The Montclair Planning Board met on September 12 to consider another application in the Eastern Gateway redevelopment area for a new mixed-use building to replace Mount Carmel Holy Church. Although it’s not to be confused with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Pine Street, Mount Carmel Holy Church, its address now designated as 147-155 Bloomfield Avenue, did actually face Pine Street before that street was rerouted in the eighties; the current front façade is in fact the church’s original side.
Developer David Genova presented the plan for new apartment building with a retail shop at ground level with help from his attorney Neal Zimmerman and testimony from architect Paul Sionas, one of five witnesses scheduled to testify who, due to time constraints, ended up being the only witness called. Sionas offered details of the five-story building – to be called the Vestry in recognition of the property’s current use for a church – in a PowerPoint presentation before the board and residents from the Eastern Gateway area. The building is similar to developer Richard Polton’s Montclarion II apartment building, also designed by Sionas, currently under construction in the adjacent property.
The building is L-shaped, with a small parking area adjacent to the eastern side of the main building along Bloomfield Avenue and also fronting the eastern wing. Sionas explained the tine intent of the design was to allow deeper penetration of interior light into the building and to pull it away from Montclarion II, and also to allow ease of traffic coming in and out. Most of the parking is on the ground-floor level behind the 1,628-sqaure-foot retail space, with a total of 47 spaces for 46 housing units, two of them Zipcar spaces. Genova anticipates that not everyone who rents an apartment in the Vestry will need have a car of their own. A rear path would connect the building with Pine Street and the Bay Street railway station.
The second through fourth floors would contain a total of 39 units, with each floor having two studio units, seven single-bedroom units, three two-bedroom units, and one three-bedroom unit, in addition to each floor containing four rentable storage units. The fifth floor would have seven units, including a 3-bedroom apartment with an outdoor terrace, plus a multipurpose room for al l of the tenants’ use. Eight units – three three-bedroom units, 3 two-bedroom units, and two studio apartments – would be set aside as affordable housing.
The design features a façade of expansive glass windows separated by brick pilasters. A glass tower in the southeast corner of the main wing hoses a stairwell, with aluminum and glass entrances for the retail and residential access. The fifth floor is set back from the faced with an open-roof terrace, while the recessed eastern wing features a saw tooth roof design on the fifth floor. The saw tooth design, Sionas explained, breaks up the monotony of a flat roof while providing higher ceilings at the top of that part of the building. A monument sign, buffered by trees and shrubbery would sit at the southeast corner to shield parking spaces and a transformer box from Bloomfield Avenue.
The requests for variances, deviations, and waivers were numerous. Among the requests was a variance to allow a 17.2-foot setback instead of the 20-foot setback required by the redevelopment plan to adjoin with the Montclarion II building and provide more open space. Also, the redevelopment plan calls for at least 25 percent of the rooftop to be used for open space; Sionas called for a variance to allow 20.4 percent of rooftop are for outdoor space to allow the multipurpose room. A variance was also requested to allow the monument sign, six feet tall, to allow screening of the transformer and parking spaces. One request for relief concerned Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) certification for a silver rating. Sionas said he intended for the Vestry to be a green project, with high-efficiency windows and an electrical system as well as bicycle racks, but he said that Genova chose instead to defer this and work with the township to achieve the equivalent of silver certification because Genova felt that township understood the area and the needs of the project better than the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The council would work with a consultant, paid for by the developer.
Here, Board Vice Chair Jason De Salvo was perplexed by this, saying that a consultant deeming the building fit for LEED silver certification without actually getting it certified. Board Chairman John Wynn asked for the reason for that. Zimmerman said they were looking for an “absence of arbitrariness” from the USGBC. De Salvo replied that the USGBC is no less arbitrary than a consultant, and he noted that, if the LEED fee was an issue, it was nominal.
“There’s almost no cost savings as you lose all the benefit, because we’re going to hold you to exactly the same standard,” he said.
Residents asked about the feasibility of the project. Local resident Alton Fortner noted the amount of sinkholes in the area, and Sionas said that soil tests would be conducted before any construction began. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, who had been a council liaison to the Planning Board with Mayor Jerry Fried and who also opposed the change of density rules in the redevelopment plan that allowed the Vestry application to go forward, conceded that Sionas did a fabulous job with his design. However, she asked if parking access could have been provided from behind. Sionas said that such an option was not doable. When Haywood Woods, who is a resident of the Montclair Mews condominium complex adjacent to the church property, resident, asked how people with two or more cars could possibly park in the spaces provided, Wynn said that anyone with the option of renting an apartment that offered fewer parking spaces than needed would likely not do so. Woods was skeptical, citing the autocentric nature of New Jersey that required even people who commuted to their jobs by public transit still needed cars for other trips. The board also addressed the additional retail space in a town glutted with vacant stores, saying that high rents and plans to combine retail space contributed to the vacancies, and De Salvo said that any retail space could be leased immediately at the right price.
The one resolution on the Planning Board’s agenda, which would have allowed Steven Plofker’s Glen Willow project on the southeast corner of Glenridge Avenue and North Willow Street to go through, was tabled. Board attorney Arthur Neiss told Baristanet that, right now, the resolution is unclear about preserving the benefit of public parking in the project for local businesses and their customers. The project would eliminate the current lot there and provide fewer parking spaces, and Neiss has to redraft the language of the resolution to ensure that the benefit is preserved. A half-hour debate on the resolution as currently worded had proven to be futile. As for the Vestry project, it will be taken up again at the Planning Board’s November 7 meeting.