Montclair Planning Board: Plofker Plan For Diva Lounge Finalized; Watchung Parking Lot Discussed

The Montclair Planning Board

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.

Attorney Alan Trembulak testifies at a Montclair Planning Board meeting on a sign application for the property at 122 Watchung Avenue.

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 offending pipe (lower left) in the parking lot at 122 Watchung Avenue. Image courtesy of Google.

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.


  1. The boundaries of the proposed traffic study area need to be expanded because the EDC recommendation excludes the impact of the Seymour Street Redevelopment project.
    That project also includes a new 310 car Midtown Deck on upper Glenridge Ave.

    Some history. The original 2015 Council resolution approving the redevelopment area combined Seymour and Lackawanna into a single Area in Need of Redevelopment. The Council’s resolution also authorized the Planning Board to write the plan. There was no mention in the resolution of multiple plans. It actually authorized the PB to add, if appropriate, more designated lots into the plan.

    The residents that followed this process would reasonably assume that the overall traffic impact would be addressed by the Planning Board’s plan. Just because the Council later separated the Seymour & Lackawanna projects into unique plans does provide the justification to argue Seymour’s impact is outside the bounds of study. The Council has long argued a prime benefit of the Seymour redevelopment project’s proximity to the Bay Street train station, which is almost entirely outside the ½ mile Transit Village designation. So, the EDC is being inconsistent on their boundaries.

    Lastly, the Seymour site plan review clearly raised significant traffic volume issues. For the EDC to say Seymour’s impact on South Fullerton Ave, upper Glen Ridge Ave and Bloomfield Ave above N. Willow is unrelated to Lackawanna and the overall traffic volume of the combined redevelopment area is unacceptable.

  2. Re: Watching Plaza monument sign approval

    It was not mentioned, but I’m hoping the Planning Board didn’t ignore code, principle & precedent and approve uplighting of this sign.

  3. I’m struck by how much attention is being paid to the details of a parking lot, as opposed to the attention paid to the future impact of the monstrous projects being planned.

  4. Frank R. — I believe we wanted to uplight the sign…but were told there was no code requirement for it and we could not just require it. So Janice Talley is your player here for pushback because I tried to advocate for that.

    Latebloomer…you are entirely correct. Much much more time and effort have gone into the details of the Seymour Street project to try and mandate that this blends in with the area character. Further, a lot of PB and HPC time also went into to presenting alternative positions to the original Plan draft proposed Lackawanna Plaza which then stopped that original draft. Now, the Council has agreed to make those PB proposed revisions for the most part. Thank you for picking all this up, although there is nothing wrong with also trying to improve a now ugly parking lot and spending time on details with that to try and make it better to the extent we could given the applicant only came in for a sign variance.

    And fyi…the Council has now passed the Lackawanna Plan redrafting back to the PB, so I’m hopeful that the same care and due diligence which went into Seymour Street will be again applied to Lackawanna…both in addressing density, design and concept issues. Already the size of the project has been reduced for apartment totals. Will that come down more. TBD.

    Yes, I’m being intentionally blind to your real POV above…but I believe you get my point. I disagree with you. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. We have lots of empty and failing stores..they need bodies to maintain our commerical rateables. We don’t have a commercial mall area off on a highway. We have to balance all this within the downtown. We are doing that.

  5. I’m not sure I’m reading you correctly.

    I’m against uplighting of a sign. I have tried to educate the land use boards & commissions for 2 years. It was frustrating to watch the board advocate for light pollution. (Yes, chuckle here)
    Clearly, I need to be more vocal in my education efforts. It would be nice if we had an Environmental Commission to help do this. Oh well.

    The good news is that, per the ordinance {281} and that the PB did not approve uplighting, the applicant can’t uplight. Let’s see what gets executed.

    P’s: Ms Talley read Bnet, so no need to clutter her inbox.

  6. Martin, I do appreciate that there is some progress in both plans, but there is a big and mostly unaddressed issue of the longterm effects of all this overdevelopment. When I asked about the impact in future years upon roads, traffic, transportation, schools, fire, police, water, sewer, pollution and general quality of life, I was told by my councilman that some “very smart people” were working on all this behind the scenes. Is this true? Who are these people? Why am I not hearing these longterm issues being addressed? And why is so much of this development being built for unaffordable housing rather than retail? Is there affordable housing being included in these plans? I heard, maybe, there will be, but less than the legal requirement and at another location. Why?

  7. …to try and make it better to the extent we could given the applicant only came in for a sign variance.

    An interesting comment.

    The Planning Board can signal (directly in this case) that a variance is unlikely be granted until other deficiencies (cosmetic & statutory), unrelated to the applicant’s variance request, are addressed. Whether the previous property owner created the deficiency or not, the current property owner is held accountable if they want relief to another part of the code. OK, seems fair.

    Yet, if an applicant comes before a body like the Historic Preservation Commission for say a new awning, and there is an illegal sign (which there are hundreds of) or an unapproved alteration, the HPC can not similarly address it.

    The justification here is unclear, but it has been explained various ways to me. One, it is outside the bounds of the application. Another is that the who/what/when of how the deficiency arose pertains to the property owner and not the applicant – which is typically the tenant. The fact that a property owner has to give their consent on the application is not germane.

    So, if historic preservation is an zoning overlay of the zoning and land use law that empowers the Planning Board, why the different rules? Maybe we need to strengthen the Historic Preservation ordinance?

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