Retail Vacancies Discussed at Montclair Planning Board Meeting

Vice Chairman Jason DeSalvo expressed concerns about vacant storefronts during Monday evening’s brief Montclair Planning Board meeting.

The Board continued the discussion of the Montclair Master Plan re-examination, which was broached at last month’s meeting.

At that time, Planning Director Janice Talley had explained that the purpose of a re-examination is to review the land use policies and development regulations, and prepare a plan of action for the next 10 years based on that review, a process that is required to be done every ten years.

At the July meeting, “point persons” were chosen from the Board members to assess each element of the Master Plan, including Housing, Land Use, Historic Preservation, Transportation, and Economic Development, as well as addressing zoning issues.

At Monday’s meeting, the Board members had an opportunity to bring up questions and issues pertaining to their specific areas of concentration.

Vice Chairman Jason DeSalvo, who had volunteered to address the Economic Development element, said that vacant storefronts on Bloomfield Avenue are a major concern. He said he had taken a long walk, starting at the South side of Bloomfield Avenue by the Montclair Art Museum, all the way down to Lackawanna Plaza, and then returned via the North side of the street.

He made an informal survey and counted 169 storefronts altogether, 123 of which were occupied, and 46 that were unoccupied, resulting in a 27% vacancy rate. He said the occupied storefronts included those that advertised specific retailers as “coming soon.” He stated the western portions of Bloomfield Avenue after Park Street had a higher vacancy rate than the remainder of the area he examined.

Director Talley said she would look into the ownership of the vacant properties to delve into more detail. Chairman John Wynn questioned whether size of the storefronts could be a factor, which DeSalvo said could be the case, as a number of the vacant properties are small. Talley said it could be a situation involving a developer interested in assembling land. She told DeSalvo to let her know if he needed further resources for his examination.

Board member Carmel Loughman, who is the point person for the Housing element, stated she had a meeting scheduled with the Housing Commissioner to obtain input.

Martin Schwartz reported that changes to the traffic light at South Fullerton Avenue are moving ahead. The county will provide three options for the proposed modifications. The ultimate modifications must tie in holistically with the Seymour Street redevelopment area.

The goal for the Master Plan re-examination is to have all recommendations provided to Carole Willis by the next Planning Board meeting on September 12, when they will work to prepare a draft report to be ready by September 26 for discussion.

The Board finished the meeting with some housekeeping, voting unanimously to pay a number of invoices before adjourning just after 8 p.m.

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  1. So let’s approve more construction, with more retail spaces, so we can drive the number up to 30%. And some of the empty spaces are in such disrepair that perhaps the owners should be fined.

  2. I hope the changes to the traffic light at South Fullerton Avenue are at Bloomfield Ave. I was sitting outside near that intersection earlier this week for about an hour and it’s just plain bad. The drivers unfamiliar with the intersection do wacky things, and then locals do wacky things in response to try and get around them. And it’s certainly not pedestrian friendly.

  3. Yes…Detroit…great comparison. Montclair is really starting to look and feel like a prime examples of decaying, failing, economically unstable, unsafe, unclean urban inner city with falling population.

  4. anyway…. People can count up all the vacancies they want, still doesn’t change the fact that the present day Montclair, specifically Montclair Center, is quantifiably and qualitatively a safer, more vibrant, more energetic, more frequently visited by those out of town, more fun and all around better place to visit and entertain oneself than it was 5-10-15-20 years ago.

    Doesn’t mean it has reached it’s peak in all of those categories I just mentioned, just that it has improved, and vastly, in all of them. Now, people can get upset at the type of change and residents and visitors that the changes have, and will continue to bring for the foreseeable future, but more people want to live, visit and spend time in our downtown than ever before.

    I have been here for two decades and the idea of bringing myself or my kids to the the town center or god forbid the east and west ends of a darkened and lonely bloomfield avenue would not be on the top of my saturday night options. Now, I invite people to our great downtown every weekend. We sit outside at great restaurants and listen to live entertainment and there are hundred and hundreds of other people doing the same thing.

    If you read the dire descriptions of the current condition of our wonderful town (the “crappy corrupt school system”, the “rampant over development”, the “utter lack of parking” you would think we were living in a place like Detroit. If I showed the negative commentary from so many town folk to my friends and family, who so enjoy their visits and having their grandchildren in our school system, they would think everyone was describing a completely different town.

    People need to get a grip and appreciate how lucky we all are to call Montclair our home. It is a wonderful place to live and is getting better everyday.

  5. and finally…I will address specifically the vacancies mentioned in this article. The vacancy rate has actually dropped over the past 5 years from a high point of around 35% to the current 27% (give or take) along the Bloomfield Avenue corridor.

    The biggest change cannot be seen in the actually number of vacancies but the type of merchants and businesses, and the increased street appeal and overall aesthetic they have brought to Montclair Center. Again, this comes down to people being upset at the type of businesses that have entered the realm as well as the types of businesses they have replaced and the underlying socioeconomic changes they signify.

    A lot of boutique clothing/retail shops (Envy, 808, abercrombie, lululemon, urban outfitters, any many more) and higher end restaurants (scala, mish mish, villalobos, pig and prince, etc) and h have replaced convenience stores, furniture stores, electronic repairs shops. They have changed the face of the downtown in more ways than what they sell inside. They have taken dilapidated storefronts, cluttered with obnoxious signage, ripped awnings, unkempt sidewalk frontage and really put effort into not only their products, but how their storefronts interact with the street and it has made huge difference in the overall aesthetic appeal of the downtown.

    It is clear to me that this overall vacancy rate will continue to slowly drop and throughout this entire transition, Montclair will look, feel, sound, and be a more vibrant and appealing place because of it.

  6. I give DiSalvo credit for his data gathering.

    Parkour, your relentless boosterism is exhausting. You sound a bit like a real estate agent. In fact, Montclair’s population is falling; it fell 26 percent since the post-war peak in 1950. That’s not an exodus ala Detroit, but it’s hardly boomtown. I happen to like the slightly shabby, lonely charm of Bloomfield as it is and I really don’t wish for the “boutiques” and “vibrancy” you constantly pine for.

    Montclair population (Census via Wikipedia)
    1950 43,927 10.3%
    1960 43,129 −1.8%
    1970 44,043 2.1%
    1980 38,321 −13.0%
    1990 37,729 −1.5%
    2000 38,977 3.3%
    2010 37,669 −3.4%

  7. How is everyone not seeing the boom that is hitting Montclair right now? Single family homes are having bidding wars like we haven’t seen since pre-recession times (15+ offers over asking). Parkour is right on about the quality of the retail tenants moving in. It’s not all about vacancy rates. Karl’s Appliance was replaced by LuLulemon. Mr. DeSalvo should also collect data on rental rates. Bloomfield Avenue used to lag significantly behind Upper Montclair in price per square foot but it doesn’t anymore. Rents have increased as new, more vibrant and engaging tenants have come in. Taxes on commercial properties are based on income and expenses. Increased rents = increased taxes for the township. The negativity on this site is what I find “exhausting”. This gem from elcamino is unbelievable: “I happen to like the slightly shabby, lonely charm of Bloomfield as it is and I really don’t wish for the “boutiques” and “vibrancy” you constantly pine for.” Then go move to Bloomfield. I guarantee you’re the same type of guy that complains incessantly about taxes.

  8. Lululemon! Well in that case, I rescind my remark. And don’t forget bank, nail salon, and Att store that opened in new Valley and Bloom. And thanks for explaining that “increased rents=increased tax revenues” guy whose screen name indicates he is “really, really into skiing” but where are those tax data you so confidently allude to? You seem to have figures on levels and rates of changes in different parts of town. DiSalvo gathered figures and you demand more. You mentioned figures and don’t provide any.

  9. El camino,

    For dropping census, consider decreasing household size. With a large number of 3-6 bedroom homes in town, I do believe larger families with live-in help were much more the norm in many of the private homes in Montclair. Now all those empty bedrooms with smaller families are housing home offices, guests, rooms, etc. rather than extra children and live-in help.

  10. “In 1971, there was a shift in attitudes, as Americans’ ‘ideal’ family switched from four kids (19%) to two kids (38%)”

    What did the ideal family do with the 2 extraneous kids?

  11. Thanks, but that sounds like national change in taste for (fewer) kids so not clear how it explains montclair”s pop.drop in particular. I suspect there are plenty of 40K towns elsewhere in U.5. whose population held steady or grew since 1970. NJ pop.growth slowed around then but didn’t turn negative so it’s not just a jersey thing.

  12. to el camino who wrote “Parkour, your relentless boosterism is exhausting.”

    What a day and age we live in where optimism, hope for the future and genuine pride and for one’s town and community and it’s well being is met with such anger and frustration, and labeled as “boosterism.” It is a sad time when the positive outlook is the type of outlook that is “exhausting” wow.

  13. you misunderstand-there was neither anger or frustration in my comment-, just a difference in urban taste and a more pragmatic perspective. I’ve read your vision for Montclair many times-vibrancy and boutiques and “hundreds and hundreds” of people in cafés listening to music–and I don’t share it. But I agree Montclair is a nice town, high commercial vacancy rate and all.

  14. to Montclairskier who wrote “How is everyone not seeing the boom that is hitting Montclair right now?”

    The problem is not that they don’t see the boom, it is that the current state of Montclair is not how they envisioned or want it to look, feel or sound. It is not “their” Montclair as has been written on this board many times over the years. They have dug in their heels so deep in terms of being able to admit that there a lot of positive things happening in and around town that they have no way out so they would rather sound silly and foolish and say things like they prefer the more “shabby and lonely parts of Bloomfield Avenue” over the more vibrant portions. They will looks you right in the eye and tell you that the pre makeover version South Park St, which had vacancies all along it, a potholed crumbling road and abandoned department store, and had been that way for decades was better than the current South Park Street. There is not winning an argument about whether or not Montclair is in a better or worse place than it was 20 years ago. Their mind is made up and now every piece of praise, every redevelopment plan, every mention of vibrance, energy and rejuvenated drives them up a wall.

    Secondly, you are mistaken when you say “Everyone” is missing the boom. This is hardly everyone, it is barely anyone. There is a small percentage the 40K that live here who have been here for many many decades who oppose any change to the way they have experienced Montclair. They are part of an aging demographic who are holding onto the town they knew that is now in the midst of a major transition. This demogrpahic also tends to have the most expendable time to spend at town meetings and open forums voicing their concerns and presenting opposition in every form imaginable. But despite what they will tell you over and over and over and over and over, they most certainly do not represent the majority of the town. The majority of the people of Montclair and the surrounding towns are showing how they feel about the new and improved downtown by flocking to it in droves, and by fighting to the death over real estate to live here. Are all these people wrong? Are they just not seeing how miserable and ugly Montclair is? Are they really just wasting their time and money?

    It must be sad to protest against all the development, the schools, the leadership, the politicians and then watch it succeed and now that it is only the beginning of a long run of success for a town that is perfectly poised to cash in on it’s proximity to NYC, it’s great transportation, it’s unique culture, it’s wonderful schools… and a generation of young adults seeking exactly that lifestyle and the financial well being to grab it.

  15. Look at the shift in demographics along Walnut Street. At the Valley Road end, some houses were single room occupancy / broken up into small apartments back in the 1970s. Parking on the front lawn etc.

    Now many of those homes are lovely, single family residences with great restoration results.

    Near the train station, Erie saloon has upgraded dramatically. The dive bar element has moved on. New, luxury housing, upscale bakeries, $8 beers at Egan’s.

  16. “They will looks you right in the eye and tell you that the pre makeover version South Park St, which had vacancies all along it, a potholed crumbling road and abandoned department store, and had been that way for decades was better than the current South Park Street.”

    I look you right in the eye, Parktour and tell you that in my opinion, the South Park renovation is inappropriate, WAY too expensive, out of chatracter and was MUCH better before. The Sienna and Valley & Bloom are WAY to big and cheap looking for Montclair.

    We are all entitled to our point of you. I disagree with yours.

  17. “I look you right in the eye, Parktour”
    —I nominate this as the greatest intro to a baristanet post EVER. The inappropriate cliche, the hilarious misspell…

    “the South Park renovation is inappropriate”
    —thank heavens no one listened to you then, either.

    “We are all entitled to our point of you. I disagree with yours.”
    —i nominate this as the greatest outro to a baristanet post EVER. The howlingly appropriate misspell, the sad, misplaced ego…

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