Montclair Planning Board To Re-Examine Master Plan

The Montclair Planning Board, with four absent members, had a light agenda at its July 25 meeting, hearing no applications.  Rather, it discussed a re-examination of the township’s master plan and the need to file a report based on the re-examination. Although the current plan was adopted in May 2015, the township is required to look at the plan anew and to reconsider goals and objectives going forward every 10 years.   The last report was issued in 2006.

The Montclair Planning Board, minus Chairman John Wynn and members Carole Willis, Martin Schwartz, and Stephen Rooney
The Montclair Planning Board, minus Chairman John Wynn and members Carole Willis, Martin Schwartz, and Stephen Rooney

“The purpose of a re-examination report is to look at your land use policies and your development regulations, and determine what’s working, what’s not working, and develop, essentially, a plan of action for the next 10 years based on that review,” Planning Director Janice Talley explained.  She said that most of the goals and objectives from the previous report have been followed over time, citing the development of such items as a housing plan, a conservation plan land use and circulation plan, and numerous redevelopment plans.  In her memo to the board, Talley said that she wanted to look at land use, historic preservation, housing, transportation and economic development, as well as zoning.

Board member Anthony Ianuale asked about the zoning ordinance, which Talley said was “horrible” and needed to be overhauled.  She explained that the standards for zones and district were not clear and were a mishmash of things.  Talley thought that, with the master plan having been adopted, the board could review it through a subcommittee of members familiar with development in Montclair.  She added that, while some outside help may be needed, there should be an emphasis on input from local staff and members of both the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment.   Vice Chair Jason DeSalvo, substituting for Chairman John Wynn, agreed that the Planning Board’s zoning subcommittee would be supportive, though he acknowledged a need to find a suitable replacement for Councilor-at Large Rich McMahon, whose term as the council’s liaison to the Planning Board ended on July 1.

The other topics are to be given to board members to lead on in the drafting of the report.  Ianuale volunteered to be the point person on land use, and Talley said that the recent adoption of the master plan, the land use section would be “pretty simple” to work out goals for.  She suggested that the focus would be how, with land use having been extensively covered, it might now be useful to focus on zoning changes, with the understanding that some land use areas require closer scrutiny.   Housing, which board member Carmel Loughman said she would be interested in overseeing, may be a problem.  Talley explained that affordable housing policy in New Jersey has been determined by numerous court cases and by regulations, all of which have been thrown to the side.  She said that housing is in the county courts, which different judges in each county deciding how housing requirements will be fulfilled.  She wanted Montclair to craft a program to satisfy state obligations, allowing them the flexibility to develop an affordable housing program that highlights local priorities.  Affordable housing in Montclair, though, has to be available to all, not just local residents.  What those local priorities are would be up for further discussion.

On other items, DeSalvo volunteered to lok at economic development, while suggestions were made that board members who were absent from this meeting could possibly handle other topics.  Carole Willis was suggested as a possible to look at transportation and parking, while Martin Schwartz and Stephen Rooney were suggested to oversee historic preservation.  The board hoped to reach out to Wills, Schwartz and Rooney to get them to accept such assignments.

Speaking of historic preservation, Deputy Planning Director Graham Petto addressed the board on the issue.  He reported that Montclair received a grant to conduct a rewrite of the historic preservation element of the master plan through the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).  Petto said the board has contracted with Building Conservation Associates (BCA) to work with members of the Planning Board’s Master Plan Subcommittee and the a committee of the HPC to write the update, and BCA has completed about half of the draft so far.  Petto added that BCAA has looked at nine different areas in Montclair that have never been looked at before for historic value, and the existing inventory of local landmarks has also been looked at.  BCA will share its findings with the public at the HPC meeting on July 28, with the work to be finished by the end of September.  The historic preservation element of the master plan was last updated in 1993.

There was also the hope that the board could look and see how parks and recreation could be utilized in the master plan re-examination report, and Talley said there should also be a utilities element.  She added that Water Bureau Director Gary Obszarny would love to see such an element.

“We just have to come up with the money,” Talley said.  She added that Obszarny wanted to see an analysis of Montclair’s utilities done, and De Salvo said it would be prudent to look at the town’s water capacity and avoid overdeveloping to the point where it would run out of water or sewer capacity.

De Salvo also took the time to inform the public of what is to come. He announced that there will be a second-reading ordinance vote of the Hackensack UMC/Mountainside redevelopment plan, a first-reading ordinance vote of the Seymour Street redevelopment plan, a first-reading ordinance vote of an amendment to the Eastern Gateway redevelopment plan, and a presentation of the long-awaited parking study at the July 26 council meeting.  The parking study will be provided on the town’s Web site thereafter.  He also said that a fiscal impact study of the Seymour Street redevelopment plan would be made publicly available online by August 13, with a second-reading ordinance vote of the Seymour Street redevelopment plan and a second-reading ordinance vote of an amendment to the Eastern Gateway redevelopment plan on August 23.    The board members hope to get back to Talley on the master plan re-examination report by their August 22 meeting.

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  1. Montclair’s Preservation Component Must Include All Historic Resources

    To be true to Montclair’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, devised to protect and preserve historic properties and districts through local landmark criteria guidelines, the process can no longer ignore and omit important elements and pass superficially over established guidelines with seemingly empty process.

    The objectionable Master Plan work in place ignores important resources that contribute to Montclair’s historic fabric and does not sufficiently protect against “out of character” over development. Infrastructure feasibility studies (Traffic, Water, View sheds etc) that would support the sustainability of new development are omitted by the planning process and must be a main requirement before moving forward with planning. For the purpose of consistency with the goal to “ Focus on resources not currently locally landmarked, listed on the State and/or National Registers, and not surveyed in 1982 as part of the “Preservation Montclair” project.”, it is not correct to exclude certain elements, areas and neighborhoods that are significant contributing components to the town fabric, for example, omissions to the Mountain District and the Business Districts.

    The upper Bloomfield Avenue Corridor is an important historic and naturalistic open space feature, indeed important to the significance of the designated districts. There are fine institutions like MKA, fruit of local visionary Howard Van Vleck, the Montclair Art Museum, with an addition by Beyer, Blinder (from Montclair) & Bell, (these two institutions do an outstanding job at maintaining their standing of important local architecture.) There are 1800s pre suburban resort cottages on Valley Road, Portland Place and Montague. The Whole Foods supermarket and PSE&G are by notable architect James Timpson. The Stage Coach House on Bloomfield Avenue is a registered State Historic Resource and Evergreens is also a local landmark. The Afterglow Neighborhood, once home to Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth has a remarkable brick paving feature, historically devised to facilitate driving up a slope when automobiles did not yet have fuel pumps. The rest of Lloyd Road, up to the mountain ridge and south to Eagle Rock Reservation, is one of Montclair’s most important view sheds to preserve not only for the properties’ valuable panorama towards NYC but also for its prominent naturalistic mountain ridge feature that characterizes Montclair when seen from a distance within the territory. For the same reasons, Crane’s Gap, Flatrock (Rockcliffe), the entire mountain ridge above Highland Avenue and Crestmont Road must no longer be excluded from the protection of the Mountain District.
    So true are the words of the Montclair Historic Preservation Vice Chair, Kathleen Bennett, “Montclair’s history is eloquently expressed by its physical assets. The preservation of the Township’s beauty and history must be protected from short-sighted change that ignores the benefits of historic preservation. As residents and community stewards, it is incumbent on us to recognize, study and preserve for future generations the significant architectural and natural assets of our town,”

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