Letter to the Editor: Significant Concerns About Lackawanna Plaza Development

The developer’s plan for Lackawanna Plaza will be presented to the Council for review this Tuesday, May 23 at 7 p.m. in the town hall, 205 Claremont St. Here is the proposed development massing perspective at Grove and Bloomfield Avenues. An second view from above is here. It is important for Council members to be reminded what residents have said they wanted in this project.

A proposed plan for Lackawanna Plaza, viewed from the southwest corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Gates Avenue

Lackawanna Plaza is one of several areas in town which were designated “redevelopment areas” while the master plan was being reviewed between 2013 and 2015. The most controversial part of the original 2013 master plan draft was raising zoning heights in all business districts and eventually heights were reduced. However “redevelopment areas” and “ areas in need to development” were designated which allow for deviations from local zoning restrictions.

Many residents expressed concern about these designations. At that time, Mayor Jackson and other officials explained that this designation would allow the town to have more control. Since this is the case, it is the time to remind elected officials what has been already asked for by the public for Lackawanna Plaza during public outreach sessions.

Lackawanna Plaza can be a crown jewel to be proud of. Lackawanna Plaza can be an exciting and beautiful destination as well as attractive gateway to our downtown.

The proposal by Pinnacle/Hampshire would vastly overdevelop the site with bulky buildings adding 349 apartments in an already congested neighborhood, degrade the eastern gateway to Montclair, dwarf and disregard elements of the venerated historic train station, and shut the door to creative possibilities for a valuable amenity in the Fourth Ward and for the town as a whole.

Significant concerns about developer’s proposal include:

* Overly intensive development. The west and east parcels combined (7.5 acres) would have 349 apartments, 755 parking spaces, and 36,000 square feet of office and retail. The west parcel, with the historic station, would have a density that exceeds what zoning allows. This will bring traffic congestion and obstruct the historic setting and layout of the train terminal.

* Excessive mass and bulk. The buildings proposed for the west parcel (train terminal) are monolithic and completely out of scale with the existing historic structures. Deeper setbacks are needed and bulk should be drastically reduced.

* Insufficient common areas. More acreage is needed for common areas such as a train-themed playground, green space, cultural plaza and outdoor dining. These features could be a fabulous amenity to Fourth Ward residents and a destination for residents area-wide, making this a true legacy project. Presently, common areas are too small a component of this massive project.

* Lack of respect for the historic train station. This 1912 station, designed by William Botsford and on the National Register of Historic Places, should be the jewel in the crown – the most prominent architectural feature – of this redevelopment, yet it has been subjugated entirely. View corridors and sightlines to the terminal, particularly the monumental Waiting Room, are blocked or interrupted by the vast mass and bulk of the proposed buildings.

The plan has not adequately addressed how it will preserve and highlight historic components of the train station, such as the train station building, the train sheds, the track platforms, the steel piers that supported the canopies over the platforms, the horse trough, and the stairs to Grove Street. According to the Office of New Jersey Historic Preservation, the Lackawanna Station was once called the “ Handsomest and best arranged suburban railroad terminal in the United States.”

* Location of the grocery store. Consider putting the grocery store east of Grove Street instead of next to the train station’s historic buildings. That east parcel is not within the Town Center Historic District and may be a more appropriate area for a modern supermarket.

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