To Add Balconies, Or Not To Add Balconies? That Is The Question of Montclair’s The Vestry


The Montclair Planning Board began 2017 with a whisper more than with a shout.  The board members had two subdivision applications on the agenda for their January 9 meeting, one being a continuing hearing of the major application for the property of Luther Flurry and Jarmila Packard on Madison Avenue and the other being a minor subdivision to create two lots from a property on Alexander Avenue.  Neither application was pursued; Flurry and Packard requested a postponement until March 13, and at the last minute, attorney Alan Trembulak said that a witness was unavailable for the Alexander Avenue application.  That hearing was postponed until February 6.

Those applications out of the way for the time being, the Planning Board had only one significant order of business at hand – a vote on the resolution to approve the Vestry apartment building at the current site of Mount Carmel Holy Church on Bloomfield Avenue.  But the vote was delayed when attorney Neal Zimmerman came before the board to ask for clarifications to the resolution.

The Vestry
The Vestry

Developer David Genova has not yet decided on the inclusion of balconies in the design of his apartment building.   He told the board that he is still trying to determine if he can afford to include them.   Genova said he plans to go to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to seek permission for the balconies if he makes the decision to incorporate them into the building.  But if Genova made the financial decision not to include them, after having gotten the Planning Board’s approval for them, he was hoping that he wouldn’t have to go back to any board or commission for a final approval.

“The point is,” board attorney Arthur Neiss replied in an effort to make sure the board understood Genova’s position, “it’s not your intention to go to the HPC soon.  You’re going to start and get moving and what have you, and then you’re going to make a decision about the cost factor of the balconies and then — and only then — whenever that is, you’re going to go to the HPC.”  Genova said that this was indeed his plan, and he added that it may be only a few weeks before he applies to the HPC.

Neiss and Planning Director Janice Talley further told Baristanet that if the HPC denies the balconies, Genova can go ahead with construction of the Vestry without the balconies, but if Genova himself decides not to include them, he has to return to the Planning Board.

Noting that the board approved the Vestry with balconies, Talley explained how the process worked in situations like this.  “We know the path,” she said.  “If they decide to go forward with the balconies, they go to the HPC and get the HPC’s blessing or denial, and that’s it.  If they decide to not put the balconies on, the board [feels] that, since they approved the plan that had balconies, then a plan without the balconies has to go to the revisions committee for approval.”

Talley said that any meeting of the revisions committee that Genova’s decision may require would be fairly quick.  For his part, Board Chairman John Wynn wanted to make sure that every board member understood the clarification as it would appear in the resolution, so that everyone was “on the same page.”

Vestry developer David Genova (second from right) with his attorney, Neal Zimmerman, confer at the January 9 Montclair Planning Board meeting while Planning Director Janice Talley and board attorney Arthur Neiss listen.
Vestry developer David Genova (second from right) with his attorney, Neal Zimmerman, confer at the January 9 Montclair Planning Board meeting while Planning Director Janice Talley and board attorney Arthur Neiss listen.

Zimmerman also wanted to clear up a point about the number of bathrooms in three-bedroom apartments.  He wanted to make sure that architect Paul Sionas made it clear that Genova was not proposing two bathrooms in those apartments, and that a single bathroom was a better design because it allowed for larger bedrooms and more closet space.   Talley had suggested two bathrooms, but the board was happy in one bathroom in the three-bedroom units. 

And with those clarifications made, the board unanimously approved the application for Genova’s apartment building.

Also, board member Carole Willis said that the board needed to deal with the deficiency in the master plan that allows the development of six-story buildings on side streets directly off Bloomfield Avenue, including both North and South Fullerton Avenues.  Talley said she and her assistant, Graham Petto, could look at the information and background analysis and come up with recommendations for the master plan subcommittee, which the board could review at its February 27 meeting. A public hearing on possible revisions would be required.

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  1. Procedurally, the PB decision on how to handle the balconies was bad policy on two points. First, they effectively gave the developer the option on a key building design even though they all insisted their existing policy was not to give any developer these type of options. Second, the previously approved application was with balconies. By agreeing last night to let a subcommittee alter an approved application, they effectively gave a few members powers they should not have.

    The fact that this building is in an historic district was not germane to the issue before them. Having an understanding and a comfort level with the HPC role continues to be their Achilles’ heal.

  2. Ask the architect, Paul Sionas what he thinks about the balconies. He’s doing excellent work. It was totally a mistake to take the tower off the other building. The township hasn’t got a clue about design and urbanism.

  3. Also, the decision to approve only 1 bath for a 3 bedroom affordable housing unit seemed a little careless. The PB didn’t ask for any supporting data, e.g. CUPR statistics on the avg. occupancy numbers. Instead, they only considered the developer’s argument that it would allow for larger bedrooms and closet space…and didn’t ask what the square footage of these spaces would be.

    It might be the right decision, but not because they gave it much thought.

  4. Splurging on balconies, but continuing scrooge-like with that 1 bath per three bedroom tally, I can imagine the freshly-moved-in tenants, jumping around on their spiffy outdoor slabs, waiting for that one bathroom down the hall to become available ASAP, and doing their best to retain composure, while hoping not to burst.

  5. I attribute the it to the group dynamic. Sometimes, our Planner, Ms Talley could say the sky is blue…and they are just going to vote the opposite.

  6. I agree the tower coming off Montclairian Two was a mistake. I said it then but couldn’t get the votes for members to agree to go over height code. We had already agreed to a heigher interpretation of the story code there..given the topography. Regardless, don’t forget about code v. design flexibility when these decisions are made for how others might then respond when their code request is similarly denied — just because it’s ugly and there other’s good.

    There is no “good design” criteria in the public good as a basis for granting modifications. Other criteria have to be in play.

  7. “There is no “good design” criteria in the public good as a basis for granting modifications.”

    This is incorrect. There are and the PB has granted variances based on them.

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