In one of the longest meetings of the Montclair Township Council in recent memory – nearly four hours – as many as 30 residents spoke out at the council’s October 3 conference meeting about the dangerous conditions for pedestrians on Grove Street. The biggest concerns involved residents who lived on side streets to the east of Grove Street; one resident after another complained about how motorists made it difficult to cross. One of the biggest issues was the problem of children having to cross Grove Street to their assigned school bus stops. Heavy traffic on Grove Street has made it dangerous enough for adults to cross without children being at greater peril.
The public comment came in light of the council’s plan to consider enacting a 30-mph speed limit on both Grove Street and Valley Road, which is slated to come up at the council’s October 24 meeting. Erin Krupa, a mathematics professor at Montclair State University, said the speed limit on Grove Street should be reduced, if to at least make it easier for children to cross. Debra Kaplan said there were many close calls involving children, and she added that more enforcement of the law was necessary. Abraham Dickerson, a resident of Oxford Street, said it was all good and fine to lower the speed limit to 30 miles an hour but also suggested that traffic fines be doubled for motorists in violation during peak times at rush hour. Resident Robert Rich called for an even lower speed limit on Grove Street – 25 mph instead of 30mph – coupled aggressive ticketing to send an effective message to motorists.
David Peebler, an Oxford Street resident who was severely injured crossing Grove Street in December 2016, showed pictorial examples of how vehicles are improperly parked or stopped at the intersection of the two streets to show how difficult it is to see cars or pedestrians from behind and how difficult it is for pedestrians to see moving cars. He said the 30-mph speed limit would make little difference unless enforcement was stepped up. A Glen Ridge resident whose husband was hit by a motorist said he had been in traction and “in unimaginable pain,” requiring surgery and months of physical therapy. Her husband was a freelancer who has been unable to work and has no disability insurance. She said the person who hit her husband is the state deputy attorney general for public safety.
Mayor Robert Jackson and the council sympathized with the residents and acknowledged in no uncertain terms the need to address the problem. The mayor also concurred with Peebler that the improperly stopped or parked cars at Grove and Oxford Streets posed a safety problem. Others weighed in. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo not only endorsed more enforcement of speed limits but proposed additional signage, like the signage installed on Park Street in the early 90s, to remind motorists of the law. Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager said she would like to see a 25-mph speed limit throughout the town, and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said all such ideas be considered as part of a holistic approach to traffic calming. However, Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon cautioned against doing something for its own sake, noting that pedestrian accidents on Grove Street were caused primarily by motorists going around cars stopped for pedestrians, not by speeding.
Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Plan Goes Back To Drawing Board
Also, at the conference meeting, the Economic Development Committee reiterated for the entire council its recommendations to the Planning Board about the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza. The committee stressed the main points in redeveloping the area that they and the board agreed on the most – preserving the historic elements of the old railway terminal, open green space in front of the current Pig & Prince restaurant, and lowering the number of apartment units from 350 to 280. The committee differed with the Planning Board on some elements, such as preserving sightlines toward the site – some of them might inevitably be lost in whatever plan is adopted – and the board’s recommendation of workforce housing would be an issue for the council to decide. Mayor Jackson said there should be more conversations with the board, and that it can produce a better plan for Lackawanna Plaza to address any outstanding issues involved. Deputy Mayor Schlager, the council’s liaison to the Planning Board, said the Planning Board would appreciate the plan going back to it for further review.
One appreciative member of the public was James Cotter, a Cloverhill Place resident who has been active in ensuring that redevelopment of the nearby Lackawanna Plaza area doesn’t disturb his street. Cotte was encouraged by the proposed reduction of residential units and the inclusion of open green space, and he hoped that access to the property would be unavailable from Glenridge Avenue in order to prevent extra traffic in the nearby residential neighborhoods. Cotter also approved the idea of a new grocery in the place of the old Pathmark building on the west parcel rather than a new one on the east parcel, and he acknowledged that finding the proper supermarket tenant and providing the space would not happen overnight.
However, Cotter was frustrated by the lack of progress in the construction of the MC Hotel and feared that the Lackawanna Plaza area may be developed at a glacial pace once it’s started. Mayor Jackson said that while the same developer, Pinnacle, was involved in the major projects in town, it was not the major player. Brookfield is the major player in Seymour Street project, while Hampshire is the driving force behind the hotel and Lackawanna Plaza. He did concur with Cotter over the slow pace of construction of the MC Hotel, saying he was concerned about it and explaining the problems with the water table and the company providing the steel – though, he added, the operation management has improved. While the mayor found the pace of construction embarrassing, he hoped the resolution of the steel issue would spur it along – and made it clear that capital and resources were not problems.
“I would be very concerned if the entity that we’re both talking about were doing the actual construction,” Mayor Jackson said in an apparent reference to Pinnacle, “but that’s not the case.”