Montclair Planning Board Hears, Approves Another North Willow Street Project

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.

10 North Willow Street in Montclair. Image courtesy of Google.

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.

A rendering of the facade of the proposed renovation of 10 North Willow Street. provided by architect Matthew Jarmel.

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.

The first-floor retail plan for the renovation of 10 North Willow Street

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.

The second-floor retail plan for the renovation of 10 North Willow Street

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.

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  1. Great! A many little strip mall right here on N. Willow St. Amazing how only one board memeber found fault with the outdated and proven to be a streetscape and pedestrian deterrent front lawn parking lagoon. It’s amazing that we still make these bad mistakes of interrupting the streetwall with set back retail and curb cuts.

    Oh well…at least she pointed it out and it’s contesting is one record from one person. The response by the architect says everything you need to know about how we still prioritize cars above all.

    “When asked why the architect chose to built the structure set back from the street and not aligned with the dog grooming salon, the architect replied ‘because if we did that we could offer the three protected parking spots under the overhang.”



  2. You’re spot on about prioritizing cars about people, but that’s written into the state zoning guidelines that Montclair adopts. A continuous street wall is literally an impossibility when parking spaces are required. Architects don’t like designing parking lots, and developers want to build as much rentable square footage as possible. Allowing 1 or 2 less spots per building is seen as a compromise by the board, but such variances are triage.

    Until the general populace understands that every bit of urbanism they’ve ever loved was designed without parking minimums in mind, and parking minimums are done away with, strip-mall architecture will remain.

  3. “Until the general populace understands that every bit of urbanism they’ve ever loved was designed without parking minimums in mind, and parking minimums are done away with, strip-mall architecture will remain.”

    This is so wrongheaded I don’t know where to start…unless you are defining urbanism as over-development. In that case, you nailed it.

  4. “Over-development” is a completely subjective slogan defined as “anything more dense or higher than I’d like it to be.” We’re not even at our peak population. I don’t feel like swapping 8 parking spaces for 2 more apartments in a 2 story building is a huge ask.

    Meanwhile, all the downtown districts that make our town special literally could not be built today even if we were gifted a blank slate, due to parking requirements in our zoning code. Those downtowns make the urbanism I’m referring to. Requiring space for cars inevitably leads to environmentally and socially disastrous sprawl. You can still manage the size of your town through straightforward height and density controls without subsidizing driving.

  5. Over-development is no more subjective than (new) Urbanism. I am therefore surprised by your espousing urbanism concepts, yet show a bias against qualitative measures.

    Montclair is basically built-out so not sure what sprawl has to do with the price of Amazon eggs. Why bother with limiting density? Urbanism doesn’t restrict density, it concentrates it. More concentrated density is better.

    My current favorite – the local peak population/available capacity case – is undeveloped, to be kind. If we add another 6,000 residents yielding 2,500 new households (2.4 per household), gives us 250-300 school-age children by Township figures. Add a school. More infrastructure.

    We can’t eliminate cars – even self-driving ones – so if developers are not providing, then the taxpayers overall have to pay for additional parking & circulation capacity. Of course, we can limit new residents to Uber, to those who commute to NY, or those that take buses only to the East & West. Then there is the issue of increasing office density and insufficient parking. Our parking requirements there reflect 1960’s standards, not the new, higher, Hudson Yard-type densities. How will people arrive and where will they park?

    You think Bloomfield Ave is bad now, just look at the new 2018 plans for it in downtown. The roadway technically has excess capacity, but the same experts are advocating eliminating on-street parking to alleviate congestion? We’ll have our narrow, downtown sidewalks sandwiched between the streetwall and five lanes of traffic – as the current on-street parking is steadily eliminated. Oh right, we tabled the subject of circulation in our vision document, the Land Use & Circulation Plan.

    Yes, we retain our ridiculously silly focus on on-site parking requirements because the Township threw out the Parking Study. Wouldn’t even discuss it. The Planning Board said the ideas were crazy, but they just gave Mr Plofker a Macy*s-like “50% off” parking variance. As long as he owns the property, and is inclined, he can make the parking work. Unfortunately, property tends to change hands.

    We have a basic & increasing problem. We need to figure out how we can absorb 2,500 more housing units downtown, handle the dramatic increase in visitor traffic that we are actively pursuing. and since Montclair is not an island, the increased traffic from adjacent town’s development that use this artery. Street walls are the least of our issues.

  6. Oh, forgot. When we add $10MM in debt for the new Midtown Parking deck and $40MM for a new school, that will quantitatively put quite a new spin on our current $174MM debt level.

  7. My point is we don’t need to acquiesce to continuing to design for the car merely because people have cars. We can’t eliminate cars, but we don’t need to encourage them by continuously inducing new demand by increasing supply. The Parking Study’s “crazy” ideas weren’t to require developers to include more parking spaces, but less. We’ve 60 years of poor design due to automobile-based use-segregated planning, and if the course doesn’t change soon, we are going to be in SF territory within 15 years.

    In listing the kinds of people that can live in a town without cards, you left out myself: someone who lives in Montclair and walks to their job. I could not do that in most other towns our size. In creating more places for business in the already “built out” (as you put it) downtown, more jobs are created for people within the town itself and new housing is created with the least amount of possible disruption.

    This is a vacant lot in the downtown, not pristine green-space in the single-family zone. The approved building is two stories tall, not six. It is less than a 10 minute walk to the train station. If people can’t agree that this is where densification makes the most sense, we might as well close up shop.

    If you don’t think anyone else should move to this town and we shouldn’t build the additional units you cite, please be clear and say that. People will still move here, they’ll just be displacing the worst off. I get that the fiscal situation is difficult, but the population is rising in this country, especially on the coasts. As a millennial who moved here at 25 and has watched more and more young families move here from the city, I know the demand is there, specifically close to downtown. If towns like ours don’t densify, the problem won’t be fixed and we’ll end up like the SF suburbs, with a humanitarian nightmare of a rent crisis. That is the biggest issue.

    Montclair’s blessed with good transportation infrastructure, we’re the best candidate to densify. We can disagree on particulars like building design, but continuing to treat cars the same way explicitly forbids design that actually fits the downtown’s character, one of continuous streetwalls.

    I’m not sure where you stand on what your ideal for Bloomfield Avenue is, so I can’t really comment on it. But when I listen to people in the town, there is an assumption that we need more safety and less congestion. Every road design solution to increase safety decreases car speed, which essentially what congestion is. It’s this kind of thinking that I’m critiquing. People want to make the street better for pedestrians while making it better for drivers passing through while making it better for people looking for parking, which isn’t possible.

  8. Bloomfield Ave: I’d eliminate all left turn lanes below Valley & above Gates. I’d eliminate on-street parking and use half the space for expanded sidewalks & proper landscaping. The other half would be for vehicle standing only space (truck unloading, buses, uber connections) alternating with public seating space. I would take Bloomfield below Elm and eliminate parking on the North side and reconfigure with a center green median for a boulevard effect. That’s what I would like and if Bike/Walk Montclair would give up on bicycle lanes, there maybe a small chance it could happen.

    You should read the Parking Study again. Read the Existing Conditions and the appendices.

    “Every road design solution to increase safety decreases car speed” is plain wrong. I’m not sure where you read this because it doesn’t make sense and if I account for poor phrasing, it’s still not true. Let me know if you want local examples.

    Actually, in most of NJ’s older, inner suburbs, you can find housing near work. Our transportation system is not that good. It was setup for a bedroom community and the system is essentially unchanged.

    Bottom line is that it would be great to reduce car volumes in Montclair, but just eliminating parking without an overall plan is hoping on a wing and a prayer.

  9. A lot of businesses lose customers because people can’t find parking and as it becomes more difficult as the carhaters want then it will get worse. Urbanization that is loved? Pulleeze. Urbanization Ho!

  10. For your Bloomfield Plan, by left turn lanes do you mean the left lane? Between Valley and Gates, the only left turns are at Gates and Grove. Traffic and parking tend to be worse closer to Valley. Or do you mean remove the ability to turn left? More sidewalks and landscaping is good, but why do you prefer a visual boulevard over a bike lane?

    Regarding parking, obviously there would need to be a plan. And the Parking Study recommended halving parking requirements and changing minimums to maximums. Under transformative change strategies. My initial comment wasn’t referring to minutiae, but rather the base assumption that more parking is good.

    Regarding roads, it would truly be much easier for you to list occasions where speeding up traffic is used to make safer town and city streets. Road diets, curb extensions, crosswalks, raised medians (your boulevard), bike lane buffers, and woonerfs (conversely) all function by slowing down the rate of flow. Complete streets are safer streets. But please, feel free to talk down to me more.

  11. I meant to say we should eliminate left turns within that section of Bloomfield. Thank you.

    The composition of the C-2 zone (Grove-Maple) is mostly residential and a green median would provide shorter crosswalks, more environmentally appropriate lighting while advancing the aesthetic.

    Bloomfield is our only major arterial and has a daily volume of 25,000 vehicles that will reach 35,000 within a decade. It is a commercial zone. We have a fixed amount of space to play with. It should be allocated based on highest & best uses per the Master Plan. A vibrant pedestrian streetscape is a primary need in this corridor while bicycling is a marginal use. If downtown is their destination, they can dismount/park and walk. If a pass-thru, there are more appropriate corridors.

    The key plank of the Parking Plan was not for more parking spaces, but greater parking utilization and consolidation. We are already doing this piecemeal within the redevelopment zones. Mr Plofker is doing a self-directed shared parking concept his property groups downtown and it can work as long as he continues to control these parcels. But, we need a systemic, predictable long-range C-1 plan. Now, it is disjointed, parcel by parcel reviews with inconsistent PB determinations.

    As to roads, I did not say to speed up traffic. But, you knew that.

    I don’t think road diets are effective in reducing speeds. Upper Mountain Ave for example. Montclair should measure average speeds Northbound v. Southbound. My anecdotal experience is that they are similar.

    Road diets, in concept, offer space reallocation to lessen conflicts among users. It is not truly sharing the road. But, like closets, the unused space is quickly utilized by other uses and the conflicts return.

    Montclair does have woonerfs…they are our municipal parking plazas. We don’t need more of these.

    I do love the bulbouts at Grove & Oxford. They can work out well at dangerous intersections. Remind me where do the bicyclists go when faced with a bulbout at these intersections?

    You may have more data, but I’m not aware of any that shows speeding in Montclair is the primary cause of roadway conflicts.

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