Montclair Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon, sitting through a meeting of the Montclair Planning Board, opined that August 11 was an historic day for the board, as it had approved one gateway project – the Montclarion II apartment building – and was about to approve another – the MC Hotel. But a concern about parking at the hotel raised by board member Peg Seip 10 minutes before midnight dragged the meeting past the bewitching hour and into August 12, making it an historic two days for the board. The board did in fact approve both projects, after a few revisions had been made to the former and numerous revisions had been made to the latter.
The follow-up hearing on the MC Hotel didn’t get started until 10:30 PM, when architect Michael Maturo of DYAMI Architecture presented a revised version of his original design that greatly impressed board members. The basic design was the same, but the facade’s red brick walls and silver metallic corner element were replaced by softer, more traditional tones of beige and bronze, with more window space in the cylindrical corner element and Craftsman-style brass shingling at the porte-cochere entrance. Narrower concentric tubes were used to crate the halo at the rooftop to give it a more subtle look.
Horizontal banding was also included to break up the mass, with windows at the second floor level of the southern elevation complimented by an electronic art board that Maturo said could carry advertising. Planning Director Janice Talley said that the art board could be used to display artistic patterns, but not ads, which are prohibited by Montclair’s signage ordinance. Traffic expert George Kelly, meanwhile, presented a turning radius diagram showing that trucks could enter and leave the loading dock area without inconveniencing opposing traffic on Orange Road. The driveway will also feature 25-foot-wide aprons.
Board member Martin Schwartz said that the redesign efforts of the subcommittee he has chaired, which included input from Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) member Grace Lynch and former HPC Chairman Ira Smith, among others, made for a happier outcome of what could have been a disastrous final design, even though Montclair did not include the block in an historic district, which would have given the HPC a greater role in the process, as he felt the township should have done. Responding to misgivings about the hotel’s bulk, he said that the bulk had been allowed in the redevelopment plan approved in 2011 before he, and some other members, including the Mayor and Councilor McMahon, had joined the board.
Board member Peg Seip delayed a final vote on the hotel resolution by bringing up concerns that parking had not been addressed as thoroughly as design concerns, suggesting that a nightmare could be in the offing. Planning Board Chairman John Wynn rhetorically asked her why the hotel’s developers wouldn’t consider such a thing when their chances for a successful investment were at high stakes, and Pinnacle CEO Brian Stolar, noting that he will give the township quarterly assessments of parking for two years after the project’s completion, said that he and his associates have given thought to every last parking detail.
Although resident Alan Shelton feared a hotel would increase traffic coming into town, Montclair Business Improvement District Director Luther Flurry said it would add value to Montclair’s quality of life, and the board members agreed, with Wynn adding that the developers did a commendable job designing a building for such a small property when a larger and more suitable one was unavailable. Although the hotel’s developers plan to meet further with Schwartz’s subcommittee to fine-tune architectural details, the hotel was in fact approved by the board.
Montclarion II Approved with Conditions
After weeks of being relegated to the background by, ironically, the hotel, developer Richard Polton and his associates finally presented their revised design for Montclarion II between Bloomfield Avenue and Pine Street. Architect Paul Sionas discussed the original tower design on the southeastern corner of the building, which had met with the disapproval of Chairman Wynn at the board’s May 12 meeting. The new design, originally meant to be unveiled on June 23 but delayed because of the master plan revisions,eliminated the tower (lowering the corner by eighteen and a half feet) and added glass along the eastern and southern elevations of the building. The building was also set back eight feet from the eastern edge of the property line, allowing a pedestrian path and landscaping along the building’s eastern end. Sionas also moved the staircase shaft from the southeastern corner to the northeastern corner and moved the elevator shaft to the eastern corner with the elimination of the corner tower, and rooftop space was also reduced as a result of the reconfiguration. Thirteen of the 40 units would have balconies, and an additional affordable -housing unit with three bedrooms would be added.
Sionas’ revisions also featured art-display windows and decorative grilles to hide the parking area that takes up most of the space directly behind the facade along the incline on Bloomfield Avenue. The retail space next to the southeastern corner would still comprise 1,500 square feet.
Engineer J. Michael Petri testified that a few deviations would be needed from standards of the Eastern Gateway redevelopment plan, such as the need to accommodate parking set back 2.45 feet from the property, not four feet standardized by the redevelopment plan, indoor bicycle racks away from the entrance instead of just outside the main entrance, 18.5 percent of open rooftop space as opposed to a requirement of at least 25 percent, and retail space comprising 48.5 percent of facade space, rather than the standard of 50 percent. The board suggested adding retail space to the apartment lobby such as a coffee shop that could be open to non-residents during daytime hours to liven up the area, which Petri was amenable to.
Board member Carole Willis was unsatisfied with the building’s mass, saying that even though the building is designed to look like a four-story building, given that the two lower levels of parking are hidden by the appearance of a single story along the incline on Bloomfield Avenue, the Montclarion II would still technically be six stories and that a stepback one story lower than the top floor was needed to blend in with shorter adjacent structures. In a dialogue between Willis and Petri about how the fourth residential story, actually the fifth story overall, was a sixth story that recalled the contract scene from the Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera (“The first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract”), and how a lower stepback was needed, Petri explained as best as possible under the circumstances how a lower stepback would make the rental of upper-floor apartments less lucrative.
“The highest floor of this building has probably what will be considered the prime units, the most expensive units, the penthouse units in the building,” Petri said. He said that these units wouldn’t have balconies with a lower stepback.
Also, traffic expert Nicholas Verderese examined the traffic that would be generated going in and out of the Montclarion II and how it would impact the block. He testified that the impact would be negligible, given the transit opportunities available and the fact that the parking entrance on Pine Street would be farther from Bloomfield Avenue than the entrance to the Bay Street train station.
The Montclarion II was approved with conditions adding more decorative grille work along the western at the ground level of the western facade, a plan to manage public art along the Bloomfield Avenue façade, a suggestion by Mayor Robert Jackson to spend $15,000 per unit to refurbish affordable housing units in existing Montclarion building, and a reconsideration of the fiber cement fiber boards for the top floor. Wynn complimented Sionas for a design revision that added more character to the building and a tremendous effort at handling the height and story problems caused by the incline.