Testimony on Planned Lorraine Ave Building Continues at Montclair Planning Board Meeting

BY  |  Tuesday, Feb 23, 2016 10:00am  |  COMMENTS (25)

Planning engineer Peter Steck (left ) testifies at the Montclair Planning Board about a planned mixed-use building on Lorraine Avenue.  Attorney Neal Zimmerman is with him.

Planning engineer Peter Steck (left ) testifies at the Montclair Planning Board about a planned mixed-use building on Lorraine Avenue. Attorney Neal Zimmerman is with him.

The Montclair Planning Board spent most of its long meeting on February 22 continuing testimony  on developer Michael Pavel’s planned mixed-use building on Lorraine Avenue, and the grueling, repetitive tone of the testimony made it clear that the application was going to take awhile to hear out.  Attorney Neal Zimmerman, though, did announce some changes to the plan, none of which were available as yet in rendering form; acting on public criticism that his planned structure was too large. Pavel reduced the building by 30 feet, had 3,619 square feet of general office space and 7,000 square feet of medical office space, and reduced the number of apartment units from thirteen to nine with two duplex unites instead of four.  Two of the units would be reserved for a three-bedroom affordable unit and a one-bedroom affordable unit.  As an alternative, Pavel might include only a three-bedroom affordable unit and pay for the fraction of a unit that would get the percentage of affordable rental space up to 20 percent.  Both affordable apartments, as planned, would represent 22 percent of all units.

The board spent its entire time on the application hearing from attorney Neal Zimmerman and his second witness, planning engineer Peter Steck, who was limited by the lack of updated renderings to reflect the changes, though the Planning Board hopes to get testimony on the changes made at a later meeting.  Steck primarily testified on the need for the variances being sought for the project.  He proposed that the eastern edge of the building should be six inches away from the property line for ease of construction with the northern rear side of the building being 5.74 feet away from the property line instead of the required six feet. (Steck did say that the reduced size of the planned building might enable a six-foot setback in the rear.)  Steck also wanted a variance of 89.3 percent impervious coverage over the maximum 80 percent, with plantings along the southern edge of the building facing Lorraine Avenue and along the western edge by the railroad tracks, and he said that this would be an improvement over the 100 impervious coverage that includes a decaying paved lot with grass growing through it.

On parking, Steck addressed the size of the spaces, saying that although parking spaces are normally required to be 19 feet long, 9-by 18-foot spaces would be adequate for the mixed-use nature of the building.  He did not address the logistics of the parking, which would now employ  five parking permits instead of eight  (three are actually needed for employees at a Valley Road business); that was left to a parking expert who did not get to testify due to lack of time.  That didn’t stop numerous residents from questioning the parking  plans, reiterating concerns from the February 8 meeting about overflow of traffic and the inability to park farther down Lorraine Avenue that would result; one Lorraine Avenue resident said that the parking was already bad enough on her block.  Several others were fearful of the constant flow of traffic coming in and going out of the 62-space lot on the property.  Given the concern about parking and alarm over the fact that a traffic study had not been done for the application, Board Chairman John Wynn told Zimmerman that his client might want to pursue such a study, saying that concerns about traffic created issues for the board to consider.  Pavel was not present for the testimony.

Steck did say with regard to parking that the municipal land use law states that zoning has to be drawn with “reasonable consideration to the character of the district,”  and Upper Montclair’s walkable character  precluded on-site parking that could be provided plentifully.  Resident Nancy Katz questioned the benefit of providing Zipcars when there aren’t a lot spaces in Montclair to return one. Steck said that a couple would be less likely to have two cares in Zipcars were provided.

Steck also cited the master plan in his testimony, noting that the project was faithful to the plan’s encouragement  of mixed-use development in proximity to transit.  The mixed-use building, he said, would provide a “greater good” for the community – a point that Upper Montclair residents took issue with regarding not just the possibility of increased traffic but also the size of the building itself.  He added with regard to affordable housing that the principle of providing incentives to developers to build affordable housing is case law, and that providing incentives to a developer to increase density would facilitate the creation of  affordable units.  When board member Martin Schwartz asked for clarification about why there should be an incentive to do something required by the inclusionary zoning ordinance – that is, build affordable housing – Steck came back with an unexpected answer.

“Because your current ordinance, in my opinion, is illegal,” he answered.

“It’s still the current ordinance,” a stunned Chairman Wynn said.  “You might believe it’s illegal, but it hasn’t been adjudicated,  this is the current ordinance, this is what we’re enforcing.”

Other board members had comments about the project.  Board Vice Chairman Jason de Salvo said that parking availability in Upper Montclair had to be taken seriously, given the difficulty in finding parking during the winter holidays when most Upper Montclair retail businesses  – the very sort of businesses Pavel’s mixed-use building sought to provide space for. Board member Carmel Loughman asked about the wisdom in providing medical office space when many doctors were abandoning private practices to work in hospital offices like the proposed medical building for Hackensack UMC.  Steck said that such offices , like the offices in Pavel’s 50 Upper Montclair Plaza building, were mostly rented by psychiatrists and psychologists who had limited hours and few if any staff members, and he said this was a growing market for office space.

The meeting ended without enough time for testimony on parking, and hearings the application will continue.

 

 

25 Comments

  1. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 23, 2016 @ 11:03 am

    If ordinance (§347-91) prohibits a auto rental use in Upper Montclair, I don’t understand how this applicant is not also going before the Zoning Board of Adjustment?

  2. POSTED BY tsmith  |  February 23, 2016 @ 11:56 am

    Serious question:

    All this effort, and rightfully so, gets put into this, but a block further down on Lorraine, a beautiful, and totally unique 1913 Craftsman home just got knocked down, and replaced with some horrifically cheap looking, and completely out of place new construction. If you drive down Lorraine at all, you know exactly what house I’m talking about.

    Why does the town only put effort into our commercial districts, but seems to let any developer do whatever they please in our residential neighborhoods?

    Makes me nervous to keep sinking money into maintaining the historic charm of my home, when someone can come along tomorrow, knock down and build something cheap right next to me, cut and run with the profit, and ruin my property value.

    Who’s looking out for Montclair’s homeowners?

  3. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 23, 2016 @ 12:04 pm

    The elephant in the room that makes Montclair preservation efforts dysfunctional for the 5 – 6 billion$$$ of vintage residential is to have removed the 75 year old building review process. The entire character of Montclair is at risk because of this mistake.

  4. POSTED BY martinschwartz  |  February 23, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

    Frank is entirely correct. Our Planner convinced the Council to reverse this law put into effect after the unwarranted knock down of the Marlboro Inn. At that time is was despite a unanimous HPC vote in favor of designation, over 50% of the local resident agreeing to create an even wider residential historic district and 1000 letters and petitions to save this gateway property.

    Planner Talley convinced this council to reverse the law, and there is nothing now in its place to stop further knockdowns. It’s time to put it back on the books.

  5. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 23, 2016 @ 1:04 pm

    Not going to happen.
    1. My limited, direct experience was that the previous demo ordinance did not affect a majority of the tear-downs. 2. As we know from recent experience, such an ordinance would not have saved the “historically interesting” 44 Pleasant Ave, so any building that does rise up to that standard is probably dumpster dust.

    Martin, when is the next scheduled meeting for this application?

  6. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 23, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

    In my opinion it will be made to happen by the tax paying property owners who need to feel protection on their investment.

  7. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 23, 2016 @ 2:35 pm

    All I’m saying is this tool is a very specific and a very limited one and will not materially address your overall concerns here.

  8. POSTED BY martinschwartz  |  February 23, 2016 @ 2:48 pm

    I’m not sure of the next hearing for Lorriane Frank R. Check the calander. There are so many meetings I can’t keep track.

    Let’s discuss (either here or privately) this 75 year knock down law. It was implemented after the Inn went down and obviously the town council and attorney at the time considered our home rule state providing legalities for local support.

    The Planner convinced this Council and attorney I assume that the law was in conflict with the state MLUL…and they overturned it.

    What do you you of this law in detail…its impact..its non-effectiveness as you dangle here.

  9. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 23, 2016 @ 4:25 pm

    I’ll try. As I recall, the primary justification for repealing it revolved around the interpretation of the Municipal Land Use Law rule that the zoning at the time of application applies (versus at the time of approval). The rule basically says you can’t change zoning after application and this includes a historic designation overlay. Now you don’t need to file a site application in NJ to demolish a structure – just a permit from a Construction Code Official. The interpretation, based on NJ case law at the time, was that the rule also applied to permits.

    There were other issues as to conflicting jurisdictional authority on what constituted a tear-down? What % of the structure being removed was considered a demo virus what metric triggered a demolition permit?

    I was working under an alleged, unwritten Council policy that was relayed to me orally that any private residences nominated by the HPC – over an owner’s objection – would not be approved. I don’t recall by whom. FYI, over the last 10 years, I have never seen a private residence nominated over owner’s objection by the HPC until the recent 44 Pleasant Ave nomination. So, even if the HPC could expedite the research (no budget), maybe find substantive documentation for the appropriate grounds to nominating a tear-down (assuming enough historical fabric remains after typically suffering from demolition by neglect), assuming a Planning Board with a reputation for not getting HP on even a pedestrian level buys in, and then to face, what I believed was, an unreceptive Council? All the time (I believe a 180 day moratorium on issuing building permits was in effect) owner sat on his hands waiting.

    That should tide you over for now. My actual experience executing the ordinance while on the HPC demo subcommittee will have to come later. Just keep remembering that this town won’t designate the Art Museum because many think they are the best stewards for protecting the building’s historic fabric and it will impose a cost burden. Well, why are you so hell-bent on putting a burden on private residents and doubting that most will do ok by their properties. What has changed recently that we should take away this protection? And by the way, I didn’t support designating the Marlboro Inn. Maybe that is why the Council voted me onto the HPC?

  10. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 23, 2016 @ 6:34 pm

    “And by the way, I didn’t support designating the Marlboro Inn. Maybe that is why the Council voted me onto the HPC?”

    That speaks volumes Frankr, and nicely sums up the climate of those “Camelot Days” of Montclair. The people of power back then were wealthy, gave LOTS of money to benefit the town, had GREAT houses that they maintained well and had civic pride and a vision for the generations to come. With regards to preservation, they had a “don’t tread on me” mentality but they were basically generous and altruistic. Most of them, (Frankr, i’m sure you remember quite well) were of the opinion that downtown Montclair should develop into a city. They supported this with the notion that more buildings and more rateables would lower the increasing taxes.

    Instead, “Camelot” vanished and their siblings didn’t hang around to be the further generations that they were thinking about. Money changed and established money dried up. The Camelot folks weren’t urbanists or planners and they didn’t realize that times would change and that their notion of growth was unsustainable because all of the original infrastructures would become insufficient and would have to be completely re built for higher volumes… the water… the streets… the schools. In my opinion this is why the planners will not perform traffic studies…. because it would most likely prove that Montclair’s character, economy and diverse community would be destroyed by the re development schemes that they are pushing for.

    Most of the HPC had been intentionally created for the purpose of steam rolling ahead without any consideration for preservation. Yes, Frankr, with all due respect to a person that does so much good for Montclair and truly cares….. thats perhaps why you were voted into the HPC at that time.

  11. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 23, 2016 @ 7:21 pm

    I was voted onto the HPC in 2006. I thought Camelot ended when they shot JFK.

  12. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 23, 2016 @ 7:41 pm

    Getting back on topic, I also recalculated the parking shortfall and middle case scenario for the applicant is an 11 car shortfall. At the prevailing rates based on land values, the cost of the variance to the Township is $260,000. That is very close to the cost of 1 Affordable Housing (AH) unit.

    Speaking of AH, the applicant offered the Board the choice of AH options. Option A is if they provide 2.2% above (2 units) what the ordinance requires, they use the 2.2% as a justification for a parking variance. Of course, Option B is they just meet the minimum requirements of 1 unit and make up the difference with cash. I was not clear if they still intended to use AH as a justification for a parking variance. Interesting offer….pitting our parking needs against our need for AH in the 1st Ward.

  13. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 24, 2016 @ 11:51 am

    The Camelot Era in Montclair seems to have ended with astonishment after the demise of the Marlborough Inn.

  14. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 26, 2016 @ 5:53 pm

    Returning to the issue of the excess impervious coverage…

    The applicant is asking for a 5.5’ reduced side yard setback variance. They have reduced the number of dwelling units and lopped off 30’ from the rear of the building. Why can’t they make the building 5.5’ narrower, add back the difference to the rear of the building? This would also eliminate the need for a hardship setback variance while decreasing the impervious coverage?

    The wide sidewalk space and front setback are other opportunities. The sidewalk space is poorly allocated; unnecessary for the proposed density, location, & uses (no restaurant use); has bad tree spacing & an existing dead tree; and the existing building is already (or the new one could be) set back several feet from the property line. Again, any lost floor space could be added to the back of the building offering a potential pervious space opportunity at the front of the site.

  15. POSTED BY tsmith  |  February 29, 2016 @ 9:11 pm

    “Well, why are you so hell-bent on putting a burden on private residents and doubting that most will do ok by their properties. What has changed recently that we should take away this protection?”

    Sorry, I’m a bit late in getting back.

    Mr.Rubacky, I mean this as respectfully as possible: If the recent demolition and construction at 197 Lorraine Ave and 158 Walnut Street aren’t enough to convince you that Montclair’s property owners need protecting from cut and run developers in their neighborhoods, I’m not sure anything will.

  16. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 29, 2016 @ 10:32 pm

    I sympathize with you, but the solutions are not that simple here. I’ll touch on 5. Sorry for the length. You can get the drift from my closing sentence.

    First, historically, a majority of homeowners want something done about their neighbors, but they do not desire municipal design oversight themselves. BTW, my favorite red herring is the town would want to control the color of your house. These people are the not-so-bright vanguard, and canon fodder, for the movement. The bulk of the real opposition is publicly silent and numerous. If you doubt me, go to your Councilor’s next quarterly meeting and ask him/her.

    Second, there is a huge educational challenge as to what oversight will mean and do. The embrace of the concept quickly breaks down when you get to the first couple of levels of specificity (what, how, who, etc). I’ve tried a little and it is not going to happen. I would actually be happy if you proved me wrong. Respectfully, I’ve learned most proponents don’t get past the kvetching stage.

    Third, the Walnut St case is an extreme. Most of what you rail against is incremental and insidious. It starts typically with additions & enclosures. Then the window replacements. Next is the exterior cladding (shingle to stucco, etc). Then the accouterment where a stylistic, replica mashup of colonial & craftsman, mid-century and Queen Ann. I never got people who spent $75-100K on a decent looking renovation and then Job Lot’ed the little finishing details.

    Fourth, what you are really asking for is a government design police function. The houses you cite would not meet the historic preservation criteria. The demo issue would not have applied and I have no idea why people are going to the mats over this minor tangent of a solution. Age and style, by themselves, are not sufficient. There are design related options like generic municipal design standards, neighborhood conservation districts, form-based codes, etc. Again, not going to happen in our lives in Montclair and NJ.

    Fifth, historic preservation is a term footballed around for so many development ills, no one really understands it, vis a vis, public policy. I have no idea what our’s is. It has no meaning. Even the land use specialists on our Council, boards & commissions don;t understand it. I watched in horror (not really, but kind of) as the planning expert for this mixed use development testified. Specifically, he stated that putting up a new, truly “harmonizing to the historic district” building, was a substantial public benefit, hence a justification for a variance. He was serious. Badly mistaken, but serious. The “horror” part (again, not really) was not a soul on the Planning Board knew enough about our historic preservation ordinances to actually call him out on his obviously flawed thinking. So, when I have said our Planning Boards don’t “get it”, it is not just hyperbole.

    My recommendation if you are going to stay in town and want to live among nice, old houses: your best bet is to live in a R-0 or R-1 zone in the 3rd Ward. Anywhere else is Russian roulette.

  17. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  March 01, 2016 @ 8:15 am

    tsmith, you pick excellent examples. 197 Lorraine looks like it got booted out of a trailer park for being too wide, and 158 Walnut looks like someone sliced off a corner of a catering hall and left it out for a dumpster to take away.

  18. POSTED BY kay  |  March 01, 2016 @ 12:04 pm

    Spiro, you’re so right, I LOL’d, especially your take on the Walnut house!

    Google maps just showed me how 197 Lorraine used to look … a tad overgrown but cute nonetheless, at least from the outside. Nice little Tudor cottage with what looks like copper on the bay windows and everything! Did it not have good enough bones to add on a second floor? Was it *so* ruined inside that a complete teardown was required? Could none of the front yard be saved?? Looks like the new place is built in the same site location, if not further back… was the clear-cutting really necessary?

    I know, I know: ‘my property/my choices’ …but still sad. 🙁

  19. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  March 01, 2016 @ 5:47 pm

    Thanks for making my demo ordinance point. One calls it a unique craftsman style and the other a tudor cottage with copper trimmed bay windows. Maybe it was just a typical Montclair vernacular style that was heavily modified over its 100 years. The impact of two World Wars and the Depression caused many single-family homes to multi-family and back…a likely scenario impacting both interior & exterior alterations. . Since the only argument is the aesthetics Martin, the HPC would be compelled by a demo ordinance to go on a fishing expedition to ensure some historic value is not lost.

  20. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  March 01, 2016 @ 6:47 pm

    Aesthetics are extremely crucial, Frank Rubacky. That’s why parsley garnish, mascara previously tested on helpless animals, Grecian Formula for Men, and women’s jeans reinforced with lycra were all invented. It perpetuates the human species. Furthermore, the inventors of these products all reaped sufficient fortunes so as to ensconce their feeble selves in ski chalets in Sun City, Idaho, or similar locales, complete with home aides for their incontinent inventors, my friend. Ain’t America great?

  21. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  March 01, 2016 @ 6:55 pm

    …er, Sun Valley, Idaho, rather than Sun City, Idaho. Duly noted. Cheers, Frank.

  22. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  March 01, 2016 @ 7:07 pm

    “Aesthetics are extremely crucial, Frank Rubacky.”

    Is that your way of saying I would benefit from a nom de plume?

  23. POSTED BY Spiro T. Quayle  |  March 01, 2016 @ 7:10 pm

    No your name is fine, Frank. Thanks for asking. Best regards.

  24. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  March 01, 2016 @ 7:26 pm

    I appreciate the vote of confidence.

  25. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  March 10, 2016 @ 9:22 am

    From above:
    “When board member Martin Schwartz asked for clarification about why there should be an incentive to do something required by the inclusionary zoning ordinance – that is, build affordable housing – Steck came back with an unexpected answer. “Because your current ordinance, in my opinion, is illegal,” he answered.”

    Today’s Montclair Times:
    “The Montclair Housing Commission would like to applaud Mr. Pavel for following both the letter and spirit of our state and local inclusionary housing regulations. ”

    You seriously could not make this stuff up.

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