The long-awaited plans for the redevelopment of Hackensack University Center-Mountainside are finally coming into focus, as representatives from the hospital center and their architects and traffic experts met with the Montclair Development Review Committee (DRC) on March 8 to go over their plans before their application is formally heard by the Montclair Planning Board on March 26.
The presentation of the design for the 45,735-square-foot medical office building along Bay Avenue was straightforward, as architect Allen Kopelson showed the DRC a straightforward three-story box building with a cast-stone first floor and two upper stories clad in pre-fabricated brick. Kopelson said the design was meant to emulate but not copy the hospital across the street, and he said his design had the backing of the Glen Ridge Historic Preservation Commission. The office building, which would replace the old nursing school presently on the site, is to be 42 feet in height with an additional seven feet of screening to hide mechanical equipment. A canopy would line the path from the drop-off point to the front entrance.
John Fromhold, CEO of Hackensack UMC-Mountainside, said the project would improve health care in the Montclair-Glen Ridge area and keep medical jobs in the vicinity. He said the plan relies on expanded parking facilities, including a new lot along Walnut Crescent where it crosses into Glen Ridge and becomes Highland Avenue. The new lot would have valet parking, with 121 regular spaces and 13 handicapped spaces, and would be staffed by a valet service. It would provide parking for emergency patients and offer extensive hours to accommodate emergency-room (ER) stays, from 7 A.M. to 11 P.M. Most of the remaining houses standing on the property will eventually be demolished. The valet service, Fromhold said, has a reputation for efficiency and can get cars in and out expeditiously.
Planning Director Janice Talley asked Fromhold about the cost of valet parking. Fromhold said it would be free, with help from security for ER patients to leave during after-hour periods. He said it would help people dropping off patients for the ER, encouraging people to use valet service rather than trying to find a space on their own. Members of the DRC, though, said they would like to see more signage pertaining to the available valet service, and they also suggested a better system that would enable patients to retrieve their cars after hours. Although the 13 handicapped spaces seemed unnecessary in light of valets parking cars for both the abled and the disabled, DRC member and parking consultant Gerard Giosa pointed out that the disabled prefer to park their own cars because of special equipment in their vehicles that they don’t want anyone else to use.
Parking engineer Brad Bohler of Bohler Engineering went over the layout of the parking lot for the medical office building, which Fromhold said would be only for office building employees and patients. Valet parking would be available in the northwest corner of the lot, behind Roswell Terrace along the Montclair-Glen Ridge border, but the DRC was unsure about the thin median strip separating the valet lot form the rest of the parking. They suggested a line of cones as an alternative. Bohler also addressed the issue of trash dumpsters in the far northwest corner of the building, saying they would not cause a problem for parked cars at pickup times, and that they did not expect the lot to be filled with cars to encumber refuse collection. As this parking lot would be restricted to business office building users, the plan is to have the lot gated and give validation tickets to people doing business in or working in the building; anyone who parks there for another reason would have to pay a fee. The gate and the fee, taken together, would act as a deterrent to parking in the office building lot without employment or an appointment in the building.
The DRC did have a problem with one element of Bohler’s design – the placement of parking spaces for compact cars in front of the building, along Bay Avenue. They suggested that Bohler move them farther away, and Bohler said he could place them in a less conspicuous area of the lot at a width of nine feet apart. Including a one-foot overhang, the spaces should be 18 feet deep and be able to accommodate small cars away from Bay Avenue.
The new parking lot would have an entrance/exit point intersecting with Walnut Crescent and Bay Avenue, where a new traffic signal would be installed. Rianna Kirchhof of Atlantic Traffic + Design said the signals would regulate and control the flow of traffic in and out of the parking lot as it enters the already busy intersection at the northwest corner of the hospital. Kirchhof said, though, that the flow of traffic through Walnut Crescent from Claremont Avenue would necessitate barring left turns from Claremont Avenue onto Walnut Crescent going away from the hospital complex, and she said doing that would otherwise make it dangerous for both anyone wanting to turn left and cars coming up Walnut Crescent from Bay Avenue. An all-way stop zone at Claremont Avenue and Walnut Crescent is a possibility, but it could lead to serious backups between Walnut Crescent and Bay Avenue. Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman William Harrison noted another dilemma – Kirchhof’s findings that 112 cars would likely exit the parking lot at peak times. He said the average number of departing motorists calculated by the study might not work in practice as opposed to theory, if the cars leaving aren’t spaced perfectly between lights.
The meeting concluded with the prospective applicants taking the various suggestions and concerns of the DRC into account in advance of their airing of the project at the March 26 Planning Board meeting. That meeting is scheduled to be at the Montclair Fire Department headquarters on Pine Street, not far away from the hospital complex.