Montclair Planning Board and EDC Have Different Ideas About Supermarket For Lackawanna Plaza

BY  |  Tuesday, Sep 12, 2017 6:45am  |  COMMENTS (3)

An early-twentieth-century picture of the old Lackawanna railway terminal.

The Montclair Planning Board spent its September 11 meeting finalizing one application and foregoing another, but before all that, they heard from the Montclair Township Council’s Economic Development Committee (EDC)  – which includes the Planning Board’s council liaison, Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager – about the feedback the committee received on the board’s critique of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan.  Despite the extensive briefing, the Planning Board did not engage in a public tête-à-tête with the committee members, but Chairman John Wynn appreciated the EDC’s input.

Deputy Mayor Schlager, Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller, and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville went through 19 comments the Planning Board offered up in its rebuttal to the town council, and the EDC members agreed with the board on all the major points.  They agreed with the board that any plan should identify the historic elements of the Lackawanna railway terminal building, and that the main plaza between Bloomfield Avenue and the train sheds should be made into a green space.  The EDC also concurred that the bricked-up walls of the train shed facing Bloomfield Avenue should be opened up and turned into storefronts, rather than the current arrangement in which the entrances to the stores are from the inside of the mini-mall that was built in the train sheds’ space.  Even more importantly, the EDC agreed that the number of apartments should be scaled back.  The Pinnacle and Hampshire development companies wanted 350 units; the EDC said that 280 units would be enough.

The Montclair Township Council’s Economic Development Committee presented its input on the Lackawanna Pala redevelopment plan. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville (at the podium) led off the presentation.

However, the EDC disagreed with the Planning Board on how to include a supermarket in the plan.  Deputy Mayor Schlager, speaking as a councilor and not as a planning board member, said that a supermarket on the parcel of land east of Grove Street would have a negative impact on nearby neighborhoods by increasing noise and truck traffic, which put the EDC at odds with the Planning Board’s desire to see a supermarket built on the east parcel.  Furthermore, Deputy Mayor Schlager said the EDC disagreed with limiting the maximum square footage of the supermarket, saying it would discourage more supermarket chains from opening a store in Lackawanna Plaza due to lack of sufficient space.  The EDC, though, was on the same page as the Planning Board in preserving historic elements of the railway terminal building and restoring some of the building’s historic elements, such as the water basin between the west-parcel parking lot and Grove Street.

Dr. Baskerville also reported on the legal questions regarding review.  She said the council had taken the advice of the Planning Board by seeking a legal opinion on whether a redevelopment agent can approve a plan that allows the demolition of any property on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places (NJRHP) without state authorization, and she reported that they were in full compliance with the legal rights.  “The New Jersey Register of Historic Places,” she said, “indicates that, once a property is designated an historic place and listed in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, any public undertaking that would encroach upon, damage, or destroy the registered historic property must be reviewed pursuant to the law and receive prior authorization from the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.”  She said that private undertaking like the one proposed, including relocations,  renovations, and acquisitions, are not reviewed by the state Historic Preservation office, and that changes in local zoning are not reviewable by that office either, so it ius not required for that office to review the redevelopment plan.

Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller acknowledged the recommendation that the plan be referred back to the Planning Board by the council for further re-evaluation of all of the recommendations.  He said there would be great deal of further debate on the plan, and he hoped that the council would continue to be a part of the ongoing discussion over the Lackawanna Plaza plan. Chairman Wynn thanked the EDC for getting back to the Planning Board, and he added that he and his fellow board members “look forward to seeing what happens with this at the council.”

After that report, applicant Timothy Bray returned with a revised plan of his effort to build a duplex house on a vacant property along Willard Place, created from a larger lot designated 107 Claremont Avenue, after his original proposal was deemed too modernistic by the board.  Bray proposed a two-unit house, again designed by local architect Erik Schultz, which would look more traditional.  The house would be divided into two distinct wings, one with a shed roof, and the other with a gable roof.  The shed-roof wing would have board-and-batten fiber-cement panel sidings, and the gable-roof wing would have stained-tongue and grooved-wood siding.  The property would have a full basement, a porch of stained wood, and a driveway on each side and extend to the back or the property to hide the cars.

The board found the design to be a great improvement from the original design and more in keeping with the neighborhood, but board member Carmel Loughman asked Bray if he could consider shortening the driveways to bring the ends closer to the back doors (there are to be no garages).  Bray said he was open to that.  A more immediate concern was the thick asphalt pavement on the property; Bray said that the old driveway on the property had been paved in a patchwork style, with some elements of the pavement as deep as ten feet.  This obviously meant problems for the drainage, and Chairman Wynn made the approval conditional on the review of the pervious soil by board engineer Thomas Watkinson, who was not present.  Bray agreed, and the board approved the application with only Anthony Ianuale dissenting.  Ianuale said he simply liked the original plan better.

The board unexpectedly got into the weeds over an application for a sign in front of the parking lot for the set-back storefronts at 122 Watchung Avenue across from Watchung Plaza.  The owners wanted to put a monument sign in the middle of the lot at the foot of the sidewalk.  Discussion of the issue led the board to note numerous deficiencies in the lot, the most egregious of them being the lack of a handicapped space.  But board members were also unhappy with the overall look of the lot, with its dead spaces, numerous “PRIVATE PARKING” signs, and the wires strewn along the front metal poles.  Deputy Mayor Schlager said that she wouldn’t support any application that failed to take any of these problems into account.  The owners said that they would address the lack of a handicapped space but needed time to see if they could make any other improvements to the property.

The drawings for a new two-unit house at Willard Place.

As it turned out, a simple application for a sign led to an hour-long discussion about related issues, and the property owners agreed to look and see if they could improve the lot’s appearance.  Another hearing for the sign application is scheduled for October 16.

3 Comments

  1. POSTED BY townie  |  September 12, 2017 @ 4:53 pm

    I’d like some explanation, beyond the numbers of housing units and supermarket specifics, why we already know this will be a monstrosity?

    Why is this? We all know it’ll be pathetic. Look up the avenue across from the Police Station. That’s no gift to future generations, that’s leveraged financing getting what it wants, ignoring the foam, bad workmanship, overly large and cheap looking buildings to maximize near term cash flow for the barest minimum.

  2. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  September 13, 2017 @ 10:51 am

    I have to respectfully disagree with the EDC rejecting the option of placing the supermarket on the other (East) parcel and justifying it based on the traffic impact to the residential areas. The truck traffic is a small fraction of many hundreds of trips into/out of the site. BTW, the zoning plan encourages active uses both day and night. Will 24hr commercial uses be allowed?

    With the 20% reduction in allowed housing units (and their 77 parking spaces), the East parcel location now makes a great deal of sense for numerous reasons. Further, The primary traffic argument doesn’t hold water as the circulation will show.

    A East parcel supermarket’s traffic and circulation impact would actually be improved as it would allow direct vehicle access from Bloomfield Avenue. The Glenridge Ave pedestrian streetscape would be greatly enhanced by the elimination of this extra entrance to the West garage. The open plaza on Bloomfield is better suited for a smaller scale, ground floor commercial facade that also could wrap around the building’s Western side. This would relate better to the historic train station elements rather than the 20’ tall supermarket facade. Lastly, the it would open up better options for Lackawanna Plaza roadway side of the site.

    The current West parcel supermarket location seems to be predicated on an economic case to maximize attractiveness for the supermarket tenant. As remote a possibility as people may think that a 85,000+ sf supermarket could turn out to be unsustainable, the Council and the developer should lay these reasons out for public discussion and evaluation how this is the best & highest use as proposed. We should not use a vague traffic argument to obfuscate the benefits and detriments.

  3. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  September 14, 2017 @ 10:25 am

    Before this plan is finalized, I want to emphasize the issue of direct vehicle access from Bloomfield Avenue, our primary artery, and how the plan does not give this feature the appropriate prominence it deserves.

    I think this reflects a bias formed out of our prior redevelopment experience with Valley & Bloom (V&B), Seymour Street and our initial attempt at Gateway 2. It is the unquestioned principle that Bloomfield Avenue must project a pedestrian focus and the side streets, like Glen Ridge Avenue, shall bear the congestion issues. Essentially, an unbroken street wall is more important along Bloomfield Ave than on the side streets. Aspiring to this Bloomfield Ave “miracle mile” corridor is an narrow mindset that doesn’t embrace the pattern of our off-Bloomfield neighborhood growth. Yes, we down-zoned Glenridge Ave to a less dense C-3, but we are planning our way to a congestion levels that mimic the C-1 corridor.

    Each redevelopment project is unique, but all share many Township goals. V&B and Seymour Street had specific constraints preventing direct parking access off our primary artery. We had few opportunities to “intercept” vehicles at Bloomfield Avenue and had to route them across side streets to park. This project offers direct access, but relegates it to a secondary opportunity servicing primarily residential use. A use that is significantly less intensive than commercial. Especially a supermarket which, by land use standards, is the most intensive of all planned uses.

    When the plan is finalized, it will codify the developers “as-of-right terms” that will limit municipal recourse during site plan reviews. Stipulating that the supermarket can only be on the West parcel is a prime example.

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