The Montclair Planning Board spent most of its February 6 meeting on the continuing application from Caldwell developer Michael Pavel to expand his reconstruction of the Warner Building on Lorraine Avenue to run 137 feet behind the avenue, with 8,971 square feet of second-floor office space and ground-level parking at the ground-floor level.
Architect Frederick Kincaid of the Livingston firm Jarmel Kizel offered a revised version of the design with input from the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), but the plan met with skepticism and resistance from board members and residents alike. Board chairman John Wynn ultimately had to schedule a continuation of the meeting when there was only time for Kincaid’s testimony on the building’s design. Further testimony on the project will continue on March 13.
Kincaid said he lowered the height of the building’s cornice and tried to break up its bulk by dividing the western façade into sections, using different colors of brick and recessing some of the sections to avoid a monolithic outer wall. He presented a corbelling, or overlapping, arrangement on one section to bring the bricks farther out to add to the variety of the façade. Roof-mounted equipment would be hidden with fiberglass barriers that would mitigate sound coming from the equipment and would match the color of the parapets on the building. A bulkhead for the elevator would have a color matching the cornice.
Despite the changes made to the building – which had already having been redesigned and replaced plans for a mixed-use residential/commercial building originally approved at a smaller scale – board member Martin Schwartz questioned the project’s appropriateness for the Upper Montclair historic district. Board member Anthony Ianuale questioned whether a non-historic structure like the Warner Building would fall under the realm of historic preservation guidelines, but Schwartz believed the character of the building itself was integral to the design.
Schwartz said when design-type standards are found in the zoning codes, those standards can be impactful in the same manner as specific zoning details. He noted the HPC’s design guide lines are included in amendments recently added to the master plan, and he doubted the design of the building meets the criteria for harmonizing with adjacent buildings and blending into the fabric of the historic district. Kincaid insisted the project did harmonize with the area, saying it complemented the various sizes and architectural styles of buildings along Valley Road.
Board attorney Arthur Neiss explained the situation to Baristanet regarding the design issue. “The argument is that the design standards are part of the site plan ordinance,” he said. “Those design standards, or parts of it, can be waived by the board, but the waiver has to be granted by the board. And the proof that is necessary for the board to grant a waiver is very different than the proof required in order to grant a variance. What we’re talking about here relates to the HPC’s opinion about this project [and if it] requires a waiver. So the question now confronting the board is, will the board grant that waiver?”
The board couldn’t figure out the integration of the design standard part and the board was also having trouble integrating that with the master plan and the HPC’s opinion It also wasn’t clear in the ordinance how these issues should be reconciled.
Public comment was supposed to be for questions for Kincaid, but more often than not it devolved into statements rather than questions. Resident Frank Rubacky said the board didn’t have enough information to determine whether a waiver was necessary or whether it should be granted, saying the large lot on which the project would be built was consolidated from two lots that harmonized with the area and two lots that were intrusive. The lots are believed to have been consolidated in November, and that application appeared to have been submitted before changes to the master plan were ratified in December. Many residents, though, were unconcerned with the complicated legalities the board spent the bulk of its time in discussing. They simply found the proposed building to be too intrusive and too big.
Dr. Nancy Katz, who lives and works in the area, said the proposed building resembled an oversized bank. Kincaid didn’t help matters any when he showed what he admitted was an inaccurate rendering of the building, calling it merely a drawing reflecting the “essence” of the project. He said he hoped to have more accurate renderings available in the future, and added he was reticent to show the drawings he had, but this did not sit well with the public.
After three hours of back-and-forth wrangling, Neal Zimmerman, the applicant’s attorney, hoped to bring forward an additional witness, but Chairman Wynn and the board members had had enough for the night. He promised Zimmerman that the Warner application would be handled first at the March 13 meeting.
Also, an application on the resolution for Greenworks on Grove at 100 Grove Street was passed with Chairman Wynn and Vice Chair Jason DeSalvo abstaining as both had missed the hearing for the application. Ianuale noted the property consisted of two uses, one being a karate studio, with a proposal for a dental office, and each with its own parking requirements. The board had granted a variance because of insufficient parking when the dental office was considered in relation to the pre-existing use by the karate studio. Ianuale asked what would happen if the karate studio went out of business later, and whether the parking should reflect the “blending” of the two uses at present and possible future uses. Neiss explained that would not work because no one knows what will replace the karate studio in the future if it closes. The resolution was amended to include signage to allow clients to use the parking at 105 Grove Street, owned by the same property owner, after 5 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends.