The Montclair Planning Board spent five hours in a special meeting on August 7 hearing final testimony for – and approving – the Seymour Street redevelopment project, which developers Pinnacle and Brookfield are developing together. The meeting capped a long and drawn-out process for the project, which seeks to create an arts-oriented district and turn the part of Seymour Street facing the Wellmont Theater into a pedestrian plaza, where special events will be held. Brookfield has already committed to sponsoring arts events at the location.
The meeting began with some intense number-crunching. Pinnacle’s Brian Stolar testified on the construction of three new parking decks, the publicly owned Midtown deck along Glenridge Avenue and two privately operated decks adjacent to the Wellmont and South Willow Street. Stolar said that studies of peak parking demand determined how the spaces would be replaced during construction of the new decks, which is expected to last for two years beginning in the late autumn of 2017. In the first phase, during the construction of the privately operated decks, a total of 247 spaces for peak parking -100 nighttime permit spaces, 85 daytime permit spaces, and metered spaces – would be in relocated to decks and lots nearby. The metered spaces would be distributed throughout the South Fullerton West and Maple Plaza lots and the North Fullerton deck.
In the second phase of parking construction beginning in the fall of 2018, during which the Midtown parking deck – the main component in adding parking – would be built, there would be 26 metered spaces, 52 daytime permit spaces, and 32 nighttime permit spaces in peak demand. The plan would be to relocate these peak spaces into the South Fullerton West lot and the newly completed South Fullerton East parking deck next to the Wellmont.
In all, 297 spaces would be displaced and ultimately replaced, but there would be 130 additional parking spaces as a result of the Midtown deck’s construction, for a total of 427 spaces when the project is completed in 2019 – 41 more than the minimum requirement. Stolar said electronic signs would be used to direct motorist to parking spaces, with help from Bloomfield Avenue merchants.
Parking consultant Nadir Naqvi of ProPark America, which will operate the Willow and South Fullerton decks, also addressed shared parking. He envisioned anywhere between 32 and 78 extra spaces during weekday evenings, with 142 available spaces in the overnight hours, with the exact number of spaces needed during the daytime on weekdays. He said that parking would be shared through people arriving for or leaving from work and leaving or coming home in the morning and evening rush hours, with the shift between professional and residential parking in the new decks occurring gradually. Valet parking would be provided in times of excess demand, such as a concert at the Wellmont, with electronic sings to direct people to nearby parking areas.
Board member Martin Schwartz was concerned about major concerts at the Wellmont driving up demand – “a perfect storm” – but Board Vice Chair Jason De Salvo noted that the additional parking at the new Midtown deck would provide a cushion with excess space that is currently unavailable. Other board members, such as Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, wanted to see ProPark America keep the new facilities clean, and she lamented the lax efforts at keeping the Bay Street deck up to snuff. Board member Carmel Loughman concurred, adding that security call boxes should be included. Naqvi made special note of their concerns. Loughman also expressed concern about the loss of 21 on-street spaces on Bloomfield Avenue for a new left-turn lane onto South Willow Street. Stolar suggested that the lane, which would have to be added by the county, could be delayed until the South Fullerton East deck was completed. He praised Loughman for thinking of something no one had considered before.
Two more witnesses testified about street alignment through striping and reconfiguring the streetscape. John Harter returned and proposed a larger loading zone along the southern side of The Crescent, next to the First Congregational Church – 55 feet over the current 15-foot zone. The church, which uses that area for buses for children, plans to relocate its bus dropoff area. David Lustberg, the streetscape architect, redesigned the sidewalk along the western side of South Willow Street to accommodate a left-turn lane onto Bloomfield Avenue, slightly narrowing the sidewalk but compensating for it by moving the lobby of the apartment building that is part of the redevelopment project back and conceding space to the sidewalk. He also showed new furniture for the plaza, with new tables and chairs, and also removable bollards along Bloomfield Avenue that could be taken out for large events. All of this would be stored after hours.
“The aftermarket for bollards is pretty light, but patio furniture is a different story,” De Salvo joked in contemplating possible theft of movable objects.
Finally, structural engineer John Harrison testified on the retaining wall, saying the new building proposed to be adjacent to it would be moved so as not to compromise the wall. He said the wall would be monitored during construction, with specific written instructions for the builders on how to proceed.
Board Chairman John Wynn said he was pleased with the changes made over the course of the testimony, and he said he believed the redevelopment of the block into an arts district would enliven a part of Montclair that hadn’t been enlivened in a while. He hoped it would bring back the activity of the time when the Wellmont was a movie theater, which he frequented with his parents for family-night movie events. After board attorney Arthur Neiss read a laundry list of conditions – Leadership in Environmental and Energy (LEED) certification, rebuilding the gas mains under Seymour Street in front of the Wellmont, prohibiting right turns out of the Willow deck onto South Willow Street from 7 AM to 9 AM on weekdays, among others, the board voted unanimously to approve the project, with Anthony Ianuale and Timothy Barr absent.
The meeting ended just before 12:45 AM, almost two hours after the board was supposed to adjourn, but the laborious task of hearing the Seymour Street application was finally done. This was also the last board meeting for Jason De Salvo, who is leaving the board for personal reasons.