MontClairVoyant: New Holidays – Variance Day, Drive Slower Day, Let Teachers Teach Day…




On Oct. 2, Montclair Cares About Schools brought attention to a new middle-school English Language Arts curriculum that’s “standards”-oriented, less creative, studies fewer complete novels, and is not teacher-driven. Your reaction?

Another “Reform” Storm

Unhappiness. And I wonder, as I finish writing this Oct. 5 column the afternoon of Oct. 4, whether the matter will come up at the Board of Education meeting the evening of Oct. 4. My time machine is in the shop.


Teachers know what’s best for students! Meanwhile, will the Planning Board and Township Council ever REALLY listen to the many residents who don’t want Montclair so overbuilt?

Inured to Being Ignored

Residents might get a respectful hearing if they dress as developers for Halloween.


But that’s just one day a year!

Octavia October

If you want 1/365th fewer variances, draw dollar signs on a high-thread-count sheet, cut out a hole for your head, don that developer costume, ring the doorbells of Montclair officials, and yell, “Gentrification or treat!”



I tried that last Halloween, and got such warm hugs from some officials I felt uncomfortable. They and developers are besties, right?

Friends, Sans Jennifer Aniston

It’s a love story for the ages.



One overbuilding example is the proposed Lackawanna Plaza redo. But you want a new supermarket there, don’t you?

The Store-y in Your Eyes

Absolutely, just not 280 housing units along with it. Perhaps a few igloos in the frozen-food aisle.


But didn’t the Township Council say Oct. 3 that it would consult more with the Planning Board on Lackawanna?

Myna Adjustments

That may make the project SLA (Slightly Less Awful) — not to be confused with Montclair’s popular Thai restaurant SLA.



Speaking of international, why did the mayor get so defensive at the TC meeting when questioned about how the cost of visits between Montclair and its sister cities are paid for (via taxes and/or privately)?

Flight Behavior

I’ll avoid saying there’s guilt over gilt, because I worry about the psychic cost of too much wordplay.



And residents pleaded with the TC to reduce the speed limit from 35 to 30 on dangerous Grove Street. Agree?

Speaking for Safety

Totally. I suggested last week that the limit even be 25, but I can’t say more now because today’s column is longer than usual. Hoping for an abridged “War and Peace” edition with the one-word title “…and…”



Meanwhile, there’s talk about whether rec-soccer games should have been played Sept. 30 on Yom Kippur. Thoughts?

Wide Whirl of Sports

I’m surprised Montclair officials never started a holiday called Variance Day.



Developers could put gifts for each other (Lamborghinis?) under dead/tinseled Variance Trees symbolizing ruined open space. But what about the unhealthiness of some school lunches and vending-machine items — the subject of recent parent complaints?

Food for Thought

“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Oops, I just channeled Capt. Picard using his “Star Trek” replicator. But drinking Earl Grey IS a balanced diet when holding a cup in each hand.



Montclair students have Columbus Day off Oct. 9, but it’s more a teacher-workshop thing than a holiday. Any plans?

Iz A. Bella and Ferd D. Nand

I’d like to stand at Montclair’s Christopher-Columbus corner and scream, “He brutalized Native-Americans — the actual discoverers of this country!”



Did any Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria crew members jump ship at that intersection in 1492?

To See Clary Anderson Arena

Yes, according to the 1493 edition of “Who’s Who in the New World.”


Not a New World for Native-Americans. Our town was quite different back then, wasn’t it?

Fewer iPhones

Sure, but the “Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Proposal” Facebook page was already annoying.



Let’s talk about shooting violence from which Montclair hasn’t been immune. Will the horrific Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas FINALLY lead to more gun control?

White-Male Terrorism

Unlikely, given that Connecticut’s horrific 2012 elementary-school massacre had no effect — with the evil NRA and right-wing Republicans telling each other: “How do I love thee? Let me count the bullets.”



Yikes — apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And people who say their “thoughts and prayers” are with gun-carnage victims without also calling for more gun control need to JUST SHUT UP. Any final comment?

Leave Famous Poetry Alone!

Very sad to hear about the Sept. 28 passing of Montclair resident Monica Bartlett, who was just 50. A really nice person who did great work for many organizations — including the aforementioned Montclair Cares About Schools.


Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.





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    “Absolutely, just not 280 housing units along with it. Perhaps a few igloos in the frozen-food aisle.”

    Pheeew . . . for a moment, I thought you were going to say “egg glues”, found in either the dairy or stationary supply aisle.

    Nanook of the North


    “I’d like to stand at Montclair’s Christopher-Columbus corner and scream, “He brutalized Native-Americans — the actual discoverers of this country!”

    Those aggressive RE development plans may very well call for the building of condominiums at that very intersection. In that case, we will all be saying, “Good-bye Christopher and Columbus.”

  3. Thank you, silverleaf, for your two VERY entertaining comments!

    I have no (Portnoy’s) complaint about your clever reference to Philip Roth’s novel “Goodbye, Columbus.” I guess if there’s already Christopher Court in a residential neighborhood, there could also be Christopher Columbus Court a mile or so south… 🙁

    And your droll first comment mentioning supermarket-aisle confusion reminds me of how the star of the “WALL-E” movie had trouble deciding whether a spork belonged in the spoon or fork slot!

  4. Very funny, Dave.

    “Meanwhile, there’s talk about whether rec-soccer games should have been played Sept. 30 on Yom Kippur. Thoughts?”

    Well, that discussion best be reserved for “The Conversation With the Jews”, or so says Philip Roth.

  5. Ha, silverleaf! I’m sure Philip Roth would hold up his end of the conversation. 🙂

    Tennis was THE sport in “Goodbye, Columbus” – which makes one wonder if CC’s sailors swatted balls between the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria…

  6. Dave – Basketball was THE sport in novel, I’d say. Brenda’s brother “Big Ron Patimkin” played hoops for Ohio State. Later in the story, he graduates, gets marrried and leaves Columbus, OH, hence the book’s title. I do remember the scene where Brenda plays tennis with a girl who attends Bennington.

  7. You’re right, silverleaf. I guess I read that novel too long ago. 🙂 Some tennis scenes in the book — perhaps between Brenda Patimkin and Neil Klugman, too? — but, now that you’ve reminded me, more of a basketball motif. You know literature!

  8. So Dave, if someone wants to celebrate Variance Day, would they need to notify all their neighbors within 200 feet ?

  9. That’s hilarious, Spiro! 🙂

    And at the Variance Day celebration you speak of, there would be only 20 parking spaces for the 40 invited guests…


    “Not a New World for Native-Americans. Our town was quite different back then, wasn’t it?”

    Signed: Aldous Huxley, James Fennimore Cooper, Thornton Wilder

  11. Clever, silverleaf! The writers of “Brave New World,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” and “Our Town”!

    Two or three years ago, I read all five of Cooper’s “Leatherstocking” novels, and actually liked “The Deerslayer” (in which Natty Bumppo is very young) more than “The Last of the Mohicans.”

    You probably know this, but Cooper’s father established Cooperstown — the New York burg that of course later became famous for its Baseball Hall of Fame.

  12. The star of “Being There”! A profound novel and movie. I know it should be obvious to me, but is there a Montclair connection or some another connection related to that character I should be seeing? Thanks, Frank!

  13. Chance’s simplicity is mistaken for wisdom. Hmm…what person or persons might that remind us of? 🙂

  14. Very good! Your 2 posts, together, summarized the book.

    PS: and yes, another local ‘kicker’ – a must read, short-form novel, for MPS this year.

  15. Thank you, Frank! If the Montclair school district is going to teach more shorter fiction than before, it could do worse than Jerzy Kosinski’s compelling novella. (Although “Being There,” at least to me, is one of the rare cases of the movie being better than the book it’s based on.) Still, teaching fewer medium-to-longer novels seems like a shame. We all read more than enough short things, especially online.

  16. “Being There,” at least to me, is one of the rare cases of the movie being better than the book

    Definitely, but a low bar.

    BTW, not a favorite of mine. It just seemed an appropriate reference since 52% of the voters could relate to Dr Allenby.

  17. True, Frank. As interesting as the book was to me, it wasn’t fleshed out enough. The edition I read (many years ago) had to have been less than 150 pages.

    Great point about Dr. Allenby! He saw Chance for what he is — an unsophisticated, mostly clueless man — even as many other people misinterpreted Chance’s simplistic talk as allegorical and profound.

  18. Quite a closing scene, Frank! It certainly got the attention of movie viewers, and could be interpreted in different ways. If any of Montclair’s 2020 mayoral candidates walk on Edgemont Pond, it could be an interesting race (for the geese, at least). 🙂

  19. Or, it could just be Hollywood desperately trying to be profound.

    None of the existing Council could do it, so it would really have to be a wildcard.

  20. Hollywood often DOES try to be profound (not always succeeding, of course). Hollywood also often attempts to surprise moviegoers with strange, controversial, and/or out-of-left-field endings that get people talking — whether those endings make sense or not.

    “None of the existing Council could do it, so it would really have to be a wildcard” — ha! 🙂 There ARE a few gardeners in town…

  21. Dave – Chance the gardener; reminds me of the name of my landscaper. Never know if or when he’ll be mowing my lawn. And at his prices, that’s ok by me.

  22. silverleaf, I loved your comment — and its deadpan last line was hilarious!

    When I owned a home in Montclair (I’m now in an apartment), I had absolutely no respect for the person who took care of my lawn. That person was…me. 🙂

  23. Hollywood profound? C’mon. That like arguing 7th Avenue is profound.
    That would put Miramax on par with Ohrbach’s. Wow. My brain is locked-up.

  24. Ohrbach’s a blast from the past, Frank. Miramax thinking of a name change as Miriam and Max rolling over right now. Harvey the Dinosaur’s mea culpa’s as hollow as his morality.

  25. Frank, I hear you and you’re almost totally right. But once in a while I think Hollywood does get profound — sort of the “even a broken clock is correct twice a day” syndrome.

    Greatly enjoyed your Seventh Avenue comparison! I suppose Bruce Springsteen found Tenth Avenue profound, in a freeze-out sort of way…

  26. Well said, silverleaf! Harvey Weinstein is indeed a disgrace, as are other sexual harassers/predators such as Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, and Donald Trump. Yet one was elected President. Sick.

  27. Dave – I was thinking, “Seventh Avenue Freeze Out” performed by Tommy Gambino & the Garment District Five.”

  28. Ha ha, silverleaf!!! That could be the best performance since “Monster Mash” by Boris Pickett and the Crypt-Kicker Five!

  29. Oops — that was Boris Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers. Not sure they had five members. But they did have five sore toes on each foot…

  30. Right, Dave . . . “Monster Mash” was a big hit back in ’62. The great Leon Russell played piano on that recording.

  31. “Absolutely, just not 280 housing units along with it. Perhaps a few igloos in the frozen-food aisle.”

    How about 280 Accessory Dwelling Units?

  32. “How about 280 Accessory Dwelling Units?” Hmm. Maybe throughout the town, but not all near Lackawanna Plaza.

    Actually, Frank, I have mixed feelings about ADUs. More affordable than some other kinds of housing, which is nice, but many ADUs in houses or on the properties of houses could increase Montclair’s already maxed-out school population.

  33. I obviously don’t. It will kill property values in the R-0 & R-1 zones. Anything ½ mile within MSU will be converted to university housing. I’m not worried about the schools in the least. They will go downhill on their own.

    Overall, one of the dumbest and ill-informed concepts I’ve heard in decades. And we’re doing it to retain 3-5% of the population over 70 because they enrich our lives. God bless us!

  34. Frank, I had been pretty sure your first comment about ADUs was sort of tongue-in-cheek, but I chose to answer it seriously. Thanks for the follow-up thoughts.

  35. Dave,

    Remember not too long ago when I mentioned developers come in many shapes & sizes? Well, add the proponents of Accessory Dwelling Units.

    The ADU ordinance offer owners of single-family households a new income-producing opportunity equivalent to subdividing their lot. This is in addition to the right to lodge 2 unrelated people in the primary residence. This is all in the single-family R-0 and R-1 Zones because that is where the extra capacity is. Most of Montclair. Oh well.

    The part I love the best is the original sin. That is where the Council & the Planning Board got together and said Montclair needs to grow, but we are going to grow the commercial zones with mixed use. The residential zones would be sacrosanct.

    Now, we are going to divide the R-1 zones, but use a metric that doesn’t count it as divided.
    You really have to have a developer’s mindset to come up with this one. Credit to where it is due.

    So, conversion of garages will be one way to go. Move the cars out of the garages – garages that are often 2′-6′ from the property line. Add a Home Depot storage shed for the tools, etc in the rear yard. Now we’ll Big Yellow Taxi the front yard, rear & side yard for more parking & driveways. Liking it.

    PS: I don’t see how any to this impacts the school enrollments. I just made a reference because you did.

  36. Accessory Dwelling Units certainly have their drawbacks, Frank, which you knowledgeably listed. Yet a limited number would be better for Montclair than the rampant downtown overdevelopment currently going on. At least ADUs are less expensive for tenants, and the income from them could keep some struggling homeowners in town. Of course, it would be nice if Montclair had a greater number of affordable housing of other kinds — such as modestly priced apartments.

    While ADUs might not bring in a lot of new students, there could be some — say, from a single parent with one kid in an ADU.

  37. What is the problem we are trying to solve for?

    Financial help for struggling homeowners? More low-cost rentals? Aging In Place? MSU Housing?

    Limited number?

    There are no limits proposed. Anywhere in any R-0 or R-1 zone.

  38. Excellent questions, Frank.

    In response to your first bold-faced question, I’d love to see more lower-cost rentals — which could also help struggling homeowners (I was one until I moved from a Montclair house to a Montclair apartment three years ago) and help aging residents stay in town. All that doesn’t necessarily need ADUs to be attempted. Montclair State housing? I tend to feel the university should take care of that need — it has certainly built a lot of on-campus housing in recent years.

    Your second question? You may be right that if ADUs are allowed, the number could not be limited. I don’t know enough about that to say for sure.


  39. The lowest common denominator… every group wants development of some type. Developers obviously want development. Empty nesters & Seniors want options tailored to their needs. Municipal government wants development. Even the Environmental Commission wants development. New/old guard. Young/old. Right/left. None want to talk numbers. Why is that?

  40. I hear you, Frank. But there is smart development and dumb development. (Well, maybe not dumb for the developers making a financial killing.) Development can be 1) modest in size, 2) look good, 3) not be just for the affluent, and so on. In Montclair, often a fail in all three of those criteria.

  41. Christopher Court is a perfect example of Smart Development. It’s problem was it was ahead of its time.

    That lot density is now approaching compatibility with the mainstream thinking in town. Funny, but the proposed ADU concept is the same density as Crisco. Do the math.

    I was just thinking about the designs of the homes at 44 Pleasant Avenue that the Planning Board approved this year. With a few permit-free modifications, these homes are ADU-ready.

  42. Frank, I guess Christopher Court looks somewhat smart compared to the huge things going up downtown, but I respectively disagree that CC was/is smart development.

    First of all, a historic structure (The Marlboro Inn, partly dating back to the 1840s) surrounded by lots of open space was demolished to make way for CC. One can argue about the struggling Inn’s viability at the time, but there could have been some kind of respectful alternative — turning the building into a museum, turning it into some kind of housing while keeping its shell and some of its interior, etc.

    Also, too many houses (10) were crammed into that space (which I used to live two blocks from). If the Inn was going to go, perhaps six houses would have been better. Probably still profitable, albeit not as profitable, for the developer. Plus the 10 large houses were plunked into a residential neighborhood, where they look way out of scale.

    CC was indeed kind of prescient — helping set the template for overdevelopment to come. But I don’t think that’s a good thing. Overdevelopment seems to be mainstream thinking for developers and many town officials, but I don’t think its mainstream thinking for residents in general.

    End of rant. 🙂 Sorry I went on like that.

  43. Oops — “its” should be “it’s” in “I don’t think it’s mainstream thinking for residents in general.”

  44. Christopher Court is where Montclair began to go wrong. It is completely out of place for the area. Worse of all, it set the direction for years to come.

  45. Well said, Pete, and I totally agree! When a certain developer got permission to build the hulking Christopher Court, he and other developers undoubtedly figured they could now get away with almost anything. Making parts of Montclair way too crowded? No problem when there’s profit to be maximized. 🙁

    Funny aside about wurst!

  46. Frank, one more error by me: I should have written “respectfully,” not “respectively.” And, again, sorry about the rant nature of my comment. The Marlboro Inn/Christopher Court situation of a dozen years ago still gets me upset.

  47. No need whatsoever to apologize. I applaud your passion and nothing was offensive.

    We’ve covered our respective ‘preserve or not’ arguments and Goldilocks’s densities.
    It is actually Smart Development. Yes, bastardized (or evolved?) from its origins. A catch-all phrase that means nothing.

    Homeowner to Zoning Board: I want to subdivide my lot and redevelop the new lot.

    Zoning Board: Is it your intent to follow Smart Development or the Dumb Development principles?

    Homeowner: Well, Smart Development is prohibitively expensive and really doesn’t apply under Euclidian zoning. By definition, following current zoning & land use ordinances is dumb development. So, I am asking for variances so I can follow neither, still make some money, and not rock the local boat.

    Zoning Board: OK, but you have to put in more trees.

  48. Thanks, Frank!

    Interesting — I guess Smart Development, with a capital S and D, is indeed a catch-all phrase that can encompass smart development and not-so-smart development.

    And your homeowner/zoning board conversation was a perfect combination of serious and hilarious!

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