Montclair Planning Board Talks Redevelopment at Last 2015 Meeting

Keenan Hughes of Phillips Price Grygiel
Keenan Hughes of Phillips Price Grygiel

The Montclair Planning Board  tackled not one, but two major issues in its final meeting of 2015 (and board member Peg Seip’s last meeting ever; she is stepping down from the Planning Board, Chairman John Wynn announced toward the meeting’s end).  The December 21 gathering focused primarily on the basic goals for redeveloping the area around Seymour Street as an arts and entertainment district and on the economic data on the feasibility of redeveloping Lackawanna Plaza with the inclusion of a municipal complex.

Keenan Hughes of the consulting firm Phillips Price Grygiel outlined the objectives in the Seymour Street redevelopment effort, for which a concrete plan has yet to be written.  The idea is to develop new spaces for artists such as studios, galleries, and residential space with architecture that would complement and respect existing buildings, along with a clearly defined  public space to act in tandem with the Wellmont Theater as an anchor.  Hughes proposed that Seymour Street itself could be partially closed in front of the Wellmont for that purpose.

“There’s an opportunity there to do something really special and to make it the signature public gathering space along Bloomfield Avenue, ” Hughes said.  “The key here is to design something that is active and inviting throughout the week, not just a space that’s active before or after shows at a theater.”

Hughes envisioned integrating the district with Montclair to strengthen its reputation as an arts community, and he also said the redevelopment should provide more parking while providing transit alternatives and encouraging more pedestrian activity.  He also said that new buildings should be designed in a sustainable way, using design to promote energy conservation.

Local developer Brian Stolar added a few comments about the vision for the Wellmont Theater to be part of a “new more welcoming” area for the arts. He said that he wanted to keep the 1922 structure, built by H.H. Wellenbrink, up and running when the opportunity came to buy it from its previous owners. He has formed a partnership with the New York-based  Brookfield Property Partners to continue the upgrades to the theater.  Two Brookfield representatives were also present.  Richard Fermicola, explaining that he firm invested in “best-in-class assets in communities,  said that he found the Wellmont to be a great asset and an easy sell, noting that many of his firm’s employees lived in Montclair. Deborah Simon, Brookfield’s vice president of arts and entertainment and a Montclair resident, explained that she runs a privately funded arts program through her work with Brookfield, doing over 450 free events and exhibitions for the public all over North America.  She said that there was a tremendous opportunity to expand the arts community in her hometown and foster more exposure for the township’s arts community.

Brian Stolar of Pinnacle
Brian Stolar of Pinnacle

Meanwhile, Mayor Robert Jackson appeared before the board, on which he used to serve, to say that Montclair needs to modernize its public facilities, noting that the police station and the municipal building have both outlived their usefulness, but that he wants to see the township be able to build a new municipal complex at Lackawanna Plaza while keeping Montclair on a path to reduce its debt. He introduced financial analyst Bob Benecke to provide his take on the proposal to redevelop Lackawanna Plaza, as well as the township property in the western gateway area. Much of Benecke’s testimony involved economic semantics that a couple of residents in attendance admitted to have found difficult to follow, but in layman’s terms, Benecke made it clear that the financials for Montclair were very positive.  Though he was taking a conservative guess about how much revenue Montclair could gain from redeveloping the Lackawanna Plaza area and from its current assets, he said that Montclair was well poised to be “the breakout town” of the Northeast.  He said the projects were “nothing but a home run” that could raise its credit rating beyond AA+ and generate positive results for the town.

Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson
Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson

Public Comment

Public comment in response to both presentations was largely mixed.  Linda Russell of Aging In Montclair urged that housing for seniors be considered as part of any redevelopment plan for Seymour Street, as many seniors in town are priced out of their houses by the tax burden and have no place to go.  Stolar responded that he planned to provide unsubsidized housing for both twentysomethings and seniors, saying that these groups were underserved. Responding to Benecke’s financials, William Scott asked about square footage for the new municipal complex, and Planning Director Janice Talley said that the approximately 85,000 square feet from such a project would be a modest increase over the combined space of the municipal complex, the police station, and the Board of Education building put together.

Scott had also asked if the redevelopment would be doable with 20 percent Coalition On Affordable Housing (COAH)-based housing with affordability controls if a residential component were added.  Benecke said yes, but Stolar noted that the housing plans for weren’t finalized, and that he included the same 10-percent standard as in previous developments; the numbers and rental rates he provided did not have a 20 percent component.  He stressed that he was aiming toward housing affordability as opposed to COAH-based affordable housing and proposing micro-units, which would put some living arrangements outside units (including communal facilities).  This did not sit well with resident Audrey Hawley, who insisted that 20 percent COAH-based affordable housing had to be adhered to if the financials proved they were doable.

According to Benecke, there would be up to 340 units overall, 200 to 240 of them in the Lackawanna Plaza area, with many of the rest in the Leach building or at the current municipal building.

The board found enough time to approve a new handicapped-accessible ramp for 295 Bloomfield Avenue, on the northwest corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Lackawanna Plaza, for the new location of the “Lackawanna Station” Dunkin’ Donuts, along with new awnings and signage.  Also, the board tentatively scheduled a special meeting  for January 21 to discuss a proposed amendment to the town’s master plan regarding Glenridge Avenue and Church Street. If there is time for the board to discuss the matter at its January 11 meeting, then no special meeting will be needed.

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  1. “…priced out of their houses by the tax burden and have no place to go.”
    Talk about Hyperbole. IF these seniors own these houses I’m sure they are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if they sold them. Sell the house and rent someplace at market rents in Montclair or move someplace cheaper.

    “This did not sit well with resident Audrey Hawley, who insisted that 20 percent COAH-based affordable housing had to be adhered to if the financials proved they were doable.”

    handout USA needs to stop. they are lucky that any affordable housing is included. If you can’t afford to live here move. It’s not a right to live in Montclair. Lots of people would like to but they are also priced out so they go someplace else. Stop complaining.

  2. Watching “the financials” presentation last night was like watching Odell Beckham Jr. in the Carolina game. Mr Benecke, an acknowledged NJ expert in public accounting, was all over the field in his contributions.

    Yes, these rosy “figures include a 20% AH component cost” had Mr Stolar imitating Coach Coughlin.

    He also said the “education costs were not there” because of a barbell effect on the other 80% of the units. Flag.

    Yes, the proposed blended ROI concept just gave Montclair it’s best chance of getting into the playoff round for a New Jersey Future 2016 Smart Growth Award…for the most radical interpretation of LHRA and LTEP. Flag.

    Of course, if we didn’t know it already, Mr Benecke reminded us that “general office spaces are getting smaller” (per capita) so I think the ultra mysterious Municipal Facilities Task Force needs to stiffen their POV on the municipal and the BoE facilities needs. Maybe if we did reduce our needs appropriately, we would only need three 0.5 acre lots for muni/polic/mps

    But my favorite was when he switched from his financial hat to his economist’s hat (not sure what the difference is) and said the developer(s) are making a “big investment with a lot of risk”. Now, he had just told the Board that Montclair is “poised to be the breakout town of the northeast” with all of this redevelopment.

  3. These are two special interests groups that bang the drum at every single meeting. It’s a tired song already.

    Montclair is already home to an above average number of seniors (my wife who isn’t from this area said to me one day walking down church street “There are a lot of old people in this town” and a significantly above average number of (for lack of a PC term of your liking) poor people for what many would describe as an affluent town.

    “Stolar responded that he planned to provide unsubsidized housing for both twentysomethings and seniors,”

    I’m not sure I agree with the seniors comment by Mr. Stolar above. He is probably just pandering b/c people want a senior center so badly (also what a weird concept and talk about segregation. Why not an everyone center) but I do agree with the twenty something crowd being underserved.

    If you want to grow this town into the future, the way is through the millenials. Dual Income No kids residents in nice apartments and condos that in 3 to 5 years have a kid and buy one of Montlair’s historic homes.

    btw. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too.

  4. But its all those seniors and low-income folks that will drive the centrally planned, ever-so-vital “arts district!”

    So I guess Bennecki is the independent analyst who will estimate cash flow from abandoned muni and police buildings that will pay rent on new spaces in lackawanna. His enthusiasm (“breakout town” in the Northeast!) makes me doubt his independence. Prepare yourself for higher taxes to fund the muni/police building fiasco. All I ask for xmas is a Mayor who is not a lapsed developer.

    Frank, to paraphrase E.B. white, economists and financial analysts are about as different as fire and fire bugs. Analysts focus on narrow questions of valuation (a stock, household portfolio). Economists study broad questions of how to allocate resources (labor, capital, human capital, natural resources, time…) to maximize social welfare. Economist usually have a Ph.D. Analysts ake a five day training course. Many economists could do financial analysis, but not vice-versa (the math and statistics requirements for economists are far harder). There is a Noble Prize (created after the others) in economics.

  5. If one were to stop 100 Montclair residents on the street, and ask them what they thought Montclair’s ten most pressing problems were, would ANY say “we need a new police headquarters” (or municipal building or BOE building)?

    How about 200 residents?

    Does ANYONE think these are pressing matters?

    Can you just see some NY young couple thinking of moving to Montclair and the Realtor saying “Move to Montclair because we have a new police headquarters?”

  6. Totally agree. We may need them, but Mayor has not explained why (or answer always changes).

    Once I stopped by station for a tour to see for myself the problems with current building. Officer on duty said I would need an appointment with Chief for that. On my way out, I asked two officers going in if we needed a new station. “It would be nice,” they said. “Is it essential?” I asked. They smiled/smirked and said “no comment.” This is a perq, plain and simple and the town is just going to roll over and pay for it.

  7. Guys, guys!! It’s a done deal and the 3 yr MT anniversary is coming Thursday. My points were simply about the entertainment value of the presentation. Quite frankly, with all the $ spent to “give form” to the justification, it still moves forwards in awkward, ill-conceived fits and starts with many of the key players clearly confused and confounded.

    The good news is all Montclair property owners are going to be bloody rich in 5-10 years as every PhD economists I have ever known seems to subscribe to the “all boats in the harbor benefit from the rising tide”.

    The bad news, borrowing a phrase from my wife after she saw Valley & Bloom, is “We will all end up living in the shadow of greed”.

  8. “If one were to stop 100 Montclair residents on the street, and ask them what they thought Montclair’s ten most pressing problems were, would ANY say “we need a new police headquarters” (or municipal building or BOE building)?”

    Excellent question, Cary. My guess is “schools,” “public safety” and “taxes” would rank in, or near, the top 3. “New municipal building” not so high.

  9. a new PD HQ/Muni building is absolutely only to appease the town employees. It usually is no matter the town. We don’t need it and nobody I know in town sees the current facility as a problem. I am all for redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza and not worrying about being robbed in the parking lot, but a muni complex isn’t a “necessity.

    And to answer Cary’s question – I agree w/ Devon…..most pressing needs involve property taxes, public safety and the school system. Maybe you can argue that a new muni complex has to do with public safety, but that is a stretch.

  10. cspn55, we can also suggest that consolidating strategic municipal functions in one place (esp. remembering that fire HQ is in the area, too) is actually LESS SAFE, in case of emergency, than distributed hubs of real estate, personnel, information, etc.

  11. the police station down at Lackawanna is a fabulous idea. I say that for two reasons and not b/c their current building is outdated. 1) Their current building is in a prime spot on bloomfield avenue for something other than a police station 2) a constant police presence down in the Irvington Section of Montclair will be good for community safety.

    The rest of the muni workers??? That is just funny. Only in liberal town USA would said liberal representatives build a brand new palace to themselves when there are a lot of other things that can be fixed.

  12. If you sold the Municipal building for medical offices, you’d make some money, but the costs associated with having a new facility, despite assumed lower utility costs, must be higher. Class A space costs more than Class B- space.

    A much better approach is to sell the building and then split up the township offices to occupy now unused spaces, maybe some of the rental spaces on Bloomfield Avenue. The citizenry does not in any way, shape or form need all services to be centralized. People make trips for a single purpose.

    This approach would likely lower costs, improve the streetscape and send a signal to the residents that the municipal government SERVES them. Modest offices strongly send this signal.

    A separate police station may be a good idea if and only if the existing building is wildly valuable to whatever plans emerge for that block AND that the township extracts this value. Otherwise, fix it up, maybe add a floor or two, or maybe move the Court.

    The Township’s present starting point seems to be different. It seems to be that Lackawanna Plaza MUST be developed, very fully, and that if it takes a government tenant for the project economics to make sense, the Township will step up. Clearly the idea that we will develop our way to lower taxes is foolishness, so we must see this for what it is, a white elephant.

  13. How wildly valuable can current MPD building be if there are multiple vacant buildings down the street? Montclair’s population has declined in 5 of last 8 decades since 1930 (census via wiki)I’m sorry to say it, but Montclair, and NJ generally, are not booming (to say the least). Yet analyst Bennecki will make wildly overoptimistic predictions about cash flow form MPD and muni building that will “justify” relocation to Lackawanna. When cash flows don’t materialize, were stuck with class A rents. Taxes will rise or spending will be cut. It’s a big risk with virtually no upside except for 2 or 3 hundred town employees. There should be a referendum on this.

    Frank, I don’t know what rising tide you are talking about. But all the new housing coming on line here will tend to lower house values: higher supply leads to lower prices.

  14. El camino….your concerns based on how the township has handled previous moves and claims in the past and previous assertions are warranted. That doesn’t mean we should dismiss the concept and effort out of hand as some suggest here. It it just means we should and need to be fully vigilant.

    That’s why first, I believe additional residents with serious finance skills do need to review Mr. Beneke’s estimates and analysis. I feel very strongly about this and will be pushing for that second cross analysis review to confirm what does now seem like a smart move. Nonetheless, as we move down the line…another POV and review – given the stakes – is warranted both for political and economic comfort. We cannot base our future on one firm’s/man’s analysis only …especially one that has cross $ business with the township.

    Second, I agree with your concerns over costs down the road and feel there needs to be some kind of contractual tie-in protection formula from the re-developers if possible (as they are the same) for the Police building/parking deck and Leech etc…to the rental fees we then potentially pay for the new township offices. We need this precisely so that we are not left holding the bag in the event of some future real estate downturn and catastrophe. We cannot be in a situation where residents are on the hook for big rents…while income coming back in is limited for what-ever reason.

    Third….and conversely..with those concerns and protections now much as some here want to play junior developer with other peoples money…this does all seem like a smart move based on the information to date. Much more tax revenue and it seems even rental income — will be generated from both the move and the redevelopments.

    The Valley and Bloom and other proposed new builds at the end of the Bloomfield strip should upgrade that area (it’s overall intention) and will bring in more bodies there for retail spending..that’s the point. (forget not liking V&B for all the reasons known – people will be up there now)

    So like Clint Eastwood…a mans’s got to know his limitations. A few here need to accept they really don’t know whether combining the town hall, police and Leech etc. with the other growth warrants the positive cash flow asserted by Beneke….just as they don’t really know about the need to get out of the police building.

    I am told directly that the building is not to code and that a lawsuit can be filed for the township to be required to move its courts/police and jail etc…to upgraded facilities. Therefore, we likely we do have to move it…maybe not this second — but we will.

    So — that being a given….not some cop winking as you picked up from an on-site visit to the troops…the analysis for the total package…with the municipal moves now on table…does and should come into play. If you want to dispute the needed police move…you will need more than a cop wink.

    Should it all be further vetted…absolutely. But should knee-jerk “feelings”…aka…my friend Carey stop this — when it does appear to produce a positive cash flow from the expert’s review…and clearly will help further bring in substantially more income from the Lackawana site..No. It appears to be a smart move.

    Assuming then the overall concept works…the details of course of what is done there are an entirely different discussion. I am only dealing with the macro issue of doing it …at this point in time based on the above commentary.

    I’ve fought over-development and poor development here for the last 15 years…while supporting adaptive re-use and preservation (like not adding two stories on to the historic police building top)…..

    Nonetheless, I still support generating new rateables and enhancing town areas that can be improved. We just need to do it right.

    That is the smart call here in my POV.

  15. This might be the best thing ever written here:

    “Once I stopped by station for a tour to see for myself the problems with current building. Officer on duty said I would need an appointment with Chief for that. On my way out, I asked two officers going in if we needed a new station. “It would be nice,” they said. “Is it essential?” I asked. They smiled/smirked and said “no comment.””

    Well, THAT settles it! The intrepid citizen-journalism of elcamino uncovers the Truth, hidden in an officer’s smirk. God knows they couldn’t have been smirking at you, elcamino. By the way, did you introduce yourself as “elcamino” when asking for your private tour of the facilities? You’d think that would open the door wide…

  16. Martin,

    I’m all for independent review of the “independent” financial analysts reviews. I also agree this is relocation plan is about a frustrated developer playing with other peoples’ money.

    My concerns are not based on “previous moves” by town; I doubt this plan (MPD/muni relocation) on it’s face. My first concern is that need for relocation has NOT been demonstrated. When officials try to justify, the story always changes. You mentioned a vague threat of lawsuit “to require town to move courts/police and jail…” to upgraded facilities. Really? I’ve never heard Town Attorney mention that. Who would bring that suit? Prisoners? And the suit would be to literally “relocate?” There wouldn’t be an “upgrade existing facilities” option? That would be highly activist ruling. And you neglected Muni building. We will be sued for not moving town employees to nicer office buildings?

    On sources: the difference between my anecdote (about cops) and yours (“I’ve been directly told”) is that I named mine. If cops smirk when ask if new building is essential, that’s telling. It’s also telling that you can’t name your source. It’s almost like they don’t want to say publically that we must proceed with this risky relocation to avoid a lawsuit from some unnamed party because they know it’s bogus. Yet here you are repeating it like it settles the matter.

    This relocation plan stinks on multiple levels: no compelling need, too many moving part with the same players in multiple roles, very likey negative cash flow outcome (i.e. rents to Stolar–rents earned on whichever properties we lease <0) so higher taxes, and an "independent" analysts who is obviously a booster. If it was put to a referendum I'm pretty sure town would reject.

    On you bottom line, I imagine everyone supports "generating rateables and enhancing town areas" What's not to like? In this spirit, here is my proposal to scale the MPD/muni relocation scheme. I imagine some Montclair public schools are on property that could repurposed into higher value functions, e.g. "mixed residential/retail" I propose we relocate the student to the a new "mixed residential/retail/muni/educational" building that is going to grace Lackawanna and use all the vast new rateables to payoff debt while gazing at that lovely new building.

    Happy Holidays!

  17. Jcunningham – you had me in stitches.

    Elcammino – Townwide Councilor Rich McMahon continues to discuss the code issues impacted from the police building. It’s not that I haven’t named the source…it’s that he has been out there saying this a few times so I didn’t think I needed to reference it again..but ok. I think other councilors have said it as well — but you can check directly with Rich.

    As to you other points: “no compelling need, too many moving part with the same players in multiple roles, very likey negative cash flow outcome (i.e. rents to Stolar–rents earned on whichever properties we lease so higher taxes, and an “independent” analysts who is obviously a booster”… may be right..or partially right….but you also may be dead wrong.

    And that’s the point. So far, a highly respected municipal financial analyst has completely opposed your POV. I’ve suggested getting 2ndary reviews from other players to check him. Unless you are a fiscal analyst, an economist, or a municipal organizational planner with similar substantial chops..admit you are like the rest of us…Someone with a smart sense and opinions, but that you don’t do this every day for a living.

    I would urge you to get off your horse..let some other heavies play with it…and hold back final judgement before you weigh in more with the certainty of Cain.

    Hubris among officials has been the cause a number of land use mistakes here in the past. Similarly non-action from reasonable, but still un-vetted resident concerns..should not send us heading in an opposite direction – without real full due diligence.

  18. It’s funny how the motivation for relocation scheme is now about avoiding lawsuits, suggesting town MUST proceed, finances bedamned, yet when I emailed Mayor about it a few months ago, he replied it was all about opportunities to generate rateables and cash flow. So which is it; a necessity or an opportunity? The story constantly changes.

    “A highly respected municipal analyst…” Really? I googled “Robert Beneckie financial analyst” and got zero hits. Could you send link to his website?

    Re-read the coverage above of his remarks:
    “Much of Benecke’s testimony involved economic semantics that a couple of residents in attendance admitted to have found difficult to follow, but in layman’s terms, Benecke made it clear that the financials for Montclair were very positive …that Montclair was well poised to be the breakout town of the Northeast…that the projects were nothing but a home run ….”

    “Nothing but a home run!” A respectable, independent analyst would NEVER use such unguarded terms and would at least concede downside risks of cashflow not materializing from “obsolete/condemned” properties. And a respectable analyst would make himself understood to ordinary residents. This guy sound sounds like the salesman on The Simpson’s who bamboozles Springfield into investing a worthless monorail. You should watch.

    “Unless you are a fiscal analyst, an economist ….with similar substantial chops..” Well, since you asked, I’m an economist with a ph.d. from a top ten economics program. My chops include teaching at NYU, Columbia and working full time at major (you would be know it well) NYC non-profit think tank. I have no expertise in municipal finance but smelling out this dubious deal doesn’t take it. So if it’s ok with you, I would rather not leave it to the “heavies” you seem besotted with (or perhaps you were counting yourself among that set). You often wax about citizen participation in democracy so why don’t we put this to the citizens in a referendum? I think you know what the outcome would be.

    To be clear: my objection is not that the relocation deal is bad, but that is risky and the need has not been clearly demonstrated. Absent need, why bear risk when only upside is new offices for 2 or 3 hundred employees?

    I’m glad jcunningham handed you a laugh but don’t bother complimenting “him/her” as it’s a bot. The program is 1) quote earlier comment 2) disparage quote (usually with butchered diction). It never adds a new idea or fact to thread and it doesn’t realize sarcasm is a low form of humor (programming higher forms is costlier). Notice how it (and possibly you) didn’t seem to understand that cop anecdote was not offered as remotely definitive evidence this is deal sucks, but as mere anecdote. An actual human would have recognized that. But I will happily accept the bots suggested title as “citizen-journalist.”

  19. Martin,

    Happened to catch the planning meeting where Beneckie performed on ch. 34. Now I get it; its not about needing new muni. facilities at all, it’s about redeveloping Lackawanna Plaza. Since redevelopment is not feasible on its own (every business there is shuttered!) town will promise Stolar-Brookfield a nucleus of tenants as a “kick start.” The plan even includes a grocery store when one just closed failed there? Who says you can’t defeat market forces? This is Montclair!

    I have two pieces of advise for you heavies: clone DiSalvo and fire Beneckie. I loved when Beneckie “put his economist hat on ” and said “nothing but a home run” and waxed about the fabled “arts district.” As I said, I am an economist, and we don’t talk like that. We talk about upsides and downsides and risks of each-were dispassionate (except on line). His talk had exactly two numbers: 3.4-3.6 million. I presume that is rents or pilots from 3 repurposed properties lease at Lackawanna per year but he wasn’t very clear on the KEY number. Doesn’t that seem like a oddly precise estimate? I would think it would more like -x to y million, i.e. there would be some possibility of negative cash flow but maybe this plan is just THAT good. Thank God Disalvo asked for details on numbers.

    Didn’t it also seem troubling that Benickie appears to be consulting with Stolar and Brookfield and worrying about their ROA?! What exactly is his mission?

    Did it seem odd that he knows “there will be nothing but an uptake in value in Montclair?” There is nothing the guys doesn’t know!

    Do you worry when your analyst talks about “sense of place” and waxes about someone coming here to see their son the artist in their loft in “”art district.” Is he analyst or poet laureate?

    What you were listening to at that meeting is a certified booster that green lights, nay sells, any project you ask him to. But don’t worry, Montclair will love that Monorail.

  20. Glad you finally saw the show El Cammino…that’s why we at least need another “heavy” looking at this deal and scope. Preferably a couple of residents with those skill sets.

    But my point is – lets not knock the Benecke so quickly..the same way we’ve just rolled over in the past to claims of past Councils (like their killing the Marlboro Inn because a hotel was going to built on Church Street tomorrow). It didn’t happen and the Church Street expected hotel lot is tied up in litigation now due to unbiased conflict of interest claims against the next mayor and Councilor who voted on the Planning Board.

    So lets do real due diligence here. Not more knee-jerk reacting. Redeveloping the Lackawanna site is a good thing. Let’s just do it right. Moving the municipal complex and cross renting our other assets COULD be a smart move. One legitimate “player” with fiscal chops has said that it’s so. So let’s check him and make decisions calmly and intelligently after going forward.

    I’m but a generalist on this front. But our mayor has an MBA from Harvard. And there are plenty of other very smart fiscal analysts that can get into this.

    That should be the MO to proceed with.

    You are way too quick to throw Benecke under the bus with no fiscal basis other than your seeming distaste for the “booster” manner in which he presented. Was it hard to follow and short on details. Yes. But this was not an economics review…it was an initial roll-out. The devil will be in the details here.

  21. Damn, coal in my stocking…again! Anyway, getting on topic…

    The financials of the property exchange, “the Benecke presentation”, is outside the required purview of a NJ Planning Board (PB). The matter before the Planning Board is the Lackawanna Redevelopment question, The question is a Council referral. That simply means the Council is asking the PB for their expert recommendations & comments.

    So why did Council send one of their consultants before the PB for something that doesn’t involve the PB? Why is the PB looking at financials for the Township Hall (property it has not even studied), a property that has not been referred by Council, and has never been raised as a redevelopment property? Why are they looking at the financials on the Gateway 2 properties when they have already drafted the G2 Plan?

    I think it is because this Council has very astutely evolved the Planning Board to be THE public forum for all development matters. In effect, it is Montclair’s town hall meeting supplanting Council meetings. It brings in issues like affordable housing, taxes/PILOTS, diversity, growth vs. no growth. All issues a PB is unsuitable & unable to deal with, but a natural extension (and a political lesson learned) in Montclair from the belabored Master Plan process. I think this a reason why the Mayor stepped down from the Planning Board. I think this is why Martin Schwartz was a logical choice as the Mayor’s appointee. It simply allows the Council to stay above most of the fray (that Council itself is initiating) while the different factions have their say.

    Anyway, whether it was highly planned or a reaction to events as they unfolded, it is a shrewd & subtle political strategy. At the very least, the Council gets to have shorter and shorter meetings while the PB meetings often stretch late into the night and new meetings added to catch-up on their workload, I believe the PB has now exceeded the Council in number of meetings this year. The PB also televises all of its meetings. Too bad the Council can’t do the the same.

    Anyway, the my primary interest is how the this “new” Planning Board handles this. If the Council is going to use you as they are, then you can force the issue on the finances and get a proper presentation (Mr de Salvo’s request) or just not address it in your recommendation. I prefer the latter because, as a Board, you don’t have the technical qualifications. Give it back to the Council to have Mr Benecke make a full financial case before them. They’re not anymore qualified, but it does put all the accountability neatly back where it belongs.

  22. P.S. El camino. You do need to stay up on the facts a bit more if you are going to comment on policy. The businesses at Lackawanna are not shuttered because they failed as you intimated. Instead their leases were not renewed because the developer knew that building action was coming. And Pathmark closed not because of lack of business – but because the entire corporate chain folded. So this is not Montclair fighting the marketplace. Quite the opposite. We are trying to expand it.

    Consequently, an economist’s POV is not all that’s needed here. The market is not the only factor at work. It’s gov’t policy that also sets and shifts that market. By resetting the stage at Lackawanna…the Mayor proposes to create new market and fiscal activity – not just for that site…but for the surrounds. That’s an example of government vision and action changing fiscal parameters…which then allows for new market forces to come into play.

    How will that play out? As I said, one expert has put his breakdown on the table. Now, others with similar fiscal smarts need to also review and verify.

  23. “And Pathmark closed not because of lack of business – but because the entire corporate chain folded.”


  24. Martin,I don’t know if you are willfully ignorant or just ignorant but you sound seriously deluded. Beneickie did not “put his breakdown on the table” He presented two numbers with no explanation whatsoever and yet made entirely unqualified predictions like “absolute home run” and “breakout town” It’s not that I have distaste for such language, its that it belies his independence. If you just want a booster, invite a MHS cheer leader: “Lackawanna, Lackawanna,sis boom bah”

    At next meeting, instead of throwing him softballs like “explain PILOTs versus taxes” (which he bombed) why not ask him some hard questions, like how he arrived at 3.4-3.6 million? What is worst case scenario where cashflow is not “accretive” (a word you seem to enjoy). Or test his local knowledge:
    what is commercial and residential vacancy rate in Montclair?
    How much did Montclair grow last decade (-3.6%).
    How many decades over last 8 did Montclair population contract (5).
    What rent rate did he use estimate cash flow on new units in Lackwanna (he actually said: “take 300 units, multiple by 2k, 3k, 4k-pick a number–and you get x” wait, how did he arrive at x without picking one of those numbers?

    Please spare me another discourse on political economy. We had one before, remember when you denied being a planner even after I sent link showing your name on planning committee? As I recall, you relied heavily on J.K. Galbraith how probably hasn’t been on an economics reading list in probably 40 years. I’m an economist and I know when markets fail and a government nudge or shove is called for (environment, pure research, defense, security) etc. This project is NOT about Montclair planners and politicians correcting a market failure-its about a highly speculative development scheme with 4 buildings in play, with the same developer on both ends and with an “expert qua cheerleader” seeming to serve both sides.

    I will check my facts on Lackawanna closings but I agree with frank (I think); if that grocery store was profitable, owners would have sold it as happened with acme on valley. But sounds like your saying profitable business’ lost leases for this speculative play. Awesome.

  25. “A highly respected municipal analyst…” Really? I googled “Robert Beneckie financial analyst” and got zero hits. Could you send link to his website?

    elcamino– I can only speak from experience, but over the years, I’ve found that when you Google someone, it helps a little if you spell their name correctly.

  26. Many good points here but a lot of repetition also with responses back and forth so let’s cut to the real politik’ quick.

    1) Benecke was brought in by the elected Council in a representative government system to present his assessment whether this proposed undertaking they want to do — will work. Benecke says it’s a smart move fiscally.

    2) El Camino – neither you nor I were elected to lead, the Mayor and Council were. This is their proposal they’ve put on the table and Benecke is their analysis man addressing it. It’s not like Robert Jackson and the Council were elected by a small, divided minority. He received a substantial mandate to lead and govern and this is what they’ve proposed. Further it’s not like the Mayor is an idiot to dismiss outright – as one might some politicians – thereby immediately rejecting anything they do. The man clearly has smarts and his POV and proposals warrant respect – not immediate rejection.

    3) Frank Rubacky is correct. The planning board is not the financial analysis board. It was only being used to roll out a general public overview of how the fiscal pieces tied together. There is a Council Redevelopment Sub-committee and a full council vote needed for this plan to fully proceed. Was the explanation received at the PB detailed and sufficient for my personal comfort? No, but deciding on that comfort is also not my, or El Camino’s call and vote to address town finances. It’s the Councils as Frank noted and that is the correct venue to address this on a level of fiscal scrutiny.

    4) Does that mean residents should just roll over and say to the Council “we elected you so do what ever you want” with our tax dollars? No. Again I personally think more fiscal analysis is needed so the public is fully comfortable with their plan and everyone goes into it with their eyes wide open. More $ details should be put on the table of the type El Camino asks about. But I’m not approaching it as he is – that Benecke is wrong from the start.

    5) If there is reasonable opposition, it needs to come from a serious review of those fiscal details. Not loose feelings…not knee jerk “their always wrong” reactions like we have from some here. Instead, El Camino and others approach this as if they’ve already done the economics review. That it’s clear the proposal is not viable from the start. That Benecke’s wrong. To me that’s just hubris and arrogance.

    Instead, Benecke says it’s a no brainer based on his analytic work and therefore any opposition is wrong. So with the admittedly limited fiscal information presented to date to check that, why not wait until more details are on the table? Let’s agree they were not shown, keep an open mind and see what comes next before knee-jerk reacting – something people continue to do here in both directions – to our detriment.

  27. “Does that mean residents should just roll over and say to the Council “we elected you so do what ever you want” with our tax dollars? ”

    Actually, yes. We should roll over or at least give our tacit approval soon.

    There is no check & balance on this one. No independent data. And I appreciate the irony of the conflicting interests in how the school district decides their space. But, the bottomline is there is no better alternative for the Council to offer the ratables stimulus, pro-development voters.

    Of course we will spend time on the what could be’s and senior vs this vs that housing allocations. Yes, we can do our form based code design thing. But, the preliminary site approval – the acceptable uses, forms, heights, in my view, is a psychological done deal.

    Now, if only we can get Glen Ridge to outsource their police department to us (we’ll hire all and we can offer all the modern amenities), that would seal the deal.

  28. Agreed, Frank. Martin seems very selective about preaching “citizen democracy.” So far in this threat he has hinted that I’m not qualified to challenge the “heavies,” I need vetting, and I’m guilty of “hubris” suggesting he thinks the prevailing powers in this little town are dieties or inexorable forces. I’m merely clallenging the objectivity of a “independent consultant” who is obviously not.

    Frank, you sometime say this relocation plan is a fait accompli (sp). What makes you think that?

    btw, I hear you on rising tides. Some decision makers here seem to think launching the boat raises the tide (like the “rain follows the plow”)

  29. It’s where you are challenging…here, online. Montclair is still hanging onto the real discussions happen in person, names, agendas & baggage known. I have been told that a majority of Montclair government doesn’t read Baristanet!

    There are a multitude of reasons. Here is one you might appreciate:

    Developers who specialize in infill development like ours, land assembly is their life blood. The basic deal with Pinnacle is we sell 2 acres of prime land with significant upzoning for which we get a very favorable lease for 70,000 sf of Class A space and I guess, $1MM+ cash annually.

    Wasn’t aware of the “rain follows the plow” theory. Even better.

  30. Perhaps the phrasing of “breakout town of the northeast” isn’t the best way or time to phrase it, but why is there always so much snark and cynicism around any mention of montclair’s future potential. Any mention of the bright future of Montclair is followed by sarcastic posts which seems to revel in the downgrading of our town by its own inhabitants. If people can name me one other town that is as close to a world class city, with 6 direct trains in 45
    Minutes to the city, good schools, a
    University, a museum , film, jazz and food festival, best restaurants and parks in the state as Montclair please send me the list. Every House for sale is being bought well
    Above asking price, Manhattan and Brooklyn are pricing out families by the hour. And the demographic that is being priced out of the city is looking for exactly the traits possessed by Montclair? Now, if it’s the TYPE of people who will be populating our town in the next few decades that people are so upset about that is driving the cynicism, then fine, but anyone who is paying attention to anything saying that Montclair is not already a great town that is on the cusp of even more is lying to themselves or to angry to admit it.

  31. “If people can name me one other town that is as close to a world class city, with 6 direct trains in 45 Minutes to the city, good schools, a
    University, a museum, film, jazz and food festival, best restaurants and parks in the state as Montclair please send me the list.”

    While not note-for-note, there are several towns that fit the description: Millburn; Maplewood; Summit; and Westfield, to name 4. These are the types of towns Montclair is in competition with for people leaving the Upper West Side and Park Slope to raise kids. Montclair “wins” for restaurants (although Summit’s got some good ones) and diversity. Those other towns have higher ranked high schools.

  32. “While not note for note”

    Exactly…there are some towns that have some the qualities that Montclair does, but not all.

    Each of the towns you listed have one train station that most people drive and park at rather than walk to one of the six in Montclair.

    Each of the towns lack the diversity with the exception of maple wood but maple wood schools are socioeconomically segregated by geography.

    Each of the towns you listed have longer train commutes either due to distance or lack of direct train.

    The towns you listed are all great towns and will always have a log list of families waiting to move to them, but what Montclair offers is truly unique and in short supply which is what is driving the demand. A demand that is on the increase as millenialls , the largest demogrpahic who are starting families and buying houses over the next ten years, continue to seek places that offersbexactly what montclair offers.

  33. “Perhaps the phrasing of “breakout town of the northeast” isn’t the best way or time to phrase it, but why is there always so much snark and cynicism around any mention of montclair’s future potential.”

    Excuse me, I’m the one saying the current “inhabitants” should roll over.

  34. Parkour, I appreciate your enthusiasm for Montclair, but your tripadisory analysis takes take us too far. We’re not debating whether Montclair is a good town, but whether it’s poised to “breakout” as a superlative town per Benecke’s scientific forecast. Most the amenities and assets you mentioned have been here for decades, so they’re not going to drive the break out. Montclair’s population-the most basic indicator of economic vitality-declined 5 out of last 8 decades, including last. That implies a 62.5 percent (unconditional) chance of a decline this decade. What is Benecke (or you) seeing that’s going to buck those odds (and “art district” is not acceptable as Wellmont has been here (in some form or other) all along.

  35. Some would argue that the former Luna Stage or 12 Miles West, or even Rainbow was much more culturally significant than a concert hall that showcases Ted Nugent or an Anthropologie, or a significantly overpriced yoga pants store. Just wait for that mammoth hotel. The Brooklynization of Montclair will be complete. I used to love driving over the hill from Verona and seeing the silhouette of the tall buildings in Newark and New York. Now I’m treated to a view of buildings modeled after the red hotels in Monopoly. Yes, Montclair still has culture and 6 train stations to boot. Too bad they don’t run on the weekend, your bike gets stolen if you pedal to them and your lucky if your 12-mile commute takes under an hour. As for diversity? Sure the schools are diverse…but the population not so much.

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