Montclair Planning Board: Application for Lorraine Ave. Warner Building Drags On

BY  |  Tuesday, Feb 07, 2017 9:15am  |  COMMENTS (6)

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.

A diagram of the proposed extension of the Warner Building on Lorraine Avenue, from the west side

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.

One of two current renderings of the extended Warner Building on Lorraine Avenue. This was not the rendering that architect Fred Kincaid was “reticent” in showing.

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.

6 Comments

  1. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 07, 2017 @ 5:58 pm

    The attorney is legally correct about the waiver option.

    The design standards is a resource, a tool recognized by NJ Land Use Law and our local zoning ordinance to enable the HPC to execute its legally defined role. Our historic preservation design standards are to the HPC as the Master Plan is to the Planning Board. We spent a small fortune and time rewriting them. They were in place before the application was filed and deemed complete.

    The Planning Board is the authority responsible for referring development applications to the HPC. A referral is simply a request by the PB for an opinion from the HPC. The PB is not bound by the HPC opinion. The permit extension act does not preclude the HPC from using the design standards to in their opinion. Nor can the PB dismiss HPC’s use of the standards.

    What the PB should have done and always do is to make sure all relevant parts of the completed application are given to the HPC. They didn’t do that. Worse, they take no responsibility that it did not happen when they first requested the HPC review.

    Now, the PB Chair said last night the HPC report findings were unnecessarily confusing to the PB. OK, maybe. Shouldn’t have mattered. The Chair of the HPC was in attendance last night and if they had an effective working relationship, it seems easy enough to call her up to clarify the report. In fact, the zoning ordinance allows the HPC to give an oral report during the application hearing. This is a new HPC Chair (just this month), so I give her a big break. Not so much for the other land use heads.

    I said last night that one option is for the PB to simply ignore the HPC report. But, then they have to own the fact that they also own historic preservation policy. That was something they went to great lengths lat night saying they did not.

  2. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 07, 2017 @ 6:51 pm

    PS: The Township’s Development Review Committee reviewed the site plan application 4 days after the HPC’s initial review. FYI, the Development Review Committee consists 2 members from the Planning Board, 1 member from the Board of Adjustment, the Planning Director and the Board Engineer. I wonder if they got to review the streetscape elevations showing the buildings adjacent to the site?

  3. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 07, 2017 @ 6:57 pm

    §202-10.2 [Added 1-19-2016 by Ord. No. O-15-042]

    The Development Review Committee shall have the following responsibilities:

    (1) Determine compliance with the Township’s zoning requirements, development regulations and design standards.

    (2) Make recommendations on the design and technical elements of any application.

  4. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 07, 2017 @ 8:41 pm

    The building is a long horizontal building block volume to begin with. Its not in character unless its broken up or articulated more with characteristic forms and detail or lightened up with glass or roof gardens. You would see the block like roof from the residential neighborhood above…I like the redesign for Charlie Browns…its lighter and less block like and seems to blend in more with the open spaces around it.
    https://baristanet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/50-Upper-Montclair-Plaza.jpg

  5. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  February 07, 2017 @ 11:08 pm

    Development applications that don’t ask for variances or waivers are the worst for the Planning Board. These developments are straight-forward, keep within the lines of our ordinances with a manageable level of “moving parts” detail. The black sheep of our land use triumvirate casts a little shade on the PB’s inclination to an outcome and now it’s suddenly complicated.

    Maybe, just maybe, the Council can get around to counting how many land use bodies we have, including all the review and sub- committees, that fancy themselves as part of the designer process to various degrees.

    I count 8 plus our consultants.

    This is impressive, if not a dubious accomplishment. 10 years ago we didn’t have enough design competency (The Siena). 5 years ago we bought into the concept, but punted the execution (V&B). Now, we have reaped a bountiful harvest of design participation practicing from all corners of the municipal empire. Yet, here we are wrestling with, as frankgg put simply, “The building is a long horizontal building block volume to begin with.” and challenging the qualifications of the HPC to evaluate the design.

  6. POSTED BY frankgg  |  February 08, 2017 @ 11:41 am

    Its the regulations and Master Plan that have to change because the long horizontal building block volumes allowed are not appropriate or acceptable. In appropriate Re development is harming Montclair. We see this practically with every proposal and its not the developers fault. If there was less intrusiveness in the re development regulations and more preservation of the valuable existing, Montclair could reap the benefits of a big booming business of Cultural Tourism.

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