The Montclair Township Council made news at its October 29 meeting when Mayor Robert Jackson and his six colleagues all announced that they would not support two additional stories on Building 2 of the CentroVerde project. Although there was no official vote taken during the meeting, the council verbally expressed their opposition to the proposal, which the Montclair Planning Board voted against recommending by a margin of 6-2 (with Mayor Jackson and Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon, the two council representatives on the board, abstaining), ensuring its defeat. Township Manager Marc Dashield also made news by updating Montclair residents on the progress of evaluating the need to develop the Nishaune Well. Public comment in reaction to both issues took over two hours of a three-hour meeting.
In addressing CentroVerde, Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller summed up the attitudes of his colleagues when he said that he weighed the concerns of his constituents and the deliberations of the Planning Board and concluded that he could not support the eight-story plan for Building 2. “I think that while there are, of course, benefits to anything and of course potential problems to anything, when looking in this project in totality, I would not feel comfortable supporting the additional stories for what has been offered,” he said. He did praise the efforts of Montclair Acquisition Partners to maximize the township’s assets with the idea of a public plaza, but he felt it wasn’t worth the price of approving their plans. Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager said that she could not support it without public backing, which she concluded was mostly non-existent. Councilor McMahon noted that there were already seven- and eight-story buildings in Montclair that were appropriate for their locations, but he felt the placement of such a tall building in Montclair Center would not work.
While residents praised the council for their unanimous opposition to the plan, many of them lamented the master plan for allowing more development that could possibly destroy Montclair’s character. Pat Kenschaft and her husband, Fred Chichester, feared that more development meant would mean more cars exacerbating traffic jams at intersections like Grove Street and Watchung Avenue. Patti Grunther of Irving Street was pleased that the council listened to residents but expressed doubts about the sort of development Mayor Jackson, whom Grunther said she voted for, seemed to be advocating. She was greatly troubled by the type of development that the master plan would allow in the form of high-density apartment buildings to accommodate more residents.
“This town doesn’t want that master plan the way that it’s written,” Grunther said. How can you revise something that was devised in a wrong-handed way? The premises of that master plan are not solid, either economically, and certainly not in terms of the kind of development that this town wants to see.” She said that she had heard some residents mention the possibility of recall elections for council members in reaction to the master plan.
Dashield’s report on the Nishuane Well noted that the township was still sifting through over three hundred questions from the public in response to the hearings on the issue held in January 2013. He said that the township was looking at possible ways to mitigate the impact of converting the well from a monitoring facility to a source of water for Montclair, and he was hopeful that developing the well could reduce the township’s dependence on reservoir water and provide a water source to fall back on in emergencies. Montclair gets about 20 percent of its water from wells’ Dashield would like to increase that to 50 percent.
Once the public questions are answered, the answers will be posted on the township Web site as well as referred to the council for review. The council would have to approve or deny a resolution supporting the Green Acres application and get it to the State House commission meeting for their meeting in May 2014. An approved resolution would be forwarded to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and Green Acres and be up before the commission for approval or disapproval.
“If the diversion is approved by the State House commission, the project will then require some financing,” Dashield said, “and we’re looking toward the New Jersey Environmental Trust Fund to finance the project.” Dashield also iterated that Nishuane Park had been chosen for a potential well site because other sites in the water-rich geology of Montclair’s southern tip – Warman Street, Porter Park – had water of inferior quality.
Several residents questioned the wisdom of developing a well that Montclair may not even need and the expense of maintaining the well once it’s developed. Resident Audrey Hawley was particularly incensed at that fact that nine months had passed without any questions from the hearings being answered. She found the wait until April 2014 “unacceptable” and voiced the opposition of many Fourth Ward residents who were exasperated by the undesirable public works projects located there. “The Fourth Ward gets dumped on and dumped on and dumped on, and it is time for it to stop!” she said.
Under this council, Montclair’s debt has been reduced from around $220 million to $199,990, 349.15 after cancelling $2,957,512 bonds and notes previously authorized by bond ordinance, among other things. According to Katya Wowk, Communications Director, It’s a 9.2% drop since this council came to office.
The township council also voted unanimously to send to the Planning Board a review of a proposed resolution designating properties around the CentroVerde project in need of rehabilitation, which includes the old DeCozen auto showroom. Two houses on Portland Place would only be included with the approval of the owners. A plan to allow AT&T to install communications facilities on utility poles was tabled when Councilor Spiller wanted more information on who is responsible for maintaining the poles and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville expressed concerns on the wires interfering with private properties and compromising the aesthetics in certain neighborhoods. A first-reading ordinance added at the last minute established the position of a police director, with Councilor McMahon casting the only vote against it.
Montclair is as Bicycle Friendly Community
Bike & Walk Montclair also presented Mayor Jackson and the council with the bronze medal from the League of American Bicyclists, designating Montclair as as Bicycle Friendly Community for its efforts to improve the safety of cyclists. Mayor Jackson thanked Bike and Walk Montclair’s Jerry Fried, his predecessor as mayor ,for his leadership in promoting cycling while in that office.