On Monday evening, the Montclair Planning Board approved an application to renovate the Greenworks on Grove building at 100 Grove Street to allow a dental practice to move into vacant office space.
Alan Trembulak, the attorney representing the applicant for the application, provided an overview of the project.
He explained his client was looking for site plan approval to remodel the interior of a one-story building that had been previously approved by the Planning Board in 2007. He stated the client was not proposing to change the exterior of the building, but to modify the interior to accommodate a dental practice that will be moving into the building. He said they also would need approval of a variance for the number of on-site parking spaces, given that medical practices have a higher on-site parking requirement of 20 spaces vs. the parking lot’s available 15 spaces, as well as the change in the use of the site.
Trembulak said that he would be bringing three people up to testify, including Robert Silver, a managing member of Greenworks on Grove, LLC, which owns the property; Dr. Michela Russo, the tenant who will be using the space; and Paul Sionas, the architect who originally designed the building in 2007.
Robert Silver testified that the property, on the corner of Grove and Willow Streets, originated as a rose garden, but in the 1940s was converted to an Esso station, and had later housed a taxi stand and an auto repair facility.
He and his partner redeveloped the property in 2007, creating a Gold LEED certified core-and-shell building on the site, the first in New Jersey, as well as being the first LEED-certified building of any level built in Montclair. The building had housed a martial arts/karate studio and a State Farm Insurance Agency since 2009.
However, he said, when State Farm downsized and relocated to 119 Grove Street, leaving part of the building empty, the vacant space (1400 square feet) was put on the market.
Silver testified that Dr. Russo approached them to use the property for her new dental practice. He stated that she loves the site in part because her father immigrated from Italy to Montclair, and was “really a part of this neighborhood, so it’s kind of a coming home” for Dr. Russo.
He said that the site would allow her to be closer to her home in North Caldwell, unlike the location of her current practice.
The property, Silver said, is ideal, as it is “right in the center of Montclair,” and is already zoned for medical use. In addition, he said, it has 15 on-site parking spaces, as well as spaces available on the adjacent streets.
Silver stated he also owns the building across the street at 105 Grove Street, which has 40 parking spaces. “We allow both the karate studio and, hopefully, the dentist to park there after 5 and on weekends… when our business clients are not using that parking lot,” he explained. “So that is additional parking that is certainly available to Dr. Russo.” In response to a question from the board, he confirmed that there will be a formal agreement guaranteeing that the additional parking spaces at 105 Grove would be available at those times.
Silver also testified that the karate studio doesn’t start its classes until after school, so the only overlap in business hours amounts to about 5.5 hours per week.
Dr. Russo was the next to testify. Under questioning by the attorney, she revealed more details of her background and plans for the office space. She said she is currently in her 20th year of practicing dentistry, and had been working as an employee at a dental practice in Parsippany for the past 12 years.
She stated she had been looking to start her own practice and “fell in love” with the property. “I’m a mom, and it’s very close to my home and family. My parents live close by, it’s a green building, and ADA-accessible, which is very, very important,” she said. In addition, she cited the ample parking as an attraction, given the difficulty of finding parking in Montclair.
Dr. Russo said she envisions her dental practice to be a family-based practice, one in which she can spend a lot of time with each patient. “I don’t want to be rushed, and want my patients to feel at home,” she explained.
She confirmed she would be the only dentist, and would have two employees: a hygienist and an assistant who would help with answering phones and other duties. She said she would have three treatment rooms. This would allow one patient to be seen by the hygienist, one to be seen by her, and a third one in case of an emergency.
She said she would schedule patients depending on their treatment. Patients being seen by the hygienist would be scheduled one per hour. For other dental work, she said, “All dental visits are different, they can vary from one to two hours. I’d like to take my time with patients.”
Dr. Russo said she planned to work six days a week, with staggered hours depending on the day. On Mondays, the hours would be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7 to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
She said that she anticipated the 15 available parking spaces would be more than enough for her practice, even in the few hours that overlapped with the karate studio. She said she plans to see five patients in a day, as she wants to keep the practice small, as the waiting room will be small.
Board member Tony Inuale asked whether the parking variance would go with the property. Township Planning Director Janice Talley confirmed that the variance would be permanently associated with the property, but that the board can limit the variance to ensure any future use would not be more intensive. For instance, she said, it could be limited to a medical practice with only one practitioner. Attorney Alan Trembulak also said that the small 1400 square-foot space was self-limiting, so a more intensive use would not be likely.
Architect Paul Sionas testified that the Greenworks building is in a C-2 zone, which allows for general business and light manufacturing use. He said both the karate studio and a dental office are approved uses in this zone.
He went over the building’s history, and provided more details on its “green” credentials. He pointed out that the landscaping on the corner has returned the front of the building to greenery and mimicked the original rose garden that was once there. He said the walkways are all permeable pavers. In addition, he said the building is “packed with insulation,” with overhangs that prevent sun from coming in on the south side in the morning.
The plan for the dentist office is to have a waiting room, reception area, and three treatment rooms. There will also be a consultation room, a lab/sterile area, a bathroom, an X-ray room, and a staff lounge.
He said that the site plan has not changed since the plan that was approved in 2009. Parking spaces will be unassigned except for two spaces at the Northwest corner for employee parking, with one of those stalls reserved for the martial arts owner and one for the dentist.
Sionas also testified that that he had assessed the amount of parking within a two-minute walk, and found that there would always be 13 parking spaces available within those constraints.
Martin Schwartz moved to accept the application, with the stipulation of limiting the use to dentistry, “or some other language that counsel believes will be sufficiently limiting,” and that all customers be advised of the off-site parking options with some form of notification, through a sign or on the website, or whatever the doctor deems appropriate. The motion was seconded by Carole Willis, and was unanimously approved by those present.
The meeting, which was chaired by board member Stephen Rooney, began with approval of the December minutes, followed by a vote to approve BSREP II Wellmont Development JV LLC as planning consultant for the Seymour Street Site Plan. The vote was unanimous with the exception of board member Martin Schwartz, who abstained as he had arrived after discussion began.
After the Greenworks on Grove application, the board discussed proposed changes to the Eastern Gateway plan, where some setbacks were proposed to be increased and open space be included at the corner. Tony Inuale questioned whether this would be beneficial, and said this would be “spot zoning.” He suggested an open plaza be included across from the train station instead of in the planned location.
Martin Schwartz disagreed, saying, “We have ample intensive development in that area. We do need open space in that gateway location, and clearly the Council on Economic Development Committee also came to that conclusion. Some space in accordance with our Master Plan is required.”
Martin Schwartz moved to approve the changes to the East Gateway plan, and was seconded by Carole Willis. The vote passed with Inuale voting against the measure.
The meeting was adjourned after several subcommittee reports. The next scheduled meeting is on February 6, 2017.