Developer Plofker Presents Diva Lounge Project to the Montclair Planning Board

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.

The former Diva Lounge, on Bloomfield Avenue and North Willow Street, which Steven Plofker wants to connect to a new six-story building – a ground level-basement connecting with the current Kos Motorcars auto shop and five stories of new apartments – behind it. Image courtesy of Google.

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.

Estate Motors Ford, a car dealership on the latter-day site of the Diva Lounge, photographed in December 1956.

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.

Front and side renderings for the current Diva Lounge site.

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.”

The revised Diva Lounge building in architect John Reimnitz’s rendering, with the new attached six-story building in the back. Note the new facades of beige and red brick on the original building.

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.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Great story about yet another too-big project that would make downtown even more congested while making a wealthy developer wealthier.

  2. Is it too bulky? Definitely.
    Is attractive? The original building being rehabbed – Yes. The apartments? Not so much.

    Does is replace the peach, stucco, hideous and long time vacant junked car storage facility atrocity that ruins the streetscape along bloomfield Ave and north willow? YES!!!!!

    Wish it were better…but proceed please!

  3. Has anyone bothered to do an analysis of how many new apartment units Montclair really needs? In the last few years, we had 258 at Valley & Bloom, 90-something at Montclairion II, 88 proposed at the Vestry, 390-something proposed at Lackawanna,plus the unbuilt Glen Willow, and more to come at Seymour Street. It would appear that the higher-end rental market is becoming flooded and this could adversely affect Montclair’s real estate market.

  4. I’m disappointed the HPC didn’t have more to say about the from & side elevations of the Diva lounge part. It is not bad, but it is, bottomline, a new design using thin brick to mimic only the material that was there at one point. It is not a historic restoration or a rehabilitation.

    As a new design, the pilasters look too narrow. It is too bad the HPC didn’t insist on a recessed doorway which are typical of the adjacent storefronts & blocks. The window arrangement, type & sizes needs to be redone with less concern about symmetry and more about pedestrian scale. The transition to KOS darker-brick section of the old building is clunky. The fact that the renderings don’t match, e.g. where the metal transom starts, is a recurring design review flag. Plofker’s building across the street and the new Seymour Redevelopment East Parcel handled the elevation drop-offs better. Hopefully, this can be revisited in more detail.

    I don’t mind the height of the residential portion. The rendering is at best vague, but the modern design makes it interesting. I don’t understand any public benefit of granting a parking variance in light of Condition #10 in the Glen Willow resolution.

  5. Interesting how the distorted perspective of the architectural rendering makes the proposed six-story building look not much taller than the short former Diva Lounge building. The street doesn’t slant downhill THAT much.

  6. There is about an 8’+/- difference from the corner to the rear property line. With a rough mean elevation calculation, the building may be around 70′ high from the lowest point. FYI, the Montclairion II is 63′ and Glen Willow is 58′. It is tucked into the mid-block… and the Seymour St building mass will make this almost like a sliver building.

  7. FYI, even if the Council keeps to their Plan to 4 stories Lackawanna will likely be around 60′ high due to the special needs of supermarkets.

  8. As a 3rd generation property owner I remember all the empty store fronts on Bloomfield Ave in late 80s and 90s. All of the small family run businesses​ that had no choice but to close their doors for good. I am so happy to see this rebirth of Bloomfield Ave as a thriving center. Commerce, food, entertainment, shops, and residences all feeding off each other. Any who lives, works, shops, and enjoys Montclair should appreciate the developers, big and small, that invest (and risk) their money in the projects that make it all possible. 20 years ago I never would of imagined I would see all those vacant spaces filled again. If there is a demand I hope the Township keeps approving these types of projects.

  9. Plofker does not care about preserving Montclair’s historic appearance. For as long as my lineage has been in Montclair, I hate to see buildings sit in disrepair BUT, proper development is needed. A massive 6 story silver building on that corner adjacent to two more new construction buildings will make that corner feel trapped and cluttered. Why cant a 3 story building be built with the first floor having shops and businesses. I am all for the redevelopment as it continues further and further down the ave, just needs to be done correctly.

  10. Hello Dave,

    I completely agree with you. From what I have read at the public library this Plofker fellow is married to a woman who made a lot of money in cosmetics. Does he really need the money? Last time I walked down that way I was mostly wondering when the new restaurant would open on the corner. I really love mexican food. Do you? Someone did ask me one thing at the library that I am curious about. Maybe since you are well connected, you may know. There is a house on South Fullerton that has a Textured Home sign out front. It looks like it’s about to fall down and my friend asked me if the town may tear it down at some point. It’s worse to look at than the photos above. Thank you, and I look forward to your column tomorrow.

    Betsy

  11. I don’t understand why people object to empty buildings being developed. Granted the development is not always done in good taste but it is better than staring at deteriorating buildings. Developers don’t always make money and they take considerable risk. What is the obsession with other people’s money. I think it would be great if the people with great architectural taste would step up and risk their assets and build beautiful buildings…instead they just seem to complain. I think Plofker is doing the old Montclair Inn….looks pretty good to me.

  12. This property is zones C1 which allows for 6 stories. I think pushing the bulk of the development to the back of the site, down the hill, mid block, does a lot to mitigate the size. The existing Diva building being preserved is an added benefit. What does the developer’s money have to do with anything in this discussion? If I’m not mistaken this is actually another condo building, like Glen Willow, not apartments.

  13. flipside,

    If Mr Plofker was building to the zoning requirements, it is within his right to build what he wants and only has to pull permits. No Planning Board. But, he is not. He is asking for concessions from the taxpayers – principally relief from parking requirements. And that is our money in play.

    It costs us $25,000/space to build parking. Let’s say he asks for relief of 10 spaces. That’s a quarter million dollars that has to be reconciled on the ledger of benefits vs detriments. He’ll likely get his variances as the Township lacks a parking plan or strategy, as evidenced from the most recent Master Plan amendment.

    montclairskier,

    If it is indeed condos, then the parking variance just got more complicated. Keeping (not preserving) the Diva Lounge building is not a public benefit according to the zone plan. First, it is inefficient land use, it is not historic – only Harmonizing (Altered) and there is no future restriction on adding more floors to it (one of Mr Plofker’s areas he specializes in).

  14. Frank, excellent point. Developers have a certain amount of right to build as they see fit on land they own. But, too often, they ask for variances. And, too often, they get them. I have a feeling that developers frequently ask for much more than they want and then “compromise” down to (still excessive) stuff they actually want.

  15. What was the last as of right commercial development built in Montclair? Every single project requires variances. That’s by design. The zoning is designed so that it’s nearly impossible to build as of right. All the projects we hate and all the projects we love all got variance relief.

  16. betsyk, thank you!

    Mr. Plofker is indeed married to a cosmetics mogul, and I assume he’s also quite affluent in his own right. “Does he really need the money?” you asked. Absolutely not. I guess most developers with lots of money still want more and more of it. Plus there’s undoubtedly the thrill of putting their stamp on a town, even if many, many residents are not happy with the results.

    I do like Mexican food a lot. I don’t know anything about that South Fullerton house, so I can’t give you any information about it — sorry.

    And thanks for looking forward to my column tomorrow! 🙂 It will mention the project on the old Diva Lounge site, but will be more about the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan (which I think is WAY too big) and the school district’s layoffs. Plus mentions of the MFEE’s “Amazing FundRacer this past Sunday and a couple of other things.

  17. Yes, it is by design to a certain extent. Organizations like power & control. However, a far bigger reason is neglect and incompetence. In the private sector, it is called malpractice.
    A process that creates 99% deviation from standards in the private sector is a PR scheme. The 2 other sectors just don’t have the PR function.

  18. I would like to see the Glen Ridge and Willow St. elevations. This will really loom over the corner of Willow and a Glen Ridge Ave. 4 Stories would make more sense here.

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