In Other Development News, Montclair Board of Adjustment Considers Two New Plofker Projects


Montclair developer Steven Plofker didn’t have a project application before the Montclair Board of Adjustment at its November 8 meeting.  He had two project applications.

The first was actually a continuation of his application for a new office/retail building proposed for the southeast corner of Grove and Walnut Streets, hearings for which commenced on October 11.  Architect Paul Sionas guided the zoning board and local residents through an explanation of a design that features a two-story L-shaped building with 9,440 square feet of space per floor; all of the space on the second floor would be for offices, while 5,497 square feet on the west side of the first floor would be for retail and the remaining 3,493 feet on the east side for offices.  The property would have three main pedestrian plazas, including a plaza on the southeast corner of the two streets, and the parking lot would have 50 spaces with landscaped medians to break up the pavement.

The reason it is before the zoning board is because it takes up space in three existing lots, each one in a different zone.  Most of the proposed project is in the NC zone, where a car rental office and car service center now sits, with a wooden-frame house on the edge of the area in the R-2 zone (the property of which also includes an asphalt-covered back yard and a garage), and a thin wedge of property in the C-2 zone currently occupied by a new-closed car wash.   Plofker attorney Alan Trembulak explained he and his client are seeking three “D” variances, one to permit the R-2 property for parking (R2 zone), one to permit the first-floor office space, and another to allow 50 spaces instead of the minimum requirement of 82.

A view of Montclair developer Steven Plofker’s mixed use office-retail building on Grove and Walnut Streets, from the northwest corner of the two streets.

Plofker defended the set-back, suburban-style design of his building, which Sionas designed in the trademark industrial style of many of his Montclair buildings, saying the block of Grove Street between Walnut Street and Claremont Avenue will never truly be a pedestrian area because it doesn’t feel like one – a condition he said was due to the warehouse across Grove Street currently occupied by the Northwest Essex Community Healthcare Network  and the auto body shop and the railroad tracks that are nearby.  He explained his proposal in response to board members who wanted the building to meet the sidewalk with the parking in the back by saying that people, who park in the rear would, under those circumstances, just use the rear entrances, and that front entrances along Grove Street would be fake.  By setting it back and providing front parking along with front entrances, Plofker said, he was keeping the design honest.

Plofker and Sionas did show a few alternate designs, including a traditional storefront design, which he said would provide 100 fewer square feet. His other alternatives include an L-shaped building facing Walnut Street with the footprint reversed, an extra parking space, and 8,949 square feet per floor in lieu of 9,440 square feet, which he said was less opening, while a more rectangular design pushed northward, with a smaller L wing, struck him as not being architecturally interesting enough.  He also wished to preserve a parking lot design that would allow equal access to the parking lot from both streets, rather than confine access to one street.

Board Vice Chair Joseph Fleischer rejected the idea that the project couldn’t be pedestrian-friendly.  He said Plofker was assuming anyone accessing the building would do so by car, but he found it perfectly conceivable that someone could access the building on foot coming down Grove Street from the nearby residential neighborhoods.   Board member Logan LaVail said that he too preferred aligning the front façade with the sidewalk.  Plofker did appreciate advice from board member John McCullough, though, when McCullough suggested heated sidewalks along the building’s perimeter (with the assumption that it would be set back from the street) to melt winter snow; such sidewalks are a popular feature in developments built in Michigan.  Plofker admitted that he hadn’t thought of such an idea but conceded that it was a good one.   Among the residents, Carmel Loughman, who is a planning Board member but was speaking only on her own behalf, said the design was not right for a neighborhood commercial district so close to a residential area.

Montclair developer Steven Plofker’s proposed townhouse along Plymouth Street on property currently owned by the FIrst Congregational Church. The lot has a South Fullerton Avenue address, despite the Plymouth Street frontage.

Plofker’s other project, which he and Sionas introduced at this meeting, was a pair of two-unit townhouses along Plymouth Street on open land currently belonging to the First Congregational Church on South Fullerton Avenue.  The townhouses, which Plofker believes would appeal to older Montclair residents who wish to downsize and remain in town, would require a variance to allow them to be built in the R-1 zone.   Also, the church is a non-conforming use, and subdividing the property would “intensify the non-conforming use” and would so need relief from the zoning board due to the zoning for detached houses.

Sionas said the church had considered developing the land in 2008 but decided not to sell the property.   In 2016, the church looked into subdividing the property and selling the land; it had considered selling land along The Crescent in the R-4 zone and moving the playground run by the nursery school renting space from the church, but the Historic Preservation Commission said it would obstruct views of the church sanctuary.  The church instead looked at selling the land along Plymouth Street to create a new lot for townhouses.  The proposed townhouses would be 3,800 square feet each with a motor court between two subterranean entrances facing each other on the sides.  The design is of two brick and stone structures with slate roofs to serve as a transition between the single-family houses on Plymouth Street and the church.

Plofker has been in contact with Plymouth Street residents in trying to formulate a plan that can satisfy both him and the residents, and he has proposed an alternate plan that would create a one-way access drive to the church parking lot from the Crescent, with the existing access drive to the lot from Plymouth Street becoming a one-way egress.   Vice Chair Fleischer, who ran the meeting in the absence of Chair William Harrison (who left early), was concerned about the large massing of the project, and one Crescent resident was afraid of the alternate plan causing engine noise and exhaust from cars accessing the church parking lot if the Crescent entrance were to be built.

Both applications are being continued for the December 20 meeting.  In the meantime, the board approved a small Victorian-style front porch for the Clinton Avenue home of John and Elizabeth Thomas.  The Thomases wanted the porch for enough room to access the front door as opposed to the current wooden staircase, and they also wanted the porch to conform to the aesthetics of their neighbors’ houses.   A bulk variance was granted to allow the porch to protrude farther out from the house.

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  1. This building is arranged as an island with an American flag marking its self-importance. Protected by restraining walls, a 2-story blank wall, an asphalt moat and a half dozen strategically placed trees to block the tenant’s view of ‘offensive’ parts of Grove & Walnut Streets. It is not attempting to contribute to the area’s improvement, but to separate itself from Grove Street’s ‘pedestrian wasteland’ South of Walnut. It’s orientation is solely to maximize the vistas for the tenants, not for pedestrians or residents of the neighborhood.

    The fact that the new Township Design Review Committee put forth design changes that make it measurably worse is, combined with their other efforts like the Lorraine Ave redesign and the Orange St Parking Deck, the third strike for this body.

    The Township should not be in the design business. Review, critique, approve, reject – yes. Design no. Land use approval bodies should not design. This was one of the past, rightful criticisms of the Historic Preservation Commisssion by Township officials and the other boards.

    For the Township to support the developer’s request for 3 major variances and many lesser ones to follow, along with ignoring several lynchpins in our Master Plan, is sending a terrible signal to both the neighborhood and development throughout town.

  2. And why we’re on the subject, Mr Plofker is 100% right that Grove across from his project is a bad pedestrian experience. The Township could do better by the neighborhood on this West side of Grove Street (between Walnut & the railroad tracks) without great expense.

    A proper sidewalk and a green buffer with a few trees, maybe another street light, a polite request to the commercial property owner to put a fresh coat of paint, in an appropriate color, on their building’s walls – maybe even their cooperation to allow the Arts Council to encourage a street mural on the vocational school building wall?

  3. “Grove across from his project is already a bad pedestrian experience.” – Pfloker

    So frustrating that existing bad pedestrian conditions are part of Pflqoker’s justification for building new non-pedestrian structures. What!!! If that were the rationale taken than no street or neighborhood that was badly designed could ever become well designed. Let’s just give up then.

    Instead, why not see this as the opportunity that it is, to extend the revitalizing core Walnut area up to this intersection. Change begets change and by making that intersection a place pedestrians and shoppers can actually enjoy outside of their cars…then more interest and retail and real estate buzz will be generated. Two of those four corners already have a nice streetscape feel with The Corner restaurant being packed all weekend long and the diagonal corner with Panzanno’s Pizzeria and Noce restaurant. I think the owners of The Corner are doing something with the large building next to them as well. All of the places are right up to the sidewalk with parking in the back. Could be a great little intersection…I would love to see some of the alternative designs which place the parking in the back.

  4. “Grove across from his project is already a bad pedestrian experience.”

    For the accuracy, this quote should be attributed to me. I was characterizing the reporting of his comments in above paragraph four. While I think a fair characterization, the readers should note they are my words.

  5. Whether you like Plofker or not you have to admit his projects tend to be of quality more appealing than most other development in town. Montclair is going to be developed whether some people like it or not. I would like to see the critics put up some of their own money and do something better.

  6. flipside,

    It’s not about Mr Plofker himself. If Walnut Grove Partners, Llc & Greenwood Partners, Llc wasn’t asking for 3 big variances and a handful of others, I’d say “have at it, free market, etc, etc.”

    But, these development corporations are asking taxpayers for financial concessions. That is what variances essentially are. So, in short, we do have our money on the table. For these variances, taxpayers are must derive benefits above and beyond what developments, within code, would provide (e.g increased ratables). Since we are not deriving any financial gain from the variances requested, it comes down to best use of the land.

    There is no doubt in my mind these corporations could put up a conforming building and make money. Instead, they want to use a residential lot for commercial accessory use, degrade key features we want in a Neighborhood Commercial zone and be allowed 32 less cars than the 82 required, yet make it a car-centric project. The big pushback is on one thing: that the building front the streets and still give him a generous setback to design around. That’s our one & only big benefit. Walnut Grove Partners, Llc & Greenwood Partners, Llc doesn’t want to concede to this request…a request from several members of the Zoning Board.

  7. Point well taken Frank but the cat seems to be already out of the bag in Montclair center. BTW, I am sure you know…who pays for the extra cops at the new hotel?

  8. townie:
    I like the building, too.

    Agree about MC. However, there is still hope for the Neighborhood Commercial zones.
    Yes, the police, fire, etc is will be paid for by the hotel room tax.

  9. Gateway 1 lives on. Stay tuned for another amendment shortly.

    Gee, the amendment provides a great location for an Assisted Living facility.

  10. “Interesting question for the planning board members…If this was not a redevelopment area, what zoning would this amendment most closely approximate?”

    This new amendment to the Gateway 1 (Centro-Verde / MC Hotel) is an excellent example of where a Council initiates & advances developer’s interests that undercut their own strategic Gateway vision. This amendment really makes no sense under the vision. I also doubt they see why.

    A classic case of government bodies taking their urban design cues from developers combined with the inability to see the forest for the the trees. It is a shame.

    What is the point of us working with a local Pinnacle Cos? I thought it was for some strategic & tactical synergy. Clearly not. Foreseeable tactical complications resulting in an increasingly demising vision. We picked the game and its rules. Unfortunately, we could not legislate a prohibition from losing.

  11. 320 Orange Rd will be the South End’s Williams-Sonoma Bldg. The Development Review Committee strikes again. And the 4th Ward was worried about a silly new water well.

  12. Montclair Character…AT&T style. And I am an AT&T subscriber! Well, maybe I’ll consider the ends justify the means. Yes, that’s it! Phew! Value system intact.

  13. Kit also beats getting sued by these people….again! You just gotta love the ‘deer in the headlights’ look.

  14. I don’t have a problem with the design if the design is good and in character in redevelopment projects, instead I may not agree with the allowed heights and volumes.

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