Montclair First Ward Councilor William Hurlock held his first community meeting of 2015, where he took questions and made comments regarding issues concerning issues specifically relating to Upper Montclair, along with a few general issues affecting the whole township. The biggest issue discussed at the January 29 meeting was NJ Transit’s interest in de-listing the Upper Montclair railway station from the state and national historic registers because of the February 2006 fire that destroyed most of the original building.
Councilor Hurlock explained that the issue first came up in February 2011 when the township Historic Preservation Commission first received the de-listing request, with two letters sent by Barton Ross of the HPC and Mayor Robert Jackson in September 2012 saying that, based on conversations with the HPC, the town didn’t oppose the de-listing.
“There’s some big debate as to what transpired during the re-build,” the councilor said. “My understanding is that there was an extensive process undertaken when this was rebuilt to try to use as much of the original structure or material as possible, maybe as high as anywhere from 15 to 25 percent, including the porte-cochère.”
The porte-cochère, or the portico extending from the main structure of the railway station, was left over from the original 1892 building and incorporated into the re-built station, along with original terra cotta roof tiles, keeping the historic designation intact. There were two options in rebuilding the station; one was to use authentic 1890s building materials, and the other was to incorporate as much of the original building that survived the fire as possible. The latter option was chosen to cut costs, and even though both options were valid ways of keeping the building historic, NJ Transit chose to have it de-listed anyway.
Ironically, Montclair Planning Board member Martin Schwartz, in answering resident Ilmar Vanderer’s question as to what benefit could possibly come from having it de-listed, said that cost cutting was the issue; keeping the railway station listed as an historic building would require the transit agency to invest more money in its maintenance and use more expensive materials to preserve it per historic register guidelines.
Councilor Hurlock re-affirmed his opposition to the de-listing, and he urged constituents to write the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office and NJ Transit to keep it on the state and national historic registers. He said he believed that the 2006 reconstruction, with the salvaged historic materials, still complemented the historic nature of the Upper Montclair Business District. A public hearing on the matter is tentatively scheduled for March 12.
Another resident was at the meeting to address concerns about the area around Mountainside Park along Highland Avenue. He complained about utility workers in the area throwing garbage, including beer bottles, on the ground during lunchtime, and he noted that he had had to report a narcotics transaction in the area that led to a drug bust reported in the Montclair Times. Glenda Rivera, a police officer with the Montclair community policing unit, explained that the police were divided into different zones, each with a certain amount of assigned officers, and she noted that the zone including Mountainside Park was geographically large and thus difficult to patrol. She encouraged the resident to stay in touch with Chief David Sabagh to focus on the problems in the area, lamenting that it was impossible for officers in any zone to be everywhere all the time.
When Ilmar Vanderer opined that the police officer keeping a watch on Anderson Park, next to where he lives, could be of better use at Mountainside, Officer Rivera informed him that complaints about rowdy teenagers in Anderson Park necessitated the patrol. She said she understood the frustration of enforcing the law in all of Montclair’s public spaces.
“We try to enforce as often and as hard as we can,” she said. “You have no idea how I wish they could just say, ‘Glenda, go hit every single park, every single day.'” Vanderer suggested a greater balance in distributing police officers throughout the parks, noting that he never saw any illicit activities in Anderson Park in the daytime and that officers would be more effective elsewhere, such as Mountainside Park at lunchtime.
Acting Township Manager Timothy Stafford also introduced himself to First Ward constituents at this first community meeting for the ward since he took over from Marc Dashield. Residents praised him for his oversight of the recent snow removal following the first major snowfall to affect Montclair in the winter of 2014-15, and he was quick to deflect the credit to Public Works Superintendent Rob Bianco. Another resident expressed concern about the traffic at Norwood and Lorraine Avenues, just a block away from the Bellevue Avenue library where the meeting was held, in light of a recent accident where a child was struck by a car. Stafford was sympathetic to the request for a four-way stop sign at the intersection, a study which would have to conducted by Township Engineer Kim Craft, and he said he would relay the concern to Chief Sabagh in an effort to enforce the speed limits in the intersection.
Katie York of Lifelong Montclair, an aging-in-place group that helps senior citizens remain residents of the township, appeared to talk about her group’s activities. York, Lifelong Montclair’s project director, said that seminars helping aging Montclair residents utilize public transit were being planned, and she was making an effort to distribute transit guides throughout the township. Other things the group was doing was getting Home Sharing, a group that helps older people share housing to come into Montclair. York can be reached via e-mail for more information at MontclairAIP@gmail.com.