The Montclair Planning Board split their time at Monday’s meeting between testimony on developer Steven Plofker’s project on the corner of Willow Street and Bloomfield Avenue, and finalizing the Lackawanna Plaza resolution that was discussed at the last Planning Board meeting on June 26.
The Plofker application had been continued from the May 22, 2017 meeting, when the board heard the initial testimony from architect John Reimnitz. The application, submitted under Plofker’s LLC, Montclair Property Associates, calls for converting the former Diva Lounge building on Bloomfield Avenue, which has been vacant for a number of years, into a combination retail/residential project, with a new addition behind it fronting on North Willow Street. The addition would be six stories high (including a ground level basement floor). The original Diva Lounge building would be preserved and improved in appearance to more closely resemble the original building, which was once a car dealership.
The project requires three variances – one for rear setback, one for a loading zone requirement, and the last for parking spaces.
At Monday night’s meeting, Plofker’s attorney, Alan Tremulak, summarized changes that had been made to the application since May, based on comments by the board at that previous meeting.
He explained that the revised plans changed the scope of project and reduced the parking variance required. The previous plans would have required 73 parking spaces, with a deficiency of 63 spaces. The new plans eliminated 3200 square feet of retail on North Willow Street and replaced the space with nine additional parking spaces. As result, he said, the parking requirement was reduced to 40 spaces, and the site would now provide 19 spaces, leaving a deficiency of just 21 spaces.
Developer Steven Plofker then spoke about the project. He said they listened to the comments from the board, particularly regarding the parking. He said they had enough parking for the new apartments, but no additional space for the retail portion of the development. He said they had considered attempting to use a neighboring property to provide more parking spaces, but due to a four-foot grade change versus their property, this was not possible. So instead they eliminated retail space in order to accommodate nine new spaces. Plofker also pointed out they had added one on-site affordable housing unit to the residential portion of the project.
Board member Martin Schwartz questioned the public benefit for granting a parking variance in an area where parking is already “problematic.” The site is zoned C-1, which is the Central Business Zone. It allows retail establishments on the first floor and residential apartments above. Attorney Alan Tremulak noted that the Plofker application is in compliance with this zoning, including for building height.
Plofker stated that the former>retail and night club use technically would have required over 80 parking spaces.
“We think since ours is an allowed use, it is a much less intensive use of the property. We are taking more than half of the retail space away and using it for parking and two apartment units. I think the uses that we’re proposing actually de-intensifies the use,” he stated.
Board Chairman Wynn asked for further explanation.
Tremulak explained that if Plofker had continued the prior use of the property as a night club and retail, the required parking for those uses is 84 spaces, with zero spaces there now. But the C-1 zone doesn’t require any parking at all.
“What Mr. Plofker is saying is we are reducing the parking demand down to 40 and providing 19 spaces that don’t currently exist,” he said.
Wynn replied, “Yes, but it’s apples and oranges, because residential parking is different. But I do understand.” He went on to say, “You’re talking about adding a whole different element. Theoretically you could still have a smaller night club in the retail portion, and you still have all the people living in the apartments and parking their cars.”
Plofker stated, “I own a lot of properties in Montclair and have zero vacancies…I have more than enough parking for the needs of this building. Residential parking tends to be at night and commercial during the day. We are very big advocates of shared parking, and the uses we’ve proposed are very complementary.”
Architect John Reimnetz presented the revised plans for the project, including additional details versus the previous plans, and a 3-D representation of the building.
He reiterated that since the previous meeting, he had changed the plans to increase the parking spaces from 10 to 19; reduced square footage of retail from 6,754 square feet to 3,569 square feet; and added one affordable housing unit. He explained they had not changed the residential square footage or building envelope, but had rearranged the number of bedrooms in the apartments.
The new plan calls for 11 apartments, including one studio, one one-bedroom apartment, seven two-bedroom apartments, and two three-bedroom apartments. The one-bedroom apartment will be the affordable unit.
In place of a portion of the retail space on North Willow Street, there will be two garage doors and the additional nine parking spaces. Reimnetz showed the parking spaces and said that three of them were for compact cars, with a 24-foot aisle between them. A handicapped space is provided among the originally planned 10 parking spaces in the second garage area on North Willow.
Reimnetz said in order to address bulk concerns of the board, he had cut back the north stairway tower so that it no longer protrudes above the roof. The roof area will be accessed via a hatch.
He stated there would be screening to hide the air conditioning units that will be located on the roof.
The architect also showed a picture of the original brick that was uncovered under the former Diva Lounge building facade. Although they will be unable to uncover and reuse the original brick, they will use the same color brick and mortar that was originally there on the new facade of the building.
There will be powder-coated aluminum for the upper residential window units and glass fiber reinforced concrete board will be used for the side surface of the new addition.
The addition will have a flat aluminum railing system, with awnings utilizing painted steel channels. On the lower half of the building they are proposing steel lintels to reflect the historic nature of the old building and bring that imagery around the corner to the addition. At the top of the building, they are proposing that the parapet be covered in perforated aluminum paneling to lighten up the look of the building.
There will be a green screen, wire-mesh system running around three sides of the building, with an eight-inch planting bed planted with English Ivy. Two trees will be planted along Bloomfield Avenue.
The rear of the building would be brick with punched openings. Since it is on the lot line there is a limit to how much glass is allowed.
The portion of the Diva Lounge building that faces North Willow is currently covered with EIFS material, which covered the original brick. This material will be removed and the original brick will be reused.
Reimnetz said the bulk of the building is broken up by different colors, as well as several setbacks to reduce the massing. Responding to a question by board member Carole Willis, he said the highest portion of the building is 65 feet, 4 inches. Since each level is about 12 feet floor to floor, the next setbacks would be 53 feet, 41 feet, and 29 feet, respectively.
Board member Carmel Loughman asked whether there could be a rooftop garden incorporated into the plans. Reimnetz said that the roof wouldn’t be accessible to residents but there may be a deck available for their use. There are also two other decks associated with two of the apartments.
Barton Ross, consulting architect for the Planning Board, testified he had looked over the revised plans for the project, and stated that the massing is much improved from the previous version. He questioned whether the fenestration in the new addition could be done in a dark color to mirror the darker window mullions and aluminum in the historic section of the building that fronts on Bloomfield Avenue to further mitigate the mass.
Reimnetz showed 3-D pictures of the proposed building from Bloomfield Avenue and North Willow Street.
The applicant’s traffic engineer, Calisto Bertin, testified regarding parking spaces and access to and from the parking areas.
He stated that in transit village developments, the expectation is for one car per residential unit, so a requirement of 1.2 parking spaces would be in line with this type of project. He pointed out there are bus stops right in front of the building on Bloomfield Avenue, and Bay Street Station is 2500 feet away, with Walnut Station about the same distance.
Bertin said that guidelines usually call for parking garages to be within 1500 feet of a train station. However, he said walking half a mile “is not a big deal.”
“People are going to decide whether they’re going to live there or not. People who are going to live there are choosing that lifestyle,” he said.
Carole Willis asked whether a one-car limit will be included in the contract for the residents.
Bertin responded that residents would get an assigned spot. “If you have another car, you’re on your own.”
Planning Director Janice Talley asked about parking for retail employees. Bertin said the residents would probably be assigned the nine new spaces identified in the revised plan, since the parking in that area is awkward and it would be beneficial for the same people to be parking there and they would get used to the layout. Employees could have assigned spots or share with residents.
Talley asked about the effect a restaurant coming in to the development would have on parking needs, and the board discussed whether the applicant should have to come back to the board if a restaurant requested a lease. Plofker offered to restrict North Willow Street to non-restaurant use.
Board attorney Arthur Neiss suggested any intensification of use should cause the applicant to come to the board for approval.
The board’s traffic consultant, Gerard Giosa, testified regarding his take on the traffic and parking issues.
“I think the clause about intensification of use is probably a good idea, specifically because restaurants can create significant parking demand,” he said. He pointed out that a restaurant could easily generate 45 cars into the mix of the Seymour Street redevelopment along with everything else.
“It’s not uncommon that if there’s an intensification or change of use the applicant would have to come back to the board. For protection I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” he stated.
He said he was not concerned about the parking stall sizes, since they will be reserved for specific users who will get used to the tight layout.
However, he said, “Vehicular access is awkward in the newly-created parking area A.”
He expressed concern about the tight turns coming in and out of the narrow driveways, and about one stall that would require the resident to either back in or back out.
Giosa also noted that the driveways are two-way and they are supposed to be 18 feet wide, but are only 12 feet wide, which is substandard. He stated the handicap stall is undersized, as it must be van accessible. It must be either 11 feet wide with a five-foot access aisle, or eight feet by eight feet. In addition, he said, headroom has to be eight feet, two inches high along the entire access route to the handicap space.
The applicant’s architect responded that since the section of the project in question is the new building, it can be constructed to fulfill those requirements.
Chairman Wynn said the board would need more time to discuss parking, and asked that the applicant return on August 14 to address that and present the third witness.
Prior to the Plofker application, the Planning Board wordsmithed the resolution that had been prepared pursuant to the June 26th meeting discussing the latest plan for the Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment. At that meeting, the decision was made to prepare a resolution addressing the plan’s consistency with the town’s Master Plan to be sent to the Town Council.
As noted in Baristanet, “The points and ideas included the recommendation that the council consider the finer details of any redevelopment plan, greater care for the railway terminal’s historic aspects, a maximum limit on square footage, greater setbacks, and accommodations for affordable and workforce housing.”
The resolution presented on Monday evening included these details. The board began discussing the finer points, with all agreeing the proposed development was too big, with too many residential units (350), and too large a footprint.
Martin Schwartz said that design should be emphasized in a clause regarding the inclusion of historic elements into the building.
Carmel Loughman asked that specific language from the report provided by the Historic Preservation Commission, which will be attached to the resolution, be incorporated directly into the resolution itself, calling for adaptive reuse of the existing historic buildings.
The attorney preparing the resolution made changes during a break and projected them onto a screen for the board to see. After some final tweaks, they approved the resolution, which incorporates the following:
- Main Plaza should remain as landscaped green space, undeveloped but improved and with no reduction in size.
- The board finds 350 residential units is too dense and needs to be reduced and that the footprint is too big.
- The council should carefully evaluate the recommendations of the HPC, Montclair Environmental Commission, CME Associates Planning Report, and an example of how the plan could be edited to address the board’s concerns, all of which will be attached.
- The board suggests that the council refer the plan back to the planning board for further evaluation of the recommendations and issues identified.
The resolution recommends the plan as it currently exists be rejected as inconsistent with the Master Plan.
Two other applications that had been on the Planning Board agenda were carried to future meetings. EKR Associates, with an application to redevelop a building at 10 Willow Street, was carried to the August 14th meeting at the applicant’s request. Timothy Bray, who was planning to request a subdivision at 107 Claremont Avenue, was adjourned to July 24th due to lack of time. No further notice will be given.