The Montclair Planning Board finally got its hearings under way for the Lackawanna Plaza application, submitted by Pinnacle and Hampshire, at its March 12 meeting. The board spent three hours receiving testimony from project architect Bruce Stieve and engineer Kevin Webb, but it was unable to hear testimony about the parking. Webb, however, did go into some detail about the quantity of parking spaces in the plan and how they would be accessed from Glenridge Avenue and Grove Street. Stieve focused on the basic look of the project, which includes a rehabilitation of the old Lackawanna Plaza railway terminal and a new four-story apartment building on the parcel on the eastern side of Grove Street.
Stieve’s testimony was familiar to anyone who had attended the Historic Preservation Committee meeting a month earlier, albeit with some recommendations from HPC. A new grocery store would have a new façade and be set back farther from the current façade facing the parking lot in front of Bloomfield Avenue on the western parcel, with elements from the terminal’s train shed incorporated in a canopy. A portion of the platforms would be torn out and re-used in the reconstruction of the shopping center. Of the 98 steel columns in the train shed, 47 would remain in place, with 21 of them re-used as part of the new entrance for the grocery store, and four will be reused as part of a new bus shelter on Bloomfield Avenue in place of the current one. Also, Stieve included in the sidewalk paving a separate pattern to identify where the railroad tracks used to be. The HPC asked that entry points be more vividly designed to be more prominent, per HPC recommendations, to emphasize the building’s past as a railway terminal.
The grocery store is to be 43,495 square feet, with additional retail space between its southwestern corner and the Pig & Prince restaurant and first-floor office space facing Lackawanna Plaza, with a staircase from the western side of Grove Street leading to the parking lot. The new four-story apartment building on the eastern parcel is to have 154 units and a parking garage below the level of Grove Street, the latter topped by a deck with a swimming pool. Vehicular access to the garage and to an outdoor parking lot behind it would be from Glenridge Avenue, and a rear entrance lobby accessible from Glenridge Avenue would complement a front entrance at Grove Street. The architectural style would closely emulate the railway terminal, with gables and mansards along the façade and strategically placed stepbacks and setbacks to break up the bulk. A tower at the southeastern corner of Glenridge Avenue and Grove Street would facilitate the transition between the residential and commercial components of the project.
Board Chairman John Wynn had questions about the particulars of Stieve’s design, inquiring about the idea to feature seating in the pedestrian space along the allée from the supermarket to Pig & Prince. Stieve had left out seating in that area, which the HPC would like to see livened up by pedestrian activity, and Chairman Wynn, responding to Stieve’s explanation that he can’t anticipate the tenants who would use the retail space between Pig & Prince and the supermarket (the front entrances of which would be on the opposite side, facing Lackawanna Plaza) , suggested that baseline of outdoor seating be used. Board attorney Dennis Gelvin offered a simple suggestion of establishing two basic plans for outdoor seating in the allée – one for restaurants using the new retail space, another for other businesses using it. Stieve said he could work out a plan for either scenario.
Also, Planning Director Janice Talley reminded Stieve of the need to come up with a plan to offer 20 percent affordable housing in the new apartment building, with the appropriate mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units. Stieve said that would be forthcoming. Resident Lisanne Renner, in public questioning, asked Steive about activating the water display in the historic horse trough, which would be moved to an expanded pedestrian space on the northeast corner of Lackawanna Plaza and Bloomfield Avenue. Short of a traditional fountain, Stieve said he was looking at “different options.”
Webb explained the new parking lots, saying the plan conforms to the C-1 zone requirements involving lot area, lot width, front yard, building height, and building density. The parking area between Lackawanna Plaza and the train shed area would feature 31 spaces with the main lot in the west parcel featuring 226 spaces, for a total of 257 spaces. The eastern parcel would have 230 spaces in total with 130 spaces in the apartment parking garage, and TD Bank’s parking lot would have 17 spaces. Webb told the board that the applicant is seeking a variance to allow 83 parking spaces directly in front of Bloomfield Avenue despite the farther setback of the supermarket. A second variance is need to allow 504 parking spaces in both parcels – 487 spaces for the project plus TD Bank’s 17 – when a minimum of 811 are required. Also, Webb would like permission for 9 x 18-foot-size parking spaces when 9 x 19 foot spaces are normally preferred.
Among the improvements Webb would like to include are a new entrance to the western-parcel parking lot from Bloomfield Avenue placed father way from the intersection with Grove Street and a new entrance from Grove Street itself across from a Grove Street entrance into the TD Bank lot. Chairman Wynn said this could cause difficulties for motorists making left turns off Grove Street from opposite directions. Board member Carmel Loughman was also concerned about trucks using the loading dock behind Glenridge Avenue and suggested ways to ensure they would not go into the residential neighborhoods. Other people expressed doubts about the re-use of the pedestrian tunnel that used to connect motorists parking on the east-parcel lot to the old Pathmark; the current plan is to restrict access to residents of the apartment building for security reasons.
There was still much to be sorted out, including shared parking and landscaping, and at 11 p.m., Chairman Wynn declared the board had gone as far as it could for the night. The application is to be carried over to the board’s April 9 meeting.