By the Montclair Planning Board’s standard, this was fast going. The board met on August 28 to hear a project on North Willow Street that, coincidentally, is adjacent to the site of developer Steven Plofker’s project to renovate the former Diva Lounge on North Willow Street and Bloomfield Avenue as part of a new apartment building. EKR Associates, LLC plans to reuse and expand the existing building at 10 North Willow Street and turn it into retail space with two new apartments on the second floor. The application was heard from start to finish and approved in two hours.
Architect Matthew Jarmel of Jarmel Kizel in Livingston, who is working on the Warner Communications building in Upper Montclair, presented his plan on behalf of the applicant.
The current structure, a garage with a single apartment above, would be reconfigured. The shed in front would be demolished, as would a diagonal interior wall on the first floor; new walls would be built to provide perfectly rectangular rooms on the first floor, and a new wing would be added in the building’s northeast corner, providing 1,000 square feet of first-floor retail space overall. The second floor would be converted into two two-bedroom apartments, a 1,065-square feet unit in the front and a 1,026-square foot unit in the rear. The design calls for the second floor to hang over the façade of the first floor, with simulated-wood siding and slight use of brick on the top level and an arrangement of brick and decorative concrete block along the lower retail level. Jarmel says he expects the retail unit, which features 387 square feet of rear storage space, to be rented by an art boutique or a similar small-retail business. The existing windows, which are non-conforming, would be taken out and replaced with fewer windows of a more appropriate size.
The design was generally well-received by the board, but board member Carmel Loughman was not happy with the use of simulated wood, which Jarmel said was called Azac. She said the material looked cheap and preferred an all-brick façade to complement 12 North Willow Street, which has two retail businesses. Jarmel defended Azac as being weather-resistant, but Chairman John Wynn thought it looked like tile. Jarmel countered that it resembles clapboard when put up and was a step up from top-drawer vinyl siding. Board member Stephen Rooney liked the simulated wood, saying it recalled structures that once stood in the area.
Loughman also wanted to know why the parking lot wasn’t put up against the fence separating the property from Roach’s towing yard rather than next to 12 North Willow Street and why the entrance to the retail space wasn’t lined up to the entrances of the double storefront of 12 North Willow Street. Jarmel said he didn’t consider it because they wanted to use as much of the building as possible, and on the north side of the lot, the building as it exists protrudes out, so it wouldn’t allow the three covered parking spaces in the design.
Engineer Gerard Gesario was next, explaining how the property would be improved with a new sidewalk in front, a sidewalk along the fence separating the property from the towing yard, and seven parking spaces in all, and one space for handicapped drivers would be provided. He explained that the applicant was requesting a variance because at least five retail spaces and four residential spaces would otherwise be required. He also requested a variance for the front setback, as the shed being demolished would move the front of the building farther from the street. Lighting would be provided by fixture at the foot of the parking lot entrance and three recessed LED lights under the overhang.
Planner George Williams, who is based in Montclair, testified last to explain why the parking variance made sense in the overall planning for the area around the property. He said that the reduced number of on-site spaces was a benefit because it lessened the parking footprint in a neighborhood greatly suitable to walking and in proximity to numerous bus lines. Williams also noted that there were several other parking spaces within walking distance that could be utilized, and he also said that shared parking in the lot at 10 North Willow Street could be implemented. The lot would see use for the retail establishment in the day and residential use in the evening. Chairman Wynn worried that weekend use of the lot for the retail business could cause troubles for the residents, but Williams was confident that the retail business at this property would not generate a lot of demand for parking on-site; he added that many visitors to Montclair Center park on the street or in municipal lots and decks and frequent multiple establishments on foot. He did not advocate assigned spaces for residential tenants, saying that it would interfere with the shared-parking concept. Loughman was afraid that the residential and retail uses of the parking spaces could overlap, but Williams said that he was certain that any such overlap could be mitigated by lease agreements. Both Williams and board member Anthony Ianuale suggested the small size of the apartments and their proximity to public transit would ensure that the two residential tenants would likely have one car each anyway, lessening parking demand.
The board approved the project, with requested variances, by a 7-0 vote; board members Martin Schwartz, Keith Brodock and Carole Willis were absent. Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager asked just before the vote what the timetable would be for redoing the property, and the applicant said it would start immediately. This prompted Deputy Mayor Schlager to ask after the vote about the timetable for the other projects on North Willow Street. Planning Director Janice Talley reported she was conferring with the developers of the Rose Aire apartment project to finalize their construction plans, meaning it will be the first project to be started, and Chairman Wynn said that Steven Plofker had different projects in the works and might not get to his North Willow Street projects in the foreseeable future, so the smaller 10 North Willow Street project will likely be done before any of them. Plofker is still working on renovating the Georgian Inn on North Mountain Avenue and Claremont Avenue, which includes the recently moved carriage house. As for 10 North Willow Street, Chairman Wynn said it was such a small, self-contained project that it was unlikely to cause much disruption.
Also, the board elected the absent Keith Brodock as vice chair, replacing Jason De Salvo. Brodock was informed of the board’s intentions in advance and had accepted the nomination.