The planning boards of Montclair and Glen Ridge met at the Montclair Fire Department headquarters on May 18 to go over a consultants’ presentation addressing the area around Mountainside Hospital, which is looking to expand its footprint in the neighborhood straddling the two towns. Consultants Jessica Giorgianni and Jeff Janota of H2M Architects + Engineers determined that the area should be redeveloped, with a few properties rehabilitated, and they went through a highly detailed explanation of their study. All expect one of the twenty properties affected are in Montclair, with the nursing school property in Glen Ridge. The Montclair Planning Board endorsed the study for the township council’s review, but chose to recommend exempting two properties from inclusion as properties in area in need of redevelopment, suggesting that they be designated in need of rehabilitation instead.
In their presentation, Giorgianni and Janota said that the nursing school building was in an untenable state of disrepair and had several fire code violations, and that it was no longer suitable for modern medical use. Mountainside’s proposed new office building would replace the school building.
They found that three vacant houses – one on Walnut Crescent, one on Sherwood Street, and another on Claremont Avenue – and three occupied houses on Walnut Crescent met the criteria for redevelopment due to being substandard and obsolete, with an occupied house at 4 George Street meeting only the latter criterion. All of these houses are owned by the hospital. The consultants explained that the houses on Walnut Crescent were on poorly shaped lots, with the Walnut Crescent houses causing conflict with the nearby intersection with Bay Avenue and access to Mountainside’s emergency room, and were in a terrible state of disrepair. The George Street house was singled out for having an illegally converted attic apartment and lacking a driveway, which on-street parking was too restricted to compensate for. Giorgianni and Janota also noted that on-street parking for that house’s residents competes with parking for the hospital. These houses would likely be replaced by parking.
Another hospital-owned residential property, 12 Claremont Avenue, was singled out to be in generally good condition but had rodent infestation and water leaks. The consultants recommended including 12 Claremont Avenue in a redevelopment area under Section 3 of New Jersey’s redevelopment definition, which states that a property that is not detrimental to the well-being of the area should still be included to make redevelopment effective. The consultants did not have a recommendation for 32 Sherwood Street, a property not owned by the hospital that was looked at in the study.
The findings also showed that the area also met criteria for an area in need of rehabilitation due to the deterioration and aging of the housing stock, a pattern of vacancy, and an aging of the infrastructure. As the H2M consultants explained at their March 30 neighborhood meeting the difference between rehabilitation and redevelopment is repairing the existing stock in rehabilitation versus building or rebuilding on vacant or unimproved publicly owned land or replacing a large number of obsolete structures or properties blighted by faulty design and dated layouts in redevelopment.
Members of both boards had questions. Montclair’s Martin Schwartz asked if the towns were led to look at redevelopment or if the impetus came from market forces to expand health care facilities. Planning Director Janice Talley said that the councils passed resolutions to have the study done, but Schwartz wanted to know who determined the need for a study – the councils or the hospital. Talley said the at hospital approached the township with the interest in fixing up the hospital area, and she said that there was a use variance that would require the hospital to go to the zoning board, and that led to a discussion of how to craft a plan forth area at large. Ravi Methrota of Glen Ridge asked about how future development would be determined, and Talley and Giorgianni said that future use would be the next step. Glen Ridge’s Ruby Siegel asked about the relationship between the property owner and the redeveloper, and if they were one and the same, or if there were a process to select a redeveloper. Giorgiani said that that would be up to the towns and how they negotiate the process. Siegel also wanted to know why the hospital couldn’t just redevelop its own properties, and Talley explained that the involvement of the towns would them to create a larger plan for the area based on “community objectives.”
Several members of the public were skeptical about any plan that might affect the houses in the area recommended for redevelopment. William Scott, a Montclair resident actively involved in preserving affordable housing, said it was unacceptable to have allowed Mountainside to let its houses on Walnut Crescent deteriorate. He said that the houses, which mostly date to the early twentieth century (34 Sherwood Street dates back to 1877, when the phonograph was invented and Rutherford B. Hayes was in the White House), would represent a “significant loss” of housing if demolished, and that any redevelopment plan might change the residential character of the neighborhood. he called attention to the $100,000 in taxes Mountainside paid Montclair in 2014 for the properties as opposed to the $2.5 million Mountainside paid Glen Ridge for its main building that same year. We would like to see a benefit to the residents of Montclair, if we’re going in that direction,” Scott said in noting the lopsided benefits for Glen Ridge at Montclair’s expense.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville also endorsed a plan that would address the need to preserve the housing stock for affordable housing, and she cited the local housing group HOMECorp’s success in rehabilitating old housing stock. She said he was concerned that there might be a conflict of interest if the hospital wanted to go down the route of redevelopment rather than getting a zoning variance for its plans.
After the Glen Ridge Planning Board adjourned early and left the meeting, the Montclair Planning Board contemplated the township properties in the study. Board Chairman John Wynn was conflicted over whether to include 12 Claremont Avenue in a redevelopment recommendation to the council, and board member Carole Willis felt the same way about 4 George Street. In the end, both were endorsed for rehabilitation rather than redevelopment in the recommendation that the board sent to the council unanimously. The property at 32 Sherwood Street was also included for a rehabilitation study. The board also added language suggested by Schwartz to consider scale, density, design as it relates to the neighborhood’s character, and to maintain and maximize ratables. Willis also added a reference to the need to preserve affordable housing.
The Glen Ridge Planning board meets on Wednesday, May 20, to discuss recommendation the redevelopment of the nursing school property to the Glen Ridge Council, though a final recommendation may not come then.