The Montclair Planning Board made its way through three topics at its April 24 meeting, approving one application, continuing another, and making a change to the master plan.
The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to completing and approving the application for the new subdivision to be built off Pleasant Avenue on the property occupied by the house of the late Aubrey Lewis, an accomplished athlete and FBI agent. The street, to be named Lewis Court in his honor, is to feature eight new houses designed to fit in with the neighborhood, but some residents and even a couple of Planning Board members had their reservations – especially those who had sought to preserve the Lewis house as an historic landmark.
Engineer Michael Lanzafama of the Millburn firm Casey & Keller presented a revised version of the plan for Lewis Court, explaining that the two corner lots on Lewis Court and Pleasant Avenue, Lots 1 and 5, would be set back 25 feet from the new street, with the house on Lot 1 set back 40 feet from Pleasant Avenue and house on Lot 5 set back 53 feet from Pleasant Avenue. The two houses would be lined up together as closely as possible to preserve the character of the neighborhood, and would shield the two farthest lots on the southern side of Lewis Court (Lots 3 and 4) both condensed in size, from the perspective at Pleasant Avenue. This would allow the two houses on Lots 3 and 4, as well as those on Lots 7 and 8 (the two farthest lots on the northern side of Lewis Court) to be built with front-facing garage doors rather than with garage doors facing the side, if customers for the houses so desire. Lanzafama said this would give the developer flexibility to build what customers want. Any house with front-facing garages would require a variance.
A couple of board members did not like the idea of the Lewis house itself being demolished, a 1906 building designed by noted Montclair architect Dudley Van Antwerp, but board member Martin Schwartz noted that the board could have saved the house. “It’s important to point out that this board had the opportunity to vote to preserve that home,” he said, “and the majority of members did not choose to vote for that, unfortunately.” He also pointed out that Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) had lobbied for its preservation as well, without the support for the Planning Board.
“That ship has already sailed,” Schwartz said.
Architect Larry Appel showed renderings of the model houses to be offered for sale, concentrating on two of the models to be offered with the option of a front-facing garage. The designs, he said, took the surrounding neighborhood’s character into account, using bow roofing, detailed cornice work, and rafter ends, among other architectural details. The design for the house on the southwest corner featured two front façades, in recognition that corner houses have two front yards and that each side facing a corner should honor both streets. But some residents were unimpressed. Denise Powell said the country-like feel that large properties gave to walking down Pleasant Avenue would be lost by having new houses so close together. Real estate agent Adrianna O’Toole found the new houses to be lacking in quality materials, as they are dependent on plastics and polymer.
In the end, the board approved the application 5-1, with Schwartz abstaining and Carmel Loughman voting no. William Barr did not vote, and Chairman John Wynn and Vice Chair Jason De Salvo were absent. Planning Director Janice Talley and board attorney Arthur Neiss spelled out conditions for the application, including a 60-day advertisement for the Lewis house in the event that someone might want to preserve and move the structure, as well as a photographic survey of the house for the benefit of the HPC. Board member Stephen Rooney, the acting chair, had suggested refusing to grant the variance that would allow front-facing garages, but he ultimately did not press the point. The development will have a storm-water detention system that will be taken care of by the homeowners’ association, with the association assuming filtration responsibilities.
The board also changed rules in the master plan to incentivize commercial redevelopment on Bloomfield Avenue. Ira Smith explained the change for the Planning Board and the audience, saying that the current formula for residential development in commercial districts allows a developer to add only two apartments to buildings that must be no more than four stories. To encourage more investment in Montclair Center, the change would allow more apartments in a single unit. The recommendation for properties 20,000 square feet or less was not to do any deductions in square footage that removes ground-floor retail space from properties and not to have a density limit, saying that the building codes would allow developers to figure out how many residential units to fit in to a four-story building, which “right-sizes” the residential units a developer can have in a building along Bloomfield Avenue. Smith said that a developer could get four to six units in a four-story building, which would make first-floor retail space more attractive.
Also, the Seymour Street arts district hearings continued, focusing mainly on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. LEED designer Tad Radzinski of Sustainable Solutions said the way to accruing points for certification included low-flow plumbing utilities, bicycle facilities, energy-efficient lighting, and a “green roof” that could include vegetative plantings as well as grass. Calculations for just how much square footage of the proposed building for the Seymour Stret project still needs to be done, and other roof components, such as mechanical equipment also have to be factored in. A proposal for a green roof should be available by the Planning Board’s May 8 meeting. Also, Grayson Murray of Bohlen Engineering gave details for the civil engineering aspect of the project, including plans for storm water runoff to be filtrated to water green space and an improved turning ratio from South Fullerton Avenue to the parking area.