With the Seymour Street arts district largely behind it and an application for the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment project yet to be formally submitted, the Montclair Planning Board took it easy at its October 16 meeting, going over and passing two resolutions for previously approved projects. Both applications were represented by attorney Alan Trembulak.
The first resolution memorializes the approval for a new apartment unit wing that developer Steven Plofker is adding to the back of the old Ford dealership on Bloomfield Avenue that until recently was the Diva Lounge. The resolution bars any future effort to add stories to the original Bloomfield Avenue structure itself, but board member Anthony Ianuale was unclear as to how such a clause would be enforced. Board attorney Arthur Neiss said that the specific ban as stated in the resolution would make that clear, and Trembulak elaborated that, with the resolution on file, any future developer or building owner who wanted to redo the structure would have to go over the resolution in the municipal records and would see the restriction as worded. The band emphasizes the need to preserve the historic aspect of the original building, which Planning Director Janice Talley specified.
Board member Martin Schwartz, meanwhile, reminded Neiss that Plofker had agreed to attempt to match the architectural detail of the additions to the building with the surrounding architecture. The resolution as written noted that the walls on the north and east elevations lack such detail and should blend in with the elements of the original building, but Schwartz suggested that the resolution should also specify that the architecture of the new additions also reflect other buildings in the immediate vicinity. He said that Plofker had in fact agreed to do that. Plofker is also required to meet with the board’s revisions committee to finalize the architectural detailing.
Board member Carmel Loughman asked if the board gets a final design when they go through anything that may have changes. Talley said that if developers have to be changed before they get their building permits, they have to file final plans. “We always do a resolution compliance review of those plans that are submitted,” she told Loughman, “to make sure that they comply with the conditions of the resolution.” Schwartz added that the board’s more meticulous overview of the Seymour Street project was necessary because so much detail had been left open and not fully detailed and rendered in that case, while the Plofker project involved a much smaller area. Ianuale questioned the wisdom of requiring the architectural detail to resemble the adjacent buildings, but Schwartz explained that the Plofker design should not have to look like the other buildings, only to harmonize with them. The board passed the resolution 8-0 (board member Carole Willis and Chairman John Wynn, whose place was taken by Vice Chair Keith Brodock, were absent).
The board then turned approving a sign for the small strip storefront complex at 122 Watchung Avenue. Planning Board members, including Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, whose ward includes the property, said that the storefronts needed to be spruced up before they would consider the sign application. The application, which was heard in September, is for a monument sign at the foot of the parking lot along the sidewalk.
Trembulak, speaking for the applicants, testified that the owners of the property had met the demands of the board. The numerous eyesores – a pay phone, most of the freestanding signs relating to parking rules, poles close to the sidewalk, and hanging wires, have all been removed, and there are plans to resurface the parking lot and to restripe it with new handicapped-parking spaces, as well as add Belgian-block curbing to the edges. The applicants had also agreed to landscape two interior areas of the parking lot – the area where the sign would be and on the opposite side of the center island. The landscaping would include grass and low-growth shrubs, with native plantings. Trembulak said he could submit a landscaping plan to the board.
One issue that literally stuck out for the board was a long, thin pipe sticking out of the southwestern corner of the parking lot that appears not to be in use. Trembulak said that the applicants need to see if the pipe, which could be an oil-tank relief pipe, could be removed. If not, the pipe, which is currently capped, could be cut down closer to the surface and capped anew to make it less conspicuous.
The board was generally supportive of the applicants’ efforts to clean up the property; Deputy Mayor Schlager was particularly pleased with how the appearance of the property had been improved since the board first considered the sign. Ironically, board member Tim Barr lamented the banner placed in front of a security vehicle bearing the words “CUSTOMER PARKING ONLY” that made the property look “unfriendly” and “out of place.” Although the issue is not in the Planning Board’s purview, Trembulak said he’d speak to his clients about it. The board approved the sign 8-0.
At the end of the 40-minute meeting, Deputy Mayor Schlager, as the council’s liaison to the Planning Board, informed the board that the council voted to send the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan back to the Planning Board to handle the project. After a meeting of the council’s Economic Development committee, members of that committee will advise Talley on how to proceed on the matter.