MontClairVoyant: As ‘Overdevelopers’ Get Richer, Satire Is Our Only Compensation

BY  |  Thursday, Apr 13, 2017 1:30pm  |  COMMENTS (26)

 

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
For years, you’ve been railing in vain against the overbuilding and gentrification that has made Montclair pricier, more crowded, and less diverse. You’ve failed, right?

Sincerely,
Lou Zer

I prefer to call it “being successful at being unsuccessful.” And I can still satirize the pretentious writing on developer websites!
 

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Okay, here’s some begging-to-be-lampooned copy from the main website of a developer involved with several downtown projects in Montclair: “Every facet of a buyer’s demanding lifestyle needs are met with design innovation and…hallmark quality in only the most coveted locations…that wholly enrich…lives. Let (us) show you WHAT’S NEXT, and discover a brighter future for you and your family.”

Sincerely,
Future Schlock

My alternate take: “Every facet of a buyer’s demanding lifestyle needs are met with design abdication that makes you covet a Hallmark card to send to developers who enrich themselves. The cards say: ‘Let us show you WHAT’S NEXT when we gift you with a one-way ticket to Mercury to discover a brighter future for you and your family because that planet is closer to the sun.'”
 

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Ouch! From the Valley & Bloom website: “Views of the NYC skyline can’t be beat… Our vibrant community features all the luxuries you’ll need to experience an elevated lifestyle. Wind down and watch the sun set over the NYC skyline on one of our rooftop decks or gather around the fire pit in one of our landscaped courtyards. Our…TV lounge invites you to relax and enjoy a sophisticated communal space. The children’s playroom features a fun environment for your little explorers…”

Sincerely,
A. Menities

Translation: “Our blocking of neighborhood residents’ views of the NYC skyline can’t be beat… Our vibrant community features all the luxuries you’ll need to experience an elevated lifestyle — namely, stilts. Wind down and watch the sunset of open space in Montclair on one of our rooftop decks or gather around the fire pit in one of our landscaped courtyards to rub together two sticks — all you have left after paying the outrageous rents. Our TV lounge invites you to relax and enjoy a sophisticated communal space before you faint at hearing a TV lounge talk enough to extend an invitation. The children’s playroom features a fun environment for your little explorers after they return from the Lewis and Clark Expedition.”
 


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Did those explorers reach West Caldwell Ocean? From The Siena website: “A worldly enclave set within the sophisticated urban village of Montclair… Poised between the world’s greatest city and the great outdoors on beautiful Montclair real estate… A veritable playground of arts, culture, and unrivaled convenience located right outside the door of your condominium in New Jersey… Inspired by Tuscany and an exquisite place to call home…”

Sincerely,
Tuscs Are Looser

Or this: “A worldly enclave set within the sophisticated urban village of Montclair that hasn’t renamed its Township Council the Urban Village Council. Poised between the world’s greatest city (downtown Glen Ridge) and the great outdoors on beautiful Montclair real estate (various potholed parking lots). A veritable playground of sidewalk-chalk art, yogurt cultures, and the Krauszer’s convenience store located within a drunken crawl from your condominium in New Jersey. Inspired by a grainy photo of some burg in Italy and an exquisite place to call home on your iPhone when leaks and mold prevent you from returning to your condo while your spouse is still inside.”
 

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Sounds like a 1970s disaster movie. And, finally, from the website of that future hotel: “The MC…sits at a dynamic intersection that serves as a metaphor and stage for a 21st-century experience. Filled with artistic and creative touches, the hotel brings the best values of convergence, easy hospitality, and eccentric creativity to life. With its 151 design-inspired guest rooms, rooftop lounge with unparalleled city views, and 13,000 square feet of chic event and conference center space, this…property promises to be Montclair’s newest local hot spot.”

Sincerely,
Daze Inn

My different version: “The MC overwhelms a gridlocked intersection that serves as a metaphor and stage for a 21st-century nightmare, even during the day. Filled with snooty and ostentatious touches, the hotel brings to life the best values of bumping into people on the crowded sidewalk, valet parking in convenient Honolulu, and eccentric conformity. With its 151 prison-cell-inspired guest rooms, rooftop lounge with unparalleled views of the Delta gas station, and 13 square inches of chic janitorial space, this property promises to be Montclair’s newest local hot spot when the AC stops functioning.”

 

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

 

 

 

 

26 Comments

  1. POSTED BY martinschwartz  |  April 16, 2017 @ 1:17 am

    Sadly – the building maas footprints and building heights for the MC hotel were established largely under the Fried Administration (2008-2012) — more concerned about bike lanes and eliminating cars than blocking the views of everyone on the mountain down and all of us looking up to the Mountain. Indeed, some of these new urbanisim “environmentalists” still believe somehow foolishly from their convoluted thinking that taller buildings here in Montclair mean less cars overall and indirectly helping the NJ. Highlands with less development there.

    So Dave, you are a bit late to the table with this satirical POV – because the time to have really been concerned and had an impact was back then. With kooky Fried and company.

    On the Planning Board at the time were Councilors Baskerville and Mayor Jerry Fried — who approved the original, 8 story height for the hotel in the first Gateway One Redevelopment Plan back in 2011.

  2. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 16, 2017 @ 6:19 am

    Thanks for commenting, Martin!

    I see what you’re saying — a good deal of the current overdevelopment DOES have its roots in Montclair’s 2008-2012 leadership. (Certainly Valley & Bloom, which, as you know, was originally called CentroVerde.) But Montclair’s post-2012 leadership, whether on the Planning Board or Township Council, has continued in endorsing/approving too-big projects — the future “arts district” complex in/near Seymour Street, the future Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment, etc.

    Also, I have to defend myself and say that I’m not “a bit late to the table with this satirical POV,” because I’ve criticized/lampooned overdevelopment since I began this column in 2003 — starting with The Marlboro Inn/Christopher Court situation, through the Fried administration, etc. Of course, my many columns opposing overdevelopment have had little impact — hence the self-mocking in the above column’s first Q&A. 🙂 When there’s lots of money to be made for developers (enabled by some Montclair leaders), columns can be easily ignored. As can the opinions of MANY local residents who don’t want Montclair to be so crammed.

  3. POSTED BY martinschwartz  |  April 16, 2017 @ 7:28 am

    Dave – So we should bi-bifurcate issues here because life is really a balancing act.

    For me, your overall zeitgeist POV about developer greed v. community need rings true and has have throughout time. The Marlboro Inn knock-down — where I actually helped lead that fight to preserve the building along with many many other residents here, is an excellent example. That was a gracious and lovely open space gateway to our township and should have been preserved along with the historic building that stood on the site. There were offers to preserve and maintain that building but the then Remsen Council (2004-8) didn’t get it. Result — single family home over-crowded Christco Court.

    Centro-Verde’, aka Valley and Bloom, is another but multi-unit example of too much allowed on too small of a footprint space — handled very poorly by town decision-makers then for both volume and design. This was the Fried fiasco.

    However today, and yes, this is now self serving since I’m directly involved in the approvals — the Seymour Street arts area is a new development area where great care has been taken not to have too much added in too little space. Further it is s precisely an inner land space footprint where more volume and heights can be buried more by the existing topography, by land rises and by existing buildings there — AND one where we actually need more commercial activity and more bodies moving around to support the existing economy and businesses there – to help with tax revenues and real estate valuations.

    A number of us have also worked and fought very hard to ensure that what is being built has a simpatico design tie in to the existing architecture and but for a transition point right into the plaza where there is a split of opinion (modernist v. historicist only right there) the proposed building details coming do appear on paper to actually compliment – not hurt Montclair’s downtown. I really hope that holds and that we can ensure the materials and quality as now proposed — is actually executed.

    Time will tell if we did this right but know that regardless, great care was actually taken — unlike the V&B project and others which I observed happen — to move needed bulk and volume away from street sight lines and to make the overall flow try to work in that spot.

    The next challenge will be to mitigate the parking and traffic flow to the new parking decks correctly – but again, this is all right in the heart of our downtown where we need and want more commercial activity. To date, many of the surrounding businesses there have not done well and continuously open and close. Rateables are not great downtown there (was a dead zone). So with the new parking decks coming to surround this new area and to help relieve and take away even the existing car traffic off the streets currently hunting and driving around — hopefully things will improve and change for the better. The county is kicking in 5 million now to upgrade our traffic light and pedestrian flow transitions along Bloomfield Avenue where we need and want better movement of both cars and people to the surrounding areas.

    Remember the old adage — you can’t have your cake and eat it too. We have no mall area in Montclair away from the township proper like Willbrook to provide a massive tax revenue base and to provide residential taxpayers with relief. We only have our existing downtown and commercial spaces to work with to provide revenue that helps keep the burden on residents lower.

    Next up again is Lackawanna Plaza — now coming back to the table. Again, good thinking and care need to prevail here. I’m hopeful they will.

  4. POSTED BY frankgg  |  April 16, 2017 @ 8:28 am

    All of this overdevelopment in Montclair and anything said to defend it is just nonsense.

  5. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  April 16, 2017 @ 9:13 am

    Note to file: Township writing redevelopment plan for a single 60,000sf retailer. Council & PB thinks it will be a traditional supermarket! You just can’t amen this up.

  6. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  April 16, 2017 @ 9:15 am

    So weird! On Easter Sunday, my spell check of above post turned make into amen

    What do you think that means?

  7. POSTED BY wildwoodben  |  April 16, 2017 @ 9:30 am

    Overcrowded…. we live in the most densely populated area of the US of A already, so a little more space per dwelling does seem to stand out. But we humans can be quite creative in piling on each other. There is a reason 75% of us live within 50 miles of the coasts. I have lived in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri with their miles and miles of miles and miles. They grow things in all that space. Here we enjoy remaking our space, Brookdale Park was once the ash dump for our coal consumption. Notice coal is making a come back thanks to Trump. Marlboro Inn space is now home for dozens of people, instead of the few mice that inhabited once. I say, what can we do about the Valero station at Watchung and Park, looking forward? An outdoor nail salon? Another drive-thru bank branch? Our own Jersey Mikes? And, remember, all this “misuse” of our town-scape gives us something to gripe about. In Iowa, you gripe about very little, mostly because someone might be offended.

  8. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 16, 2017 @ 10:14 am

    Thanks, Martin, for the follow-up comment.

    I know you and other Planning Board members have been working hard to make the Seymour project better than projects such as Valley & Bloom. But Seymour and other “upscale” projects (such as Lackawanna Plaza) will still make downtown more crowded, increase traffic problems, bring more students to schools, strain the water supply, make Montclair less affordable, etc.

    More tax ratables? Some, no doubt, but a portion of that money will have to be used to educate the additional students, perhaps hire more police and firefighters, etc.

    You and others did great work (in vain) fighting against turning The Marlboro Inn into Christopher Court.

  9. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 16, 2017 @ 10:20 am

    Thanks for commenting, frankgg!

    As you note, there’s a LOT of overdevelopment going on in Montclair. There’s also plenty of talk about the alleged benefits of this overdevelopment to the town and residents, but I think only developers are 100% certain to benefit — i.e., getting even richer.

  10. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 16, 2017 @ 10:27 am

    Thank you, Frank! What an amazing Easter-related spell check occurrence! 🙂

    I like the idea of a moderate-priced ShopRite possibly going into Lackawanna Plaza, though I do not like the general idea of making most of the rest of LP upscale. I’m not that informed (yet) about the specific details of that supermarket plan — except that it seemingly will be pretty big, as you note.

  11. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 16, 2017 @ 10:40 am

    Thank you, wildwoodben, for your serious (with some humor) comment!

    I hear you — Montclair and the general NYC area are already overcrowded, so why not a certain amount of additional density? Still, there’s got to be some kind of limit sometime. I think Montclair has reached it.

    Turning an ash dump (I didn’t know that!) into Brookdale Park still left lots of nice open space. Marlboro Inn/Christopher Court was the opposite — a beautiful piece of land crowded with 10 McMansions. (Wouldn’t six have been enough? Still profitable for the developer, albeit not greed-greed-greed-level profitable.) And part of the inn dated back to the 1840s — hate to lose that kind of history.

    Yes, griping can help make life interesting, but I’d rather give up the griping and not have Montclair become a mini New York City West. 🙂

    PS: That Valero station at Watchung and Park is too expensive!

  12. POSTED BY jonbonesteel  |  April 16, 2017 @ 6:37 pm

    We can count on many things in Montclair; confusion at Fullerton and Bloomfield Ave, leaf blowers dusting up pollutants, and empty storefronts on Bloomfield Ave, but nothing is as consistent as Martin Schwartz blaming Fried and Remsen in every post for things done over 6 years ago. I for one would like to why it seems to be OK for contractor signs to be posted on one’s property when no actual work is being done on that property. How about the aesthetics of that Martin?

  13. POSTED BY martinschwartz  |  April 17, 2017 @ 5:04 am

    I feel your pain Jon. It is hard to accept that we all allowed poor decision-making in the past to take place without being able to really impact those results.

    Yes, the Remsen crew did allow some very ugly, oversized builds here (Sienna, Orange Parking deck, Christco) without really seeing and understanding their relationship to the quality of life here. Relatedly, the Fried fiasco also allowed Valley and Bloom and almost the Assisted Living build in our core downtown — from largely convoluted thinking and lack of design oversight and construction skills at the time.

    These do still clearly impact what’s done today. For instance, we’re trying now to make the final Orange Parking Deck facade appear much better for our downtown — while still dealing with the original, oversized, pre-approved route 46 structure to start with aka Remsen and then, dealing with the Fried teams approved frontal extensions too.

    It’s a bit of lipstick on a pig. Will now be better but not great because the entire then Centro Verde development there had far too much overall volume to begin with without more set and step backs — which were directly allowed and approved under Fried.

    If you followed the details of these developments more you would know exactly what decisions, when … really caused the underlying problems and which were and are just bad add ons to the existing core, poor decision.

  14. POSTED BY martinschwartz  |  April 17, 2017 @ 7:32 am

    Here Dave – we actually can have reasonable disagreements over your claims of overcrowding, water supply issues, less housing affordable etc. etc. . For example, you and others complain about adding more students to the schools from all this new development, yet I never hear any complaints from advocates about adding more new students from say affordable housing — whose apartments and homes don’t pay their equal share of tax revenue and create more tax deficits for those residents already here – especially those baring making their rents or mortgages. Affordable housing is a tax burden, and yet many advocate for it from the new developments — furthering the very overcrowding and higher taxes then bemoaned.

    Those very same deficits are also generally added from new kids coming from any typical new single family housing added — which is another reason why I oppose large single family sub-divisions here, like Christco in the past. Instead of the Marlboro Inn, the Christco development added 10 new homes all with promises of a tax benefit under Remsen and company. Yet today, as anticipated, the taxes collected from there are reportedly not sufficient to accommodate all the new kids added from those 10 homes. We would have been much better keeping the Inn as a commercial operation — as was argued at the time.

    Similarly, I’ve had to come full circle on the economics of multi-unit developments proposed. I use to oppose them outright as unsightly and unneeded bulk. But now I feel some are warranted as part of the housing mix as long as they look good and do not diminish the property values of surrounding single family neighborhoods.

    Why? First, we are still not anywhere near our top population peak in town from the past. We can handle more people, especially young and older adults without school age kids. Statistics show these rental and condo developments pull in far less new, school age kids compared to single family housing making them a good economic enhancement as starter homes for those coming to town or as againg in place abodes existing residents already living here. It’s new tax revenues, and more in-town spenders but without taxing school budgets.

    Where we do have agreement is over the added car traffic and potential downtown over-crowding from these new, mixed use residential and commercial developments. Which is why I argue for the volume and bulk of these builds to be kept down so we have a balance of new construction where again, we actually need more activity like around Seymour and Lackawanna (constantly closing businesses around Seymour) — yet without overwhelming the downtown. That means also adding sufficient parking in the process from new decks — which is happening.

    Again we are not over-crowded here with people — but with cars. At the same time these new builds should not ruin the lovely architecture already here and even correct and redo some of the bad 50-90’s stuff previously allowed – like the ugly Social Security building. Get it? That’s what is happening.

    The new Paul Sinous Montclairian 2, fully revealed now by the Pine Street Shell station (which I believe is the best designed new build here to date) and the approved coming residential build next to it — are good examples of new construction that will blend into the downtown as economic enhancements — adding balanced new vitality to the township. If these new builds add new tax revenues and few kids into the system — they are smart redevelopment. If they are used to cover up existing blight or the bad 50-90’s already allowed development — or in the case of Seymour, a car fix it shop, ugly federal building and open parking lots — again smart.

    Call me self serving, but I know there is now a marked shift in design thinking, planning oversight and demanded development approvals going on today — especially given the recent past. So I believe you are starting to see the benefits from this in the physical builds revealed and approved and in the newer construction coming.

    I’m actually pleased with the Montclairion 2 facade, which is the first new building approved under the current Planning Board’s watch. It says Montclair again. The next two new builds will also resonate well I hope.

  15. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 17, 2017 @ 9:16 am

    Thanks, Martin. I agree with some of your points…to a point.

    As is the case with pricey housing, affordable housing would indeed add at least some new students to the school system. But all the new and planned projects in Montclair will have very little affordable housing, so the added-students-in-affordable-housing point is almost moot.

    It’s true that apartments and condos probably add fewer students (per household) to the schools than single-family homes. But a lot of apartments and condos can negate that per-household difference. Also, the fact remains that apartments and condos do bring SOME new students into the schools. In my garden-apartment complex, there are a good number of school-age kids (including my own daughter).

    I know Montclair used to have a larger population, but that was partly a function of people having larger families — so most of the families were each in existing homes, and tons of new construction wasn’t needed.

    Totally agree with what you said about the Marlboro Inn/Christopher Court. And that Montclairion building you mentioned does look better than some of the other recent construction in town. But a certain development company is involved in several new projects coming, and its aesthetic track record is mediocre to bad. Not to mention its bent for overbuilding the properties it develops.

  16. POSTED BY townie  |  April 17, 2017 @ 10:24 am

    I see nothing inherently wrong with new development. It’s personal taste. I don’t care for many of the new buildings, but that’s me. The apartments, retail and office spaces in these buildings seem to be filling up, so others clearly think differently.

  17. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 17, 2017 @ 11:33 am

    Thanks, townie!

    I’m genuinely curious — are all the new buildings filling up? I’ve heard there are still some rental vacancies in Valley & Bloom, and when I drove past V&B a few weeks ago, I think I saw at least one or two empty storefronts (might have changed since then, and it was hard to look closely while driving 🙂 ).

    Then there’s this question: If retail space in the new buildings fills up, does that mean the empty storefronts on Bloomfield Avenue will have a harder time getting tenants?

  18. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 17, 2017 @ 11:36 am

    Jon, thanks for commenting! I didn’t reply because you were talking to Martin in your comment.

  19. POSTED BY yngdaniel  |  April 17, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

    Dave, I’m curious about V&B’s claim that you can watch the sun set over the NYC skyline from their rooftop deck.

    Did they install a cutout of the skyline on the west side of their building?

    Maybe they have a camera in Queens sending a sunset video feed to the communal TV lounge.

  20. POSTED BY frankgg  |  April 17, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

    its as if they’re on a bandwagon all by themselves….convinced and intransigent. But it seems like there is no room for the community, or public interest. What I feel the township owes to the community, especially the taxpayers, is a guarantee that all of this new development won’t require new wider streets (because the traffic is already maxed out) new water and sewer systems (that would cost (the taxpayers) millions of dollars) and what this will cost the school system. If they don’t present the findings of these studies, we won’t know if this is acceptable until its too late. (Its like a president who refuses to disclose his tax returns)

  21. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 17, 2017 @ 5:16 pm

    LOL, yngdaniel! So funny — the cutout, and the camera in Queens. 🙂

    Maybe the developer is paying for extra sunset-visibility privileges, sort of like one pays for first class rather than coach in a plane.

  22. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  April 17, 2017 @ 5:19 pm

    Yes, parking & traffic will be interesting.

    V&B, Seymour & Lackawanna together will build 2,000 parking deck spaces. Since we are using shared parking plans, they will turnover several times a day. In round numbers, the morning rush hour will have 1,000 additional cars exiting & entering. The evening rush hour will be worse as more spaces turnover…about 1,500-1,800 exiting and entering. This doesn’t include the smaller projects coming on line soon with about 250 more spaces, or 250 for Gateway 2 down the road. This also doesn’t include the development in neighboring towns and their added volume. Last I checked, Bloomfield Ave daily volume was about 25,000/day. So, this will result overall in about a 25% increase in volume. Uber and self-drive will impact parking more than traffic. It’s doable capacity-wise. Definitely slower to get where you want to go. But if you’re new to town and used to city conditions, manageable. It will just be different for those used to existing suburban conditions.

  23. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 17, 2017 @ 5:23 pm

    Great comment, frankgg — including your Trump analogy!

    Yes, the “hidden”/indirect future costs of all this overdevelopment are often not studied, or studied in a shallow way, or studied in a deliberately misleading way. Which is infuriating, because, as you note, taxpayers have to pay for the extra costs that overdevelopment creates — with developers contributing little or nothing. A version of privatizing the profits and socializing the risks. 🙁

  24. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 17, 2017 @ 6:29 pm

    Excellent, informative comment, Frank. Those traffic and parking numbers sound scary!

    I see your point that new-to-town residents from the city may not be as bothered by all the congestion as residents who’ve been here a few years. Yet many people move from the city for a calmer lifestyle, and it’s not going to be as calm as it was.

  25. POSTED BY townie  |  April 17, 2017 @ 10:51 pm

    1. I don’t know.
    2. Unlikely. Every property’s unique.

  26. POSTED BY daveastor  |  April 18, 2017 @ 12:24 am

    Thanks for responding, townie. I see your second point — for instance, some retailers may want to be in a new building with residents living above.

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