affluent out-of-towners who want to live in the kind of pricey/”upscale” apartments and condos being built — despite those buildings being mediocre-looking at best (especially on the outside; perhaps the insides look okay) and despite those buildings being constructed as inexpensively as the developers can get away with.

  5. Well, you may take a great deal of personal pride in the fact that your attacks on a previous Superintendent along with those who had a selfish agenda that prioritized the teachers’ union over our kids resulted in our inability to find a high quality permanent Super for the capped salary level we are held to. Any potential candidate can google Montclair and they will see that it’s not worth what we will pay for the hassle they would have to deal with. Exactly like all those open positions in the Trump administration actually. There’s your comparison. Well done to you and your lot.

  6. Thanks for commenting, Jon.

    There are several reasons why some people hesitate to be a superintendent in Montclair. The salary cap, as you say. And, yes, Montclair can be a difficult town for a superintendent — with all the very smart/involved parents, the debates about education “reform” (which you alluded to), etc.

    I think people have the right to criticize things they disagree with, even as others (such as yourself) have the right to defend those things — as was the case during Penny MacCormack’s time as superintendent.

    Also, there may be some people (perhaps including some BOE members) who kind of like having an interim superintendent because, as I mentioned in the column, an interim doesn’t have to be questioned by the public before being hired.

  7. Dave, if you had as much of an impact chasing Penny MacCormack out of Montclair as some people think you did, then I have 2 words for you: THANK YOU!!!

  8. “Grudgingly” is an apt description. It implies the benefits outweighs the detriments…which leads back to my question (& answer) of why we are doing this level of development.

    Further, I think the economic impact alone is only vaguely understood beyond the “millions in revenue” the taxpayers will benefit from. Just looking at the revenue stream, the Gateway Redevelopment Plan was approved six years ago in 2011. Anticipated Centro Verde revenue this year is $800,000. Maybe we’ll see some of the hotel revenue start to come in late next year, but probably not until 2019. Seymour Street will come fully on line financially in 2022-23. Let’s say Lackawanna is expedited and kicks in by 2023-24.

    My point is two-fold. First, I think the near-term return benefit, compared to when we grudgingly accept the massing & density, is overstated vs expectations. I’m not even addressing the near-term costs. Second, up to now, there has been minimal discussion of the macro-level tabulated impact. The main focus has been on the projects individually. Early next decade “many” will likely not be here then or soon after. So, this makes me curious as to the the ‘grudgingly’ justification.

  9. Thank you, fieldingmellish! I really enjoyed your comment. 🙂

    I think my columns satirizing Penny MacCormack’s actions/policies were only a tiny part (at best) of why she left. Many people and various groups (such as Montclair Cares About Schools) had a much bigger impact than I.

    Actually, Dr. MacCormack was mostly off my column radar until she and some of the BOE of that time decided to subpoena various people during that quarterly-assessment “leak” situation. That woke me up.

  10. Frank, you bring up a great point about the benefits vs. the resulting costs of the all the new development. Yes, these massive projects will bring in some ratables/tax revenue. But the costs! Educating more students, hiring new public-safety people, updating infrastructure, the strain on water, the additional traffic, etc. And then there’s the unfortunate decreasing of diversity in Montclair.

    I’m impressed, as always, with the figures and statistics you know.

  11. I often wonder how Montclair, and it’s infrastructure (roads, schools, traffic, water, etc) somehow was able to survive and serve it’s population when it was 7,000 people more than today? How was their not mass chaos and shortfalls in services with cars brought to a complete standstill of gridlock with not the 400 extra people this project seeks to bring to town, but 7,000?

  12. I don’t why, but I had the impression you were more knowledgable about our demographic, social and development history. You should look at not only at 1970, but the period from 1910-1940.

    1. Montclair’s significant period of infrastructure work was from 1910-1930’s. There was another post-WWII round. As our piping, wells, etc. aged out of their reliable lives after 50-75-100 yrs, we put off replacing. This is a big reason why our sewer and water rates have jumped each year recently and going forward.

    2. The 3 RDA Plans (x-V&B) are putting 1,200 new residents in less than a ¼ mile bull-eye who will have to suffer the injustice of using NJ Transit train service to NYC.

    I take it we don’t need to be concerned with the impact on Bloomfield Avenue? Fine with me.

  13. I appreciate the infrastructure timeline, but my point was more to what I feel is an exaggeration of impacts on the schools and number of drivers when there were 7 thousand more residents only a few decades ago, with bigger families utilizing the school system and roads. How did 44,000 people survive only 20-30 years ago but our jump from 37,000 to 38,000 is going to overwhelm all infrastructure and property tax related services to the point of incapacitation as I have read many times in response to redevelopment proposals?

  14. Thanks for commenting, parkour!

    I think one of the problems with the current barrage of overdevelopment is that it’s so concentrated on/near Bloomfield Avenue.

    When Montclair had more people (including bigger families), that population was more spread around in the town’s many big houses.

  15. Thanks, Frank, for the additional information! And as you said, the new population is definitely going to be VERY concentrated in/near downtown. Not good.

  16. parkour,

    You are much younger than I am.

    Montclair was a strictly bedroom community. It was not integrated and relied on neighborhood schools, class sizes were bigger, and the lack of a strong union kept payroll down. HS students didn’t drive to schools because there were less cars per capita. We walked more and longer distances.

    Montclair State was a small, sleepy teachers college. Montclair Center was starting to die-off due to malls. Lackawanna was considered “blighted” – a term we rightly do not use anymore. Inner suburbs were challenged by the preferences/choices of malls & by suburban sprawl. I-78 was a ghost road…so little demand they didn’t even connect it to Newark Airport. Montclair was a great value for families for school-age children. Mothers having professional careers was a uncommon.

    But, most importantly, a lot of the additional traffic you see now is not by residents. Look at the accident records you cite and where those drivers lived. The work/play/live objective and making Montclair a destination is a much different environment than 1970.

    I am not in the camp that the school system is going to explode. I do think we are on the bubble capacity-wise and a few hundred more will challenge us as to whether we will build a new school – especially as our physical plant is not being maintained well.

    This is one area where the newer taxpayers are kinda oblivious and many don’t want to know how we got to where we are today. They call us the old guard. Fair. But, the newer residents should measure twice before, after maybe 4-6 years here, that they have figured out what makes Montclair work the way it does. Half of them don’t even know what ward they live in.

  17. “Do the 3rd & 4th Wards really need a 65,000 state-of-the-art, big box retailer in a built-out town of a design that is the antithesis of that mindset?”

    What mindset? The mindset is evolving.

  18. Thanks for commenting, stayhyphy!

    I definitely see your point, but I think the mindset that’s evolving is more the mindset of developers and some of our town’s leaders than the mindset of the majority of Montclair residents. For instance, many people who shopped at the old Pathmark would be happy to have any decent-sized supermarket there again — it wouldn’t have to be anywhere near 65,000 square feet.

  19. “I definitely see your point, but I think the mindset that’s evolving is more the mindset of developers and some of our town’s leaders than the mindset of the majority of Montclair residents. ”

    Did a “majority of montclair residents” make you their spokesman? You are making wild assumptions.

  20. Point taken, stayhyphy. I’m going by what I’ve seen at various meetings, on thousands of Facebook posts during the past few years, and elsewhere. The majority of comments (by far) are from people against the size of the various projects being proposed or built (with some of those people okay with more modest new development and others feeling that Montclair is already crowded enough for a suburb). So I extrapolated from that. I realize that’s not a totally scientific approach. 🙂

    If there’s “a silent majority” for the amount of development going on, they’ve been VERY silent.

  21. Dave,

    I must respectfully disagree. When the current Town Council (sans Hurlock) ran in 2012, they had what can only be described as a one-issue platform: develop our way to growth. The slate with which I ran had a different agenda based on trying to deliver high-quality Township services for less, and the Real Progress Montclair slate ran explicitly against the kind of development that the winning candidates promised. Montclair had a clear choice, and they chose development. Mayor Jackson is delivering exactly what he ran on, and although I do not agree with all of the decisions the Council has made, I must commend them for following through on their campaign promises. If our neighbors want to make a different choice in 2020, I suspect they will have competing visions from which to choose.

    Best,

    Jeff

  22. Thank you, Jeff! That was a really good comment.

    I agree that Mayor Jackson’s 2012 slate had a strong pro-development bent, though I don’t remember that being the only plank in its platform. That slate may have been elected partly because of its development stance, but many voters probably didn’t expect there would be this EXTREME level of development. I think another reason the slate won was because of all its experience (for whatever that’s worth) — Jackson was mayor before, Bob Russo had been mayor, etc.

    Also, if I’m remembering correctly, the development the Jackson slate discussed during the 2012 campaign was supposedly going to be around train stations. But the huge proposed “arts district” in/near Seymour Street is not especially close to a train station, Valley & Bloom (first approved during the Fried administration) is even further away, and Lackawanna Plaza is not at a (current) station, either.

    Mayor Jackson’s slate ran almost totally unopposed in 2016, so anti-overdevelopment voters didn’t have much of an option last year to try to stall the development train. The contested 3rd Ward race included a candidate rightly skeptical about downtown overbuilding, but Republicans usually don’t do well in Montclair.

    As far as development goes, I hope the town does make a different choice in the 2020 election.

  23. “As far as development goes, I hope the town does make a different choice in the 2020 election.” I should add that it might be too late or almost too late by then — with various hulking downtown projects built or in the pipeline.

  24. I figured it was Monday and went downtown tonight. It was dead. Nobody was doing business. i wasn’t surprised. However,…

    Claremont Avenue was wall to wall traffic. Bloomfield was busy, too. Why all the traffic and yet, no business. Oh, right, near mind. I feel for the 3rd & 4th Warders. You are so screwed, but so well represented. Quite the conundrum.

    PS: Yes, Dave, it is too late. ‘Might’ is just covering your authority.

    Summertime in The City.

  25. Jeff,

    I wonder why you went out of your way to segment Bill Hurlock from The Development Council.

    Have you watched his voting record? Clearly not.

  26. Frank, you brought up a great point about how the 3rd and 4th Wards are bearing the brunt of overdevelopment. Interesting that one of the few times the Planning Board said “no” to a too-big project was the Lorraine Avenue one — in the 1st Ward.

  27. Not interesting. 1st Ward is anti-development. Why? That a whole other – and interesting post. Bill, himself, said he fought back against the development tide. Bill is, if nothing else. pragmatic.

    The 3rd & 4th Ward really have no opinion about development – with a big exception being Forest Street. They get it. Unfortunately, the Council is giving it to them in spades. Otherwise, the 3rd & 4th Ward is really about the Benjamins.

  28. The 1st Ward is indeed anti-overdevelopment, Frank, but I believe many residents of the 3rd and 4th Wards are anti-overdevelopment, too. So why are huge projects being rammed through there? Perhaps it’s because 3rd and 4th Warders have less clout than 1st Warders and because building in a downtown area is a big thing these days for developers.

    If the 3rd and 4th Wards are about the Benjamins, it’s the developers building in those wards reaping the money. Most residents of those two wards are not benefiting financially from the massive projects. (I realize what I just said might be what you meant!)

  29. I don’t see it as a ward or a “clout” thing. I think that Bloomfield Avenue is just a different animal, development-wise, than the Bellevue district. Frank may disagree with me, but I think that Bellevue has managed to avoid, more or less completely, anything that would constitute the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. It retains its lower-height character, and Deputy Mayor Hurlock has worked hard to keep it that way. On Bloomfield, however, the height/density ship sailed a long time ago, and it’s hard to get as worked up about individual new projects when Valley & Bloom already sits there. “No more” is a different cry than “not here.”

    Frank, the only point I was making about the 2012 election was that Deputy Mayor Hurlock didn’t run with Mayor Jackson’s slate. He defeated the (incumbent) candidate from that slate.

  30. Jeff,

    Yes, you were making a point about a point in time 5 years ago. I was making a simple point of his voting record on development since he was elected. When you look at his record in this way, it is easy to understand why he is the Deputy Mayor.

  31. Jeff, I agree that Bloomfield Avenue is treated differently than Bellevue Avenue. But why must that be never-ending? For town officials, Valley & Bloom should have been a “no more overbuilding after this” moment rather than a “this section of Bloomfield Avenue is now overbuilt so let’s allow the rest of the street to be overbuilt” moment.

    (I realize that developers own much of the land on/near Bloomfield Avenue, but the town does have some say in what happens on that land.)

  32. First, it is not Bellevue Ave at issue, but Valley Rd in Upper Montclair where the Town’s development incentives are focused. Second, the Planning Board’s zone plan proposes the same density, heights, etc as the Lackawanna Plan. And Valley road is a quarter the capacity of Bloomfield Ave.

    That ship hasn’t sailed, but the PB is not treating Upper Montclair differently than Montclair Center. It is following the exact same strategy of pockets of ultra density. As a matter of fact, that PB amended part of the Montclair Center Eastern Gateway so that it is a lower density, etc. than U Mtc. Lastly, as I have said previously, the PB also recommended eliminating densit limits on a majority of Montclair Center parcels. Go figure.

  33. Frank, if I’m remembering right, doesn’t the latest version of the Master Plan allow for less building height in the Upper Montclair Business District than in downtown? There was talk at one point of allowing more height in/near the UMBD and Watchung Plaza, but that was beaten back somewhat by public criticism, I think. Yet public criticism hasn’t changed the downtown overbuilding bent that much. 🙁

  34. The phrase “beaten back” has now cropped-up twice this month. An interesting phrase when you think about it – and the language retained in the zone plan.

    The Lackawanna C-1 is currently zoned for 6 stories, 67’ height and a density of 55 units/acre.
    The Redevelopment Plan downsizes to 4-5 stories with a 55’-60’ maximum height, including parapet walls, corner elements, etc.

    The C-3 zone plan (the Acme lots, the non-historic part of the UMBD), allows for 5 stories, no limit on how many feet tall, and 50 units/acre. Which means a development of 109 housing units, 65,000 of commercial along with public amenities could potentially go there.

    Hopefully, “beaten back, again” will be part of our future vocabulary.

  35. Thank you for that information, Frank!

    Ha — it would indeed be nice to see overdevelopment “beaten back, again” (and again). Perhaps too militaristic a phrase on my part, as if an invasion by Cedar Grove were “beaten back” by Montclair. 🙂 I can envision the climactic battle on the crest of Bradford Avenue…

  36. And continuing on with the parallels, the adjacent (to Lackawanna) Glenrdige Ave zoning was revised to 3 stories, 37′ height and a density of 28 housing units. The U Mtc Historic district is also 3 stories with a density of 28 housing units. See how this works?

  37. Yes, if Montclair reaches and out-of-court settlement with the owner of the Lorraine Ave project, I would expect Cedar Grove to do likewise for the Bradford Ave situation. Parallels abound this morning.

  38. Thanks for the additional facts, Frank!

    When it comes to downtown overdevelopment, the Glenridge Avenue building-height limit was one of the few pieces of good news in recent years.

    The threat of lawsuits by developers who don’t get their way is probably a factor in Montclair officials caving and approving most oversized projects. I wish the town would essentially say “sue away” and hopefully put greedy developers in their place by winning the cases. Would be costly in the short run (legal fees) but wonderful for Montclair in the long run. Just a fantasy, I know…

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