Blog: Master Plan Will Radically Alter Montclair “Village Life”

182346_353759101424495_135364634_nLinda Cranston, co-founder of the Save Upper Montclair Facebook group, shares her views below on the Montclair Master Plan.

This post first appeared over the weekend on the new Save Montclair Facebook page.

As a 25 year Montclair resident and business owner, I have lived in both the south and north ends of town. I would like to help inform Montclair residents of key points in the 2013 Montclair Master Plan to re-zone for high rise condos all over town.


1. up to 10 story buildings in center of Bloomfield Ave and Bay Street station area; a SuperStop bus center at Bloomfield and Park

2. up to 7 stories on 100 % coverage on both sides of Upper Montclair Bellevue Ave train station parking lots and in the Valley Rd business core.

3. up to 6 stories at Walnut station.

4.up to 5 stories at Watchung Ave station and along the tracks on both sides.

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Its intent will alter forever our village life, creating “urban” centers focusing on commuting. A shuttle service will accommodate commuters going between the train stations on town streets. A SuperStop bus center will be on Bloomfield and Park Avenues. Congestion and parking problems will be exacerbated for residents and visitors. It more difficult to attract and keep businesses with less convenient parking. Many businesses will not survive major construction projects on parking lots.

Transit authorities promote the building of high rises next to train stations and station parking lots all over the country. Its called Transit Oriented Development or TODs. The intent is to revitalize downtowns and get more train passengers. As a NJ Transit official said: ” its about putting fannies in the seats”. In New Rochelle, NY some 20 years ago a major luxury high rise TOD was built. It is now low income housing.

Our mayor is a developer and says this Plan is right for Montclair.
During the July planning board meeting Mayor Jackson stated: Â “although there has been much discussion, I feel that it is a good plan with at least 90% consensus that we are going in the right direction. I would like to see this plan implemented”. During this August meeting, the Chairman of the Planning Board said that they will not spend more time for public comments or questions. This draft came out in March 2013 and there have been 2 sessions allowing for public comments and questions since then.

The Plan uses transit studies claiming the population growth to justify the need for high rises. The Planning Board’s own “Baseline Conditions” report (Dated 11/2011) this and says, according to Dept of Labor, Essex county has also lost 23455 residents from 2001 to 2009. In addition, the State of New Jersey has lost 2 congressional seats since 1980 and is expected to lose another this year.

Montclair’s population has also decreased from its 1970 peak of 44,043 to 37,699 according to the 2010 census. In 1933, Montclair’s Master Plan projected the population of 43,000 to increase to 89,500 by 1960, but it actually stayed about the same at 43,129. In addition, the “Baseline Conditions” by the Planning Board also states that in 2010 of the 15,911 total housing units in Montclair, 822 were not occupied.

For a town, the wrong development can mean more demand for already over-burdened municipal and school services as well the need for new ones.
It can cost the town more than it brings in with taxes. This Plan does not consider the impact on our town’s services: already over burdened schools, high rise fire equipment, sewer and water, traffic, preserving parks and open space and historic preservation.

According to NJ Dept of Education, during the Montclair school year of 2011/2012 it cost $18,100 per child or over $1500/month in tax revenue alone/ housing unit. Tax payers know that taxes have gone up substantially every year in the last 25 years, with the exception of one year it when it remained the same.

In addition, this Plan does not represent what town residents asked for or live here for.
NJ towns are required to develop a master plan every few decades. Part of the master plan development process is ” Visioning Workshops” to collect opinions from residents about what they want to see in the future. Montclair residents did not ask for high rise development in their vision for Montclair.

Montclair residents in these workshops voiced desires for the new Plan to include the preservation of green spaces, solutions for inadequate parking, improving traffic, preserving historic districts, adding affordable housing, improving town services and encouraging new businesses, according to the “Baseline Conditions” document.

The wrong development is irreversible. Montclair is historical and uniquely beautiful with its proximity to New York City. Each Montclair village now provides the calm and convenience of a small town. Each village neighborhood is embedded with majestic elms, oaks and maples dominating streets of stately 19th and 20th century Victorians and colonials. Residents enjoy the tranquility of these neighborhoods whether we live in them or not.

Montclair is also blessed with both Brookdale and Anderson Parks designed by Frederick L. Olmsted, the father of American Landscape Design. Neighborhoods are speckled with homes of past and present nationally recognized artists, social reformers and industrial leaders. Montclair has been a cultural and intellectual community since the 1800s.

Our elected officials need to represent our interests. THESE PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU. This Plan has to be stopped.

The Plan needs to:
Design development responsibly using unbiased studies relevant to Montclair.
Design development which provides a positive tax flow or enhances the quality of life.
Design development within current building heights in our villages which compliment and enhance existing architecture.
Improve parking, traffic and people flow to attract businesses that can thrive.
Preserve parks, open space and historical architecture so Montclair continues to be a uniquely beautiful and interesting town.

We need to tell our officials to table this Plan and do what is right.

Come to Council meetings and ask them to table this Plan. Write letters to Montclair Times, Baristanet, Watercooler and Montclair Patch. Contact Mayor Jackson and meet with your council member. Letters can go to the town municipal building at 205 Claremont Ave, 07042 and email:

Mayor Robert Jackson: is for high rises
Deputy Mayor Robert J. Russo:
At-Large Rich McMahon: is for high rises
1st Ward Councilor. Hurlock: is against high rises
2nd Ward Councilor. Robin Schlager: is against high rises
3rd Ward Councilor. Sean Spiller:
4th Ward Councilor. Renee Baskerville:

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  1. You do not live in a “village.” Upper Montclair is a suburban shopping district. “Villages” don’t have a Starbucks or a Williams-Sonoma. If Upper Montclair was a “village” there would be quaint little cottages, chickens running up and down the street, and probably only 200-300 residents.

    Stop comparing Upper Montclair to some far-off rural “village” ideal and accept that we don’t live in the country.

  2. I do not understand the premise of this plan. It will:
    – fundamentally change and compromise the town’s character and charm
    – add more commercial space when existing space is underutilized
    – attract more renters that will strain existing schools and services while contributing little in the way of property tax and revenues

    The Plan is, in short, a train wreck — and one in which the mayor has an almost comical conflict of interest. There is absolutely nothing by way of population growth or a lack of commercial capacity that suggests this is a pressing need for the community. The downside to this plan (overbuilding, straining existing service infrastructure, killing the town’s charm/appeal) vastly outweighs the projected and imaginary benefits. Montclair already has a nice blend of urban and suburban qualities. Radically shifting the town’s character to create a “mini-city” is not merely unnecessary, it’s fundamentally and irreversibly misguided.

  3. The “speckling” reference is really pretty silly. And those responsible for said “speckling” can, of course, best afford to move if conditions become unbearable (and much more “urban,” if not exactly urbane) in Montclair.

  4. Come to think of it, Ms. Cranston’s entire post above is fairly silly-sounding. Enough with the dreamy-eyed vision stuff. All this talk of “villages,” for example, it makes Montclair sound positively Hardy-esque. Which it really isn’t.

  5. Quibbling with the author’s definition of “village” misses the point. Whether your conception of a village is “Hardy-esque” or more suburban, the fact remains that the proposed Plan would shift Montclair’s landscape and character in a significant way. Other than change for change’s sake, I have yet to hear a compelling reason why this is necessary or desirable.

  6. wow44, most people agree that the masterplan is a joke and ill conceived at very best. At the same time for a town that is struggling fiscally there is few other options. Here is my suggestion, move to Summit.

  7. spork, without putting words in her mouth, I believe she means something more akin an to an urban village, which suggests mixed use zoning, a moderate to low level of development, easy access to public transit, and pedestrian friendly. No not cottages and chickens, but not 10 story high rises either.

    Like many in Montclair, I imagine she moved here for the character and would like to see the character maintained and not ruined by a mayor and council with a completely different vision. I don’t live in Montclair, but I appreciate what Montclair is, and this is not what Montclair needs.

  8. How does this Plan solve the town’s fiscal problems? Are their anchor tenants in place for the proposed commercial space? Will the residential buildings be condos whose residents contribute property taxes? Will the new additions tempt/entice new residents to jolt sluggish population growth?

    Or…will the new residents be renters whose kids crowd the schools while they don’t contribute property taxes? Will the incremental commercial space find occupants when other stores throughout town are boarding up? Will these changes make Montclair less appealing to prospective residents?

    It’s cute to tell those who question the Plan to pack up and move to Summit, but I have yet to hear anyone explain how these developments will actually solve the town’s existing problems. I could certainly be mistaken, but from my perspective it seems like a bunch of high-rises are far more likely to exacerbate our current challenges.

  9. wow44 is so right. Anyone paying any attention to what’s been happening in Bloomfield over the last decade would know to be VERY cautious about allowing such development. Montclair doesn’t need more commercial space until it can fill the exiting space it has. And unless you want to ruin your schools you better damn well make sure that any new residential development is taxed to the point where the revenues cover the real costs to the town infrastructure and the schools.

    The fact that your mayor made his living as a residential developer should be a signal for everyone to be very very skeptical of this plan.

  10. “for a town that is struggling fiscally there is few other options”

    I don’t see the upside. Literally: nobody is making a serious argument that this will address our “struggles”. Rather: it seems that significant fiscal risks are being ignored.

    We speak of traffic, for example, as a quality of life issue. And that it certainly is. But consider that our shopping districts compete with the malls. If we worsen traffic here, we degrade our districts’ abilities to compete.

    Commercial development doesn’t bring direct value to the town; sales taxes go to the state. What commercial development does do for Montclair is increase ratables. However, this must be balanced against the drop in property values for those properties in proximity to these new constructs. I read recently of Ocean City losing a lawsuit by some homeowners; the homeowners had to be compensated for their lost views when the city let dunes grow too high.

    Even if we don’t end up sued, we will suffer the loss of ratables as affected properties are subjected to value reductions. The risk factors involved include lost charming views, but congestion can play a role here as well.

    Another consideration is that we can presume that achieving NJT’s goal of “butts in the seats” will translate to more seats: either more frequent trains or longer trains. Either way, our grade crossings means that these trains will further worsen the congestion in town. More, consider the impact this increase may have in the movement of emergency vehicles.

    The proposed changes risk costing us much of what makes Montclair Montclair. It also risks significant costs that would only worsen the town’s financial situation. If we’re forced to reduce spending on infrastructure like our roads and schools, we can expect property values to drop even further, thereby accelerating movement in exactly the wrong fiscal direction.

    I see the upside for the developers. For the rest of Montclair, though, this seems a losing proposition.

    The finance industry managed to make a huge amount of money while pushing the costs onto our nation. Are we really so forgetful that we’re going to let the same sort of thing – privatized profits for developers along with socialized costs for all of us – happen here?


  11. Characterizing the MP as “a joke” or “a train wreck” is hyperbole / demagoguery.

    If it truly is the will of the people that the building heights in Upper Montclair be limited to some # of floors (5? 4?) then why not just say that? That’s an assertion that can be productively discussed, even in lowly discussion-threads such as this one.

    But the arm-sweeping dismissals of the entire thing are bizarre, especially given the fact that core components of the MP are precisely the kinds of things that people who claim to want to preserve Montclair’s character should want to see in an MP.

    As I’ve said in other contexts, it’s not as though the status quo has served Montclair well. This town is littered with buildings (and not just the usual suspects, such as the Siena, that keep being invoked here on Bnet) that are completely out of keeping with the character of the town’s best buildings, and yet those awful buildings were all approved during the period that our existing code has been in effect. Portions of the MP devoted to issues of building *form*, *character* and *relationship to the street* are so much more in line with what Montclair residents (apparently) want than the current land-use-centric codes are.

  12. @ willjames…Demagoguery?!? Thanks for giving us a demonstration of hyperbole… I’d like to think I’m not rabble rousing via emotional pleas, but simply asking questions to which I have yet to hear a fact-based answer. I never argued that Montclair doesn’t have challenges or that the status quo was a viable solution. I’m simply questioning how adding a bunch of mid and high-rise buildings will address the town’s issues. To my knowledge, we don’t have a surplus of property-tax paying residents, demand for commercial space, or disgruntled commuters who aren’t located near viable transportation options. How does adding a bunch of mid and high-rise buildings to meet non-existent demand solve our problems?

    @agideon — I agree with everything you said. Sensible and well put.

  13. The fact that population is down almost 5% since 2000 is the problem (along with the still high commercial vacancy rates). The idea is some sort of drastic spark or shock. Offer residential space to create commercial demand. I don’t see developers having problems at all renting new mid to high rises to 95% occupancy very quickly.

    I am completely against the plan and against our clown show of a mayor, but I think this is the reasoning.

  14. @wow44:

    The MP is like a flow-chart. Is there demand for more housing in Montclair? If yes, where should we build it? What should it look like? If not, do nothing.

    On the first point, it’s important to note that since 1970, as the population in Montclair has dropped, the number of *households* and number of *domiciles* has increased. And the price-spikes that followed the Midtown-direct train implementation and the price inflation that continues (albeit at a less-steep slope) are direct evidence of demand for housing in this town. I know that it only takes a few years of living here to start believing that there’s no possible way young professionals looking around all the available options within 15 miles of NYC could consider this town an attractive option, and yet they keep doing so, in droves. There is clearly demand.

    The MP specifically identifies these sorts of goals: 1.) retaining the character of our architectural profile and attempting to replicate the look and feel of our best street-scapes throughout the township; 2.) directing whatever development *does* occur toward our already-defined transit and commercial centers, and (as much as possible) away from our current single-family neighborhoods; and 3.) holding developers to a standard that is defined at least as much by the *form* and *appearance* of the building (as well as its relationship to the street) as by the *use*. This means, in shorthand, better looking buildings that accommodate mixed uses, rather than a clear separation of ugly commercial zones and pretty residential zones.

    The primary goals of the MP could still be accomplished with lower-rise development around the transit and commercial centers, and if there were more people actually *living* above or very near our commercial centers, you cannot tell me that the # of customers visiting those establishments wouldn’t increase.

  15. If these mythical droves start showing up in Montclair, it would benefit the current homeowners to have little to no new building, because more demand with the current supply equals our home values rising. willjames you are correct in that the number of customers would increase for retail businesses, but as others have said, those tax benefits go to the state not the town. Adding a whole bunch of apartments, high or low rise, will just burden our schools and services with renters and short term residents.

    I think its great that sections of the master plan are there to preserve the character that we all love. However the other sections that forecast population explosion are not that well thought out.

  16. If demand ends up outstripping supply on a consistent basis, then yes, existing homeowners will see their homes increase in value, and the value of the land that those houses are sitting on will increase, too. New buyers will come increasingly from the 1%, and less from the rest. Over time, there will be a new population of people in town for whom the taxes represent a comparatively small financial burden, and thus the tolerance for tax increases will be marginally greater. The rest of the dots more or less connect themselves.

  17. Well, WJ, you have summed it up pretty accurately….Montclair needs to “turn and churn” the residents.

    Old timers, don’t let the door hit you in the rear when you sell.

  18. Been here for a little over a year. Ive lived in 7 towns in the last 15 years. It looks to me like the plan needs more focus on maintaining character and standards while tweaking code to fill in a bit more 2-4 story mix use in transit and cultural hubs. Take a look at Lifestyle Centers being developed in middle American suburbs. They are creating what Montclair already has. And they are ridiculously successful. They are not 5-7 story urban cores. They also dont have gas stations on prime foot traffic corners. The dont have a hodgepodge of setbacks from streets. These are tweaks that need to be focused on and incentivized. It’s pleasant and efficient and progressive.

    The trouble with enhancing existing 2-4 story districts though is it doesnt offer large projects for developers and their political supporters to profit from. Who elected a developer and expected no large development? Who elected what seems to be those that oversaw the decay and mistakes of Montclair past and expected something different? This plan is a step in the right direction but is too much. Trim back the scale and focus on preservation and standards. There’s plenty to be gentrified and tweaked that will ultimately raise values and revenues. Start with shuttles that make all of Montclair a train commute home. Start by encouraging tech sector job growth to fill commercial spaces. Stop being afraid of pushing low income out with middle-upper incomers.

    The demand for Montclair as it is today plus tweaks will be huge over the next 10 years as the Brooklyn bulge seeks space to breath while raising their kids, a walkable community, good schools, character, entertainment and arts, and a reasonable commute. Montclair has a gold mine of populous sitting in Brooklyn ready to rush to this Jersey oasis. Don’t screw it up.

  19. WJ,
    See. miannarelli is making your same point. it’s extremely valid and it’s reality.
    It’s no longer about people who live here. I think we may have passed that point. Montclair is now about the people that will come. Is it attractive to them, is it a good deal to them, etc etc. I get it. It’s the social contract.
    I would just wish we would drop the “aging in place thing” and affordable housing pretense. miannarelli makes a good point in that if we just go upscale, we will all get a windfall. hopefully, we will not screw it up.

    PS: the Master Plan is 90% crap and the other 10% is a bad idea.

  20. It may be different in Montclair but, in most places, residential rental and commercial properties pay property taxes based on assessed value, like other properties. I wonder if the real basis of the above comments are simply based on prejudice against neighbors that are businesses and non-homeowners.

  21. Willjames keeps defending the MP because he says we need to preserve character and improve the design and quality of building materials in new and renovated spaces. This is the point he keeps coming back to and pointing to as the reason we need the MP. I don’t think a lot of people have a problem with this.

    However, this is not the part of the MP that is controversial. What very few people seem to support is mid-rise development in Watchung and Upper Montclair and high-rise development on Bloomfield. The majority of residents don’t seem to share the Mayor’s vision for Montclair as an urban commuter town.

  22. NJ Transit’s concept of “transit villages” uses the infrastructure already in place (trains, buses, sewer infrastructure, roads,schools etc) to increase density in well served areas. Morristown already has a large, multistory apartment building and garage alongside that train station. South Orange has extensive cluster housing alongside its station. North Brunswick is getting an office + residential + parking version.

    I’m surprised that there isn’t an RFP out already for a six story parking garage alongside the Bellevue Avenue station. With a multi-year waiting list, that would seem like a natural.

    It’s amazing that Mountain Avenue station still exists. Nearly zero parking. I expected it would be closed when the Great Notch station was closed a few years ago.

  23. Work with the existing buildings. They were mostly built in a time of excellent craftsmanship with good design and materials. New buildings could never compare with the ones already in place. Good new re development and construction today are glass skinned technological digitally designed buildings that are weaved through an enhanced existing urban setting …. look at the Highline area of NYC. The urban design plan that characterizes the Montclair landscape is the 1910 Nolan Plan, that called for an english hillside hamlet atmosphere. When re developing, work with that instead of deleting it. I fully agree with Linda Cranston.

  24. Frankgg, the problem is cost. The reinvest required is huge and the operating expense ratios are super high. These buildings command very low rates. It simply doesn’t work.

  25. New public regulations would have to be addopted for higher buildings like the Local Law 11 in NY, that requires that all buildings over 5 stories must have a structural inspection every seven years, performed by an architect or engineer. This service costs at least $20,000. now a days and the report must be filed with the building dept every seven years in order to have the cetrificate of occupancy. Repairs of deteriorating and unsafe conditions must be repaired within a year. Is anyone taking these requirements into consideration? The costs due to these public safety requirements are quite high every seven years and in addition to the high taxes, who is going to want to own these buildings?

  26. The problem with “rental vs. condo” is that in general, renters don’t really get involved with the community. They have no financially vested interest in the town or their home. They’ll be the first ones to vote for budget and tax increases since its not on their dime. You won’t see too many renters at ward or council meetings, but many irate owners/tax payers.

  27. Paolo, many people buy homes in Montclair based on their proximity to train stations. NJT would like nothing more than a string of parking decks at key stations. How will this serve our town? One of the big selling points we have for commuters is having six stations that are a short walk for many residents. If I wanted to drive to a park and ride lot everyday, I would have purchased a home in a less pricey community which would have offset the cost of having another car. Further, a large deck in Upper Montclair will mar the landscape, create horrible views for the homes in and around the park and lower property values there. It will also encourage commuters from other towns to drive and park and exacerbate an already horrible traffic situation around the Bellevue and Valley intersection. There’s already a big deck in Little Falls at MSU, another at Bay Street and brand new big honking one in Bloomfield. We don’t need to be so eager to sever NJT’s interests at the expense of our own residents.

  28. The Bloomfield parking deck is not all that big and intended mainly for the planned new Foodtown supermarket and the hoped-for new storefronts in the redeveloped downtown center.

  29. Yes – plus when the Bloomfield development is completed, most of the parking deck itself will be hidden behind the residential and commercial buildings that will surround it. However, I totally agree with Jerseygurl that a parking deck in Upper Montclair would be totally out of place and ruin the charm of the area. The reason people want to live in Upper Montclair in the first place is due to that charm. FrankGG, is that 1910 Nolan designed neighborhood on the Historic Register? If not, is there a chance it could be gotten onto it? It seems as if it ought to be eligible as a planned community setting of that era.

  30. The Nolan Plan was more of a list of illustrated recomendations for future development. I will scan the entire report and perhaps present it to the public on line or in a public venue. The Nolan Plan is what shaped the Montclair that we know today. It has to be reviewed and understood before proposing to destroy all of the good work done up to this point.

  31. jerseygurl said: “many people buy homes in Montclair based on their proximity to train stations”

    Many people in general are interested in living within a 1/2 mile of a train station. It’s an attractive option for ex-urbanites.

    That’s why the MP proposes increasing density near them.

    But whatever. The writing is on the wall, clearly.

    I’ll continue to believe, just to take one example, that if, instead of a bunch of one-story, faux-Tudor cinder-block storefronts, Watchung Plaza featured mostly 3- and 4-story mixed-use buildings (i.e., office and residential on upper floors) such as the one that currently houses Watchung Booksellers, then Watchung Plaza would be significantly *enlivened* and *improved*, not somehow ruined, by that development. Especially if such buildings could be put in the place of stuff like the corner gas station and the long-out-of-context single-family house that now is the Animal Hospital.

  32. The same size family, whether they live in an apartment or a house, use the same amount of municipal services – same fire, same police, same trash, same water, same schools.

    So, take a look at the tax roll for Montclair rental complexes with 20, 40 or 60+ units – compare them to single family homes. What will you find?

    – – Homeowners subsidize the big landlords in Montclair – –

    New developers get an even sweeter deal – they call it Payment in Lieu of Taxes.

  33. wow45barista said:

    “Homeowners subsidize the big landlords in Montclair.”

    Yeah? And every one of us living in a single-family house in Montclair is currently being subsidized by the Federal government:

    Best not to start pointing fingers about who has a “sweeter deal.” All of us in this lovely suburb are enjoying our way of life to a great extent because of government largesse, and at someone else’s expense.

    To quote Walt Kelly, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

  34. Will, I’m all for walkability and pedestrian and bike friendly neighborhoods. And walk to trains stations. I think a parking deck in Upper Montclair is antithetical to that idea, it will bring in CARS from neighboring towns. It will increase vehicular traffic, noise, etc. It will most likely mean the end of the Mountain Avenue and Montclair Heights stations. As for the MP and increasing density around stations, I’m not sure how you think that benefits current residents? Density will benefit NJT, but so far all the stats show that single family homes provide the biggest bang for every tax dollar and there has not been one study done that examines the impact more residents will have on traffic and infrastructure.

  35. @willjames:

    “if, instead of a bunch of one-story, faux-Tudor cinder-block storefronts, Watchung Plaza featured mostly 3- and 4-story mixed-use buildings (i.e., office and residential on upper floors) such as the one that currently houses Watchung Booksellers, then Watchung Plaza would be significantly *enlivened* and *improved*, not somehow ruined, by that development.”

    thanks for making this excellent point. the professions of adoration for the cesspool that is Watchung Plaza are particularly off base here.

  36. @jerseygurl:

    The stations coincide for the most part with our established commercial clusters. It is arguable that there aren’t enough people living within 1/4 mile of the Walnut Street-and-north commercial clusters to keep the businesses in those clusters humming (and the sidewalks alive with foot-traffic). Slight increases to the density profile within 1/4 mile of those clusters would help businesses stay in business, which (to me, at least) is a core component of this town’s livability.

    Since it is obvious that the multi-story ship has sailed (i.e., that component of the MP is certain to be eliminated / amended), it seems important to point out that even the sort of consistent 3- and 4-story mixed-use development that is represented by the Watchung Booksellers building would contribute to this goal of increased density. As would strategically-placed (and architecturally complementary) attached-home / townhouse developments within the 1/4 radius around our commercial clusters.

    The housing thus created would be less expensive than single-family homes, and thus would provide options for those who cannot afford a $600,000+ investment in housing. There are, in fact, benefits to current residents if this town maintains a solid inventory of achievable “middle class” housing. Those benefits should be self-evident, but if they’re not, I’m sure someone else here can enumerate them.

    Most crucially, there are real *drawbacks* if the supply of housing options in this town is constrained, and if the incentives that are in place continue to make it more attractive for a developer to do teardowns and infills in our traditional R1 zones rather than taking on the more difficult job of building things (again, like the Watchung Booksellers building) within the 1/4 radius around our train stations and commercial centers that contributes to the vitality and energy of those places.

  37. OK-while I may not agree with the master plan and what it is proposing for Montclair – can I just say, that as a long time renter here in town, with a kid who is approaching school age (and getting ready to “crowd the schools in town” WTH?!)can I just say, I pay taxes too!

    It’s part of my monthly rent-and my membership at the gym on Church St, and in every pizza I buy at Mancinni’s or bottle I pick up at Amanti, or cup of coffee I pick up at Red Eye, or the Y membership I pay for my kid’s swimming lessons (obviously crowding out some other kid’s chance at the class in the neighborhood with a town tax bill, my bad!) or meal I eat at Raymond’s or Fin or the ba-zillion other wonderful places my family shops & eats at in town.

    It’s part of every tank I fill up with at the Sononco – you all know the one -it’s across from the fire dept, which my kid (who will be burdening the local home owners kids at school in a few years) likes to point out if the engines are inside the bays or not.

    I may not pay the tens of thousands that others in town pay for the 07042 or 43, but to say my family isn’t contributing too?

    To think that my landlord doesn’t count in the property taxes for the building that I live in into my monthly rent (which has increased every year since I moved here, but I love Montclair, and I will stay here for the time being)-but this part of the argument is ridiculous.

    Yes, the plan is probably too far reaching, but let’s stop with the RENTERS ARE GOING TO RUIN US ALL mentality.

  38. “I think a parking deck in Upper Montclair is antithetical to that idea, it will bring in CARS from neighboring towns. It will increase vehicular traffic, noise, etc.”

    This is almost certainly true, but would not any additional commercial development do the same? Yet commercial development is, as I see it, the primary path by which we can increase ratables w/o also adding costs such as additional seats in the schools. As wow45barista pointed out, the cost of new families in town is the same regardless of the amount of property tax they – directly or indirectly – pay.

    This puts us in an interesting situation:
    * Commercial development is bad
    * Residential development is bad
    yet we’re somehow trying to develop our way out of our fiscal bind?


  39. Andrew,

    A simple graph showing both the CONTRACTED increases in expenses for salaries, plus some simple assumptions on increases in insurance and utilities, plus capital expense to keep up with the decaying streets, and the needed repairs to the decks, vs. revenue will show you the problem.

    Then, add in the increases we’ve been making to the employment roster, and you’ll see the tax INCREASES that will be necessary to just stay even.

    During our Council some “bragged” of “keeping” expenditures under control at $72MM. This was over a period of time where 10% of the work force, 40 people, were let go.

    Our tax rate is something over 3.25. Figure it out. How much development would you need to reverse taxes, by say 20%? You are working with hundreds of millions.

    We are not going to develop our way out of our high taxes.

  40. Implementing this proposed Master Plan would be an irreversible mistake and if my intuition is correct, it would not resolve the huge fiscal bind, but instead, it would bankrupt Montclair once and for all as a final coup de gras.

  41. Andrew,

    There’s a lot more debate about the tax-yield produced by higher-density development than you and others here are letting on. Just to take one example (and really, it is merely *one* example. There are many other relevant studies.):

    pull quote: “the tax yield per acre from a mixed-use development runs anywhere from 25 to 100 times that of low-density, single-use developments.”

    Existing buildings that this article makes me think critically about are ones such as the CVS on Valley, or that horrible concrete BoA building more or less across the street from it, or the mini-strip mall on Pine and Claremont, or really any number of one-story, commercial-only buildings that are squatting on valuable land, performing only one use-function, and (probably) dragging down the township’s tax yield per acre in the bargain. The MP points the way toward a better model: mixed-use development (with, yes, commercial on the ground floor), greater density, and, if we’re to believe the linked article above, higher tax yield.

    And really, what do any of those three buildings just mentioned above currently do to contribute to the “special character” of Montclair? Is it really such a scary prospect to imagine mixed-use buildings along the lines of the Watchung Bookseller’s current home (i.e., 3 or 4 story mixed-use) in place of them? Isn’t it possible that new mixed-use buildings in their place would make their respective blocks more pleasant places to be?

  42. This council is, in its own way, as dangerous as the last one. Nothing’s getting better – just different things are getting worse. The township has a miserable record of development and redevelopment – The Marlboro Inn was a disaster; the Haines building and the broken thing that took its place is a disaster and the corner of Bloomfield and Valley is yet another ready-to-happen disaster. Either get competent or leave things alone. Oh, yeah – try to get better informed before you vote for the next council.

  43. There seems to be consensus on standards, preservations, and filing in with 2-4s around train stations. Do that right, and you will have a progressive and booming town. Then declare your self the cultural center of NJ and multiply events like MFF throughout the year to draw in spending. Copy Brooklyn but with suburban livability. It is a layup. Don’t screw it up.

  44. “increases we’ve been making to the employment roster”

    Not that it is directly related to the issue at hand, but: why are we expanding the staff? What services are we adding to that provided by the town that requires more people?

    “How much development would you need to reverse taxes, by say 20%?”

    Let’s see…I’ve a figure of B$5.7 for our tax base after the last reassessment. If our tax rate is 3.25%, then we’re speaking of revenue of about M$185. The 2012 budget for the town is about M$71, which is consistent with my recollection that the town takes something over a third of our property taxes.

    If we want to drop taxes by 20%, then the rate needs to drop to 2.6. For us to get the same revenue, we’d need to have a tax base of about B$7.1. So we’re hoping to develop another B$1.5 of tax base? Seriously, or did I skip a digit somewhere? That’s really the plan?

    Another perspective: a mere 3% annual increase in the budget with a flat tax requires “only” M$170 in new ratables. And that’s for just one year. To get the same flat tax next year, we’d need to develop another M$176 in ratables. And so on.


  45. Andrew,

    The numbers ARE really huge. At one point I calculated we’d have to do about $700MM to drop taxes about 20%.

    The point is, again, development is not going to “save” us. Have we asked, just “WHO” benefits by development?

    Expanded staff includes an assistant to the town manager, more people in the building department, clerk’s office, and more police/fire.

    Most important, though, salary increases were approved for ALL. Why aren’t the media reporting this, with the NUMBERS?

  46. The municipal budget is $78 million, and there are 39K residents in Montclair. So, each resident should pay about $2,000 per year for their share of municipal services.

    Is the town doing a study of how many residents the MP will add, and a financial analysis of the revenue contribution per new resident?

    What about schools, is the school age population increasing or declining and what are the expected impacts of the new development?

  47. There are already way too many “fannies in the seats”. The train is packed before we even hit Glen Ridge. In fact, it should just express out from that point to NYC. There are already too many uncoordinated and distracted people driving on our roads. It’s a huge change from 20 years ago.

  48. “Why aren’t the media reporting this, with the NUMBERS?”

    Skills gap?

    Have you considered proposing to either the MT or Baristanet a regular column called something like “Montclair By The Numbers” in which you – and perhaps the occasional guest contributor – would do precisely as you ask?


  49. I don’t see more than a weak connection between the town’s financial health and any Master Plan that might be adopted. The planning function doesn’t strongly take economics into account, it focuses on other issues. And as some of the more active commenters have written above, the math doesn’t work out to build our way out of debts and high taxes; it is not like we have huge swaths of open land. Development opportunities are piecemeal, property ownership idiosyncratic, and there are so many variables and unknowns that measuring future economic impacts is an impossible task.

    Sure we need to build. Existing vacant spaces are mostly low-grade, buildings don’t last forever, uses change. If projects make no economic sense they won’t get built. This is thankfully not mainland China where government plans are quickly implemented. This Master Plan still needs to revised, and adopted, then adhered to by the Planning and Zoning Boards, which historically are generous with variances. From early comments on this draft Master Plan people seem uncomfortable with scale so no doubt whatever plan emerges will allow less scale, i.e. fewer stories. Got an opinion? Let your Councilmembers hear from you or attend a meeting.

    Ultimately it is up to private sector developers and their financiers, and to individual property owners. It is not so easy to build something and turn a profit.

  50. Any “realized” gains to the towns revenue stream are so distant with anything that is proposed in this plan to come to fruition. Every plan going forward will use this as a guideline and still need approval.

    The town is so far in debt, the returns will just go to pay for the debt service in the future.

  51. Townie,
    There is actually a closer, obvious connection than you think.
    Master Plans are about money. It is a signal to the public what local government will support and not support.
    In the present tense, Montclair is pursuing an asset sale as a lynchpin in an attempt to rein in taxes. It is really that simple. We are selling pubic land & development rights. This is the first time Montclair has actually ventured into selling air rights.
    It would be nice if the CFAC actually weighed in on this, but that is the deal they struck. Now they have to live with it.

  52. Yes, I’m saying you are on the CFAC, you have to agree with 90% of the Master Plan. No other position makes sense.

  53. The recently unearthed LenapeNet Blog reveals local concerns: “1868 Montclair Railroad Suburb Master Plan: Will Radically Alter Village Life?”
    Secondary story: “Are the new McLonghouses Too Ostentatious?”

  54. wow45barista said:

    “And every one of us living in a single-family house in Montclair is currently being subsidized by the Federal government”

    To temper your enthusiasm …

    1. That article mentions FHA loans. Do you really think that FHA loans/ Fannie and Freddie loans are going to get you a house in most of Montclair, the rougher neighborhoods expected? If so … bwa ha ha ha … you have another thought coming. Your realtor will be glad to tell you to come in with 50% down and cash in hand. Forget that.

    2. One reason that our taxes are so sky high is that we subsidize poor places in the county like Irvington, East Orange, and Newark.

    3. Ever hear of Honolulu, Las Vegas, or Atlanta? Would you call them cities? Montclair is denser than any of them. Mind you, Los Angeles is denser than Montclair.

    Anyway… the plan is a bad idea. It is clear that this mayor wants to encourage big developers. This was obvious in his campaign and has been obvious virtually ever step of the way in his tenure. That is what this costly plan is about, not any kind of logic or reason.

  55. “If projects make no economic sense they won’t get built.”

    The problem with this statement is that the “economic sense” used in it applies to the owners/developers. Their agendas may not align with that of the rest of us.

    For a ridiculously extreme example: a toxic landfill might be very profitable for the property owner. Neighbors, however, realize none of the gain yet suffer all of the effects.


  56. I think we could really use some more smashing high rise successes like the Siena! Now that project has gone wonderfully……

  57. “If projects make no economic sense they won’t get built.”

    Projects make economic sense when developers can make money on a project. If they can build high enough, if they get tax breaks….it will make economic sense to developers. This doesn’t mean they make economic sense for the town. The assisted living facility that’s going in across from the Sienna is a prime example of this. It’s in a prime downtown location and should be a mixed use property instead of a self contained facility with a PILOT. And if they fail as a for profit facility, they can go non-profit and we will forever lose the tax revenues on a large property at the corner of Church and South Park. How does this benefit us? It doesn’t.

    The master plan is basically a big green light letting Pinnacle and Plofker know they can build structures that are bigger than anything that currently exists in Montclair.

  58. As far as the “new urbanism” zealots….NYC does not subsidize Montclair single family homeowners any more than we subsidize all those multi-million dollar condos and co-ops whose owners not only reap the benefits of having tax deductible interest on their home loans but also have some long term tax abatements on their real estate taxes (something that was done to encourage development years ago).

    And I applaud the efforts to minimize sprawl, but the last time I looked we didn’t have a mega sized Wal-Mart anywhere in Montclair. We are already densely populated and we already have mixed use buildings in our business districts. Our streets and sidewalks are narrow and there isn’t much open space. Are there properties that could be put to better use once their owners decide to sell? Probably. Would a six story parking deck across from Anderson Park benefit us? I think most Upper Montclair residents would say “no”.

  59. If Upper Montclair residents declare the MP a dead letter, then they’ll likely get their way. That’s the way money and influence work (of which there is plenty in UM).

    But opponents should consider a few things:

    –First, consider the possibility that you might be throwing a baby out with the bath water. Try reading the MP document with the specifics you dislike excised. Is there anything left that strikes you as valuable or worth keeping? (For me, there is. Maybe for you, there isn’t. But at least consider the possibility that your energetic rejection of the proposed heights of hypothetical developments in Upper Montclair has led you to read the rest of the document with a jaundiced eye.)

    –Second, consider the possibility that “form based” codes actually have the potential for giving the township more leverage to keep developers’ feet to the fire.

    –Third, please acknowledge that the status quo doesn’t prevent developers from doing things that you don’t like. This is obvious on its face, since opponents of the MP keep on bringing up projects that have already been built and/or approved under our current zoning regulations.

    –Fourth, at least *consider* the possibility that you are wrong about “mythical demand.” Ask people who might be in the position to know: is there more demand for housing in Montclair than there is acceptable / affordable supply?

    –Fifth, please acknowledge that when demand exceeds supply, prices increase.

    –Sixth, please consider the possibility that, in the long term, constraining supply may result in an increasingly rapid skewing of Montclair’s population-profile toward the 1%.

    –Finally, consider that if most of the residential real estate in the township is owned by people in the 1%, there is a strong possibility that their preferences (in whichever direction) will create a dynamic that makes the tax burden *more*, not less, onerous for the long-timers. (The reasons are complicated, but this is true whether the 1% chooses to send their kids to the public schools (in which case, they’ll loudly demand more services within the school system, thus increasing its budget) or to send them to private schools (in which case they’ll see themselves as somehow “double-paying,” and they’ll do all they can to cut municipal budgets (and yes, public school budgets) as radically as they can, thus leaving the people in the middle with still-high taxes but significantly-diminished public services.)

    At least the TOD vision holds out some hope for luring in younger professionals who don’t have, or don’t yet have, children and whose position on the economic ladder is decidedly “middle.” The “village” concept, in contrast, keeps the emphasis on attracting ever-wealthier families of four (or more). You may think that that sounds just peachy, but remember that “keeping up with the Joneses” isn’t all about the decisions you make, it’s also about the company you keep.

  60. Frank, I’m on the CFAC and I disagree with most aspects of the MP.

    Thus far, our committee and its role has been limited to looking at the capital requests submitted by the various municipal departments and providing suggestions on prioritization and alternative approaches. We submitted our report to Mayor Jackson and Councilors Hurlock and Baskerville. I don’t know their plans for making the report available; I tend to think information is helpful and allows people to focus on action and solutions — and have a better appreciation for some of the very difficult decisions that have to be made.

    Going forward, I think it would be helpful to analyze Montclair’s finances in a more comprehensive way.

    As far as the MP, I agree with Jersey Gurl’s point on the assisted living facility, which is sure to make financial sense for the developers but holds the very real risk of becoming a non-profit facility that pays no taxes to the town. A good example of developer’s financial interests not being aligned with residents’ financial interests. I don’t think the plans for Watchung and Upper Montclair make sense, either financially, esthetically, or from a quality of life perspective. I do think Walnut lends itself well to the type of new buildings we’re seeing there and would like to see it continue to be a kind of cool, loft-type area with good restaurants and the farmer’s market. But not high-rise buildings. The only place I can see that 8 story buildings make sense is at the bottom of Bloomfield Avenue, where the road elevation is much lower than the western part of the road and the scale might work. I dread the thought of a 9 story Centro Verde, with limited setbacks and a large footprint.

  61. Will, for the record, I do not now, nor have I ever had children and when my husband and I first bought in the area we were “middle” and rented an apartment on Claremont Avenue in a multi-family home for $1,200 a month. As far as money and influence, I think Pinnacle and Plofker as well as Blue Wave have far more influence over the town’s affairs than wealthy UM residents.

    There are plenty of existing rentals in Montclair – almost half the population lives in a rental unit. When demand greatly outstrips supply, yes, prices will rise but we are not there at the moment and we do compete with other townships in NJ and NJ competes with the South and West which is where our population is headed. I know people who won’t move here because of the schools, crime and taxes. I think we have many issues to overcome before we worry about waiting lists for apartments in town.

    I take the new urbanism and form based code movement with a grain of salt. A lot of really smart people over the years have had great urban planning ideas that at the time seemed brilliant but wound up being disastrous. (Having HUD tear down an old Italian neighborhood and replace it with high rise apartments -projects – destroyed Newark’s vibrant first ward). I think we can look at what other towns and small cities are doing and think of how to best use those ideas for a place like Montclair, which has it’s own unique qualities and issues rather than buying the whole cookie cutter package being touted by a cadre of of urban planners as a way to save our cities and the planet. No, the entire master plan isn’t bad, but the ways in which it can impact Montclair can have many unintended negative effects that will be irreversable.

  62. Leeann,
    Noted you disagree with most aspects of the MP and I stand corrected.
    Here’s the ‘but,’ using Walnut St TOD as an example.

    The MP is taking P-Public Zone land (currently parking lots and pocket parks assets) and rezoning them to mixed use and at 20% more density than the Sienna building.
    This, as I see it, will 1) allow the anchor properties essential for the TOD development and 2) and to bank transfer development rights.

    While the Planning Board’s MP can’t and shouldn’t speak to the financial impact, I think a panel of capital finance experts weighing in on this strategy would greatly add to the discussion. Of course, such a panel would need to have the freedom to report their findings directly to both to the township and the residents.

    I understand this is not the role of the reconstituted CFAC. The CFAC is to advise the elected Council as its subordinate. The Planning Board can’t speak to the financial impact. What financial expertise source can a resident turn to understand how this strategy could play out on our capital plan and our finances overall? The Mayor has related experience, but not the financial credentials. This is the high level issue with the Master Plan.

  63. One aspect of all this talk about TOD that no one seems interested in discussing: Montclair does not own many/most of the properties. The lots are owned in total, or partially, by NJT. Shouldn’t someone be talking to them and find out what they think? We assume that they are going to leap for joy. Maybe they won’t ?

    We also have similar discussions about other privately owned properties, such as the Warner Communications building.

    Are we going to use eminent domain against NJT? And everywhere else we think “something else” should be done with the properties?

  64. Frank,

    “While the Planning Board’s MP can’t and shouldn’t speak to the financial impact, I think a panel of capital finance experts weighing in on this strategy would greatly add to the discussion. Of course, such a panel would need to have the freedom to report their findings directly to both to the township and the residents.”

    Excellent suggestion.

  65. Off Cary’s comment, I don’t believe it matters who owns property. Master plans and zoning are townwide planning tools and I believe it is irrelevant who owns the property today.

    A lot of what is eventually built in the coming years will depend on those who occupy the seats at 205 Claremont: the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adj., the Council, various staff. A Master Plan is all well and good, but when a specific proposal surfaces that deviates, what decisions will come down?

  66. The master plan is horrendous, badly conceived and even more poorly described. Someone here called Mayor Jackson a clown. Is he? What is his background? What are his interests as mayor? As a businessman? Has he done anything to improve the town? Why are the present taxpayers ignored by the mayor?

  67. I will try and keep this to the point. I am not a fan of the current MP. I say that up front however I believe a quality master plan would help our town.
    1 – Adding taller buildings, more people to our town needs to be thought out more. Saying that most people will rent but not have cars is not based in reality. I moved here 18 years ago without a car and worked in NYC. Within 3 years I had a car. Why? Short Hills Mall, grocery stores outside Montclair, etc and etc. There is no traffic study contained in the current MP. Why? Because it represents only 1 viewpoint. It is not independent but focused on only one solution and how that solution could work in Montclair. Where is a study that reflects our town first and then finding various solutions that could work? It doesn’t exist in this MP. It is like a hammer that only knows how to a specific nail.
    2 – The supposed study that says we will increase population……….there is a study done 3 – 4 years ago by Port Authority of NY/NJ that finds if an additional tunnel is built under the Hudson, the middle part of NJ will grow, not this part. Do you think this tunnel is dead? I was just in attendance at a meeting where there was deep discussion from Federal, State and etc. planning a tunnel within 10 or so years.

    My point, this MP reflects only one viewpoint. A viewpoint held and put forward with only one thought in mind. If we are going to have a new MP why not look independently at various solutions from other places, towns, studies and etc? Why not find what is best for Montclair, not what one idea reflects and how Montclair fits into it? Isn’t this like finding a great pair of shoes you like and after your purchase you find they don’t fit your feet? In our last election there were some folks who wanted to find out how other towns approached this. That might have been a better solution instead of higher buildings, more traffic and etc.

  68. Claremont makes a good point about process, in addition to JG’s.

    If it is true that a lot of the key strategies & content of the Master Plan are being widely rejected by surprised residents & stakeholders, then the process was badly flawed. As Claremont said, maybe we should try a new approach.

    Ironically, 4 days ago the NJTPA Board approved Plan2040 which replaced Plan2035. Plan2040 reduces Montclair’s Plan 2035 population growth estimate by almost a third.

  69. I hope people are taking time to express views to the mayor and their ward council member ( get the name from the town hall). That was the point of writing the article. This Plan needs to be tabled until a responsible plan is written. Our leaders have not studied what type of development will help Montclair generate positive tax flow. Financial analysts say town and school costs will be higher than revenues for many high rise buildings. Almost half of Montclair residents are renters and most of your rent is taxes so we all are in the same boat.
    These transit oriented developments have been promoted all over US to revitalize downtowns as well as get people on trains. BUT Montclair does not have an empty downtown..we have congestion and parking problems. New Rochelle, NY built a major luxury high rise next to the train some 20+ years ago and now its low income housing. Careful planning is what we need backed with accurate, relevant data.

  70. 3 to 4 story mixed-use development near transit and within 1/4 mile of current commercial centers at Walnut, Watchung, the Upper Montclair stretch on Valley is the sweet spot.

    If that were done consistently and with a strict hand placed on developers to satisfy ‘form’ and ‘street scape’ requirements so that the new buildings made their blocks have that “village” feel that currently obtains along Valley between Bellevue and Lorraine, then everybody would be happy.

    I still cannot believe that people in this town think things like that BoA building on Valley or that strip mall on Pine and Claremont are somehow desirable forms of development. And yet, they both were made possible by the status quo zoning regs here in this little ‘ol village. (Along with too-numerous-to-count shacks, cinder-block warehouses, and other blights on the surface of this otherwise attractive town.) “Form-based” codes are precisely the sort of tool that people like all of you who are coming out against the MP would want to have in order to hold developers’ feet to the fire. I truly don’t understand how you don’t see that.

    Oh, and regarding “relevant data” about density:

  71. The author of that piece is Peter Katz. “Katz was the founding executive director of the Congress for the New Urbanism and a cofounder of the Form-Based Codes Institute. ”

    New Urbanism, Form-Based Codes. Trendy movement. These might be the greatest things since sliced bread, and the article is about a fictional town and uses Sarasota and Naples as examples of real towns. I’ve been there. No thanks. There is a shift in population growth trends – the Northeast is losing and the South and West are gaining so for places like Sarasota and Naples, this may make sense. The Montclair Master Plan allows for buildings much higher than 3 -4 stories in Upper Montclair and Watchung Plaza and the developers of Centro Verde have already asked for a variance for another 2 stories making the total 8. We have much much narrower streets and sidewalks than Sarasota or Naples. Or the fictional Millville. If we build a wall of buildings that are 6 stories high we’ll have a canyon effects and traffic jams and very little sunlight on our sidewalks. South Park Street is one of the few exceptions. So before we encourage “build it and they will come”, we need to consider the consequences of what happens if they don’t come. What happens when supply far outstrips demand because people look at the all the recent shootings and the tower on Mission and read the school stats and look at the tax bills and decide to buy in another town? Then what? Where is all this demand coming from, has anyone gotten projections from realtors? What is the vacancy rate for current apartments? Are people waiting in line to buy a place in the Siena? Would Montclair residents utilize a 6 story parking deck in Upper Montclair, or would it be used by residents of Verona and Caldwell ( which happen to have very small, quaint and charming main streets)? How about we wait to see what happens with Centro Verde. WIll it be 6 or 8 stories, how will that impact that part of town, will there be high demand for apartments there and what’s the demographic of the people who’ll be moving in? We already have one huge experiment in the works in downtown and so far Upper Montclair and Watchung Plaza seem to be doing just fine without help from the Master Plan.

  72. SInce we’re on the subject of Florida. Naples is filled with wealthy retirees (mostly right wing) who play golf. On the other hand, South Beach, in Miami, has done an amazing job of preserving and restoring the existing small scale art deco architecture and is a thriving and diverse community. I’m not sure how any of this applies to Montclair, but it would be good to have Master Plan that relies less on vertical growth based on flawed projections of population growth and places a lot more emphasis on preserving and repurposing what we have. We don’t need to use Florida or a fictional town as an example. There are plenty of good, and bad, examples right here in town.

  73. Why, jerseygurl, is it relevant that according to you Naples, FL is filled with “mostly right wing” retirees? (An assertion for which you provide no sourcing.) And who says they’re predominantly wealthy, for that matter? Or that they all perforce plsy golf?

    Are you trying to say that left-wing retirees are good but their right=wing counterparts aren’t? (If so, then Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape are likely paradise on earth, unless, of course, you had some interest in wind power.) I hope not, because that’d surely be a very stupid assumption on your part.

  74. Cathar, I was merely responding to willjames, who posted a link to a article that uses Naples as an example of “attractive” density, which also claims density is the way to increase tax revenues. The population of Naples is significantly different from Montclair’s. The median age of the population is 64.2 years, and the median price of a condo is $616,467. So yes, it is largely a community of older, wealthier residents. Having integrated schools isn’t high on the priority list there.

  75. willjames the most significant aspect that you, and the rest of folks in the town involved the Master Plan development have missed, is there has been “zero” work on the financial implications of increasing our residential population. Moreover “zero” information has been put forth on the environmental negatives for Montclair under the plan.

    No one doubts that there have been plenty of instances in the past of poor development. Do you really think that anyone in their right mind thinks the “BofA building, shacks, cinderblock warehouses” and the strip mall you site are desirable? I haven’t heard anyone say that they are in favor of the status quo with regards to zoning.

    What the resounding number of residents have said is that they want to keep Montclair a suburb. They don’ want to have 24 hour activity zones with more drive by shootings. Most importantly the don’t want to give the keys to our town to developers, especially without any assurance that our taxes will not go higher.

  76. maxwell,

    I wasn’t involved in developing the Master Plan. I had nothing to do with it. My only involvement after the fact has been to comment on what I perceive to be self-undermining or knee-jerk responses to it here and elsewhere.

    The Master Plan focuses on retaining the suburban character of the town. That’s actually one of the reasons for the MP’s focus on transit-oriented development. It is meant to keep the pressure off of our traditional suburban neighborhoods, diverting developers’ efforts away from our traditional single-family-home areas, and toward places where (slightly) increased density would arguably augment the attractiveness and vitality of our commercial centers.

    The status quo is your enemy, if your goal is to preserve a “village” feel in our traditional R1 neighborhoods. *Especially* if you share frankgg’s nostalgia for the 1910 plan. McMansionism is entirely legal within existing regulations, as are a bunch of other things that the town planners in the 1920s (and the ‘greedy developers’ who built homes during that era) had the good sense to avoid. Look at the residential real-estate built since the 1930s (especially 1950-1980) in this town. So many of those homes have lackluster architectural details, are built in styles that clash with the surrounding homes and in general detract from Montclair’s ostensible “village” character.

    Just to take one example of a small thing that has a big effect on the appearance of a neighborhood: notice that most homes built here (and everywhere else) after 1950 have garages that front-face the street (instead of being tucked slightly behind the house–as they all are with the homes built before 1930). Take a hard look at the homes built with a front-facing (usually attached) garage on blocks that are mostly made up of homes built in the 1920s. Notice what those post-1950 homes do to the overall character of the block? It’s insidious–barely noticeable on one level, but unmistakeable in its overall effect, once you pay attention to it. There are several other such aspects of mid-century-and-after development that detract from the traditional appeal of Montclair’s residential blocks.

    All of this R1 development that has peppered the R1 zones in Montclair since circa 1950 has *much* more systematically undermined the “village” ideal that frankgg and Linda Cranston describe than a few apartment buildings near our commercial centers ever would.

    I know that it’s hard for anti-MP zealots to believe this, but when it comes to making sure that no tear-down, infill or gut-renovation be allowed to diminish the attractiveness and livability of an R1 block, form-based codes are a powerful tool to accomplish that goal. They actually hearken *back* to ideals like the 1910 plan and to the traditional architectural elements that have stood the test of time and that still largely define the ‘character’ of Montclair’s residential buildings. Form-based code is at heart an old-fashioned, preservationist-oriented idea (that’s why so many uber-trendy architects hate it with a passion; it’s too ‘traditionalist’ for them).

    Regarding the height-horror expressed by many commenters here and elsewhere, why you all don’t use the MP *against* itself to secure a restriction on building heights within certain zones is beyond me. That would be a savvy bit of political activism right there.

    Mixed-use buildings of 3 or 4 stories clustered within current commercial zones and near train stations, with strict requirements regarding the appearance and function of architectural elements and a consistent approach to the street-scape is the sweet spot, clearly. If we had a more blocks that look and feel like the one on Valley between Bellevue and Lorraine strategically located throughout town, I sincerely doubt there’d be a hue and cry of complaint from a “resounding number of residents.”

  77. @maxwellsmart:

    “They don’ want to have 24 hour activity zones with more drive by shootings”

    —what page of the MP is that on? i must have missed it…

    there is so much to criticize in the doc—why do the carpers feel they need to embellish their arguments with nonsense that undercuts their stance?

  78. willjames, points well taken. It seems to me that a desirable suburbs from Scarsdale to Larchmont to Forest Hills Gardens ( although itself no longer a suburb ) were able to develop attractive, viable areas of structures often up to 6 stories ( with some features higher) right around their train stations back in the 1920s and 1930s. We should be able to do this now as well, or at least have an excellent reason why can’t. The area immediately around the LIRR in Forest Hills is a great example:


  79. willjames like those in government you failed to even try address the most important issue with regard to the plan – the financial ramifications of allowing a significant increase in the town population. I know its hard to address when it has not been studied.

  80. maxwell:

    You use the phrase “allowing a significant increase in the town population” as if the town wouldn’t be doing such a thing otherwise. But of course that’s really not something that the town has control over. The birth-rate in town could suddenly spike, for instance. Or, larger families could buy the single-family homes in our existing inventory that are currently owned by empty-nesters. Lots of variables that are outside of the township’s control could play a part in one direction or another (as it is now, the population of Montclair has fallen from its peak in 1970 even as the number of *households* has markedly increased. That’s because the families occupying all those new domiciles (including apartments) are now smaller than Montclair families were in 1970).

    Here’s the thing: if the town rejects the MP, developers are *still* going to infill, teardown, and so on, increasing the number of single-family residences in town. They’ll meet the demand any way they can. And any single-family residence they build is going to be marketed and sold to families with school-age kids, and nearly all of those homes will be purchased by those sorts of families.

    If development is tilted toward clusters around commercial centers and transit, however, you have better odds of attracting *childless* buyers of the resulting apartments and town homes. Empty-nesters, single professionals, childless couples, etc.

    It’s important to note that the NJTPA Plan, which contains the estimated population increase # that as others have pointed out has now been revised downward, estimates a population increase per year of one-half of one percent. That puts us at 43,150 by 2040–still 893 people less than Montclair’s population high of 44,043 in 1970. At a one-half of one percent increase per year, you’re looking at 188 new people in year one (approximately 47 of them under age 18), 189 new people in year two (still ~47 of them under age 18), etc. Whether or not that represents a “significant increase in the town population” is I guess a question for debate.

  81. Spiro, that’s a lovely photo. I love Forest Hills. And that picture of Naples is nice too, despite the Disney-like fake pink stucco buildings. However, notice the swaths of open space in front of and around those structures. We don’t have that in Upper Montclair. Maybe Watchung, which has that nice open area in front of the stores would not feel claustrophobic with a 6 story building. It’s not as easy as saying look how nice Forest Hills looks. Even the renderings of the Centro Verde building with the nice park across the street have a forced perspective and leave out all the other currently existing buildings which give a false impression of how much airspace there will actually be.

  82. JG, I must have hit the wrong link, I thought I had delivered three shots of Forest Hills Gardens, not Naples. You are right about the open space, though. The spaces ( size and quality ) created between the buildings are as critical as the buildings themselves. My main point was that height alone is not something to be feared. It turns out, as you noted, that Grosvenor Attebury and Frederick Law Olmstead Jr handled Forest Hills Gardens in a way that is pleasing to the eye. These structures are, however, clustered around the train station, and the concept was strong then, and strong now. Another great feature in Forest Hills Gardens is the modulation from this plaza to the outlaying streets. As the streets fan out, low density takes over. The transition works very well.

  83. “It is meant to keep the pressure off of our traditional suburban neighborhoods, diverting developers’ efforts away from our traditional single-family-home areas, and toward places where (slightly) increased density would arguably augment the attractiveness and vitality of our commercial centers.”

    I think I understand what you’re trying to say, but this sounds like giving in to a “protection racket”. Why can’t we, as a town, keep “developers’ efforts away from our traditional single-family-home areas” w/o having to pay them off with another type of development we also don’t wish to see?


  84. Or Andrew, to say out differently, is Mayor Jackson and the Town council not simply selling the the town to developers. What is their real (private?) interest?

  85. willjames There are several statements with I disagree with you or see flaws in logic. That is life.

    But to get to the point – the town has significant control over residential growth. That is one of the reasons master plans are developed in the first place. As for master plan in general, nobody is saying not to have a master plan or that current one shouldn’t be replaced.

    I revert back to the key point of my initial post. There has been no examination of the financial implications of the Master Plan. You like the town are placing a bet that “the odds” in your favor. I don’t think the town should be placing bets. The work which is really essential so we don’t have to take bets has not been done. I would be calling for a financial analysis of the any proposed plan even if I agreed with every aspect of the plan. Not to have a financial component included is irresponsible.

  86. “Grosvenor Attebury and Frederick Law Olmstead Jr handled Forest Hills Gardens in a way that is pleasing to the eye. ”

    Is there an Olmstead IV around to do this? Does anyone have any faith that our local developers can handle Montclair in such a timeless manner or do we all think that we will be dealing with more Sienna’s with cheap build quality and irate residents?

    My issue is that the roads – which currently are in poor condition in much of the town – will be awful around these train station buildings b/c you will likley have some sort of pay parking situation and then residents who drive and commuters coming to the station will make these places more congested. These are areas with already bad traffic. just b/c you buy an apartment near a train station doesn’t mean you won’t own a car and doesn’t mean that both spouses or the owner will necessarily take the train and not drive.

  87. Sure; go for it–demand a financial component.

    Whoever ends up doing said analysis, I hope that they apply the “tax yield per acre” standard to determine the ‘revenue’ side of the ledger:

    (The other side of the ledger–the ‘cost’ side–should be easy enough to calculate, using the NJTPA #s. If we add people to this town at the rate projected, and if those people break into the proportions that currently apply, then we’ll be adding 45 to 50 more school-age kids to the student population over the next ten years than we otherwise would have. These costs are the bulk of the fiscal burden on the town, right? The other infrastructure and service costs are marginally more expensive, but not significantly.)

  88. Maybe there are no longer developers of the talent and vision of Olmstead and Attebury walking amongst us. If that’s the case–if we can’t trust the developers to have the right vision–then it seems essential for the township to have its own vision. One that holds developers, no matter where they build, to a whole host of context-appropriate standards that aim at harmony with the existing built environment. Right now, we don’t have that.

    To get a sense of the level of detail form-based codes get into, check out any of the examples found here:

  89. will, Katz’s example is based on Sarasota and compares big box store and malls on the outskirts of town compared to revenues of taller buildings, looks like about 15 stories, in an urban area. (Is there anyone you can quote other than Katz?) At the low end, Montclair doesn’t have the kind of sprawl that yields low tax per acreage, we don’t have big box stores or malls in town. At the other end, we don’t want 15 story buildings. Also, Sarasota is not Montclair. Not even close. Here’s something to think about, the last time a study was done here, single family homes were shown to provide more bang for the tax dollar than multi-family residences.

    We already have the Sienna, which is much larger that a 3-4 story building. I’m sure someone can extrapolate the numbers based on revenues collected and the demographic make up of the residents there.

  90. “Maybe there are no longer developers of the talent and vision of Olmstead and Attebury walking amongst us. If that’s the case–if we can’t trust the developers to have the right vision–then it seems essential for the township to have its own vision.”

    Wells said, willjames. You clearly present the case for regulation of the unbridled greed that motivates the private sector, apparently less of an issue in the days of Olmstead and Attebury. But you are wrong about one thing, willjames. Talented and visionary people are out there – young ones, with great ideas, and older ones, who can harness their skills and enthusiasm – but their vision for a better environment are too often squelched by smiley bankers in nice suits with sourpuss underwriters clustered on their shoulders like turkey vultures. Even the bankers I know admit this much.

  91. jerseygurl,

    The point of my referring to this study isn’t to say that Sarasota is in any way parallel to Montclair. The *only* point is to introduce the notion of “tax yield per acre” into the discussion, which seems to be original to Katz. It seems to me a very important tool (among several available tools) for determining the relative appeal of different types of development. You don’t need box stores to compare to. A single-story strip mall with three storefronts (such as the one on Pine and Claremont) and a huge parking lot is probably giving the township some pretty poor returns in terms of “tax yield per acre,” for example.

    In other discussions about the MP, the Bellaire House at 530 Valley Road has been mentioned. That building occupies 3.5 acres. It has fifty apartments in it. (It is also, incidentally, 7 stories tall and stands very near Anderson Park.) The tax revenues from that property last year were $390,000. That’s an average of $7,800 per unit. I’m not going to do the research, but I bet if someone were to check the demographics of this building, there wouldn’t be that many school-age children to account for in the “cost” column.

    Turning to the ‘tax yield per acre’ mechanism, the yield on the Bellaire is $108,333 per acre per year. How does that compare with the “average” Montclair single-family home? Well, mine is pretty much right there at the tip of the bell curve: it’s a basic center-hall colonial sitting on .16 acre. My yearly property taxes are $17,000. That comes out to a tax-yield per acre of $106,250. So, only a little bit lower than the Bellaire, right?

    Thing is, I’ve got two school-age kids. And most of my neighbors do, too. So, if you took a random 3.5-acre chunk of my neighborhood and calculated the costs (the # school age kids times the $16,000 or so it takes to educate each one) versus the tax revenues from the 20 or so properties within that 3.5 acre area, the net tax yield per acre from my neighborhood would likely be *much* lower than the Bellaire.

    Finally, just for fun, how does the Bellaire compare to those big houses on the hill? Well, compared to one of the biggest–the former Strahan house–which pays $106,000 in yearly taxes and sits on 2.3 acres, both the Bellaire House and your average 4BR Montclair center-hall colonial have *much* better tax-yields per acre. The Strahan house hovers around the $46,000 tax-yield per acre mark: $60,000 lower tax-yield per acre than your average Montclair center-hall or the Bellaire.

  92. Tax yield per acre is a farcical metric. It strives for land optimization which means setbacks are its enemy.

    PS: Architects lose money on setbacks & landscaping.

  93. Frank R,

    No single metric should be used to analyze the financial impact of various types of development, obviously. But for dollar-and-cents types who bang the drum about how much new development will “cost” the township, it’s a useful corrective.

    Re: setbacks and all the other provisions that cost developers money: I know that, obviously. And I believe that we should implement form-based codes precisely because I want the township to be more serious about costing developers money in order to get the sort of built environment we would all enjoy, rather than what the status quo has given us.

  94. The assumption that all single family homes have children in schools is flawed. I don’t, half my neighbors are empty nesters and the few people I know living on Upper Mountain Ave. send their kids to private schools. There is nothing wrong with form based codes, there is plenty wrong with many of the assumptions made in the MP that have been based on demographic trends. The conclusion to every trend is more apartments. As you point out, a seven story building may not net much more in revenues than a single family home with no children. The real issue is not form based codes or a master plan, it’s that this MP allows for buildings much higher than anything we have in town and in neighborhoods that have historic designations. The MP ignores the fact that there is also value in preserving charm and open space in a town that is already densely populated and already has a a lot of mixed use and multi-family units in comparison to other towns. People pay a premium for charm which is one of the reasons our property values remain high. And a lot of us don’t believe we’re going to develop our way out of our tax burden.

  95. WJ,
    First, I’ve actually never, ever seen Montclair Township present a development financial analysis. The Redevelopment/Rehabilitation Plans don’t have them. Hell, they don’t even make a distinction between commercial and mixed use zoning. Have you seen one from Montclair Township?
    Second, we have had ample opportunity over the last 30 years to develop design standards analogous to form based codes – or just follow the ones we have. Again, the Areas in Need of Redevelopment/Rehabilitation Plans were the logical places to insert them. Even the Montclair Historical Preservation Commission only has design “guidelines” for 2 of the 4 historic districts…and neither the Planning Board or the Council follow them anyway. For example, we have had an ordinance against internally illuminated signs for decades, yet a previous Council went ahead and approved one for the Municipal Building.
    We had setback requirements established for both Sienna and Centro Verde that the Councils disregarded. We have blank full facades on both Sienna & CV. Again, standards were overridden.
    The list goes on…and I suspect you are aware of these and many more.
    Third, I requested 7 years ago the Township just explore the concept of Neighbor Conservation Districts or insert a little wording into the MP exam. I was told straight out they were unworkable and also, as an zoning overlay, required the State to amend NJ Land Use Law.
    Fourth, I have been asking for light pollution wording in the current MP draft. Just wording recognizing it is an issue and to get it on the Township’s radar screen. Light pollution directly affects streetscape quality. Do you think anyone will even talk about it. The HPC – nope. The Environmental Commission – nope.
    Fifth, we don’t even have proper maps of Montclair. The Zoning Board didn’t even know it was ruling on an application within a historic district. The current Master Plan has so many mapping mistakes it is no longer worth pointing them out.
    So, while form based codes may offer opportunities at some distant point in the future, they can not be used as a justification in protecting Montclair’s aesthetics under this draft’s development vision.

  96. PS:
    On the process mechanics of developing form based codes, what body of government is going to develop these standards? I have read the Planning Board’s limited design standards and they don’t give me the warm fuzzes. If I recall correctly, they were created under an administrative procedure without public comment. I also don’t think it will be the Zoning or Planning Boards unless NJ changes it land use law. That leaves the Council. Admittedly, they have become the biggest development approval body (based on square footage), but none of the Councils have shown an interest in codifying standards nor do I think they have the wherewithal to do this.
    How do you envision the process?

  97. Agree with Jerseygirl: Montclair cannot develop its way out of debt. It is that simple. And tor this reason alone, the MP is complete nonsense.

  98. “complete nonsense” = overstating the case.

    (And by the way, I don’t believe that the MP actually says anything about Montclair “develop[ing] its way out of debt.” That’s something that people have projected *onto* the MP because of the impression that Mayor Jackson left with people during his campaign. But the MP was in process long before Jackson became mayor, right?)

    To the two Franks: I hope that I meet you someday. Your sense of Montclair’s history, your concern for its future, and your knowledge of local and state government are all clearly on display here, and it would be instructive, I’m sure, to talk with you in person. I actually believe we share some concerns. It’s just that I believe (perhaps wrongly) that the MP could actually be a useful tool for preserving attractive aspects of the town, whereas I guess you believe that no part of the plan would or could play that role.

    Anyway, thanks for the interesting dialogue about this issue.

  99. Yes, one day we should meet. I think a major difference between us is your support of form based codes.
    I believe A master plan (vs the MP) is a useful tool. This draft is really, really bad (like 90% bad)…and I don’t think I have onerous standards.

    For instance, in today’s Mtc Times, the Mayor speaks of the Upper Montclair A&P as one of the likely half dozen Sienna-like development sites in town. The A&P property isn’t even a part of the MP TOD/Transect discussion in the MP draft. Yet, it was the blatantly obvious property to develop. It was left out, because it was not in the TOD’s ¼ mile circumference.

    The impact of Montclair State was atrociously ignored in the MP draft. Kinda hard to miss MSU…especially if you have been the beneficiary of the traffic at rush hours and in the evening.

    The issues go on.

  100. HUD has not really been that successful in the past in dealing with urban issues. And the new urbanism movement is already 20 + years old and how much fake pink and beige stucco can we look at? I would think in a “progressive” town like Montclair, we could lead the charge for innovative planning, and move beyond the cookie cutter form based code plans that have turned downtowns into into giant open malls. Here’s a good article – I think repurposing what exists and thinking about the town as “our” town and what it needs to succeed might be a better approach.

  101. JG, Fake stucco is usually horrible to look at, but recent energy code changes will require extra insulation on commercial buildings, which will often mean exterior foam panels over the sheathing, finished into eye candy of one form or another. Beauty vs energy conservation. Tough call. Only the pros will master this one… I agree, though, JG, malls in one form or another is the new American aesthetic. Everything from hospitals to airports to museums have been turned into shopping corridors.

  102. Having a Master Plan that only considers developers by re-zoning for more commercial space and high rise buildings without consideration for aesthetics and architecture (not to mention realistic demographic, traffic and resource needs) is a recipe for cheap drab buildings that will soon degenerate into low-income housing and neighborhoods. Mayor Jackson and his Town Council are well on their way.

    Montclair in no way needs the “development” Mayor Jackson touts. Montclair needs a clear policy of preservation and restoration, a policy that emphasizes the re-development of existing historical structures and commercial spaces that have become degenerate or abandoned.

  103. I totally agree idratherbeat63. The fate of the Christopher Columbus Homes comes to mind….cheap drab buildings that soon degenerated. Before suffocating Montclair Center with hugh cheap housing blocks…..fix the existing buildings that already have an inherent value…at least to the townscape. I wouldnt mind seeing some technological glass spire towers go up (maybe limited to four …per square mile)…if only a correct Master Plan were in place from capable planners, with correct enforcement from a capable local government.

  104. frank you are like a broken record. Most of the existing buildings are dated to the point that further investement in them (given current market rents for that space) is not at all economically viable.

    Why don’t you buy a handfule of them and rehab them if it’s a good trade?

  105. JG, that link you provided confirms for me that you don’t really know what you’re reacting to. If you read Goltsman’s and Iacofano’s book, THE INCLUSIVE CITY (it’s available for download online; I’ve now read about 40 pages of it), you’ll see very little there that somehow contradicts or points in a radically new direction from the document that Group Melvin Design produced (i.e., our current Master Plan).

    The only thing that the authors are asserting is that there should be even *more* expensive provisions for accessibility, affordability and quality-of-life enhancements (such as linked green pathways that allow cyclists and runners to traverse our park system as a chain) that complement TOD and targeted-density development. In other words, they aren’t saying that smart-growth advocates are wrong. Instead, they’re making an appeal to have their concerns incorporated into the smart-growth mindset.

    The “Inclusive City” folks would have created a document more or less like the one that you’re claiming is crap, except it would have the additional virtue of more sweeping progressive rhetoric and some additional recommendations regarding accessibility. Is that what you’re advocating? If so, bring it on!

  106. I would tend to agree with willjames that, based on the summary points, the strategies are more derivative than new thinking. I did like the emphasis on the holistic planning versus the more typical component approach to land use.

    WL, you might be interested in this site – particularly the Best Practices section. I think it points out the challenges to the circulation aspects related to the land use vision in this MP draft.

  107. The mayor is a developer. That’s pretty much why we’ve been presented with this grandiose and wildly unworkable plan. That pretty much explains it. Moreover, the population is so diverse, polarized, and given to fantasies of social engineering that none of this will thankfully be implemented.

  108. I don’t know how any kind of a plan could ever get implemented around here. People seem to relish being against whatever is going. I’ve been no big fan of Jackson’s but I have to say that the plan seems reasonable to me, at least as something to work from. Talk about it being a train wreck and ruining Montclair’s character reminds me of the tea-party Republicans trying to defund Obamacare, but it’s even more unsavory to hear that kind of horse puckey from neighbors.

  109. You had me convinced, deadeye, within your well written post, when you addressed the diverse nature of Montclairians. I almost signed up to vote GOP based on your erudition. After all, I work hard, and believe in just desserts , just like you. Then you couldn’t help yourself, and spewed out some vacuum-packed blather regarding “social engineering”. WTF, deadeye? You couldn’t close the deal, and you and your pals will remain in the shadows. Best regards.

  110. walleroo, you sound a bit like someone defeated by something less than him/herself and surrendering to the “good enough” knowing full well there is little good and little enough. Maybe the Master Plan is not a train wreck, just a train wreck waiting to happen. Cheap high rise buildings, parking towers, congested traffic in boarded-up shopping centers, higher taxes, higher school enrollments, more debt, and developers laughing all the way to the next town wanting to annex to Newark.

    You might have a bit more respect, if not understanding, for the legitimate protests from your neighbors.

    Spiro T. Quayle, Deadeye has a legitimate point about a town so full of itself about diversity that it has to express it over and over again in the dead and empty terminology of racism. Some people seem to want to paint their neighborhoods in the same colors they paint their kitchens. It is absurdly self-serving and self-deceptive.

    Of course the Master Plan is “wildly unworkable.” It does, however, work in the interests of cheap developers.

    Has anyone made an inventory of the number of empty or abandoned homes, apartments, offices and commercial properties in Montclair? stayhyphy misses the point: If the demands the Mayor and Town Council claim are real in support of their Magic Plan, then indeed the existing under-used infrastructure will find a new life, a new and improved life. It can at times cost more to preserve and restore, but those are upfront costs (for developers) that pay dividends (for taxpayers) down the road. Giving in to the whims of fly-by-night developers will have huge costs in the long term (costs the taxpayer will have to carry while the developers are retired on a gold course in Florida). Hasn’t Montclair seen enough of cheap development already?

  111. Hasn’t Montclair seen enough of cheap development already? ….and why is this being allowed to happen? Why do these mistakes have to be built into three dimentions?

  112. I might add to your point, frankgg. The worst of these designs look two-dimensional, even when built to the third dimension.

  113. “the dead and empty terminology of racism”

    —a shiny quarter to the first person who can explain what that turn of phrase means…

    I’m surprised that deadeye is against the Master Plan. usually when the word “Master” is involved, he’s a big supporter…

  114. Cunningham, shouldn’t you be hanging out at Arnold’s with Ralph Malph and Potsie?

    Barring that, who appointed you the chief arbiter of who uses racist rhetoric and who doesn’t on this site? Stop judging by your rather narrow standards that others approach Klansmanship or aspire to be local Gauleiters.

    And go to Corrado’s sometime soon. The shoppers and the clerks and the sheer variety of “ethnic” merchandise from so many places (places and goods and tongues and garb not at all represented in dear, “diverse” Monclair, I should add), you may well find it all positively bracing.

  115. Instead of a cookie cutter, one size fits all approach to development, it would be worth our while to have more public input, concentrate development within a scale appropriate to our town and start with our real “urban core”. This isn’t a big city, it’s an old, dense inner core suburb with a couple of charming business districts that are already a successful, albeit small, mix of businesses, apartments and multi and single family homes. Our downtown “core”, around the Bay Street station would be a good place to begin smarter development. There’s already a hub station with a parking deck, Lackawana Plaza is prime for repurposing (why not add a story on top of that, why not an office floor on top of the parking deck?) and it makes more sense to put taller buildings at the eastern end of Bloomfield Avenue, at the bottom of the hill. And we do need safer green spaces, recreation areas and public gathering spaces in that part of town, where our our poorest residents live. And where crime is a real problem. Let’s fix the part that isn’t working first, let’s do it in a way that benefits residents and not just developers. We never hold their feet to the fire, despite existing zoning laws. I don’t see how getting rid of of the A&P on Valley Road that services the older residents in the apartments on either side, as well as people in that neighborhood, benefits people who really don’t have cars and get around much. A parking deck in Upper Montclair will just bring in drivers from other towns. Centro Verde will be a bigger Sienna, a big wall of pink structure. Watchung Plaza seems to be doing fine. The areas around the Bay and Walnut Street stations should be the key areas of focus. Of course now I’ll be accused of NIMBYism by wanting to focus smaller scale development in our downtown.

  116. Haddonfield, NJ is the first NJ community to adopt form-based code. It’s a lovely, preservation-minded town. The citizens of Haddonfield chose to implement a form-based system for their non-residential districts. Skeptics of FBC might consider why it is that the good people of Haddonfield, as historically-minded as frankgg and as fond of “village” life as Linda Cranston (and arguably *very* successful in keeping their town charming even as it modernizes) chose FBC as the coding regime for their non-residential zones.

    Here’s the Haddonfield code, in case anyone is curious:

    And here’s one of the early draft documents that set the master plan revision / code change into motion:

    Now, it’s true that Haddonfield has set height limits at 3 stories. But note that the percentage of Haddonfield overall that contains low-rise mixed-use residential / office / commercial buildings is comparably much higher than Montclair. If you take a tour around Haddonfield in your car, or virtually on Google Streetview (nearly the whole town is featured), what you see is that the overall effect is of a small town with a vibrant street scape for many more blocks than is the case in, say, Upper Montclair. In other words, in its way, the “form” that Haddonfield has chosen for its non-residential zones is a variety of targeted higher-density development.

    Imagine a future Montclair that has in the 07043 zip code a more consistent and extensive web of blocks that look like our current mixed-use block on Valley Road between Bellevue and Lorraine. I.e., something that looks like Haddonfield’s shopping district. Imagine the same for Watchung Plaza (on the borderline between 07042 and 07043). You’d be hard pressed to characterize the result as somehow a diminution of Montclair’s supposed “special” character.

  117. JG,

    About the A&P. Speaking hypothetically, of course, since the property isn’t available anyway, but just for the sake of argument, if the entire stretch of that property were available and vacant, that lot would be a *prime* candidate for a stretch of buildings that could mimic (and thus extend, in a way) the attractive stretch of Valley just to its north.

    Imagine, just as one possibility, if the parking lot and strip mall were replaced by a stretch of six or so buildings that looked (in their architectural “signature”) something like this:

    They could be set back from the street in a manner that encourages pedestrian traffic along the sidewalk (i.e., no farther back than businesses along Church Street), parking could be provided behind the buildings (as it is up the street). Two or three of the buildings could be built to accommodate a larger retail space (for example, a compact grocery) that spans the first floor beneath them.

    As it is currently, the front-facing parking lot and the strip-mall nature of this complex of buildings is a major detraction from the “special character” of Montclair. But because it is a part of the existing landscape, rather than something new that a developer is proposing, it seems to get a pass. It shouldn’t.

  118. Three stories is the key difference in Haddonfield. Replacing the A&P on Vally with a Sienna or putting a six story parking deck across from a park would not be possible in Haddonfield. Neither would an eight story Centro Verde.

  119. willjames- Cute white cornices and overbearing black marquees are a lousy combo, and neither do anything to hide the fact that the building in that link is otherwise just another ugly mustard colored box with bad proportions. Fortunately there are better examples out there, which I am sure you are aware of, based on your obvious familiarity with the subject of redevelopment. I’d rather keep the A&P, as non-descript as it is. At least it’s not phony looking.

  120. Spiro:

    Fine; just imagine a series of buildings that echo the look and feel of the block between Bellevue and Loraine just to the north. Does that satisfy your aesthetic standards?

    And by the way, the problems with a building complex like the A&P strip mall aren’t just aesthetic. The influence that such a space has on the flow of people and vehicles around it can determine whether or not anyone ever chooses to walk in and around the immediate vicinity. If there’s no pedestrian traffic, then the neighborhood around the building has become, by definition, car-centric and car-dependent.

  121. Interesting. We’re talking about walkability and then in the same sentence want to remove a market that is walkable for the people living in the mixed used buildings already there, as well as the garden apartment complex next door, the apartments on Gordonhurst, and the older tenants in the high rise. You can’t have it both ways. A lot of people walk to that A&P. Apartments on top of Brick Lane and Soho pizza or CVS, sure what’s another two stories. RIght now, Upper Montclair and perhaps the area close to Church Street and Whole Foods are about the only places one can live comfortably without a car, and Church isn’t that close to the train. It’s why I chose it. I walk to King’s, the movie theatre, the restaurants, the train, the park, Mills Reservation, Montclair State, and the library (when it’s open).

  122. walleroo, you sound a bit like someone defeated by something less than him/herself and surrendering to the “good enough” knowing full well there is little good and little enough.

    Good enough is, in fact, good enough, and it’s often better than nothing.

  123. “Like Shakespeare said to Nathan Hale…” Thanks for the laugh, walleroo!


    I specifically imagined, in the little thought-experiment I described above, that:

    “two or three of the buildings could be built to accommodate a larger retail space (for example, a compact grocery) that spans the first floor beneath them.”

    There are no doubt ways to design buildings so that a grocery of respectable size could be built within the first-floor plan of a (Valley betw. Bellevue&Loraine)-style block of context-appropriate buildings. Hell, I’m sure a really talented architect could figure out a way to design a ground-floor grocery of the same proportions as King’s while *still* accommodating mixed-use on upper floors and perhaps even having one or two other small storefronts on street-level, while still having good parking provisions in the back.

    The D’Agastino at Greenwich and Bethune in NYC is a good example of a quality market in a compact space (to take just one of thousands of examples):

    Anyway, it’s moot. This “nondescript” A&P strip mall will likely be with us, even if A&P goes out of business, for the remainder of our natural lives. And we will all simply continue to tolerate this building and hundreds of others around Montclair that concretely, rather than abstractly, diminish the charm of our town.

    “Better the devil you know…” Right?

  124. It wouldn’t be unthinkable that a developer could gain control of the A&P’s property and perhaps some of the adjacent properties. Same for the Kings property up the road. Neither chain is in the pink of health right now.

    There’s a new residential complex going up in Somerville right now which is probably instructive for Montclair. It’s a transit village, two blocks from the train station, with a new supermarket on the site, a new bank, 70,000 sf of office space, about 275 residential units in a four story building. The Main Street facade has been designed to resemble four separate buildings, with slightly different setbacks, store entrances, etc.

    Edgewood properties is developing it.

  125. Having a mandate (a nod from approximately 15% of the eligible voters in Montclair – democracy at its finest) does not commend the delivery of a disaster plan. Of course, Montclair has only Montclair to blame.

    Keep in mind: something is not necessarily better than nothing.

    The point is we should not give in to defeatism or commend ourselves to a fait accompli when we are discussing the future.

    We can do better. So we should.

  126. A lot of the complaining seems to imply that the town will build all this and then go out and market the spaces to expected buyers. The economy and market for all this will cause well funded developers and moguls to invest in the buildings only after they can assuredly make a profit. Some kind of regional pressure is supposed to gradually grow and clammor for housing and services here in Montclair. I look on the master plan as a set of observations, not necessarily unanimously accepted. For example, When someone comes along with a better idea and the money for the space occupied by the Valero station at Watchung and Park, we should see some other use there. A bit more space for the hardware store, a few more yogurt shops, ot whatever becomes popular. Can there be enough nail salons? I think there are enough bank branches, But what do I know. Who would have thought the Ford dealer space on Bloomfield Ave would change to nicer places to visit for a variety of reasons? My master plan, or observations, are as valuable as maybe a hi-rise on the Upper Montclair train station parking lot, which is not easy to purchase, or is it lease, from NJTransit. A quickly as the Haynes building was to convert to a major housing facility (10 years?), what might we expect on building out Montclair? How many of us will be around in 2060?

  127. Interesting point, JG. The A&P looks “car-based” due to the bland facade and parking lot up front, but it is easy to walk to. On the other hand, we still the construction of new shopping areas that look “walkable” because of cute details, but they are exclusively car-based.

  128. Spiro,

    It’s actually not that interesting a point. *Anything* is “easy to walk to” if you live nearby. A person can live within walking distance of the town dump, but that proximity doesn’t make the dump an attractive destination.

    Some structures entice more people to walk to them and near them than others. When you have a sidewalk, then a 150-foot-deep parking lot, then a strip mall set back on a property (as you do with the A&P), you simply won’t have many pedestrians walking along the sidewalk. Study after study confirms this. Sure, there are people who make a bee-line through the parking lot (dodging cars in the process) because the A&P is close to them, but there isn’t much reason for anyone else to continue walking south on Valley beyond Brick Lane (and conversely, there isn’t much attraction for people who live off of Valley south of Summit to leave the car at home and stroll up Valley to UM center).

    When a building matches the setback and echoes other features of other buildings in the vicinity (in this case, the buildings on Valley between Bellevue and Lorraine), it contributes to a sense of continuity with those established buildings, and entices people on foot to continue walking along the block.

    This notion of continuous blocks with consistent setbacks and complementary look-and-feel designs is a core guiding principle for 19th-century small town centers all over the Northeast. This is old-school town-planning. It’s not a fad; it’s not new-fangled. And it works–it makes those places feel like real *places*. That’s what FBC is meant to help municipalities achieve.

  129. Sure, willjames. I support infill buildings, chain-hung steel canopies and nifty signage as much as the next guy, and I’m not a huge fan of large parking lots. Nevertheless, form-based solutions to intelligent urbanism ( or is it sub-urbanism for Montclair ? ), while having it’s merits, is only one ingredient. I’d say Watchung Plaza is the most walkable area in town, despite the random mix of up-to-the-sidewalk buildings and deep-parking-lot buildings. It’s not as noisy or impersonal as Bloomfield Avenue, and not as gussied up as Upper Montclair or Church Street. It strikes a good balance.

  130. I agree. I’d just like it to have more Watchung Bookseller type buildings, and fewer Valeros and legacy-single-families squashed between two commercial buildings and fronted by a sorry-looking parking lot (i.e., the Animal Hospital).

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