Second ward councilor Cary Africk has asked the township attorney to draft a resolution to hire an outside consultant to study a project to build assisted living in downtown Montclair. He said that first ward councilor Rich Murnick has agreed to second the motion. The Planning Board gave its go-ahead to the project on Monday.
Africk, reached by phone this morning, pointed out that the firm proposing to build the new facility, Fountain Square Development, has “asked and answered their own questions” about the impact of the project on downtown Montclair, but he’d like to get someone not vested in the project to answer those same questions.
“I’d like to talk about the impact on the neighborhood,” Africk said. “I want to talk about the economics. I want to to talk about the demographics.”
Africk is concerned that the project will be so expensive that only wealthy families will be able to use the facility. And he’s also upset about the loss of 86 parking spaces that would occur. The spot is currently home to one of Steve Plofker’s private Montclair Parking lots.
Despite the planning board’s okay, the project is very controversial. One opponent is Church Street property owner and developer Dick Grabowsky. “The LAST THING we need at that location is assisted living. Whose vision is that for the Business Improvement District?” Grabowsky said in an email conversation with Martin Schwartz, Africk, planning director Janice Talley, Jerry Fried, Karen Turner, Harvey Susswein and others. “No one I know thinks this is a good idea. It is disingenuous for the seller of the property to try to convince us that the shoppers we need are the visitors to, or orderlies from, such a use. The new council should be the ONLY ONES passing decisions on this project.”
We have asked all three mayoral candidates to chime in on whether the new council should be making the decision on this project, and what they think of it.
Karen Turner says there shouldn’t be an “artificial deadline” of July 1 for the project. “If the due diligence hasn’t been completed by July 1st, then it should carry over to the new council,” she adds. “Real Progress Montclair would like to see the current town council pursue the analysis that Cary is seeking. The town needs to be sure that this project best fits the town’s long term planning objectives.”
And from Harvey Susswein:
Speaking for myself, assisted living is far from the “highest and best use” of one of the few remaining vacant properties (the old Hahne’s parking lot) adjoining our central business district. The Council should not approve assisted living as an addition to the downtown redevelopment plan simply because a developer has proposed such a project.
I know from first-hand experience that assisted living facilities are not happy places. Many of the residents have physical or mental disabilities; walkers and wheelchairs traffic the corridors. Contrary to the Virginia developer’s testimony, families visiting residents will not frequent Montclair’s bustling restaurant scene—a quiet dinner with loved ones in the facility dining room is often the path of least resistance.
Support workers at assisted living facilities have big hearts but small pocketbooks. Except for a few managers, they are not highly paid. This is not a group that will spend their off hours shopping on Church Street or nearby stores, again contrary to the developer’s testimony. The facility will contribute little to re-vitalize our downtown.
The argument has been made that the Hahne’s lot has been vacant a long time and that any new ratable is better than no ratable. It is tempting for the town to grab the short-term revenue. But we can and must do better before losing this valuable piece of downtown—particularly as the economy shows signs of recovery and other proposals are likely to come forward.
The township council should not allow the assisted living proposal to go forward.”