The Montclair Planning Board spent its final meeting of 2016 on December 19 going over some resolutions and considering consultants for upcoming redevelopment projects. Planning Director Janice Talley and the board members present – Carole Willis and Stephen Rooney were absent. A consultant, Anthony Rodriquez of the engineering and design firm CME Associates, presented his services for the board’s consideration.
Rodriquez said that CME Associates, whose initials stand for Consulting Municipal Engineers, works mostly with municipalities and not so much with developers, and has handled accounts all over New Jersey. He cited Red Bank as an example of CME’s work and how, in response to a query from Vice Chair Jason DeSalvo about how it ensures that redevelopment doesn’t undermine historic preservation, CME has tried to strike an appropriate balance in Red Bank. Rodriquez noted that Red bank feels under pressure from competing towns nearby while it loses businesses and deals with a dearth of parking. He said that CME has worked with the town to keep its historic character while seeking to expand its parking capabilities.
Asked by DeSalvo how CME works with towns, Rodriquez said CME helps the administrations give direction to the developers. If and when a developer is selected, CEM works with the developer and evaluates his or her proposal and gets the residents, planners, and council involved in shaping the project. Rodriquez called it a “back-and-forth” process, and he said that features like setbacks and architectural detail can lessen the feel of bulk and diminish the visual impact.
Sometimes, Rodriquez added, a proposal will include something like an eight-story building in a block where three-story buildings are the norm, but a taller building that stand out and provides a “beacon” appearance for the downtown may be beneficial. It would be CME’s responsibility to handle competing interested and design philosophies by getting down to the nitty-gritty. He also said that CME has had some experience in parking issues in Bayonne, where light rail alleviates the need to provide mobility for people without cars, though some nonresidential developers may want extra parking for their projects. Mostly, though parking is minimized in urban environments like Bayonne, but he added that ride sharing is generally thought of as an alternative to building more parking.
Chairman John Wynn asked Rodriquez how CME would see its role in helping Montclair, and Rodriquez replied that the firm sees itself as working in the best interest of the town, mindful of how the board members are also Montclair residents as well as public officials. Chairman Wynn seemed impressed, but wanted to hear other consultants offer their own services to the board before awarding a contract to one consultant. The board ultimately decided to give CME a trial run with the Seymour Street redevelopment plan while continuing to hear from other consultants. The board is seeking consulting input to provide help for Talley’s office, which the board is permitted to do by law, given the whirlwind of activity in the township.
The board also approved a traffic consulting proposal from the firm NV5, agreed to a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design consulting proposal from Designs for Life, and approved retaining Barton Ross as the board’s architect.
Talley also addressed the Planning Board about its proposed 2017 budget, which she sent to Montclair Chief Financial Officer Padmaja Rao for review. Talley requested $40,000 based on the expenses the board incurred over the course of 2016, including extra meetings and litigation costs over the legal dispute with real estate owner Dick Grabowsky. The Grabowsky case, in fact, is continuing into 2017. Board attorney Arthur Neiss explained that the state Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial level, the parties were allowed to conduct discovery, and Grabowsky moved for summary judgment, saying there was no issue in fact and no trial was needed.
“The court agreed, saying there was a conflict, and therefore, those changes to that redevelopment plan were rendered null and void,” Neiss went on in reference to the assisted-living development Grabowsky sued over. But Neiss also said that Grabowsky was awarded his attorney’s fees, and an appeal of that portion of the decision is pending. Discussion of a possible settlement between Grabowsky’s and the township’s legal representation have proven unsuccessful.
Talley does not know how much of her $40,000 request will be approved. She did say, however, that the Planning Board is all caught up on its bills.
Resident Linda Cranston also asked the board to reconsider a portion of the Montclair master plan that allows six- or seven-story C-2 commercial development up to two or three blocks on side streets off Bloomfield Avenue between Orange Road and the Glen Ridge borough limits. Cranston said many Montclair residents have been greatly concerned with the possibility of developers building structures that tall, which would allow too much density and even a loss of open space. Talley agreed to a review, and she said she and her deputy Graham Petto would prepare a color-coded map signifying where such changes in the master plan would be made and have the master plan subcommittee look at it. Board member Martin Schwartz hoped that the subcommittee would pay special attention on North and South Fullerton Avenues just beyond Bloomfield Avenue.
The board also sent a recommendation to the Township Council asking for color-coded design plans and 3-D computer renderings for future development projects, the better to see how a proposed building would look for a more realistic perspective. Resident and Historic Preservation Commission member Eric Givren, who attended the meeting, thought it was an excellent idea whose time had come.