The old Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse building will get a bright, modern makeover. The application review for the building came before the Montclair Planning Board last night.
Owner Michael Pavel, who rehabilitated the former Olympic clothing store on Valley Road with architect Paul Sionas, was joined again by Sionas to discuss his plans for the building. The redesign calls for large expanses of glass along the frontage to entice people who pass by in their cars and on foot, with vertical brick columns with dark colors at the base of the building and lighter colors as the columns rise higher. Sionas also included a parapet in his design to hide air conditioning units on the roof, along with brick walkways and planters on the edge of the building. He also hopes to lower the floor level, now about five steps off the ground, by about three or four steps to minimize impediments to access for the handicapped and to add to the cleaner design of the façade.
“The proposal is to make it a clean and modern-looking building,” Sionas told the board, “that we hope will attract people into the Upper Montclair Plaza. He said that Pavel could subdivide the building in the five retail spaces just as easily as he could rent it out as one space, but there are no definite plans in either direction.
“A lot of people don’t even know it’s there,” Sionas said of Upper Montclair Plaza, “but it’s got good potential.”
The building would likely house a small restaurant and several retail shops.
Planning Board Chairman John Wynn, citing the role of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), asked if the commission has any suggestions for changing the design and the materials. Sionas said that the design was set, and that the main input from the HPC would largely be concerned with colors of the material, most notably the brick in comparison with the brick used on adjacent structures and on buildings along Bellevue Avenue.
Board member Paul Rabinovitch played devil’s advocate by asking Pavel and Sionas about the possibility of a much taller building at the site, clearly referring to the proposals in the Montclair master plan draft to allow seven-story buildings in the Upper Montclair business district. Pavel said that he had considered a two-story building, which would be his personal limit, and he said such a design would theoretically have allowed offices and apartments, but he decided on the simplicity of a single-story design.
“It would not have been a difficult thing to go two stories,” he said, “but I chose to go much simpler. With the new plans for the township code for five, whatever, seven stories, I don’t think that would be for me. I hope nobody’s going to put [a seven-story building] right in the parking lot.”
A few board members asked about deliveries in back, and the potential difficulties with trucks backing in, but Warren Ross, an owner of a building nearby, told the board it wouldn’t be a big deal. He said that trucks could pull straight back, open their doors, and unload goods into the back with relative ease. The rehabilitation, which Wynn called a “promising plan,” was approved by the board.
Board Endorses Eastern Gateway Plan
Among the six council referrals the Planning Board went over was an ordinance allowing the township to go ahead with the Eastern Gateway redevelopment around Bloomfield Avenue and Pine Street. Planning Director Janice Talley explained the project as a way of “activating” the Bloomfield Avenue streetscape. The plan allows for the Montclarion apartment complex to expand along Bloomfield Avenue in an effort to enliven the northern side of the avenue all the way to Grove Street, with mixed-use development with apartments and ground-floor retail space, using designs and materials similar to what was approved for the CentroVerde project on the opposite end of Bloomfield Avenue.
“You have a fence, you have parking lots, but you don’t have any activity,” Talley said. “The intent of this plan is to provide for streetscape, street-level activity to help activate that street front.” She added that she hoped that such redevelopment would encourage some form of construction in the vacant lot along Bloomfield Avenue by Mission Street.
The plan, which includes 20 percent affordable housing set aside, would also create a trust fund that would provide open space “in close vicinity” to the Eastern Gateway. Wynn found the wording of that provision suspect, insisting that a developer would have to tear down buildings to create open space in that area. Talley conceded that any open space provided would not necessarily be included in the Eastern Gateway itself, but the creation of and funding for this open space trust fund through redevelopment of the area would provide a framework to preserve open space going forward with subsequent redevelopment plans in Montclair. Talley explained that the trust fund would ensure open space in the township “where it’s appropriate.”
The board agreed to endorse the plan. Also agreed to was an endorsement an ordinance referred by the council that makes a slight change in the CentroVerde redevelopment plan. It replaces existing language with new language stating that “All zoning and land development and land use ordinances are applicable unless specifically superceded in this Redevelopment Plan.” The board suggested adding the reference to land “use.”