The Montclair Planning Board heard testimony on the traffic study for the Seymour Street redevelopment plan for most of its four-hour meeting on June 12. Traffic engineer John Harter testified on behalf of the applicant, the partnership between Brookfield and Pinnacle, while traffic consultant Gordon Meth tried to provide some context.
Harter told the board that, with the inevitable increase in the traffic flow, the plan should be able to mitigate the worst effects. Seymour Street, as a two-way dead-end street cut off from Bloomfield Avenue for vehicular traffic, would provide a benefit to Seymour Street residents. The overall traffic in Montclair Center would likely increase by about 3.5 percent, with approximately 20 additional vehicles coming from the north, 25 from the south, 35 from the east, and 20 from the west – all in peak hours in the day. Harter said the additional traffic could be handled by changes and improvements to Bloomfield Avenue, but these improvements would obviously have to be made by the county.
Meth said that the studies were based on averages computed from the development plans for 200 apartments, 35,000 square feet of office space, and 41,000 square feet of retail. He conservatively estimated 300 additional vehicular trips spread out over the three new parking facilities anticipated, based on the amount of retail and arts space, and he also foresaw an additional 1.5 car trips per 1,000 square feet based on the amount of office space, with one worker per 300 square feet. He didn’t expect a great deal of transit use for offices, but he did anticipate increased pedestrian activity for the area around Seymour Street and Bloomfield Avenue. Meth did note, that, with Seymour Street’s vehicular connection to Bloomfield Avenue cut, traffic on Roosevelt Place would likely increase as a result of cars coming to the arts district from points west on Bloomfield Avenue (Caldwell, Verona) and points east (Newark, Bloomfield).
Harter said that the improvements to Bloomfield Avenue would include better synchronization of the traffic signals, a split phase for North and South Fullerton Avenues (North Fullerton’s light would be red awhile South Fullerton’s would be green, and vice versa) and the elimination of the light at the end of Glenridge Avenue at Bloomfield Avenue; a right-turn-only zone would replace it to allow the traffic on Bloomfield Avenue and the Fullertons to flow more freely. Dedicated left-turn lanes on Bloomfield Avenue and North and South Willow Streets were also proposed to handle traffic coming into the arts district and turning onto South Willow Street. For the Seymour Street plaza, a button-operated pedestrian signal would allow pedestrians to cross Bloomfield Avenue at the Plaza directly from the Midtown parking facility, which would be turned into a deck. However, the management of traffic in Montclair Center was contingent on this plan for Bloomfield Avenue improvements being contingent on Essex County receiving a grant from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority later this year or in 2018. Given the dependence on federal money for the grants at a time of austerity on domestic spending, that funding could be in grave doubt. Board member Carmel Loughman noted, with obvious irony, that the Trump administration has called for investments in infrastructure.
Board member Jason De Salvo, noting that the placement of the light at Bloomfield Avenue, Lloyd Road and Parkhurst Place caused his own address of Prospect Avenue to become a collector avenue for people avoiding the light, was wary about Roosevelt Place possibly becoming a collector street as well, based on traffic coming in from South Fullerton Avenue and South Willow Street to access the parking near the offices and stores. Board Chairman John Wynn was reticent about the project depending on so much work by the county that may not come to pass, and he told Harter that a “Plan B” was needed if the county’s efforts at making improvements on Bloomfield Avenue fell through due to lack of funding.
Residents had problems with all of the traffic for the arts district, especially the Wellmont Theatre, being diverted onto side streets in the immediate area and were afraid it would spill over into side streets just beyond the redevelopment zone. Lucy Fitzgerald said that the spillover could affect Grove Street, Union Street and Gates Avenue, while Sandra Hoyer said that eliminating in the light at Glenridge and Bloomfield Avenues would immobilize traffic coming off Glenridge Avenue into Montclair Center. And both residents expressed fear that more traffic on South Fullerton Avenue could be a danger for pedestrians near the library.
William Scott wanted to know why a study wasn’t done for all for the side streets off Bloomfield Avenue and why all three redevelopment projects were not being taken into consideration all at once. Chairman Wynn explained that applications for projects were for private land, owned be private developers, and each one was taken on a case-by-case basis – but he also noted that the buildings in the surrounding area were also considered for each project, saying that the Planning Board doesn’t consider things in a vacuum.
The board and the applicants, eager to keep the project on track, asked that they be able to return soon. Planning Director Janice Talley scheduled a special hearing for Seymour Street on July 17, between the regularly scheduled Planning Board meetings for July.
The board also gave local contractor William Staehle an additional year to complete a project that had been approved in 2013, the renovation of the old Zimmerman heating-oil company building for his Classics Reborn remodeling business. The board also approved a resolution for the project to redo and mechanize the Orange Road parking deck, though board member Martin Schwartz lamented that an earlier Planning Board allowed the builders of the deck to have it protrude 12 feet into the side of the street.