Montclair Deputy Mayor William Hurlock, wearing his First Ward Councilor’s hat, held a community meeting on June 1 and discussed several issues familiar to First Ward residents – infrastructure overdevelopment, and traffic. Though the meeting focused primarily on ward issues, the Lackawanna Plaza development issue also came up.
Deputy Mayor / Councilor Hurlock addressed PSE&Gs replacement of the gas line down Grove Street and admitted that it was causing some disruptions for residents, noting that the utility had placed a staging area near his own house, and Deputy Township Manager Brian Scantlebury said it should be done by August. Mr. Hurlock praised Deputy Manager Scantlebury for his leadership as a liaison between PSE&G and the township. The councilor also cited ongoing progress in curbing and paving, pointing out the Bellevue Avenue had been paved up to the Bloomfield border and citing recurbing at Laurel Place, with Norwood Avenue next for both paving and recurbing. Though Mr. Hurlock conceded that patience was necessary while waiting for streets to be redone, he did add that more First Ward streets have been paved over the past four to five years than in the previous twenty.
Mr. Hurlock did hear complaints – and he harbored them as well – about PSE&G’s penchant for tearing up freshly paved streets. He said that the problem was that, because PSE&G was divided into electric and gas departments, one of the departments may work on a street with the other department’s knowledge, and that it is difficult to determine if one or both departments are scheduled to dig up a street before scheduling a repaving. He said that the township has been trying to work with PSE&G to get street incisions properly patched instead of having haphazard patch jobs.
The project involving the Warner Communications building, on Lorraine Avenue in the First Ward, prompted concerns about the eventual outcome of the project after Michael Pavel, its developer, had his expanded version of the project rejected. Pavel and the township are negotiating to avoid with a possible lawsuit over the rejected application, and the residents at the community meeting expressed concern over how Planning Board attorney Arthur Neiss handled the resolution memorializing the rejection. The resolution was slated for adoption at the Planning Board’s May 22 meeting but pulled for revisions to the resolution’s language, as well as due to the state of negotiations between Pavel and the township. Mr. Hurlock noted that, since the expansion of the project was voted down after being presented without variances, he said that residents were “ahead of the game” in preventing its approval. Pavel is still working on the Warner project per an approved resolution for a smaller version of the building he seeks to construct. The project is similar to Pavel’s rebuilding of 50 Upper Montclair Plaza but has met numerous difficulties.
The issue surrounding Lackawanna Plaza proved to be more contentious. Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, said that the plan presented greatly compromised the historic fabric of the Lackawanna railway terminal, particularly with regard to the train shed, and she said that the commission was “horrified” by what was presented. Mr. Hurlock noted the difficulties involving the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment being separate entities that function separate from the township council under New Jersey law. He said that the council voted to send the Lackawanna Plaza plan to the Planning Board for review, because that is what the council is legally obliged to do, but the council did not vote for the project itself. He encouraged residents to continue attending Planning Board meetings and speaking out. The Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan as currently drafted is now on the township’s Web site.
Other concerns expressed at the meeting involved traffic and pedestrian safety. Resident Bob Eberhardt said that, coming down Valley Road southbound, motorists speed at 35 mile per hour and don’t see a 25 mph sign until they pass Jerome Place and approach the Kings supermarket, and that they can’t see it. Eberhardt said he’s like to see a sign that people can see to prevent driers from “barreling down” the road, along with a “REDUCED SPEED AHEAD” sign. Mr. Hurlock said that it helped to suggest such a thing, because such signs indicating proper speeds are usually pursued by residents. Resident Kelly Atkins complained about the “near-death experiences” she has had in crossing Grove Street, and community police officer Travis Davis, the police department’s representative at the community meeting, said that the police had gotten “tons of complaints” about it. Ofifcer Davis said that the department was doing its best to enforce speed limits on Grove Street, and Mr. Hurlock said that ab increase in the police budget that allow for the hiring of additional officers should help.
Eberhardt also said that the stop sign at Upper Montclair Plaza and Valley Road next to Starbucks had to be moved inward, away from the corner, because traffic stopped at the sign blocks the sidewalk crossing the way out of Upper Montclair Plaza. Eberhardt also wished to see the crosswalk light at the southeast corner of Lorraine Avenue and Valley Road repaired. He thanked Mr. Hurlock for his leadership on pedestrian safety issues.