Members of the Montclair Planning Board had a few words to say about the long-awaited parking study produced by Nelson/Nygaard, but none of them were very good.
Board member Carole Willis opened discussion on the parking study at the Planning Board’s August 8 meeting – the first time the board has examined the study since it was presented to the township council on July 26 – and she expressed concern that the plan did not jibe with the objectives laid out in the town’s master plan. Willis explained that the master plan has drawn land use and circulation into a unified element, and that the findings of the parking study tended to lean toward more dense development than what the master plan as passed provides for. Her specific concerns included the recommendation of a 50 percent reduction in the number of parking spaces that the master plan requires developers to provide, it recommends that parking needs in Montclair’s growth centers be met through a payment in lieu of parking (PILOP) option, it recommends a low one-time PILOP fee and the shifts the burden of building and maintaining parking spaces to the township parking lots and residential streets, seeks to increase overnight parking on residential streets and neighborhood thoroughfares, and favors parking maximums converted from minimums.
Willis thought the study had some worthy ideas, but proposed that an impact analysis of these particular ideas be pursued. She noted that approvals for large projects without parking requirements had been tried in the late 90s and failed, and the rush to build now and provide parking later only exacerbated traffic problems; she was also afraid of the quality-of-life impact on residential neighborhoods.
Board members present (Tim Barr was absent) readily agreed that the plan was not a good fit for Montclair. Board Vice Chair Jason DeSalvo called the study in relation to Montclair’s needs a “land-use disaster,” adding that it deals only with parking in isolation. Martin Schwartz said he was shocked that the study’s creators were not guided sufficiently by the goals set forward in the Planning Office.
“They focused on the transportation-based needs of the township, which is effectively a high-density build around train stations, we rejected that ultimate philosophy, with the exception of some density and development,” Schwartz said. He noted that Montclair has six railway stations, as opposed to many towns that have two, so there is a greater interest in such towns to build around train stops. Schwartz added that Montclair was different in that it was developed to encourage residential neighborhoods not transit villages.
Anthony Ianuale said that the parking study seemed more like a wish list than a plan, noting the emphasis in the study on cycling and walking that would lessen the need for parking. Ianuale said that, despite the value of cycling and walking, neither was going to solve the township’s transport issues.
Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, as the board’s council liaison, explained that the council had adopted the study for review and eventually come back to it. DeSalvo said that the board ought to review it more closely to compare it to the master plan, and Councilor Schlager said the council would appreciate such input.
“It’s kind of ridiculous,” De Salvo said of the apparent disconnect between the two bodies. “We’re functioning as a town, we’ve got a lot of talented people, but one arm doesn’t know what the other arm’s doing.” DeSalvo said he would welcome the council’s request for a review of the study by the board – what board attorney Arthur Neiss explained was a “referral from the governing body.”
A perfunctory discussion of the by-laws of the Planning Board preceded the parking study discussion. Schwartz had trouble with language saying, as he interpreted it, that board members were constrained to consider, when reviewing development applications, only the evidence, statements and other opinions presented in support of and against such matters only at board meetings. He said it was not in keeping with court rulings that allowed board members to talk to members of the community affected by such applications.
“There is case law to that effect,” he said, “and really, the only area of bias that seems consistent in my review of the information that Art [Neiss] has presented in other cases is that you can’t have a personal conflict of interest connection to the proceeding.” He cited the approval of the Kensington project by the Fried Council with then-mayor Jerry Fried himself and then-Third Ward Councilor Nick Lewis, members of the adjacent Unitarian church, as such an example.
Other members had their own interpretations. Keith Brodock said he saw it as thus: Board members come to the hearing, no matter if you have a predisposition, as long as you hear the evidence at the time of the application. When Schwartz said it was preventing board members from engaging in discussions beforehand, Brodock countered that, as there was no application before the board beforehand, it wasn’t until the applications was presented that the constraints took effect.
“And I would disagree with that,” Schwartz said, saying it would theoretically prevent Councilor Schlager from talking with constituents on a particular application. Neiss said that the only constraint involved was that board members had to give developers a fair shake when application was presented and not let outside opinions interfere with the evidence presented. Schwartz held firm on his position, but the other board members were not easily persuaded that the language he objected to needed to be stricken from the by-laws. Board Chairman John Wynn said that it was important to avoid any situation where a bias might interfere with a fair hearing of the application.
DeSalvo ultimately proposed a motion that the language be kept in the by-laws with the intent on reviewing later for possible tweaking. The board approved the motion with Schwartz opposed and Willis, who arrived late, abstaining.
The board delayed passing the resolution on approving Steven Plofker’s Glen Willow apartment house because Neiss wanted to go over and fine-tune shared-parking rules agreed to by Plofker with Plofker attorney Alan Trembulak. Also, committee and subcommittee seats formerly held by Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon, whom Schlager replaced as council liaison, were re-assigned; Councilor Schlager takes over Councilor McMahon’s seat on the Planning Board Personnel Committee, Carmel Loughman takes over his seat on the Redevelopment Subcommittee, Willis replaces him on the Zoning Subcommittee, and Brodock assumes his seat on the Communications Subcommittee.