BLOG: Montclair Master Plan — We Need To Speak Louder

BY  |  Thursday, May 15, 2014 4:00pm  |  COMMENTS (34)

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Linda Cranston is co-founder of the Save Upper Montclair Facebook group

An opportunity to publicly comment on the Revised Master Plan is Monday, May 19, 7 pm at the George Innes High School Annex on Park St. Speak louder Montclair. They did not hear you. Bring a sign stating what you want. Tell your elected councilman too.

Montclair Master plan (also called Unified Land Use and Circulation). Who are our elected officials and planning board listening to? It must not be the residents. We need to speak louder.

Last year the the planning board and town council heard public outcry against the master plan’s re-zoning for high rises up to 10 stories in Montclair business districts and in highly used parking lots. We are glad to see some decreases but want to see more.

They heard that residents did not want high rises, built higher than current heights. According the the revised plan’s color coded zoning areas:
Bloomfield Ave still has up to 7 stories and 10 at Lackawanna Plaza, now is mostly 2-4 stories.
Walnut St up to 3-5 stories; now is mostly 2-3 stories.
Watchung Plaza up to 2-3 stories but suggested 3-5; now is 1-2 stories.
Upper Montclair up to 3-5; now is mostly 1-2 stories.
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Upper Montclair residents spoke out the most at meetings. Re-zoning was only reduced by 2 stories. Residents with addresses in other neighborhoods were not heard from at meetings so the Mayor Jackson stated that those neighborhoods were not against the high rises. Is this true? You need to speak out or bring a sign.

In addition to this re-zoning, a developer can go even 2 stories higher if they have money to pay the town to do so. This is referred to in the revised plan as density bonuses or incentive zoning. This will encourage town leaders to seek bids from large developers who can pay for the right to build higher. The town may not have the benefit of smaller developers who may be willing to build smaller, at lower profit margins or come with experience building for a historic town feel.

Residents said they did not want development in parking lots we use to support our local business and enjoy our town. In Upper Montclair a major lot is still being developed across from Anderson Park.

The mayor understandably is interested in increasing the tax base with more condos in town but this does not necessarily assure a positive income for the town. If this is the goal, then financial analysis and caution is required for new development. Building bigger does not always equate to
more tax riches.

For instance, if we currently have the resources for required utilities, staffing and facilities, each household unit/ apartment costs the town over $5000 to set up services. But the Montclair Times reported we are running out of water supply now. Of course new costs will be in the millions for any new facility, etc, etc. This is just for water.

Additionally, if there are public school children in an apartment, each child costs Montclair over $18000 per year — if they don’t need special services. Any affordable housing is also subsidized by the town taxpayers.

Historic towns across the country preserve their business districts and neighborhoods. It’s wonderful for the town’s economy and the reason people live there. Montclair needs to continue to especially attract buyers for large beautiful homes that makes the town so special for everyone to enjoy. In less attractive towns, large homes are divided into apartments, setting a downward cycle for the town. Historic neighborhoods and towns are more able to survive national economic downturns since they offer much more than housing. Lots of research supports this and can be googled easily.

Montclair needs to do the same and quickly. Buildings have been going up in Montclair for years with no regard for the nature of the neighborhood or business district. Even with public concern, there still is no historic preservation component protecting the town and our officials are not doing so. Development should add beauty as well as functionality to our neighborhoods, not detract or destroy it. Town officials and planners need to hear this louder and from all neighborhoods. They have need to represent town interests.

One or two influential officials can lead the destruction of a town. It happened in my hometown in upstate NY. In order to get urban renewal funds, they promised the residents businesses would come back if the whole downtown was demolished. Not one business did. The town never recovered and still has blocks of blacktop on Main Street 40 years later.

Tell our planning board and officials again. “No higher anywhere”, “No development in parking lots” and “Preserve historic Montclair”. Email a letter to Janice Talley, PB Director to be distributed to members of the planning board.

To see the “revised” Unified Land Use and Circulation Plan (Masterplan ) go on the Facebook Save Montclair site or go to town website You can find your neighborhood in the table of contents. Find your elected councilman’s email on the town site also. They need to keep hearing what you want.


  1. POSTED BY zidarich  |  May 15, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

    Great point at the end.

    Montclair had NO locally protected residential neighborhoods. That’s correct – ZERO. It’s almost impossible to fathom in a town with the incredibly rich architecture of Montclair.

    Zero. Compare that to towns with similar home stock to ours like Glen Ridge and South Orange. Glen Ridge has over 80% of its town historically protected and they’re about to expand it further. South Orange has over half it’s town historically protected, which protects almost all of its pre-war homes. Montclair has NOTHING.

    It’s why you see things like the Bayonne Box on Walnut Street being built, or turn of the century single family home on Lansing Place that was just knocked down for condos, or the horribly cheap “remodeling” that just took place on Grove St by Stephen St that has destroyed the property values of any house within eyesight of it, or the McMansion going up on the southern end of South Mountain Ave next to an 1897 Victorian.

    The list goes on and on, and for a town like Montclair, who’s main draw is its historic home stock, to leave it all to chance, is insane. And it’s why we see the town’s charm and history slowly destroyed little by little each year.

    Residents should be demanding that the town start designating and protecting neighborhoods. Its the only real legal way to protect Montclair’s homes from tear downs, and to protect all of our property values.

    Right now, nothing is preventing it from happening to you the next time a neighbor puts their house up for sale and a developer buys it.

    There goes the neighborhood.

  2. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  May 15, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

    Often times I ask myself: Just who IS the Town being run for? It doesn’t seem to be for the residents!

  3. POSTED BY walleroo  |  May 15, 2014 @ 8:42 pm

    For the bankers?

  4. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  May 15, 2014 @ 9:05 pm



  5. POSTED BY mistercranetown  |  May 15, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

    Linda, can you please provide an email contact?

    Many people in my neighborhood are also very concerned, and I would like to speak with you offline.


  6. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  May 16, 2014 @ 7:30 am

    There are some very basic realities that the planning process seems to be ignoring.

    First is demand. Montclair’s population is declining, not increasing. And if areas are increasing, What do people want and how does these plans address those needs?

    Second is traffic. The plans ignore existing traffic, which at times can be impossible, as anyone traveling north on valley towards bellevue will attest to. ROUTINELY, traffic backs up to the CVS.

    Who benefits from this development?

    Interesting question. Last week there was a rather detailed article in the Bergen Record about the sale/leaseback of Mountainside Hospital. The article related the clever financial dealings and how the investors were going to do so well. The only thing missing in this article? How the staff, and the patients, would benefit.

  7. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  May 16, 2014 @ 9:47 am

    I’m confused. The FB page is Save UPPER Montclair, yet the writer speaks of Montclair.


    Seems odd to use the fake, and divisive UPPER designation in regards to our town. Our ONE Town of Montclair. Why make those who believe in this fiction (and sadly, many do) feel like this is an UPPER Montclair issue, when clearly, by what you write, it is not?

    Or was “SUM” sounded better than “SM”?

    (I was gonna write in ALL CAPS so you’d know I was SPEAKING LOUDER, as you requested, but it didn’t feel right.)

  8. POSTED BY redrum  |  May 16, 2014 @ 9:59 am

    What Zidarich, the planning board and the town council fail to realize is the concept of Private property. Residents are free to build and renovate their properties as they wish. Without the creation of an architectural review board that has complete dictation over the town, there is nothing unlawful about the ‘Bayonne Box” on Walnut street. Ugly as it may be, its someone’s home.

    Not everyone has the means to build to zidarich’s lofty standards of UPPER Montclair. The bayonne box is in LOWER Montclair where things are more declasse. Montclair is a town of have’s and have nots, and that’s just something you have to live with. Not everyone can afford to gracefully restore English tudors.

  9. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 16, 2014 @ 11:11 am

    There is no demand for this Master Plan and the tooted re development. It has no compelling guarentee, accountability for traffic volume and view corridors. Monday nights meeting attendance should prove that there is a shift to the demand for preservation.

  10. POSTED BY Cary Africk  |  May 16, 2014 @ 11:23 am

    Here’s another way to look at things:

    Follow the money

  11. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 16, 2014 @ 11:41 am

    Its a superficial attempt to follow money…but its not going to happen.

  12. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  May 16, 2014 @ 11:52 am

    ” Seems odd to use the fake, and divisive UPPER designation in regards to our town. Our ONE Town of Montclair. Why make those who believe in this fiction (and sadly, many do) feel like this is an UPPER Montclair issue, when clearly, by what you write, it is not? ”

    I was compelled to reread this statement several times, as the inherent hipocrisy is absolutlely staggering. If there is anyone here that leverages their UPPER Montclair address for the sake of elevating his social status, we all know who it is. Does the word “palatial” ring a bell? You are one strange dude, prof, full of self imposed contradictions which betray your ability to write anything credible here. We have all read your posts and we all know what you are up to. Think about it. Isn’t about time a little introspection is in order?

  13. POSTED BY kyle41181  |  May 16, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

    “Additionally, if there are public school children in an apartment, each child costs Montclair over $18000 per year — if they don’t need special services. Any affordable housing is also subsidized by the town taxpayers.”

    Yes, Limo Liberals strike again!

    All you apartment dwellers beware, the “Upper Montclair” class warfare is finally showing its true colors.


  14. POSTED BY zidarich  |  May 16, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

    Ah redrum, the ever returning champion of the destruction of Montclair’s historic homes! Took you long enough!

    Though from that post I think you made it pretty evident that you don’t live in town. My god man, a quick real estate search online shows you that moat Montclair’s most expensive homes lie south of the Upper Montclair neighborhood. It’s not exactly a well kept secret to those who live in town. Don’t give yourself up so easy dude.

    And no, that Walnut Street house isn’t illegal. That’s my point, it should be. It’s not a home someone built for themselves, it’s a cash cow for an absentee landlord that destroyed the property values or every house near it.

    And if you want to make the private property argument, that’s exactly my point. Say I’m a Montclair homeowner that pays upwards of $30,000 a year in property taxes. Having my neighborhood historically protected is a protection of my private property, my invesment in it, and its value. It protects my private property from being devalued and destroyed by outside developers and absentee landlords.

    It’s a affirmation that the town of Montclair respects and wants to protect the private property of its tax paying residents – the opposite of what they’re allowing to happen right now.

    But of course, politically ideology aside, none of this actually matters to you, as you obviously don’t live in town.

  15. POSTED BY kyle41181  |  May 16, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    “if they don’t need special services.”

    Lets not forget that little additive;

    First its was just class warfare, now its: Stop wating our money with your ADD/ADHD, ESL needing, Aspergers(Spectrum candidates), dyslexia, etc. children.

    So happy i moved. Upper Montclair is full of faux liberals like you Ms. Cranston!

  16. POSTED BY whippersnapper  |  May 16, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

    This town is a dog chasing its tail. I for one think the means by which we tax property etc in this town is extremely broken. I for one would like to start studying the turnover in this town. It would be almost similar to an HR report for any major company. We also need to figure out how to adequately address the capacity issue in terms of our school offerings. Anybody know what % of 1-12 students are Montclair residents but go elsewhere? Id like to see that figure too.

  17. POSTED BY zidarich  |  May 16, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

    Whippersnapper, you can see private school enrollment for all New Jersey Districts here:

  18. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 16, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

    Putting the Master Plan issues aside for the moment, I think the Planning Board deserves credit for their considerable time and efforts in bringing the 2nd Draft to what I hope is the home stretch of what will become public policy for the next 10 years.

    It has been over 30 years since their predecessors published the last Master Plan. While the process that lead to the 1st Draft had more than a few missteps, these missteps resulted in an unprecedented level of public discussion & participation from which we all learned a lot about our township and what makes it special to us.

    The Planning Board members are residents who volunteer their time and expertise to help manage our land use while adhering to land use law . They are not our adversaries. They execute their responsibilities with integrity and a passion for the community.

    I will disagree with them – chiding and chastising them here when I think they are wrong. Yes, sometimes with unvarnished language…but, hopefully, not crossing over the line of civility and respect.

    I think their Monday meeting introducing the revised MP draft will showcase their efforts and continued interest in addressing public concerns and incorporating public input.

  19. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 16, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

    Pulling the class difference card card for the magority who are fighting bad development in 2014 suburban NJ is totally ridiculous. Here the community is trying to defend their property values and serene lives and this is for all.

  20. POSTED BY whippersnapper  |  May 16, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    thank you zidarich!

  21. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  May 16, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

    @ silverleaf, hypocrisy?

    No. From my Palatial Estate in UPPER Montclair, I recognize that those in LOWER Montclair want to feel some affinity with us. So yes, I play to their desires.

    But you found out my plan!!!


  22. POSTED BY zidarich  |  May 16, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

    “Pulling the class difference card card for the magority who are fighting bad development in 2014 suburban NJ is totally ridiculous. Here the community is trying to defend their property values and serene lives and this is for all.”

    Agreed Frank. South Orange is again a great example. It maintains economic and ethnic diversity (and is MUCH less segregated than Montclair) and does an incredible job of preserving the character and charm of its town. Gas lights, tree lined streets, historic homes, etc. It’s a contender for New Jersey’s most beautiful town.

    It hasn’t been easy, especially with what has happened to the towns around it, but its fought incredibly hard to keep its character. Something Montclair often seems unwilling to do.

  23. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  May 16, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

    prof – Little secret I’ll let you on . . . LOWER Montclair does not exist, that is, except within the zip code of your very own narrow, class conscious head. The simple fact that you see this town in those very terms speaks volumes who know better. But go on, tell us more about those who want to feel some affinity with the privlidged “us.” We’re all waiting for you to espouse more self-entitled drivel cloaked as meaningful social commentary.

  24. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  May 16, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

    . . . and let us all know what you mean exactly by “So yes, I play to their desires.”

  25. POSTED BY redrum  |  May 16, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

    Zidarich, perhaps you could use the “Bayonne Boxes Are Illegal” slate the next time you run for council, since you feel so strongly the residents should build to your dictations.

  26. POSTED BY willjames  |  May 16, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

    The examples that zidarich cites in the first comment above are actually the sort of thing that happen when zoning regulations focus almost entirely on defining zones by the *use* (i.e., residential, commercial, etc) permitted within them rather than on the *appearance* of their built environment. Our current zoning regulations work in this use-focused way, and so they don’t have anything meaningful to say about the aesthetic choices made by smaller developers and individual owners when they renovate a property without changing its use-status. The horrible renovations on Walnut and Grove are products of the “use based” zoning status quo. Don’t pin those things on the Master Plan.

    These crappy single-property renovations, along with the very high tolerance the town currently has for abandoned ( ), improperly used ( ) and under-maintained ( ) properties in otherwise high-value locations are much more harmful to Montclair’s livability and attractiveness than most people seem willing to acknowledge. “The devil you know,” I guess.

    I’ve said this before, but “form-based” codes, mentioned prominently in the Master Plan, have the potential to change the way municipalities manage developers’ and property-owners’ construction and renovation projects so that crappy facades ( ) and weirdly-disharmonious designs ( ) aren’t permitted.

    In our response to the Master Plan, we should be spending more time talking about what, ideally, we want our 4- to 6-story buildings to look like, not stamping our feet in a “no higher anywhere” tantrum.

    It’s not as though there isn’t an example right here in NJ of how attractive and contextually-appropriate higher density development can be:

    ( )
    ( )
    ( )
    ( )

  27. POSTED BY latebloomer  |  May 16, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

    When my daughter was about 7, she asked me, “Mommy, do we live in Downer Montclair?”

  28. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  May 16, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

    @ latebloomer, I hope your reply was, “Yes, but one day we hope to move on up to the big leagues and get our turn at bat!”

  29. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  May 16, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

    I agree Form Based Codes could offer an opportunity, but it is a long road for execution and implementation even after we clear the legal hurdles. Remember the demo ordinance?

    Also, I think the same basic hurdles that prevent residential architectural review under historic preservation ordinance would also exist for FBC residential application. We could start in the business districts to phase in the required regulations and review. The near-term opportunity is enforcement. How many commercial and residential properties have paved over a part of their front yard setbacks? I can’t say which ones are legal or not, but we could certainly start enforcement actions against the illegal ones.

    While you give some good examples, they are, with one exception, all 4 stories or less. I think many would be satisfied if in Upper Montclair, for example, the maximum building height was 4 stories.

    Your 2nd link to the 5 story building is not a good example in my mind. It is clean, straightforward building, but is surrounded by 4 lane width streets and a park-like median. Further, it has 1/f parking fronting the sidewalk onto Palmer Square…we’re trying to get away from that. E.g. Valley Rd parking lot

    It may have been a practical concession by Princeton, but I wouldn’t give it any credit.

    Does Princeton use FBC?

  30. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  May 17, 2014 @ 5:41 am

    redrum, rest assured that if enough “Bayonne Boxes” are built in Montclair, property values would plummet. Either that, or they will become the next generation of tear downs.

  31. POSTED BY frankgg  |  May 17, 2014 @ 9:24 am

    Not enough consideration is being given the high value of Montclair’s original Master Plan to American History and to the historic fact that John Nolen is responsable for instituting our present legeslation for Land-Use Zoning—in the United States (in 1910)

    So the Montclair Master Plan of 1909 was one of the first implemented town plans following the new American Land Use Laws. That is EXTREMELY important American History that is totally being ignored with the current Master Plan.

    Also, John Nolen and Harland Batholomew were particularly active in urban planning for mass transit, streets, railroad terminals …in US cities.

    We are in a currently dangerous situation because the current elected officials are ignoring the present public outcry to prevent the irreversible modification of characteristic Montclair under the new proposed Master Plan, instead, they are only supporting the developers. (who in my opinion are the wrong developers to properly operate in Montclair) The only consolation is that only some harm will actually occur in the timeframe until these elected officials’ terms expire and they can be ellected out of office.

    “Nolen Plan” (thank you to willjames who posted this link in another thread)

  32. POSTED BY willjames  |  May 17, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

    “City planning, let it be understood, is not a movement to make cities beautiful in a superficial sense. Its purposes are fundamental. It aims consciously to provide those facilities that are for the common good, that concern everybody; it seeks to save waste, the almost incalculable waste due to unskilful and planless procedure.


    The gravest neglect is the failure to replan and replan to meet increased demands, to readjust and readjust…


    The emphasis needs to be placed less on the original plan, notwithstanding its importance, and more on replanning.


    There are a number of misconceptions about the planning and replanning of cities. The first is that city planning is concerned mainly with beauty. It is of the utmost importance that this fundamental error should be corrected. Any city planning that is worthy of the name is concerned primarily with use and only incidentally with beauty.


    Public opinion is not yet favorable to the public regulation and control of the layout and character of residential neighborhoods. The difficulty of doing these things is greatly increased by what is known as the rights of individual property and by the strength of vested interests.”

    –John Nolen, “New Ideals in the Planning of Cities, Towns, and Villages (1919)

    Unlike the 1919 document referenced above, Nolen’s 1909 report for Montclair is very weak tea—-long on grand pronouncements, short on concrete solutions or recommendations. Nolen the man was a giant (though he has been shown to have been wrong about the effect of certain of his innovative ideas, especially his ideas about roads), but the 1909 “Nolen report” was more or less phoned in. It’s really not obvious, especially if read in conjunction with his 1919 book, how exactly Nolen’s authority is being marshaled as an unequivocal objection to our current Master Plan.

    It also should be said that John Nolen is a source of inspiration to and a founding member of the very planning profession that produces Master Plans such as the one that we’re considering now in Montclair. The folks who have been most instrumental to the development of form-based codes and who can be said to be in the “new urbanist” and “smart growth” camps consider Nolen one of their intellectual grandfathers and a fellow-traveler. If you read the 1919 book above, you’ll see that in fact his ideas are echoed meaningfully (but without explicit attribution) in our Master Plan and in other documents like it. I really don’t think it’s accurate to trot out this dead eminence as an obvious opponent to Montclair’s proposed MP. Based on what I’ve read of his work, I think it’s just as likely that if he were alive today, John Nolen would be one of the leading figures of our age speaking and working toward transit-oriented-development, smart growth (as opposed to dumb sprawl), and new urbanist ideas, NOT an opponent of those things.

  33. POSTED BY willjames  |  May 18, 2014 @ 1:57 pm

    Anyone attending the May 19th meeting might want to read this post on the municipal web site re: building height:

    “The Question of Height” :

    Also, the “Conservation Element” of the Master Plan is very interesting. Frankgg, you might note that this document contains an explicit recommendation that was first proposed by Nolen himself: namely, a true “greenway” to link our parks and transportation nodes. But somehow I bet the greenway idea, despite being directly inspired by Nolen and directly in line with his ideas, will be shouted down in public hearings (based on short term cost considerations). :

    “Master Plan Conservation Element” :

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I'm struck by how much attention is being paid to the details of a parking lot, as opposed to the attention paid to the future impact of the monstrous projects being planned.

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