Montclair Planning Board Votes No To An Eight-Story CentroVerde Building and Public Park

Montclair residents protest the plans of LCOR's James Driscoll (front center) and Pinancle''s Brian Stolar (front right) to build an eight-story building in their CentroVerde project at the October 21 Montclair Planning Board meeting.
Montclair residents protest the plans of LCOR’s James Driscoll (front center) and Pinnacle’s Brian Stolar (front right) to build an eight-story building in their CentroVerde project at the October 21 Montclair Planning Board meeting.

The Montclair Planning Board, after hearing from Montclair Acquisition Partners as well as a room full of CentroVerde protesters, holding up signs that read “No Monster Buildings” and “Montclair Is Not For Sale,” voted 6-2 last night against recommending an additional two stories on the building.

The representatives of Montclair Acquisition Partners (MAP), Pinnacle’s Brian Stolar and LCOR’s James Driscoll, finalized their testimony on their proposal to add two stories to the proposed six-story anchor building of their CentroVerde project by answering outstanding questions from the board’s members.  But despite their best efforts, the board voted not to recommend the additional stories. Mayor Robert Jackson and Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon, who represent the council on the board, abstained, as the project will next go before the council for a vote.

NOMAP’s plan would also have included a sale of development rights to the Valley Road Parking Plaza for the development of a $1.2 million public park, which would have resulted in a loss of parking spaces.

Driscoll and Stolar said the public park would enhance the block and would encourage more retailers to rent space in CentroVerde and adjacent storefronts, but residents were not so convinced.

“We appreciate the opportunity,” Driscoll said at the beginning of the meeting, “to continue to sit down with you and talk about the realization of a park at the corner of Bloomfield and Valley, that we think is going to be a really special place.”  The comment provoked laughter from the audience, and it did not go any better for Driscoll and Stolar going forward.

The two developers were undeterred.  They stressed that the 32 parking spaces that would be redeveloped for a park would be replaced by an expansion of the Orange Road parking deck, which would be accessible by foot via the new CentroVerde Drive between Orange and Valley Road, and they sought to allay concerns about overbearing mass by re-emphasizing the total 18.5-foot setbacks for the top floors – six feet for the fifth floor, seven feet for the seventh floor, five feet for the eighth.  Stolar notably attempted to recover from a serious blunder at the October 7 meeting, during which he could not answer the question regarding the overall height of the proposed eight-story structure, explaining that it would be about ninety feet tall, roughly 10 feet taller than the nearby Leach storage building.

“So, compared to the ugliest building in town, it’s only a few more feet,” one resident said with a smirk.

In the end, only board members Paul Rabinovitch and Peg Seip supported the revised plans.  Rabinovitch found the eight stories beneficial to the project, and he was satisfied that the setbacks would not predominate the streetscape, while Seip said that Montclair had to embrace change and ought to do so in a manner that improves the block.

“What we have is a gas station, we had car dealerships, a parking lot, and a municipal use . . . that’s enough,” Seip said.  “This project will bring enormous vitality.  It will bring more revenue, it will bring more retail space, it will be a people generator.”

But Planning Board Chairman John Wynn, who had given MAP the benefit of the doubt in earlier board meetings, was not convinced that their redesign was enough to break up the bulk of an eight-story building, though he commended them for their tremendous effort.   Other board members faulted the glass facades of the two proposed top floors, deeming them inappropriate to the design, despite efforts to mitigate their appearances with cornices to the top of the sixth floor.  Fire Chief Kevin Allen, noting that an eight-story hotel on Orange Road had already been recommended by the board, said that Montclair needed a hotel and that he could accept such a building there, but he did not like the idea of replacing the parking across Valley Road with parking on the Orange Road deck, saying it was too remote from the center of the downtown area to be beneficial.  “I like the original plan,” he said bluntly.  “I don’t see the necessity for two more stories on Building Number 2.”

Board member Carole Willis offered the most stinging critique of the revision, finding fault with selling the development rights of the Valley Road parking lot to a private entity.  She noted that, despite the $3 million the township could receive and use to either build the park or use to pay down debt while keeping it as a parking lot, such a deal would render the township unable to develop the lot later on if it chose to.   She considered the lot prime township real estate that was too valuable to surrender control of development rights to.

Board member Martin Schwartz also voted no, saying that the proposal was reasonable and offered improved setbacks but overlooked the deficiencies of the original six-story design, which he thought had too much bulk. He said that the discussion of setbacks should have been the starting point for the original six-story plan and that two extra stories, despite the incorporation of setbacks, would only add to the bulk.

Though he did not vote on the proposal, Mayor Jackson commended the involvement of Montclair residents in the process but added that the township ought to consider any idea for development and decide for or against it without rancor and respect differences of opinion for any idea that gets proposed and may or may not be approved.

After a brief recess, during which all but six residents went home, Planning Director Janice Talley proposed revisions to the proposed master plan, such as overlaying transit villages around the Lackawanna Plaza and Bay Street Station areas and mixed residential and commercial zoning along Forest Street.  She also reported that there is renewed interest among the public to broadcast Planning Board meetings on TV34, which she recommended by done on a regular basis to ensure a place on the TV34 schedule.

“The council still has the option of whether or not to proceed,” said Wynn after the vote. “They referred it to us as their planning arm, their planning experts, to make a recommendation, and if you are going to override the recommendation of your experts, you have to have a good reason.”

Wynn also lamented that televising meetings related to CentroVerde could have been beneficial.

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98 COMMENTS

  1. It’s like the two additional stories were just a ploy to make it seem that only having six is a reasonable compromise. They already got what they want. Look at the unconcerned grin on the Pinnacle’s guy’s face. Surrounded by all that hostile resistance and he’s just counting his future millions in his head. Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

    I’m so happy this project will bring more foot traffic to the Montclair Mile because if there’s anything we need more of it’s pedestrians crossing at Midland Ave. Screech. Swerve. Whoosh. Bam.

    Whenever I drive south down Park Street toward Bloomfield Ave and see the Siena at the end of the next block I always think how claustrophobic that moldy behemoth makes the area look. Now I’ll get that same unpleasant feeling going up or down Bloomfield Ave. Ah, progress.

    I’ll miss the Manhattan view from South Mountain Ave. The colorful city lights along the horizon are beautiful at night. Even the Empire State Building will be obscured. Sigh. ‘Twas the beast that killed beauty.

  2. Its all for nothing. The council will approve 8 stories unanimously with absolutely no regard for the surrounding area.

  3. It happened. Good for you and those that organized it. Enough of the public showed up to fill the room and convince enough of the planning board to vote NO to 2 extra stories on CentroVerde, and keeping control of the town’s parking lot land use.
    Now you need to tell your councilman to also vote NO. You can get their name from the town hall and email on the town website….6 stories is enough on Bloomfield Ave and the town needs control of public land for what the future brings.

    The mayor is correct however….we have $200 million in debt to deal with but not by selling development rights of public land. The debt is now at very low variable interest rates ( in our taxes and rent) so we know what happens when interest rates go up. We have to grow up and stop borrowing to get what we cant afford to buy.

  4. “This project will bring enormous vitality. It will bring more revenue, it will bring more retail space, it will be a people generator.”

    I doubt that Montclair will remain a desirable destination with these “Anywhere USA” projects being built.

  5. Anyone have a listing of the emails for council? I did a little hunting around and couldn’t find.
    Am disturbed by Jackson’s statement, seeming to be a preemptive strike about his grand powers to override the planning board.

  6. I am guessing Jackson will vote yes when this gets to the council, maybe enough of the rest of the council can be dissuaded from going along with the plan to stop it.

  7. If someone recorded the meeting last night, it would be good for everyone to hear the statement board member Martin Schwartz made before he voted no. The highlights, as I remember them, were:

    1) The Mayor should be commended for thinking creatively and bringing proposals like this–two extra stories in exchange for money–forward for debate. This proposal is reasonable and merits serious consideration, but it is also reasonable to disagree with it.

    2) The 2012 Planning Board (of which Schwartz was not a member) made a mistake in approving the original Centro Verde design 18 months ago. The current Board has worked hard to wring improvements to the plan from the developer, but we’ve only just now managed to get to where the Township should have started with those negotiations. The current design is still too bulky and unwieldy and using glass on the top two stories doesn’t help.

    3) A one-time payment of $3 million is too cheap a price to give up development rights over the current Valley Road parking lot–a prime piece of Township property.

    4) The restaurants and other businesses on Bloomfield Avenue near Valley Road need those nearly parking spaces (and more). Asking people to park at the further-away Orange Road deck is likely to hurt those businesses.

    I agree with all of Martin’s points. My own comments to follow.

  8. It seems to me that there is a greater number of people opposing this kind of project than the number of people who voted in the last election…

  9. Regarding the debt of the Town:

    When I was on the Council, I pushed to have a Resolution approved to establish a Capital Finance Committee. Montclair is home to some of the most knowledgeable municipal finance people in the nation, and they volunteered their time and expertise.

    Their reports were met with skepticism, and many resigned. The Committee was “repurposed.” Although I know of at least two good people on the “new” Committee I can’t say I’ve ever seen a public report from them, although their advice could be “behind the scenes.”

    The state of our debt today is certainly better, with consolidation and refinance. But for me, the details matter and I really can’t feel confident in knowing exactly where we are.

    I do know that we brought in a new auditor, which I insisted on, and we have changed certain practices. All good signs.

    But raising $1MM, here, $2MM there, is not the way to chop the debt significantly. And remember, we just approved new labor contracts for virtually the entire town, and added new positions. I’ve seen nothing that would suggest all this new money from sale of development rights will be devoted to debt reduction.

  10. I commend all the residents who came to last night’s meeting. Attendees were young and old, of diverse backgrounds and from all four wards. With a couple of (in my view inappropriate) exceptions, everyone was respectful in showing their strong disagreement with the proposal.

    Here’s the thing, though: The “no to eight stories” message is oversimplified and unlikely to sway the Council to disagree with the Mayor–with whom five of the six ran and won on an explicit platform of more development–and vote this down.

    As the developer pointed out last night, the plan is to add “just” 16 feet to the already-approved plan, and at that height, it won’t be much taller than the Leach structure. The Council already has approved an 8-story hotel for Building 3 if the developer can strike a deal with a hotelier, so there’s no magic about six stories vs. eight. The design as currently proposed isn’t good enough yet and shouldn’t be approved, but the Planning Board could continue to work with the developer to make it better. All these were points made by Board member Paul Rabinovich before he became one of the two yes votes.

    What I think are better reasons to vote this plan down are the ones offered by Board member Carole Willis and echoed by Kevin Allen: The $3 million price is way too low for the Township to consider giving up its rights to develop the Valley Road parking lot into a deck or mixed-use structure. If Centro Verde proves to be a great success, we’re going to want to make use of that land, and if it fails, we’re going to want it all the more. Either way, giving up those parking spaces would be a mistake likely to hurt existing businesses on Bloomfield Avenue and Valley Road.

    The $3 million on the table isn’t tied to any analysis that’s been made public, and although every little bit helps in terms of reducing our too-high debt, not every idea to reduce our debt is a good one, and this one, in my view, definitely is not. I’m strongly opposed to this proposal and hope the Council votes no.

  11. “After a brief recess, during which all but six residents went home, Planning Director Janice Talley proposed revisions to the proposed master plan, such as overlaying transit villages around the Lackawanna Plaza and Bay Street Station areas and mixed residential and commercial zoning along Forest Street.”

    Can any of those 6 residents that stayed comment on the proposed revisions to the Master Plan? Thanks.

  12. The fact that the vote was 6-2 and the diversity of solid, quantifiable reasons the majority gave for not recommending will be hard for the Council to overcome.

    Let’s assume two Council members on the PB would vote for the 2 stories. I think that Councilors Baskerville and Russo will vote as a block and for it, too. Unofficially, between the two reviewing bodies, that is a 6-6 tie.

    This is why I think the three remaining Councilors will exert the most influence.
    I have a hard time believing Council and Schlager would vote for this for a litany of reasons. It is just an untenable position for them to take.

    That leaves the 3rd Ward Councilor Spiller. His yes vote would give the Council a 5-2 majority…or, conversely, a no vote makes the minimum 4-3 majority. Yes, a majority is a majority…but what a really uncomfortable place for the majority to be in.

    Therefore, I think Councilor Spiller is pivotal and which makes the majority opinion of the 3rd Ward critical. Maybe that is the way it should be.

  13. Here’s the contact list:
    Mayor Robert D. Jackson
    rjackson@montclairnjusa.org

    Deputy Mayor Robert J. Russo
    rrusso@montclairnjusa.org

    Councilor-At-Large Rich McMahon
    rmcmahon@montclairnjusa.org

    First Ward Councilor William L. Hurlock
    whurlock@montclairnjusa.org

    Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager
    robinschlager@montclairnjusa.org

    Third Ward Councilor Sean M. Spiller
    sspiller@montclairnjusa.org

    Fourth Ward Councilor Renée E. Baskerville
    rbaskerville@montclairnjusa.org

  14. “As the developer pointed out last night, the plan is to add “just” 16 feet to the already-approved plan, and at that height, it won’t be much taller than the Leach structure.”

    The Leach building is an out-of-place eyesore tolerable by the fact that its footprint is relatively small, taking up only about 5% of the block it’s on, not 60% of the block the way the flanking Centro Verde project will. Satellite view.
    So imagine the Leach building 12 times wider, taking up its entire block from the Police station down to Midland Avenue and then back to Portland Place. Basically the whole block not taken up by the Police station and its parking lot. And 16 feet higher. Not a pretty picture.

  15. You are absolutely correct, unmitigated gall. If more people had understood the true dynamics of these proposals… would they have been able to get this far? Perhaps this is why the public is never presented with proper photoshop renderings.

  16. frankgg, the more ethical architects and developers do in fact present proper photoshop renderings, and testify into the public record that the finished product will match the rendering. The CV team prefers, shall we say, some wiggle room?

  17. frankgg, et. al.

    Remember to that the land slopes up the hill, so that the elevation of CV might also be somewhat higher than the Leach building.

  18. The Planning Board clearly made an error in its original approval by authorizing so much mass and bulk at this this site with minimal set-backs and building articulation. It appears that some members who approved the original plan are actually now beginning to recognize that.

    Hopefully, this becomes a seminal moment where we reaffirm that our village-suburban character is a major draw — both for our commercial and residential areas — and we start to protect and enhance this for all new development.

    But we shouldn’t mix apples and oranges. There was nothing wrong with the underlying concept that the Mayor brought to the table here. It was quite creative and smart economic development. That’s is to put a value on open town land and properties – sell that development “value” to a developer for NOT building on that lot and then letting them transfer the growth to a nearby site that they are developing. It just didn’t work here. Why? Because the Planning Board approved too much bulk and mass to start with, so adding two stories would have only made a bad situation worse.

  19. Montclair Planning Board… voted 6-2 last night against recommending an additional two stories on the building.

    Oh no! The end of this project would mean no more CV posts for all of us to while away our hours railing against, leaving us with nothing to fill up the days of our sad, wretched lives. This is an unmitigated disaster!

    The council still has the option of whether or not to proceed…

    Oh no! The council could disregard the advice of the planning board, which means an 8-story carbuncle will go up, ruining Montclair for the ages. This is an unmitigated disaster!

  20. Martin,
    Thank you for voting No.

    Yes, there is nothing wrong with the Mayor being creative. But, there is everything wrong with the concept. And that is probably the single aspect that irks me about the PB and the Council with the Areas in Need of Redevelopment.

    I’m not sure if it is MLUL or NRHL that constrains both bodies. Maybe it is our over reliance on ANRs, or the RFP process. There is certainly some blame to place on our consultants, Phillips Preiss Grygiel…or are we ignoring their advice?

    We have this Master Plan draft of a vision and planing policy. But, there is no correlation or coordination between ANRs. Crap, we don’t even begin to write our plan for Gateway 2 until we have already signed off on Gateway 1. But, the concept of pilfering the most prime lot in G2 for Centro Verde for an unknown benefit or analysis of what ti would mean for G2? That is not creative. That is really just bad planning.

    If the PB wants to get serious about how the Council is encroaching on the PB & the ZBA, have the PB add an appendix to the MP listing all the Block/Lots currently designated as part of an ANR…and which ANR. That would be a hoot.
    PS: I have no idea what an Eastern Gateway ANR is.

  21. Frank R. – me fear-est you and some others have gotten lost in the weeds on this decision and with a few other related land use votes.

    My feeling is that land use policies and laws are made and should be used to support philosophy and beliefs — to accomplish goals. For a municipality, those are in our master plan. Land use laws do do not exist as isolated elements in ether – in and of themselves.

    So here’s what I suggest you and a few other do who have tried to use “law” and “regulations” to critique the Mayor’s economic development effort, or the PB’s reliance on the redevelopment land use policy rather than focus on the underlying planning issues impacted at Centro Verde (bulk, limited set-backs, aesthetics, loss of parking etc).

    Go and talk to a land use attorney. Spend $250 bucks or find a volunteer and actually review the areas in need of redevelopment regs. Review the planning and zoning laws impacting and all other codes you believe may be violated and get some expert legal opinion with support why the modified sale of public land rights with a development transfer (where the public land doesn’t get developed then) is not viable. Present it. Show the town you are right and provide legal back-up. Because I believe this policy should be tried again and may work in another setting.

    Right now, the Planning Board attorney and the Township attorney, both who are real estate experts, have found no issue with this approach. And that’s who I and other board members have to rely on for expertise. So if you believe that you are right, go and get the goods. Everyone will listen. But short of that, playing junior attorney and bemoaning improper procedure constantly without legal back-up — really does not help the review process. It just dangles and insinuates impropriety or a hidden agenda by elected officials where there really is none – other than to try and generate additional revenue and reduce debt.

    That’s what this Council ran on and it seems to me that’s what they are trying to do.

    Centro Verde’ is not the Marlboro Inn. There, the then Council’s tax benefit illogic was blatant given the number of kids who would ultimately move into the 10 homes agreed to (and that is what happened), or the Council’s then overt manipulation of land use voting procedure.

    This was an open and clear review process with a a very clear monetary benefit as the outcome.

    It was a decision that required weighing the equities. And it was not an easy decision because it had a very nice $3 million dollar payday. But regardless, I and other board members reluctantly felt that the money still did not warrant the extra two stories (for me) given all the bulk and mass that had unfortunately already been approved there by the PB.

    As I’ve said before, our village “character” is a major economic selling point for Montclair and we should not continue to make land use decisions that throws that baby out with the bath water.

  22. “Hopefully, this becomes a seminal moment where we reaffirm that our village-suburban character is a major draw — both for our commercial and residential areas — and we start to protect and enhance this for all new development.”
    “As I’ve said before, our village “character” is a major economic selling point for Montclair and we should not continue to make land use decisions that throws that baby out with the bath water.”

    YES! and this goes back to the original plan from the 1909 nolen Report that shaped Montclair. If we want maintain the valuable “character” that makes Montclair a desirable destination…. work with the Nolen Report. https://www.baristanetnew.wpengine.com/2013/10/montclair-n-j-past-future/#more-155416 It seems to me that the current local government and planning department are unaware of its existance.

    So if it is now largely understood that…
    “The Planning Board clearly made an error in its original approval by authorizing so much mass and bulk at this this site with minimal set-backs and building articulation. It appears that some members who approved the original plan are actually now beginning to recognize that.”
    …why cant the mistaken approval be corrected?

  23. “Hopefully, this becomes a seminal moment where we reaffirm that our village-suburban character is a major draw — both for our commercial and residential areas — and we start to protect and enhance this for all new development.” “As I’ve said before, our village “character” is a major economic selling point for Montclair and we should not continue to make land use decisions that throws that baby out with the bath water.”

    Seriously??? Where the hell was this sentiment in the mayoral election?

    The town is getting exactly what it ordered.

  24. Thank you, Planning Board, for voting against the additional two stories. I think that’s a step in the right direction, and I hope that the Town Council will think seriously before overriding this decision. Forgive me if this is ground that has already been addressed, but what consideration was given to the impact on traffic and/or requiring the developer to support meaningful traffic flow infrastructure improvements when the original plan was approved?

    I used to live near Morristown and I commute daily from Montclair to a large office complex on Route 202 in Parsippany. Poor planning means that the traffic near my office is a nightmare. While it only takes me about 15-20 minutes to get from Hillside School to the Route 202 exit on I-80, bad traffic patterns and overwhelmed infrastructure means that it generally takes me another 15-20 minutes to travel the last mile to/from my office for about a 2 hour period surrounding rush hour. When I was house hunting in the Morristown area a decade ago (a home prior to the home we bought in Montclair), similar problems in simply getting through/across Morristown at rush hour led us to choose to buy in another community.

    The Montclair infrastructure (at least in the Bloomfield Avenue area), while busy, is currently capable of handling our current traffic in a way that the infrastructure in communities like Morristown/Parsippany simply can’t. But there is going to be a tipping point, and I am concerned that this latest Centro Verde development is it. I hope that the Planning Board and Town Council is commissioning the proper studies/paying real attention to the quality of life issues these sorts of developments can raise for all residents of Montclair, even if we do not live near the Centro Verde development itself.

  25. “Seriously??? Where the hell was this sentiment in the mayoral election?
    The town is getting exactly what it ordered.”

    Re development is a good thing and one can vote for a mayor who is a developer in good faith in hope for true improvement. The town didnt actually order this type of re development by electing a mayor who is a developer. Its all clearly a big misunderstanding.

  26. Bloomfield Ave has no village character. It is a major thoroughfare.

    I agree however that “character” is a real thing. There are so many beautiful buildings in town and so many independently-run restaurants that one does get the feeling that Montclair is an upscale town (along with its other positive attributes). It is this upscale character that is completely missing from Centro Verde. There is nothing upscale about the present very generic design, which someone here aptly has called “foam boxes”. This to me is the main issue to fix, now that they are hopefully off taking the parking lot.

  27. Re development is a good thing and one can vote for a mayor who is a developer in good faith in hope for true improvement. The town didnt actually order this type of re development by electing a mayor who is a developer. Its all clearly a big misunderstanding.

    I agree but Jackson is also a clown. The two don’t go together, the writing was on the wall.

  28. Martin,
    I admittedly get down in, and at times meander in the weeds. But I have been very clear on my positions here and I believe supported them with well-reasoned arguments. You have managed to suggest otherwise.

    For the record:
    1. I don’t have a problem with the Mayor. He has always walked his talk. I don’t agree with him on several land use issues, but he is not the devil developing Mayor or duplicitous. This ANR issue of mine straddles many Councils. He has one vote on each body he sits on. You need to let the last election go – its over.
    2. Whatever Marlboro Inn has to do with this is beyond me. Especially as I have always been on the record against saving the Inn. SInce you are going off on tangents, I also don’t support the Watchung Plaza historic designation and I did support the demolition of MKA’s field house. I supported the ALF. I don’t know what an Eastern Gateway is, so I don’t have a position on it.
    3. I have not ever said or insinuated there was impropriety or hidden agenda. I don’t and never have believed this was ever the case. I would like an apology on this one point.

    My points on Gateway 1 have constantly centered around the CV design, the Orange Rd parking deck and the bad planning. On the other hand, I read your post and thought you did an unfortunately good job of undermining your vote in the PB’s justification for not recommending the 2 stories. You reaffirmed it was creative and good concept if the original setbacks had been adhered to. You said the original PB decision to approve the site plan was the original sin. That the $3MM was a pretty nice payday, albeit an amount short of swaying the PB. If Council considers that the PB recently approved new, glass encased top floors on two other brick facade buildings with similar or lesser setbacks, the “design” issue comes off the table. Throw in the fact it is only 11′ higher than what the PB approved. Geez, you almost have me convinced. Hopefully you didn’t sway any Councilors.

  29. Apology offered on the one point requested. While others have, you did not directly say there were “improprieties.” Nonetheless, you should see that that this is the overall IMPRESSION one gets from reading your postings – that the town government is constantly ‘violating’ or “not adhering properly (my words) to land use codes, laws or procedures.

    As to the other points – I’m afraid I’ll have to pass as there’s a lot of verbal gymnastics at play that my simple mind can’t follow. Clearly stated as a core issue – for me at Centro Verde’, there is too much bulk approved already and even going with the original set-backs — too much building mass now from the approved six stories to warrant an additional two stories — despite the nice payday. The other issues – parking, questionable need for a park etc. etc. are secondary — since no park has to be built and we could just take the money. Therefore, the core issue — given that the redevelopment plan calls for only 6 stories – is that I’ve determined another two extra stories there as proposed are “not in the public interest” – especially given the overall township character and preservation goals as defined under the master plan.

  30. “at Centro Verde’, there is too much bulk approved already and even going with the original set-backs — too much building mass now from the approved six stories ”

    …if we ALL know and agree that the approval was a mistake…what can be done NOW to correct this error?… its pretty grave and hasnt been built yet….there must be a solution….

  31. Frank G said:

    “…if we ALL know and agree that the approval was a mistake…what can be done NOW to correct this error?… its pretty grave and hasnt been built yet….there must be a solution….”

    My suggestion: call up former Mayor Jerry Fried who pushed and voted for the project as is and got the Council to agree. Ask him to call up Brian Stolar of Pinnacle and say “pretty please”, can you now, 18 months later expand again the set-backs that you convinced the Planning Board and our Council to reduce at your request for six stories – even though you may not be getting two more stories now for compensation. Have Jerry admit to Brian that in retrospect, he made a mistake, that this is just too much mass there and that it really should not have been approved as is because this will be Jerry’s legacy when built — as everyone looks up at the large structures. So have Jerry ask Brian now, as a personal favor, to get the company that Brian then sold off his rights too (LCOR) — who already gave him a nice payout upfront – to take less profit in the end and scale back the bulk and space the’re legally authorized to build now – which of course everyone based their financial calculations on.

    An alternative path would be for Montclair to eliminate one of the car charging stations that the developer is supposed to provide and that Jerry felt was a major selling position for the project. I’m sure that too could provide some major fiscal relief and warrant changing the design.

    These two paths are the only way to make something happen that I can see.

  32. “Jerry!” (spoken in the tone of voice Newman used). He will also have the ALF as his legacy. And some “affordable” single family homes on Wildwood. Way to go.

  33. Martin S: Thank you for your vote. And we’re all on the same page regarding value of exploring net revenue enhancing ideas and forthright discussion without rancor. I see one of your comments might be directed my way (“few other … have tried to use “law” and “regulations” to critique the Mayor’s economic development effort”). As you know, I questioned whether the CentroVerde transaction was really a “transfer of development rights” as defined in the Municipal Law Use Law. The basis of my concern arose because resolution R-13-125 — that brought this CentroVerde matter to the PB — specifically spoke of a “transfer of development rights” and ordinance O-13-049 that spoke of funding “an amendment to the Montclair Center Phase 1 Redevelopment Plan to include a (capitalized) Transfer of Development Rights”. I think it would be natural to assume that a term of art, especially when it was capitalized, meant exactly what it said. I did not think it made sense that the proposed transaction was legally a TDR and I wrote a letter to the PB saying so and suggested than a law firm opinion confirming this would be prudent. I intended to be respectful in my write up, and if I wasn’t, I apologize. As you know, the PB immediately agreed during the PB meeting with my assessment. I could be wrong, but then I believe I heard what sounded to me as three or four different legal theories of what the “exchange” really was. I believe the Town Planner first referenced the recently passed “Non-Contiguous Clustering” legislation as the legal basis for this exchange, then I think I heard the PB attorney say it was just a simple exchange that either made good planning sense or didn’t without any reference to governing statutes, and then I hear the Mayor and the Chairman refer to it as a quasi-TDR. And then when the Master Plan was subsequently being discussed at the same Planning Board meeting, the Mayor explained ( for what I believe was the first time on record at the Planning meeting) that he intended to use this “exchange” mechanism throughout the Township. And specifically, he asked the Town Planner to built into the Master Plan. The example was then given of using a lower building height set as a base case zoning standard, and a higher building height set as possible zoning standard available for those that purchased development rights from the Township. Then next day, the Town Planner in her post on the Township website the next day confirmed the proposed transaction was not a TDR transaction as I suggested it was not. She wrote: “This proposal is not “transfer of development rights” as defined in the Municipal Land Use Law, which has a very clear process by which a transfer of development rights program is permitted through zoning.” On the same day, the draft of the Master Plan for the Upper Montclair area introduced for the first time the concept that explained the higher building heights being achievable “in exchange for appropriate public benefits such as parks and open space, affordable housing and similar public amenities”. So I think that on net my write up raised a legitimate concern that maybe not all TC or PB members were aware of and a point that is now generally accepted. I think my write up has also helped encourage the Mayor to express publicly his town wide “exchange” concept and finally have it explicitly noted in the Master Plan. So far, I think our exchange has worked as it should, and lead to a better outcome for all of us. Do you not agree?

  34. Martin S: Which bring us to your comment that “playing junior attorney and bemoaning improper procedure constantly without legal back-up — really does not help the review process” and that ” the Planning Board attorney and the Township attorney, both who are real estate experts, have found no issue with […] the modified sale of public land rights with a development transfer (where the public land doesn’t get developed then)” And then you suggest that anyone that thinks otherwise needs to ” show the town you are right and provide legal back-up. Because I (Martin Schwatz) believe this policy should be tried again and may work in another setting.” My personal opinion based on the prior PB meeting was that there were numerous legal theories presented to support the viability of this exchange. I am still not sure on what legal basis the CentroVerde exchange was being considered, other than maybe the idea that in properties classified as to “Areas in Need of Redevelopment” pretty much anything goes so long as it’s “good planning”. So as you can see, I’m not trying to “play junior attorney” (and it would be an accurate representation if that’s the way you perceived it), I’m just a resident trying to understand what exactly this exchange is that the Mayor and you think should be considered throughout the Township and the legal basis for this — particularly since the concept is has already started to get incorporated into the Master Plan. Am I not asking a question that the Mayor and the Planning Board need to explain in detail to all residents before it’s gets rolled out? It’s quite possible that I am being unreasonable in asking these questions and appear to be “playing junior attorney” and for this I apologize. My guess is that we can have more constructive exchanges and less exciting PB meetings if the Township takes the initiative to explain this concept to the residents. Since the Mayor has been hinting at this for at least a year, maybe he can clear the air and simply write out his views and post them on the Township’s web site, explaining what this “exchange” looks like and its advantages. And then maybe the PB attorney and Town Planner can provide a more detailed explanation on the legal basis for these and where these types of transactions have been used in NJ. I think Jersey City web site has a useful example of their “transfer of development rights” that might serve as a model — obviously substituting the TDR concept for whatever exchange mechanism is proposed for Montclair. Does this sound like a good idea or is it an unreasonable suggestion?

  35. Hi all – I found a rendering of a proposed project in Bushwick (insert brooklyn/montclair joke) that looks like it would be eerily similar to what centro verde “is supposed to look like”..Since the developers will not commit to a design (sets off an alarm in my head..esp financial viability..) I implore that you check it out..its not bad but certainly a very dominating presence for that corner.

    https://therealdeal.com/blog/2013/10/23/rheingold-conversion-nabs-city-planning-approval/

  36. @whippersnapper That looks like a factory putting on airs. I guess the ghost of the Rheingold Brewery lives on.

  37. “Can we keep this thread alive until phase 1 is complete?”

    —doubtful. wouldn’t that require the same group of commenters to keep repeating themselves endlessly?

    oops…never mind…

  38. Aren’t there any regulations that protect the historically designated Mountain District (just uphill from the CV) from losing its characteristic skyline view?

  39. Martin G. – first let me congratulate you for your passion for getting involved in this issue. I agree that the Mayor and PB staff could have explained the “transfer process concept a bit better and that the local media could have done a better job early on at more simplistically communicating it to residents.

    And certainly, there is nothing wrong with people questioning process and policy. I’ve done it myself over the years when things did not appear kosher under previous Council administrations. But as I said to Frank G. – you should really take a step back and read some of your commentaries on this Centro Verde issue at the macro level. You were in effect insinuating legal and land use process improprieties first – without really having the legal goods and having done your due diligence homework review to make sure you were right.

    Here’s what I’ve found beneficial as an MO in these situations. When in the past I’ve felt land use laws or government process was being violated, I first privately sent in a request for information or asked the staff or Councilor involved for a direct explanation what they were doing/proposing. If important enough, I even made an appointment to see them to talk. Then, when I got the POV and the facts, I went to knowledgeable legal help – usually residents — to review all and to determine if there really was something improper. And if there were clear cut improprieties found – and I could site or communicate them directly – only then would I go public. In the the case of the Marlboro Inn for instance, I actually helped lead that fight to try and save the property. Don’t know if you were here then but our HPC at the time voted to preserve the building unanimously and the Council then over-ruled — despite 1000 residents showing their support. We knew then that the 10 houses would ultimately be filled with kids and the promised tax benefits were nonsense. This all appeared to many to be a handshake deal between the Mayor at the time and two developers – in effect carving up the downtown with promised hotel on Church Street which of course never happened. So a group of us ultimately sued the town over procedural land use violations and improprieties. And although we lost – a late filing technicality being the core ruling given the amount of time needed to get funds together to sue, the end political result was a slate of protective land use legislation still on the books (mcMansion ordinance, 75 year knock down law since overturned)

    So all I’m saying – is that you will have a greater impact in the political sphere locally if you do your homework and due diligence first — rather than publicly speculate or assert procedures appear wrong when they may not be. Because as I said, two competent real estate attorneys – Mr. Neis at the PB and Mr. Karasack who is the town attorney, apparently did not find fault with the Mayor’s proposed transfer process. Could they be wrong – sure. That’s why you first get your own legal backup and information – vet it and then go public with specifics if really off – not speculate first and in effect dangle that a process may be unlawful when it likely really is not.

    And if a process is legal and valid – but you still don’t agree with it philosophically, then you are then left addressing the merits and the underlying issues impacted – which in this case is what the planning board board based its no vote on.

    But merits are a judgement call and a review of equities. Legal and process improprieties – which as I said is what it appears you and some others were dangling here – is miss-information and miss-direction if s not correct.

    Particularly when one is opposing policy, it’s important to make this distinction your own long term credibility. Then, when you come to the table with other concerns – the players know you do not shoot from the hip but do have a valid positions – whether at the level of process and law, or dealing with underlying policy concerns.

    Anyway, sorry for the extended rant. Your passion and activity were most welcomed over this issue. I suggest only slightly ameliorated tactics for the future — as a political MO.

  40. “…To give away a town asset that has great value in order to approve development that our Master Plan prohibits is a full step beyond bad planning,” Willis said.

    – Carole Willis as quoted by The Montclair Times, 10/24/13

  41. Frank G – asked:

    “Aren’t there any regulations that protect the historically designated Mountain District (just uphill from the CV) from losing its characteristic skyline view?”

    Interesting point. I’ve also heard this from a another resident recently. Yes, this could be something to explore, and might be a potential basis for an appeal if the Council decides to support the two extra stories, or it could be a pre-argument made at the public hearing IF CORRECT — to induce them not to attempt to overrule the PB. Further, if viable as a legal argument, should it have been used against the original amount of bulk and mass agreed to by the planning board and the Council when they first approved Centro Verde under the redevelopment plan. Yes. However, that ship has already sailed. You have 45 days to appeal a government decision under NJ. law.

  42. Hmm, did Mr. Karasack, the part-time town lawyer, recently receive a huge pay increase from Mayor Jackson and the Town Council? Did this enormous generosity not come on the back of taxpayers that are already throwing good money after bad to service debt (often) created by others? And this from a town swimming in its own debt? Just what due diligence did Mayor Jackson and the Town Council do in looking for a better contract for the town (with perhaps a better lawyer)?

    So does martinschwartz have a good reason why we should trust the legal opinions of Mr. Karasack when it comes to matters desired by Mayor Jackson and the Town Council?

    Does anyone believe this Mayor Jackson and this Town Council will leave Montclair with less debt at the end of their terms Or that the decisions resulting from this group will leave a legacy of anything more than diminished property values and increased expenditures?

    When no good reasons have been presented to trust development to companies that have already shown how disastrous they have been to Montclair, why would you find it strange that some people want to peek behind the curtain to see just what machinations the good mayor and his peeps are up to?

  43. frankgg,

    The Mountain HD only starts North of Claremont Ave. The First Residential runs South of Hobug Pl. In my opinion, using the historic designation in this instance is what erodes residential support for HP overall.

  44. Idrather: It’s a free country, and I’m not the comment police, but there’s something unseemly about questioning someone else’s ethics from anonymity.

    Ira Karasick received more money in exchange for agreeing to handle work that previously had been done by other counsel on a billable hour basis. I remember the Council debated the deal extensively and approved it only because the Town Manager demonstrated to the Council’s satisfaction that, overall, the Township will save money.

    Ira Karasick has more experience in this area of the law than I do, but as I have already said publicly, I agree with Ira’s judgment in this area that the proposal isn’t unlawful. I think it’s unwise and have joined the chorus arguing against it, but I do so from the same perspective as Martin Schwartz: The proposal is reasonable and the Mayor deserves credit for the creative thinking that brought it to the table. I simply disagree with the judgment that it’s the right thing for Montclair.

  45. Jeff, you said “… I agree with Ira’s judgment in this area that the proposal isn’t unlawful.”
    I have to say, from experience, that when an attorney uses a double negative on a question of law, my antenna straighten right up.

    From today’s Montclair Times, “Jackson clarified that the Township Council could choose not to even create a park and use all of the $3 million to reduce debt.”

    So, can you describe the legal description and origin of what this transaction is? If not, why is it so hard?

    To date, there have been a lot of what it is not. To my knowledge, not a single professional or elected official has done this.

  46. With due respect Frank R, Locally, there is practically no understanding or appreciation of Historic Preservation. Our entire built landscape, not only single buildings, deserve protection status and severe regulations. In my opinion, this is the only way to preserve the real estate values for our ample stock of beautiful houses, otherwise what has happened to similar houses and their market in places like Yonkers, will happen here.

    We cannot consider the map of Montclair as a two dimentional piece of paper. We are a three dimentional mountian topography with exceptional houses built to enjoy the view. Because the protected areas stop a block or two north or south of Bloomfield Avenue, the views to the skyline cross over this unprotected strip. I find it quite tragic that the view, from many properties will be lost.

  47. Frank: It would not be the unlawful sale of a variance. If you’d like me to turn the double negative into a positive, fine: It would be the lawful (though inadvisable) purchase of the town’s development rights respecting the parking lot. The town would be free to leave it a parking lot and pocket the whole $3 million or use some of the $3 million to turn it into a park. What the town could not do is build a parking deck or other vertical structure on the lot. To me, that’s too much to give up for $3 million. For what it’s worth, if the Council votes to overrule the Planning Board and do the deal–as I fervently hope it does not–I’d then hope they leave the lot as-is and don’t build a park. The restaurants and shops on Bloomfield Avenue and Valley Road needs those parking spaces, and in my view the Orange Road deck, even when expanded as part of Centro Verde, isn’t an adequate substitute.

  48. The future Centro Verde residents will be able to look out their windows and enjoy the southwestern view of a 6 story parking deck and their northeastern view of a 6 story storage building. Their other senses will luxuriate with the kitchen and alley smells from a Thai restaurant and the calming sounds of an auto body garage right next door. Where do I sign up?

  49. As one more long and arduous day comes to a close, we withdraw to the warm embrace of home, family, the World Series and the murmur of Centro Verde, music to the gods.

  50. Anything to quell the burden of your existence, wally. There are pictures of a cute pets on here you can look at too.

  51. I love the photo on the front page of the Montclair Times. It certainly captures the feeling of this issue. Apparently no body wants these massive buildings.

  52. Thanks Jeff. I do appreciate your explanation and sorry that my double negative comment was snarky.

    I think I understand it now. The township has the existing right, by law, to sell development rights on any of it’s properties, but because Montclair does not have an ordinance to allow a developer to use these purchased air rights, the Council would have to amend the zoning, in this case for an ANR, to allow the “receiving” of the air rights.
    So, it is a creative application of combining components of existing MLUL (or LRHL) and Clustering law.

    Maybe an over simplification, but is this about right?

  53. frankkgg,
    I totally agree that there are totally different levels of understanding on the topic of historic preservation, and certainly not just in our locale. However, I think you would agree there is fundamental disagreement among those who are highly versed in the subject.

    For example, there was great consternation and successful resistance by the Montclair Art Museum’s Board of Trustees when the Township was deciding whether to historically designate the museum. Their essential argument was that they would be good stewards to properly protect the building’s historic significance and that municipal oversight was burdensome and duplicative. As such, MAM’s successful defense essentially terminated the plan to extend the current downtown historic district Eastward.

    In light of this, I think it is inconsistent to locally designate an entire tract of single family homes containing both historically significant and insignificant structures? Furthermore, Montclair revised our HP ordinance so that the HPC only indirectly contributes, via advisory opinions and only at the request of the PB or ZBA, on any new development.

  54. . I COMPLETELY disagree that it is inconsistent to locally designate an entire tract of single family homes containing both historically significant and insignificant structures. We need to protect our existing streetscapes and view corridors…THAT’S whats valuable….the existing built environment… not just the individual structures.
    I’ve known the Museum all of my life and witnessed it grow and transform. Although it is extremely desirable to have an institution like this in town, to me it has lost its feeling for Montclair and its community. Its disconnected, an institution that could be anywhere. The great consternation and successful resistance by the Montclair Art Museum’s Board of Trustees whether to historically designate the museum is a mistake. It seems to be run by new people that don’t care about the original museum community or how it evolved.

  55. Please excuse me if I am missing the point about Mr. Nolen’s page 72… are you sure its p.72 of the Nolen Report?

  56. Did Ira Karasack approve the wording of the original PILOT for the Sienna? Or was it our former town lawyer? The reason I ask is because if he did, he should not be trusted to review the new one’s about to be written for CV.

  57. My recollection was that we hired an outside firm to write the original PILOT agreement and Ira Karasack negotiated the revised PILOT.

  58. frankgg,
    I’m referencing p.72 in the Google book version. The page I’m referring to looks like it may be p.61 although it is unnumbered. Photo title “A Montclair Street – Uninteresting and Crowded”.

  59. Stu, Frank,

    Not for nothing, but McManimon & Scotland is the second largest, muni/redevelopment firm in the State. Their people are superb, and they’ve helped me understand things over the years.

    I wonder if THEY were ever ASKED about the apparent “errors” in their PILOT contract?

    I do know that with regard to the strange BOE surpluses, the Business Administrator was NEVER asked for an “explanation” or “her side of the story.”

    People should be given a chance to explain themselves. Not everyone is incompetent. We are quick to judgement when it suits our point of view.

    Cary

  60. Cary,
    I’m aware of M&S’s size and stature. They have many NJ companies & municipalities as part of their client list. I was not criticizing them, I was just answering Stu’s query with the name of the firm that wrote the original PILOT and what my source was.

  61. Africk wrote – “Not for nothing, but McManimon & Scotland is the second largest, muni/redevelopment firm in the State. Their people are superb, and they’ve helped me understand things over the years. I wonder if THEY were ever ASKED about the apparent “errors” in their PILOT contract?”

    Cary A. – you really need to get out of defending the proven incompetent business when the facts speak for themselves. Especially when they charged you $250 bucks an hour to “understand” things while in office. That firm made hundreds of thousands in fees from Montclair during their run while this “superb” law firm totally blew it with the Sienna contract and a lot more.

    I remember from the Montclair Times that the developer, Brian Stolar of Pinnacle was able to slip out of paying for his Sienna PILOT monies(replacement real estate tax) on a technicality. And that technicality was that the (negotiated PILOT) contract didn’t kick in until all the Sienna commercial spaces were rented.

    So what do you know, one very small space never did seem to get rented once the building was finished.

    It was only after the new town attorney Karasak went after Pinnacle, that there was a settlement and they paid back some but not all of the monies. Then they started paying going forward. But rest assured if the town attorney didn’t have the Centro Verde’ deal in hand to negotiate with — Stolar would have not paid a dime. The end result still is that we lost some money from the hole in this this “superb” Scotland firm’s negotiated contract.

    Some other screw-ups if you think back to that firm’s dual role of being both Montclair’s redevelopment Counsel and also Counsel to the failed and bankrupt Parking Authority: they also negotiated the town contract with Stolar for the Church Street redevelopment deal. But after Stolar finished building our parking deck for the Church Street Parking Authority across the street (at a nice profit), he or he and his partner Steve Plofker, started a competitive parking business in the lot across the street that’s now going to be the assisted living facility. It was another weakness in the original contract according to former town manager joe harttnet — again as reported in the Montclair Times. I remember this all well. We couldn’t stop it.

    Not only that, the original Church Street redevelopment deal had no negotiated performance or deliverable time line. So Plofker and Stolar didn’t really have to perform and build anything. They just sat on the the lot and softened us up until we got tired of not collected new ratables. Then they got out of providing like 80 something public parking spots. Remember this? It was all public stuff again in the Times. They claimed they were not able to sell the Church lot because of the hardship of providing public parking which they had originally promised to deliver. So then we stupidly let them out of the public parking spot requirement using some crazy “shared parking” concept and presto – an immediate sale to the AL people.

    The result – more money for them from a more valuable building but drooling Alzheimer patients for us – instead of more shoppers going out to eat.

    Again, this was more “suburb” lawyering from Scotland and company.

    A good negotiator would know that there should have been a time line performance window in the Church street redevelopment rights contract to force those holding the rights – in this case redevelopment rights – to eventually build something. Otherwise, and this is what happened, we lost our leverage and were ready to take anything there after awhile.

    Is it it any wonder the current township attorney announced that Montclair is no longer using this law firm again for our redevelopment business?

    What took us so long.

  62. Dear Spot,

    There are so many inaccuracies in your post that I can’t take them all on.

    Suffice it to say, Ira has done a good job in collecting money that was due. By the way, money from Bay Street was never given to the Town because the developer, after trying and trying again, couldn’t find anyone to TAKE the money. I met him at a Conference and he asked my help, saying, “I have this check in my desk drawer that no one seems to want.”

    But my point, Spot, is that no one ASKED the firm for an explanation of the “screw up.”

    I do believe the firm, by the way, is still doing our bond work, just not the redevelopment.

  63. Yes, it is hard to believe that we are still using them for anything. But why focus on asking the firm for an explanation over legal language that clearly allowed structural holes in contracts or allowed underlying weaknesses for negotiations. It’s not worth it.

    When you see that as a pattern, you just move on. And that’s what the town has apparently done – at least for our redevelopment work.

  64. My olde english Martin Schwartz,

    I missed your post above (martinschwartz | OCTOBER 24, 2013 @ 4:39 PM). Many apologies.

    I’ll take you post as a “repositioning” of your apology. While I could ding your on the character imperfection, I prefer to take the high road you espouse. While I am a lesser person for being so blatant and transparent, I respect your more subtle and totally behind the scenes approach. You are so intelligent.

    I imagine your insights will no doubt reflect well, even bolster the reputation of the Planning Board (past & present) and on the Mayor. They must consider themselves quite fortunate…although I sense they don’t appreciate your true value.

    I also, jus this very moment, realize I now need to follow your special insights on the Environmental Commission. I am sure that you are energizing that offshoot of the PB. It just seems like a no-brainer to also put you on the HPC & the ZBA – maybe as a Chair.

    Your bestest pal forever, Frank R (not Frank G)

  65. Martin,
    One last thing. If it wasn’t for your clarity and guidance, I would have never thought to connect these three statements below. Thank you so very much!

    Excerpt on the Valley Rd parking lot from Phillips Preiss Grygiel report to Council issued in June:

    “For all of these reasons, passing up the potential development opportunities on a site with these characteristics, for use of a property used exclusively for surface parking is detrimental to the overall welfare of the community.”

    Excerpt from R_13_125 passed by Council in July

    “…creating a park in the downtown area and the Township Council finds that it is in the best interest of the public to create additional downtown open space;”

    The Mayor as quoted in the Montclair Times this week:

    “Jackson clarified that the Township Council could choose not to even create a park and use all of the $3 million to reduce debt.”

  66. Dear spot,

    By the way, your criticism of the “poorly worded” contract on the Sienna Pilot? The entire council back then, including the Mayor, had to vote and sign off on it. And the then Town Attorney would have had to review it.

    Were they all just as “incompetent,” or maybe the redevelopment attorney gave them exactly what they asked for?

    Since no one thinks it important to ask the redevelopment attorney why the contract was written the way it was written, I guess we’ll never know.

    Much easier to assume we know the answer, rather than ask. That way our preconceptions can be reinforced.

  67. (Sorry, I’m doing a little overdue housekeeping tonight.)

    Jeff Jacobsen,
    I apologized for my snarkiness – without conditions. No Martin Schwartz type modification.

    Yet, you made a point of addressing something I NEVER SAID ON THIS THREAD OR ANY ANOTHER. Specifically, you replied to me “Frank: It would not be the unlawful sale of a variance.” That phrase has never been a part of my objections or posts.

    You would not confuse me with martingonzalez no more than I would confuse you with martinschwartz.

    If you wanted to tweak me, there are more suitable ways than to imply I made statements that I didn’t say.

  68. Frank R. – Unfortunately, I can not get what you are really trying to say now. Is it that there are some discrepant land use recommendations and rationalizations for how to use the lot at issue on Bloomfield? Is it that the Mayor’s rationalization or goals are different than the consultants, planning staff, PB members or residents? If so, what is the difficulty or issue with that? For me, this is what the democratic process is all about. Working through these sometimes discrepant POV’s and needs – in this case publicly.

    Here, the mayor had a proposal to generate more revenue and rateables. Ostensibly, the developers wanted a park to enhance the value of their buildings and hotel and likely to prevent blocking views. They even want Montclair to use the money made from the calculation value of the extra two stories proposed – to have us pay to build it. Smart.

    But the appointed planning board then said that this was all not a good idea for Montclair for a variety of reasons (bulk, height, deal value, parking, retail economic impact).

    So I’m just not clear what issue you are having here with the process, or with a few of us commenting on it. To me, this was a very good and open process with lots of resident input and thought about land use and what kind of township we want to be.

    As I said, my only suggestion (criticism) in all this for future political action generally is that those who take issue with a proposed policy do not first dangle legal or process improprieties of the political player’s actions without really checking — rather than focus on what I believe is a more effective way to get people connected to issues – dealing with the equities and the judgement impacts of underlying merits.

    The assertion of legal or process improprieties — or that elected players have some underlying Machiavellian agenda and are therefore breaking laws to get there – moves the debate to a very negative level. It also shuts down their willingness to listen to varied POVs. So unless one is correct on the legal front after doing due real diligence – the focus on process improprieties as “speculation” and dangling there are legal wrongs when not so is, in my mind, not helpful as the best way to influence debate.

    But even if you don’t agree with this position, surely that little political action tweak would not create a level of irritation that you seemed moved to express. That’s again, unless I’m just misreading the tone and meaning of what you were trying to say.

  69. Frank R,

    I was not criticizing you at all, and I do understand that all you were doing was identifying M&S as the redevelopment attorneys. I’m sorry, but I’m getting “lost in the woods” here!

    But I will say this:

    First, it makes a great deal of difference for a poster to identify themselves. We have no idea who some of the others are or what their agenda is. An identified poster, such as yourself, immediately gains more credibility.

    Second, and most import, Frank:

    I consider you to be one of the most fair and balanced people posting on all of these blogs!

    Sometimes you point out my mistakes, for which I am thankful.

    Most every time you come up with information and I have to say “How in the world did he get that?” You DIG and I trust what you say.

    Unlike so many, your views are independent. You don’t need to keep anyone happy for fear of losing your committee appointments, consulting contract, etc.

    Think about this folks. Think what it truly means to be independent. It means you can tell the emperor that he has no clothes without fear of repercussion.

    So, count me as a founding member of your fan club! And if you think I’m putting words in your mouth, let me know because I certainly don’t mean to!

    Cary Africk

  70. Martin S – Your suggestions are well taken. I understand your sensitivity to references regarding process or legal improprieties.

    I believe that until the good Mayor writes out an explanation for all residents to read on this immediate proposal and his overall development agenda, I think it’s inevitable that residents will be ill at ease with the process.

    And by explanation, I would suggest explaining how this non-TDR exchange works, it’s legal basis, it’s financial justification, how he plans to roll this out across the Township, how it’s already being incorporated into the Master Plan, how certain resolutions/ordinances that have recently passed could allow its use in certain parcels, and how proceeds from these “exchanges” will be used.

    It seems a bit much to ask residents to figure out what’s going on from opaque filings, from noticing unusual transactions, and from snippets in the media.

    It also doesn’t instill confidence in residents when the two excellent attorneys you mention allow the use of a well-defined term of art to describe the transaction, let the term get used repeatedly in documentation and in discussions, and then later state that the term means something other than what a plain reading of the term means.

    And finally, if an indicative term sheet is never provided with the basic outline of the transaction including an exact sum of consideration paid for our sale of assets, and the cash consideration seems to either not get stated or change not only between Planning Board meetings but sometimes appears to change even within a single meeting, residents are naturally left wondering what the heck is going on.

    If the Mayor’s use of this exchange mechanism and his overall development plans are going to affect Montclair’s $5 billion plus in assessed real estate values, and the Mayor has been hinting for over a year of his plan to “unlock” trapped value in Township properties, I believe residents merit fulsome explanations as soon as possible from the good Mayor so we can all have a more constructive dialogue.

    Thanks again for your posts. They’re very helpful.

  71. Martin S – In addition …

    At least my sense of discomfort is continually exacerbated by the persistence with which the transaction seems to be mischaracterized as an exchange. I think it’s unhelpful to view the transaction as an exchange. In fact, calling it an exchange, possibly highlights what some would consider the least savory aspect of the trade.

    The transaction is a nothing more and nothing less than the bundling together of two separate sales. One sale is sale of development rights on a Township-owned property. The other sale is the sale of a “zoning exemption” (what maybe not be called a variance in whatever legal framework is being used to evaluate this transaction, but for all practical purposes we’re talking about something this equivalent to a variance).

    I can only guess, but I presumably the two sales are bundled together to make the optics of the sale of a “zoning exemption” more palatable. And for all I know, it’s a legislatively-sanctioned bundling of sales that allows “zoning exemptions” to be sold. I think many of us are still awaiting word on the precise legal basis for this bundled sale or “exchange”.

    I think it’s clear that the CentroVerde developers were not primarily interested in the purchase of the development rights over the current parking lot on its own. So contrary to frequent characterization of the offer, it’s absolutely false that we were being offered $3mm for the development rights over the parking lot alone. The reality is that the main thing the CentroVerde developers really want was the “zoning exemption” for two more floors or 40 more units. This asset is likely the vastly more valuable of the two assets the developers were purchasing in this bundled transaction and thus the driver of the supposed “$3mm being offered for development rights over the park”.

    As this bundled sale of Township assets looks to be tried elsewhere, I think it would be constructive if the Planning Board had an opportunity, independent of any particular deal , to comment on the “good planning” merits of this concept. That is, take a public stance when or if (a) sale of Township’s development rights makes sense, (b) sale of “zoning exemptions” makes sense, and (c) when combining these two separate sales into one transaction makes sense.

    By the same token, I would hope that a body of financial experts would similarly opine on the financial merits each of the two different types of sales of Township assets, and also on the merits of combining these two sales into one combined package of sales.

    Once we have the both the Planning Board’s and Finance Group’s views on the merits of selling development rights on Township property, on selling “zoning exemptions” and on bundling the two transactions into one, then I think we’ll collectively be in much better position to evaluate the next proposed deal.

  72. All perfectly reasonable Martin G.. As I said, there should have been clearer and more resident communication all around about the transfer process proposed and the $ valuation theory connected to it – as part of this debate. Even if the PB was only addressing the issue on a “planning” front and the next step would/will be to move over to Jeff Jacobson for a fiscal analysis at the Capital Finance Committee. Hopefully if there is another proposal like this, it will be handled smoother with more integrated public communication. FYI.. I’ve already had that conversation with our town Planner to try to help effectuate this going forward. And I understand the town may be bringing in someone just to help with this kind of public communication outreach so that issues are presented more in depth for discussion – not just generic press releases about public actions.

  73. There should have been clearer and more precise photoshop renderings and resident input about the impact of this project on the surrounding environment – as part of this debate. I feel that too few residents truly understand the real impact that this project will have and how it will block view corridors.

  74. First, it makes a great deal of difference for a poster to identify themselves. We have no idea who some of the others are or what their agenda is.

    True enough, but consistency and longevity also count for something.

    An identified poster, such as yourself, immediately gains more credibility.

    Perhaps in the short run, but some posters here are ignored despite using their real names.

    Think what it truly means to be independent. It means you can tell the emperor that he has no clothes without fear of repercussion.

    A benefit of anonymity, too.

  75. Forest for the trees. The posters here (a vocal minority) just don’t seem to get it, but thats ok. This is how people like Jackson, like Obama, like George Bush get elected. The town is getting what the town deserves. For the last time, simply move out if you don’t like it (although I guess uselessly fighting the inevitable transformation is your prerogative).

  76. Wall,

    My comments regarding independence were meant to describe the difference between hiring an outside consultant or professional who is not beholden to you, and one who is.

    When the king holds power over your livelihood, its difficult for you to criticize the king.

    If, say, an outside professional firm NEEDS your business and wants more of it they are going to tell you what you want to hear.

  77. It is going on three days now. Could someone please give looloo a CV fix. He is showing withdrawal symptoms.

  78. There is actually an Op Ed piece today in the times about tall buildings and shadows and the impact upon Central Park.

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