Montclair Planning Board Approves Vestry, Raises Concerns About Warner Building

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The Montclair Planning Board heard two applications at its December 5 meeting that are to be subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).  One got approved, while the other, a previously approved application, was substantially revised – and led to a chaotic hearing.  Attorney Neal Zimmerman represented both applicants.

The first application was the Vestry apartment building planned for Bloomfield Avenue next to the Montclarion II building that is scheduled to be completed in early 2017.   The developer, David Genova, had reviewed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) requirements since the board’s review of his application on November 7, and concluded that he did not need a deviation for silver certification.  The testimony on the project came from architect Paul Sionas, who made more revisions to his plan.

The Vestry
The Vestry

Sionas’s changes include, among other features, added street trees, double front doors, reduced-size lettering on the sign up front, and a second floor terrace to cover the ground-level bicycle garage, with partitions in the terrace for each adjoining apartment.  Sionas also included balconies for upper-floor apartments, and he modified the parking.  He had a wall on the western side of the building slightly moved to accommodate for bigger spaces and he proposed a different striping pattern to provide space in the column areas.  Sionas and Genova also assured the board that any tenant who requested designated parking, should the available parking spaces on-site be unavailable, would get an overnight space at the Bay Street Station parking deck.

HPC member Eric Givren, who attended the meeting, said he was pleased with the modifications Sionas had done based on the HPC’s recommendations, but he lamented that no one on the commission had seen any of the balconies that Sionas was proposing.  Givren said that the failure to provide such renderings was “not procedurally advantageous.”   The board approved it, though on the condition that the balconies be referred to the HPC.  The vote was 7-0; Chairman John Wynn was absent (Vice Chair Jason De Salvo was in charge), as was board member Timothy Barr.  Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager did not vote because she had missed the previous meeting covering the Vestry.

The second application was for developer Michael Pavel’s mixed-use office and retail building for the site of the old Warner Communications building on Lorraine Avenue; Pavel applied for an amended version of the approval he’d received for the project in the spring.  The revised plan, presented by architect Matthew Jarmel, would elongate the building to 137 feet behind Lorraine Avenue, with all of the extra square footage in the second-floor; the first-floor level would mostly be ground-level parking.  The first floor in the front of the building would offer 4,952 square feet of retail space, but the second-floor space would be increased from 5,300 square feet to 8371 square feet.  Parking spaces in the lot, set at 60, would remain at that number.  The building itself would be designed with slight indentations in the façade along the western side, with the cornice changing in height to give the illusion of multiple buildings.  This side would face Braemore Road across from the railroad tracks.

Rendering - Lorraine Ave. Building
A previous rendering of the Lorraine Ave. Building

The application process for this project ended up being a rocky one.  Board member Martin Schwartz complained that there were no detailed façade images to accompany the modified site plan received by the board, with only a few basic elevation views to go by, and there were no renderings showing adjacent structures to provide context for the new building.  Nothing was provided in their packets for their review, Schwartz said, and the public hadn’t had the opportunity to see in advance more detailed images of the proposal.  He added that no such images were provide to the HPC either; while some drawings of the project were provided to the HPC at the previous meeting, they did not have the opportunity to study them.

“And yet,” Schwartz said, “this site falls directly within the Upper Montclair historic district.”

Eric Givren said there had been three different versions of Pavel’s proposed building, adding that he was curious to know if all of them were brought before the HPC.  He said he hadn’t seen a coherent design for the project, and he read the HPC memo to the Planning Board that the HPC found an expanded building too large and not complementary to the historic character of the building.

“Would you like to respond to that, sir?” Givren asked Jarmel.

“The only response I can give to that,” Jarmel said, “is that I believe that’s a subjective comment.”  He noted that the zoning laws permitted such a building.

The proposal, unlike Pavel’s acclaimed 50 Upper Montclair Plaza building, drew sharp rebuke from residents and HPC members who said that the project disrespected residents in the neighborhood.  Resident Jennifer Haughton, who said there was no communication between residents and the developer, complained about the late-night excavations and the smell of natural gas at the Lorraine Avenue property, where construction work had been going on since July.  Planning Director Janice Talley assured Haughton that the township had signed off on the proper permits for the project, but added that she would let construction officials know about the situation.  Councilor Schlager admitted to having smelled gas herself while shopping at the nearby Kings and promised to relay Haughton’s concerns to Deputy Mayor/First Ward Councilor William Hurlock, whose ward includes the property.

A more proper HPC review of the revised Lorraine Avenue project is slated for its January 26 meeting, with the Planning Board returning to the application on February 6.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I liked the old residential/office/retail plan. There could have been affordable housing in Upper Montclair.

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