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.
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.
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.