Montclair Historic Preservation Commission Reviews Plans From Plofker, Grabowsky

Janice Talley and Ira Karasick at the October 16 Montclair Historic Preservation Commission meeting
Janice Talley and Ira Karasick at the October 16 Montclair Historic Preservation Commission meeting

The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) met on October 16 in its first meeting this year without a consultant. Although there was no hint of when a successor for Peter Primavera might be named, the meeting, facilitated by Planning Director Janice Talley, proceeded smoothly after a stumble or two over approval of minutes.

The highlight of the evening was developer Steven Plofker’s appearance to discuss his plans for the old motor vehicle inspection station on the corner of Forest and Label Streets. Plofker, accompanied by architect Paul Sionas, was visibly excited about the project and was constantly moving back and forth between the renderings and plans, which Sionas had shown to the Planning Board at its August 25 meeting.

Sionas, for his part, reprised his Planning Board presentation for the benefit  of the commissioners. As he noted back in August, the sealed window openings facing Label Street would be opened up and feature windows with metal frames with both pairs of garage door openings converted into windows. Sionas also plans to incorporate the building’s metal trusses into the interior layout and include a second floor.

Plofker had had the HPC review his original 2011 design for the former inspection station as a residential structure, and he explained that his change of mind to redo it for commercial and office use instead was in reaction to his commercial conversions of adjacent properties on that block. “I didn’t realize how well they would turn out and how well they would be received by the tenants and visitors to the buildings,” he said. “When he saw that the block was so successful as a commercial area, he thought it more prudent to make the motor vehicle inspection station a commercial building as the best way to preserve the interior.

Reaction was generally positive but improvements were suggested. Commissioner Debra David that that Plofker had a “cool” idea to recycling the building, but she was unsold on the idea of an exterior staircase to the second-floor offices. Commissioner Eric Givren said that stairs made the building look like a motel. Plofker said he was open to the suggestion of a small central lobby in the building with a staircase. He also thought he could work without a second floor, which had been incorporated in the design to make the first floor less cavernous and more attractive to possible tenants. He had no renderings for a single-floor project, but he did have elevations worked out in case the Planning Board disapproves the second-floor plan.

Developer Steven Plofker presents his motor vehicle inspection station conversion plans to the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission,
Developer Steven Plofker presents his motor vehicle inspection station conversion plans to the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission,

Commissioner Kathleen Bennett liked Sionas’ design for ventilation units referring to industrial smokestacks, but she suggested that they be randomly placed rather than in pairs. Commission Vice Chair Diane Scotland  agreed with David on the placement of the staircase, and she also felt that more green space was needed around the building, particularly in place of the asphalt paving where the vehicular exits used to be. And although Commission Chairman Stephen Rooney, a Planning Board member, liked the overall plan, he wanted to set entrances along the frontage facing label Street to open it up a bit. Plofker was eager and gracious in considering all of the HPC’s suggestions, and their comments will be reviewed by the Planning Board when it returns to Plofker’s application in November.

Plofker’s eagerness was in sharp contrast to the frustration of Dick Grabowsky, owner of the Hinck Building, who brought his application to remodel part of his building’s Bloomfield Avenue frontage. He and Montclair architect Helen Torris presented a plan to redo the three arched bays to the left of and the three arched bays to the right of the Claridge Theater entrance. The three bays on the left would be the frontage of a new restaurant, with the entrance on the far left bay and windows of vertical large panes in all three of them; the three bays on the right would front another enlarged area for a new store and feature wider window panes, with the entrance in the far right bay. The proposal, which required Torris to present a long diptych illustrating her design, was met with skepticism from the commissioners due to Grabowsky’s failure to show how the changes would look on the whole building, showing both stories, not just how they would look on the ground floor. Commissioner Givren compared the rendering to showing a picture of a woman with only the skirt and shoes and no indication of her appearance from the waist up.

Grabowsky, whose testimony Township Attorney Ira Karasick recused himself from hearing owing to a conflict of interest, protested that he was in danger of losing the restaurant client, who was planning to choose between Montclair and Ridgewood. Commissioner David said she wanted more information, and Talley asked Grabowsky to provide more detail at the HPC’s November 20 meeting. The Hinck Building is as synonymous with Montclair as the Wrigley Building is with Chicago.

Also, the HPC weighed in on plans by property owner Henri Boucicaut to renovate 164 Bloomfield Avenue, and the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Hartley Street. Florham Park contractor Corey Hammond  explained that Boucicaut was striving under pressure from the township to improve the dilapidated house and was interested in installing relatively inexpensive vinyl windows to keep within a budget. The commissioners told Hammond that they could not improve vinyl windows due to historical inaccuracy unless they faced an area not visible to passersby. Vinyl-clad wood windows, however, were permissible, because it involved the use of wood. Commissioner Givren said that Hammond could easily find such a window to fit his client’s overall budget.

164 Bloomfield Avenue, at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Hartley Street.  Image courtesy of Google.
164 Bloomfield Avenue, at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Hartley Street. Image courtesy of Google.

Talley asked Hammond to give her a detailed plan that the HPC could approve, and she would send it to the commission’s revisions committee.  The planned renovation of 164 Bloomfield Avenue comes at a time when work on the abandoned condominium tower half a block away has resumed and construction of the Montclarion II apartment building is expected to start soon across the street.







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  1. The 3 projects heard are examples of both the good and the bad about the MHPC.

    Mr Plofker’s presentation (which was only a referral from the PB for an advisory opinion) was properly prepared and illustrated how the HPC’s review can be constructive and timely.

    The other two projects (which were applications requiring HPC approval) showcase why developers are allowed to complain about the time-consuming “red tape” HPC review process. Both application’s content should have been better vetted before coming before the HPC or the developers should have been warned their applications were likely not to be approved. This is an ongoing problem with the process. It puts the members of the HPC in an uncomfortable position of either delaying the application or making a procedural concession to the applicant.

    The other problem is the use of the revisions committee here. Everyone knows vinyl windows are not allowed in a historic district. Windows are a major and critical component of any application and should be voted on by the full commission – not determined by a subcommittee. The full HPC did not conditionally approve of a manufacturer, type or quality. The only window option submitted was rejected. So, the full board is essentially not voting on a one of two major components of the application.

    The applicant should understand their application will not likely be approved and carried to the next meeting. Instead, the HPC is encouraged to expedite through work-arounds like this. Also, when an applicant is asked by the HPC to submit a “detailed plan”, it should be a red flag to question the subcommittee option.

  2. Vinyl windows, if known by their more generic term, ‘plastic windows’, would probably experience a sales slump.

  3. The 164 Bloomfield Ave property is Montclair’s best example of the consequences of an ill-conceived Area In Need of Redevelopment and its Redevelopment Plan. The ANR came out of the Remson Council. It also had the added distinction of undermining historic preservation and adoptive reuses (even while the plan touted these concepts) because it resulted in land speculation. Yet, this property is not even in the ANR! The urban planning concept here….a non-contigous redevelopment zone.

    While the Remson Council authorized this mess, the Zoning & Planning Board had a direct hand in it, too.

  4. For my own selfish reasons, I am not sure whether it’s a good thing that Mr Plofker has changed his mind on the residential aspect of the Label St building. Parking is a nightmare already in the area because the road is simply too narrow for parking on both sides; people park all day long for the train station; they park directly beneath the ‘no parking’ signs; Yoga ladies block driveways (yes I see them come and go with their mats!!) – overall making Forest Street a flaming hazard! Don’t get me started about the mornings, when the school bus is trying to get through and the street is completely lined with cars on both sides, as well as co-op school parents parked clear to the corners and dropping off junior to dart out between cars. <<>>

    So on the one hand, commercial use = cars parked all day long blocking sightlines and driveways. Residential use = cars parked all day long (commercial visitors and train riders), plus nowhere for the residents to park overnight (IIRC there was need for a variance due to lack of spaces per unit).

    On a related note, has anyone heard whether the proposed ordinance making a two-foot buffer around all Montclair driveways was passed by the Council? If so I will volunteer to spray paint my own curbs yellow so that people driving anything larger than a golf cart will stop parking in what’s clearly *not* big enough for a vehicle!!

  5. Could someone please explain the thinking regarding Mr. Boucicaut renovation plans for 164 Bloomfield Avenue? The article states the commissioners would not improve vinyl windows but would be fine with vinyl-clad wood windows. From the exterior don’t these two types of windows look the same?

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