The Montclair Planning Board spent the bulk of its May 22 meeting considering yet another project from developer Steven Plofker, an apartment building that would employ the existing building on the northwest corner of Bloomfield Avenue and North Willow Street. A six-story building – five stories plus a ground-level basement along North Willow Street – would be built to connect with the building that once was the Diva Lounge and its existing ground-floor basement, which currently houses the Kos Autocars auto repair shop. The new project would be across North Willow Street from the site of Plofker’s Glen Willow apartment building, which has yet to be built.
Architect John Reimnitz provided a basic overview of the project. The former Diva Lounge, built in 1922, would be restored to its original appearance based on a rare photo that shows the southwest corner of the original structure. Instead of the current stucco, a dark beige brick pattern would be employed, and its original ornamentation would be replicated. Reimnitz regretted that he couldn’t expose the original brick, because demolishing the plaster of on top of it would destroy the old façade. He showed a 1956 picture of the old Ford dealership at that location – then called Estate Motors, but also known as Robert Kayser Ford – to underscore how many changes the building had gone through.
The Bloomfield Avenue frontage would be kept as retail space, with more retail space along the North Willow Street side, which would feature a dark-red brick façade. The new six-story building would have ground-level parking and five floors of apartments – two to each floor. The new structure would employ a façade blending rick with a glass-curtain design augmented by aluminum trim.
Attorney Calvin Trevenen said that Plofker was requesting three variances for the project. One would ask to allow a six-foot rear-yard setback where ten feet are required, a request not to include a loading zone when the applicant feels that none is needed, and the third was a parking variance because the proposed space would be increased by 15 percent. The application has already been reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission.
Board member Martin Schwartz lamented that Planning Director Janice Talley’s failure to include the properties along North Willow Street into the C-3 zone, which would have prevented six-story buildings along the street, made this application possible, and that she did not inform the board that she was going against its recommendation to include them in the C-3 zone. He added that the application would not have been made because Plofker wouldn’t have gotten the parking approved, and that the property, previously divided had been merged into the C-1 zone. He asked Plofker about the parking, asking him to explain why he cannot shift parking needs over to the parking for the as-yet unbuilt Glen Willow apartment building to relieve excess capacity. Plofker replied that it wouldn’t eliminate the need for a variance, but he said that the Glen Willow’s parking would provide opportunities for shared space between the two buildings “should the demand arise for additional parking.”
However, members of the board, including Chairman John Wynn, had trouble imagining what the top-floor setback would look like based on the renderings Reimnitz showed them. Planning Director Talley suggested that Reimnitz could construct a digital model from Google Earth that would show different perspectives and demonstrate how it relates to existing buildings.
Attorney Alan Trembulak, who took over from Trevenen after having finished with a Board of Adjustment meeting occurring simultaneously in the Montclair municipal building, informed he board that the parking study had not yet been completed, and when Chairman Wynn offered to hear testimony fom the application’s civil engineer instead, Trembulak said he preferred that the parking study be examined first. The application will be revisited on July 10. Ironically, an application from another developer at neighboring 10 North Willow Street to reuse and expand the existing building there, was postponed until July 10, because the Plofker application had taken so long to get started.
It seemed early in the evening that the Plofker application wouldn’t get heard at all, either. A resolution memorializing the denial of the application for Caldwell developer Michael Pavel to expand his building at Lorraine Avenue was on the preliminary agenda but was postponed because board attorney Arthur Neiss needed to revise it, and also because the township is having discussions with Pavel to avoid a possible lawsuit over the rejected application. Neiss had allowed a draft of the agenda, the final version of which did not include the resolution, to be issued to the public and apologized. The Lorraine Avenue and Braemore Avenue residents who came to the meeting were unhappy with the mix-up, but they appreciated the board’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the situation at that property. Construction continues at the Lorraine Avenue property based on the approval of an earlier version of Pavel’s project.
The board also discussed reviewing the still-unfinalized Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan at its June 26 meeting to provide their feedback to the township council. The Historic Preservation Commission has expressed concern with the preliminary deigns the developers have presented, and board member Carmel Loughman was particularly displeased with the plan as it currently stands. Resident William Scott said there was great frustration in efforts to get a new supermarket in the property two years after the closing of Pathmark, with possibly many years to come before ground is even broken for a new supermarket. While the board will not entertain public comment at its June 26 meeting, there will be plenty of opportunities for public input when the council receives the Lackawanna Plaza developers at its May 23 meeting.