Montclair Planning Board Approves Seymour Street Development Project After Marathon Meeting

BY  |  Tuesday, Aug 08, 2017 8:11am  |  COMMENTS (16)

A rendering of a new apartment building at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and South Willow Street in Montclair, part of the Seymour Street redevelopment project

The Montclair Planning Board spent five hours in a special meeting on August 7 hearing final testimony for – and approving – the Seymour Street redevelopment project, which developers Pinnacle and Brookfield are developing together.  The meeting capped a long and drawn-out process for the project, which seeks to create an arts-oriented district and turn the part of Seymour Street facing the Wellmont Theater into a pedestrian plaza, where special events will be held.  Brookfield has already committed to sponsoring arts events at the location.

Phase 1 – replaced meter spaces

The meeting began with some intense number-crunching.  Pinnacle’s Brian Stolar testified on the construction of three new parking decks, the publicly owned Midtown deck along Glenridge Avenue and two privately operated decks adjacent to the Wellmont and South Willow Street.  Stolar said that studies of peak parking demand determined how the spaces would be replaced during construction of the new decks, which is expected to last for two years beginning in the late autumn of 2017.  In the first phase, during the construction of the privately operated decks, a total of 247 spaces for peak parking -100 nighttime permit spaces, 85 daytime permit spaces, and metered spaces – would be in relocated to decks and lots nearby.  The metered spaces would be distributed throughout the South Fullerton West and Maple Plaza lots and the North Fullerton deck.

In the second phase of parking construction beginning in the fall of 2018, during which the Midtown parking deck – the main component in adding parking – would be built, there would be 26 metered spaces, 52 daytime permit spaces, and 32 nighttime permit spaces in peak demand.  The plan would be to relocate these peak spaces into the South Fullerton West lot and the newly completed South Fullerton East parking deck next to the Wellmont.

parking to be replaced during Midtown Deck construction

phase 2 – replaced spaces

In all, 297 spaces would be displaced and ultimately replaced, but there would be 130 additional parking spaces as a result of the Midtown deck’s construction, for a total of 427 spaces when the project is completed in 2019 – 41 more than the minimum requirement.  Stolar said electronic signs would be used to direct motorist to parking spaces, with help from Bloomfield Avenue merchants.

redevelopment area parking – permanent replacement

Parking consultant Nadir Naqvi of ProPark America, which will operate the Willow and South Fullerton decks, also addressed shared parking. He envisioned anywhere between 32 and 78 extra spaces during weekday evenings, with 142 available spaces in the overnight hours, with the exact number of spaces needed during the daytime on weekdays. He said that parking would be shared through people arriving for or leaving from work and leaving or coming home in the morning and evening rush hours, with the shift between professional and residential parking in the new decks occurring gradually. Valet parking would be provided in times of excess demand, such as a concert at the Wellmont, with electronic sings to direct people to nearby parking areas.

Board member Martin Schwartz was concerned about major concerts at the Wellmont driving up demand – “a perfect storm” – but Board Vice Chair Jason De Salvo noted that the additional parking at the new Midtown deck would provide a cushion with excess space that is currently unavailable. Other board members, such as Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, wanted to see ProPark America keep the new facilities clean, and she lamented the lax efforts at keeping the Bay Street deck up to snuff. Board member Carmel Loughman concurred, adding that security call boxes should be included. Naqvi made special note of their concerns. Loughman also expressed concern about the loss of 21 on-street spaces on Bloomfield Avenue for a new left-turn lane onto South Willow Street. Stolar suggested that the lane, which would have to be added by the county, could be delayed until the South Fullerton East deck was completed. He praised Loughman for thinking of something no one had considered before.

Two more witnesses testified about street alignment through striping and reconfiguring the streetscape. John Harter returned and proposed a larger loading zone along the southern side of The Crescent, next to the First Congregational Church – 55 feet over the current 15-foot zone. The church, which uses that area for buses for children, plans to relocate its bus dropoff area. David Lustberg, the streetscape architect, redesigned the sidewalk along the western side of South Willow Street to accommodate a left-turn lane onto Bloomfield Avenue, slightly narrowing the sidewalk but compensating for it by moving the lobby of the apartment building that is part of the redevelopment project back and conceding space to the sidewalk. He also showed new furniture for the plaza, with new tables and chairs, and also removable bollards along Bloomfield Avenue that could be taken out for large events. All of this would be stored after hours.

“The aftermarket for bollards is pretty light, but patio furniture is a different story,” De Salvo joked in contemplating possible theft of movable objects.

Landscape architect David Lustberg’s rendering of street furniture for the Seymour Street plaza

Finally, structural engineer John Harrison testified on the retaining wall, saying the new building proposed to be adjacent to it would be moved so as not to compromise the wall. He said the wall would be monitored during construction, with specific written instructions for the builders on how to proceed.

Board Chairman John Wynn said he was pleased with the changes made over the course of the testimony, and he said he believed the redevelopment of the block into an arts district would enliven a part of Montclair that hadn’t been enlivened in a while. He hoped it would bring back the activity of the time when the Wellmont was a movie theater, which he frequented with his parents for family-night movie events. After board attorney Arthur Neiss read a laundry list of conditions – Leadership in Environmental and Energy (LEED) certification, rebuilding the gas mains under Seymour Street in front of the Wellmont, prohibiting right turns out of the Willow deck onto South Willow Street from 7 AM to 9 AM on weekdays, among others, the board voted unanimously to approve the project, with Anthony Ianuale and Timothy Barr absent.

The meeting ended just before 12:45 AM, almost two hours after the board was supposed to adjourn, but the laborious task of hearing the Seymour Street application was finally done. This was also the last board meeting for Jason De Salvo, who is leaving the board for personal reasons.

16 Comments

  1. POSTED BY redrum  |  August 08, 2017 @ 8:54 am

    Another rubber stamp by the Planning Board, and the soul of Montclair continues to whither and die.

  2. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  August 08, 2017 @ 9:08 am

    The opposition was loud but represents very very few people. I spoke to a substantial cross section of folks who live in this neighborhood, within walking distance of this neighborhood and others who live in Montclair and frequent this neighborhood and all enthusiastically support the project.

  3. POSTED BY townie  |  August 08, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

    We have a Mayor and Township Planner who are both very pro-development and this translates into buildings that are too large for the land, with parking requirements waived. I’m generally pro-development too, but could see scaling back a story here and there and making more of an issue of parking.

    But big can be big and ugly or it can be less ugly. At least this shows a single color brick. These new buildings with 3 or 4 colors of brick mixed with foam and colored panels are eyesores, no gifts to the next generations.

    Last I’d fortify the building inspections. The other day I was enjoying a frozen yogurt at Fro-Yo and was looking at the new Centro Verde complex, Valley & Bloom I think it is now called. Not only do they use what is basically cinder block as a facing material, it is poorly installed. The mortar is uneven, looks like they were laid by an apprentice.

  4. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  August 08, 2017 @ 1:39 pm

    We all can agree that Bloomfield Avenue around (and especially below) Seymour is a veritable wasteland. While virtually any development will improve it, let’s hope the MPB exercises sound judgement aesthetically and otherwise.

  5. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 08, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

    I only caught a short, latter portion of the Planning Board meeting, but two topics made an impression.

    First, Montclair is back in the (Midtown) deck building business and it appears we are going to issue $10MM in debt to pay for it. Not surprised as it was going to come out our taxes or a reduction in our PILOT revenue. I actually prefer debt in this specific case.

    While the disclosures on Midtown Deck financing are still to come, it would be interesting to see how this project is meeting the Township’s financial goals of redevelopment & debt management. The development fiscal impact study said we could conservatively expect to net $653,621 annually. The 130 new public parking spaces will add another $275,000 annually. Further, take the debt service with other revenues (multiplier effect on property values, other shared parking revenues) and they likely offset. So, let’s round it to an even $1MM net annually.

    Maybe not the financial windfall we were expecting of a project of this size to mitigate property taxes. Yet, over 30 years, it will pay a large chunk of the cost for a new school.

    Second, the Chair’s comments that Montclair Center currently has excess parking capacity. Technically, yes. But, that assumes 100% utilization as the yardstick. Without a market mechanism like a Payment in Lieu of Parking, I think a highly unrealistic one.

  6. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  August 08, 2017 @ 5:29 pm

    “veritable wasteland” haha

  7. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 08, 2017 @ 5:53 pm

    silverleaf,

    You probably don’t know that Seymour St is at the midpoint of the Montclair Center’s Bloomfield Ave corridor. From Seymour to the Glen Ridge border encompasses 2/3rds of our MC Historic District. People are trying to preserve the train station. People actually live along there, too. It is probably the most culturally diverse section of Montclair.

    A “veritable wasteland”?

  8. POSTED BY Albert G. Biden  |  August 08, 2017 @ 7:53 pm

    Aren’t these builders the ones who promised to beautify the fountain at the end of Valley after putting up the Valley and Bloom monstrosities? Urbanization Ho!

  9. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  August 09, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

    Frank – “You probably don’t know that Seymour St. is at the midpoint of the Montclair Center’s Bloomfield Ave corridor.” “People actually live along there, too.” Apparently you are the only person in town who is arrogantly aware of those facts!

    Your implication RE: cultural diversity way off the mark and you are trying to turn this into social issue. My record here on that and similar topics stands on its own. My reference to “wasteland’ strictly related to aesthetics. Of course Lackawanna Plaza and the downtown historic district should be preserved. You can check the record on that too! Instead of sniffing around for a quarrel, you should have read my comments more closely. I said, “let’s hope the MPB exercises sound judgement aesthetically and otherwise.

  10. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 09, 2017 @ 3:07 pm

    Your focus on the physical nature of a neighborhood defining its character is why I am chiding you. Did you really need to modify wasteland or was that to beg a quarrel, too?

    We each have our issues with basics like color & materials, but this is not the purview of the PB. Do I think Jack’s Seafood Shack (& its mural) is appropriate? No. Do I like the colors of Cuban Pete’s. No. Does the color of Fascino inspire me? No. Does the VFW need a coat of paint? Yes. Do I need to mention V&B? Seriously, I think your unfair description of the physical nature is because of a current uses bias, the streetwall gaps from un/under-developed parcels, and your particular aesthetic.

    Montclair Center has and is known for its eclectic mix of styles. If you walk this stretch, the inventory of good buildings is not reflective of a wasteland. Just bringing back the Lackawanna train station and creating the green space (of the alternate plan) will, before any large buildings are built, significantly change the neighborhood aesthetics. But, the trade-off is a change in scale. The town is currently of a public & private development mindset. It has the trappings of a land rush to make a 4 story, or higher streetwall from one end of Bloomfield to the other. So, we will get the change in form & scale your aesthetic suggests.

    With our public & private record of attractive development, I’m not so sure it will make Montclair Center better (e.g. Gateway 1.1, 1.2 & 2). Actually, I have more faith in unplanned, private development than planned, public development.

  11. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  August 09, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

    For the record, I didn’t modify “wasteland”, I qualified it. My use of the word was purely aesthetic (or lack thereof), your hocus pocus notwithstanding.

  12. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 09, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

    Unusually unique.

  13. POSTED BY jcunningham  |  August 10, 2017 @ 12:24 am

    “We all can agree that Bloomfield Avenue around (and especially below) Seymour is a veritable wasteland”

    —Agreed!!

    Ok, I don’t really care, but just wanted to watch Rubacky post another dozen times…

  14. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  August 10, 2017 @ 9:47 am

    You like wasteland and I like desert
    You like tomato and I like tomahto
    Wasteland, desert, tomato, tomahto
    Let’s call the whole thing off

    But, oh, if we call the whole thing off
    Then we must part
    And, oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart

  15. POSTED BY silverleaf  |  August 10, 2017 @ 10:49 am

    I get a kick out of you, Frank.

  16. POSTED BY montclairmommy  |  August 15, 2017 @ 10:23 am

    What’s the big idea of trying to get this done in one meeting and then passing the motion to approve after midnight, when everyone from the public has gone home so they can get up in time for work – and no one is left there to speak out against it?

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