MontClairVoyant: Superintendent-Themed Column Is Supersized With Other Topics


Before you discuss the Feb. 26 superintendent-finalists forum and a possible new Bellevue Theatre, what about the never-ending gun massacres that moved students to plan March 14 walkouts in Montclair and elsewhere?

Age of Rage

The NRA has bought so many right-wing politicians that FedEx ran out of envelopes in which to deliver them.


A cautious Feb. 22 email from Montclair’s interim superintendent expressed concern for the safety of Montclair students walking out on March 14. Comment?

Tim Idity

Puh-leeze. THE safety issue is students getting gunned down in schools. They already go out for lunch, recess, field trips, fire drills, and FedEx envelopes imprinted with the shapes of Trump, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, etc. Collect them all!


The email also expressed concern about Montclair students who might not walk out. Thoughts?

Tim Idity Jr.

Hard to imagine any student being against protesting possible death in this gun-saturated country, but they’re perfectly welcome to stay inside. One possible indoor activity: guessing NRA chief Wayne LaPierre’s huge salary.


You’re getting too serious. Can we have a joke interlude?

Win One for the Quipper

What’s black and white and red all over? Tuxedo-wearing NRA supporters with blood on their hands.


Not funny. What’s your problem?

Therapists Are Standing By

It’s heartbreaking to think about the parents of slain Florida students. I’ve been there — losing a child (though not to gun violence). Countries with fewer guns have fewer gun massacres. Look at Australia! Well, you COULD look at Australia if Valley & Bloom wasn’t in the way.


Speaking of downtown overbuilding, there’s talk about limiting the height of future additions to the Bloomfield Avenue skyline. A welcome idea?

Up, Up, and Astray

Sure, but not a popular notion among developers and many Montclair officials. Also, with various too-tall projects already built or approved, the horse has left the barn — and opened the trendy restaurant Hay & Oats.


Then there’s the proposal for a rather large new building on Park Street off Watchung Plaza. What will happen if it goes up?

All Along the Watchungtower

Traffic at the nearby intersection will go from crazy to cray-cray. Fortunately, that part of Park has a handy-dandy hardware store for buying brooms to sweep up accident debris.


Another proposal, for Upper Montclair’s business district, would bring movies back to the beautiful Bellevue Theatre building — along with a restaurant and bar! Thoughts?

Historic and Herstoric

Sounds a bit fancy but…bring it on! I’d love to see a cinema there again. Heck, adult beverages could help parents sit through certain kid films.


Like “Boss Baby”! Will today’s column now FINALLY discuss the Feb. 26 public forum featuring our school district’s three superintendent finalists?

High Drama at Montclair High

Yes! The event was well-attended. Rough guess: 152.5 people there.


Who’s the half person?

The Partial Arts

I was slouching in my seat.


The forum questions were good, but many important ones were sadly left out because the Board of Education required all public queries to be pre-submitted — and then used only some of them. An example of that?

Edgar Allan Podium

Montclair Cares About Schools sent in questions on topics such as standardized testing, homework, and recess — none of which were asked. Also left out was my nap-related query about standardized resting.


All three finalists have impressive backgrounds. Who do you favor?

I.M. Puttingyouonthespot

Dr. Kendra Johnson and Rachel Goldberg seem to most share the progressive pedagogical vision of many Montclairites skeptical of anything that hints of unloved education “reform.” Hints from Heloise (use lots of vinegar!) are better.

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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    You always complain about over-development and building heights here. But where were you when the nine story hotel was approved back in 2008? That’s more than two Council administrations ago? You lived here then. Now it’s finally being built. So why didn’t you go wild back then and also try to stop that monster Valley and Bloom development nearby. That’s 6 stories and also approved in 2008? And it’s the ugliest facade we have.

    Aren’t you guilty too of letting the horse out of the barn? And now you’re being Johnny come lately since people are already working to keep all new building heights down. Didn’t a town board just vote to hold all new commercial builds to four stories now throughout the downtown? What’s wrong with that?

    If you’re going to lead our charge…you really can’t do it from behind.

  2. Thanks for your comment, spotontarget. Well said, but…

    I’ve been criticizing overdevelopment since I began my column in 2003 — more than 14 years ago. Many of my early pieces opposed The Marlboro Inn being demolished for the 10 too-big Christopher Court houses. And I’ve opposed the size of Valley & Bloom and the height of that hotel since I first heard about those projects.

    I can’t say my columns have had any impact against overbuilding (my writing has the power of a gnat compared to developers 🙂 ), but I’ve tried. Sorry — I’m not a “Johnny come lately” on this issue.

  3. And now you’re being Johnny come lately since people are already working to keep all new building heights down. Didn’t a town board just vote to hold all new commercial builds to four stories now throughout the downtown? What’s wrong with that?

    OMG! You think the new Zoning Ordinance rewrite is about keeping downtown to 4 stories? You couldn’t;t be further from the truth even if you were Donald Trump. Even “The Half” of the Planning Board figured this out the other night with the Washington Ave subdivision application. BTW, I was in attendance watching as it dawned over “The Half”. Can you say hoodwinked? Not pretty when a unanimous board losses it.

    Anyway, this new Zoning rewrite is strongly pro-growth. It plays up on limiting height downtown because it is the equivalent of giving a free Big Mac to voters. Throw a Trumpian sparkly ball up in the air, watch the Progressives ooh & aah.

    It’s the rest of the changes – or didn’t change the ordinance that is what will accelerate growth.
    The Board said through out the odyssey we called the Master Plan rewrite that residential zones were sacrosanct. Well, Johnny Come Latelys, here is your chance for redemption. They aren’t sacrosanct now. Time to cash in people.

  4. Seriocomically written, Frank!

    I have to study up on the zoning rewrite discussion, but, in general, it is indeed a classic move to offer a glittery “concession” while giving certain interests (such as developers and pro-overbuilding officials) much of what they crave.

    Personally, I don’t crave Big Macs… 🙂

  5. Well said Frank Rubacky. I believe the re-zoning modifications will get a second look now by the Planning Board, since the zoning sub-committee did not fully recognize the full impact of a “pro-growth” and potential sub-division outcome from their reworking our residential districts.

    Our Planner has maintained such a pro-development policy inclination. So you are correct. The height reduction created in the CBD — along with her explanation that modifying the front and side yard setbacks in residential districts to more average numbers would make it easier for residents to expand without obtaining variances — did not take into consideration new sub-divisions and knockdowns — as an ancillary result. It could have even been her underlying intention.

    Some reconsideration of this is warranted IMHO?

  6. Thank you Martin. I hope you’re right the proposed ordinance is re-examined.

    Since you have rejoined us here, some comments about the Lackawanna Plaza development plan. I know you can’t speak to it, so no need to respond.

    First, as a FYI, is a fantastic program. Just brilliant for mobility in Montclair. Healthcare is our one of the biggest, if not biggest sector here.

    Second, I hope you will look favorably on the developer’s application. I retract my objection to the roadway reservation issue and the developer is addressing activation of the Lackawanna Plaza elevation. The parking variance doesn’t bother me based on the location & unique circumstances. I think a parking variance will yield numerous public benefits in maximizing land use and advancing mobility. The lighting plan shows levels well under the standards the PB set for redevelopment areas. The design is attractive. The uses are typical and customary. In short, I have no complaints and support it.

  7. Thank you for your knowledgeable take on that, Martin!

    I guess it’s relatively easy and “magnanimous” for a subcommittee or planner to suggest limiting the height of future Central Business District construction when so much has already been built or approved in recent years. Meanwhile, as you allude to, there can be intended or unintended overdevelopment consequences elsewhere in town.

    Thanks again!

  8. Frank, I agree that the latest Lackawanna Plaza proposal is better than previous ones. But I’d still prefer LP to be totally commercial, without the (now-reduced) housing component. Downtown and Montclair in general already have plenty of pricey housing.

  9. Dave as a philosophy not specific to any one project — without added housing to the downtown…you do not have more bodies to shop and buy to support more “commercial” activity — which you agree is good. I believe that is the synergistic theory to support adding more ratables. And as discussed a number of times, these multi-buildings appear not to add much to the school rolls…as they draw mostly empty nesters down-scaling and millennials.

    Frank, without pre-commenting on the Lackawanna project now coming before us for a full hearing shortly — I can repeat my public comment made and printed in the Montclair Local which I said at the Development Review Committee — after seeing the then revised proposal:

    “It’s a good start,” Schwartz said of the revised downsized Lackawanna plan. “It’s a very good start.”

  10. Martin,

    I think the rightly or wrongly perceived proclivities of the Planner is not new. What I was taken aback by was the Planning Boards actions. The Planner had this draft up for discussion and a possible vote Dec 18. The PB consensus was that more time was needed to study and would send questions/comments to her before the next scheduled discussion. In the interim, I had pointed out here how extensive the scope of the changes were compared to how it was characterized in your session. 50% of the lots in the Northern half of Up Mtc would adjusted down their minimum lot frontages.

    The next scheduled discussion was Jan 22. The Planner pointed out then she had not received any questions/comments from the members. The PB said it had none and voted to recommend the draft to the Council. Needless to say I just shook my head.

  11. Dave,

    My viewpoint on residential vs commercial is similar to Martin’s.

    I’m also an advocate of organic development vs planned redevelopment. Let the market determine what should go in within the rights granted by ordinance. Redevelopment has its place, but as we have seen, the law grants the developer the right to say, thanks but no thanks. The law was written this way for a reason.

  12. Thanks, Martin! I hear you about the synergism of adding more residents to shop at new stores, but there are plenty of new residents already in the downtown (at The Siena and Valley & Bloom, for instance) or coming (in the Seymour development, for instance). The Seymour-development residents would have a very short walk to shop at Lackawanna Plaza, if they chose not to drive.

    Apartment complexes may very well bring proportionately fewer students to Montclair schools than single-family houses do. But there have been and will be some renting families with school-aged children — not just millennials and empty-nesters. This is anecdotal, but the Montclair apartment complex I live in has at least eight school-aged children (including my daughter) in roughly 70 units. And those are just the kids I’m aware of.

  13. Thanks, Frank! All or most of the recent downtown development doesn’t feel organic to me. More driven by developers seeking additional profits, and by officials wanting new ratables. As I’ve said before, those ratables are adding/will add some money to Montclair’s tax rolls, but not as much as it seems when one takes into account the costs of spending more on schools, public safety, etc., because of the new residents.

  14. That’s because it wasn’t. Most of the new housing resulted from redevelopment projects. The Sienna, V&B, Montclarion, etc were all redevelopments where the town & developer negotiated what each was looking for…and had to create special ordinances that overrode the existing. We all, by democratic extension, were partners in this.

  15. Frank, I hear what you’re saying. Redevelopment decisions are often made for political or profit reasons, not necessarily because an area needs redevelopment.

    I guess Montclair residents were indirectly partners in this because the current Township Council was reelected in 2016. It would have been interesting if the mayor and other TC members were opposed that year by strong anti-overdevelopment candidates. The one contested race, in the 3rd Ward, did have an opponent skeptical of overbuilding, but that candidate was also a proud Republican — which makes it very hard to win a TC seat in this town.

  16. People voted for over development because the overdevelopment was going to be placed in 1 sq. mile of downtown, away from the residential zones, and the financial benefits were going to be distributed to all voter living over the 6 sq. miles of town. A Blue Wave candidate running against that formula would get trounced. Red or Blue, we’re mostly hardcore capitalists.

    Re: Republicans
    I generally agree with you, but the First Ward is much more politically diverse than the others. That everyday political diversity makes us see the people more than the label. I’m sure being a Republican or Democrat is a factor in how we vote municipally. But, I think the stances on the issues are is a bigger factor.

    , but.

  17. Frank, a great point about much of Montclair’s recent development being “conveniently” confined to downtown, but that still shouldn’t be considered a win-win. For one thing, there are plenty of downtown residents in apartments or nearby houses, and many or most of them are undoubtedly irked about the area’s increasing density. Also, even residents who live nowhere near Bloomfield Avenue have to deal with the increasing congestion when they visit or drive through downtown.

    True about the 1st Ward. I think I even read that the current councilman there was briefly mentioned as a possible 11th District Republican congressional candidate after Rodney Frelinghuysen decided not to run for reelection. Also true about many Montclair residents voting on the issues rather than on political party in local elections. We often don’t know for sure if candidates are Democrats; there may well have been some Republicans on the Township Council in recent decades.

  18. Dave Astor would you please PM about your apartment complex — the address. I’ve been trying to isolate these facts to look at school kid density in the older v. newer buildings built to determine if that’s a potential factor.

    Second, on the core issue — let’s remember on thing. A development moratorium is illegal. Now, the town can by zoning and codes make it difficult to develop in places — but there is a thing called individual property rights. So the issue remains, do these new builds — even if better looking and more organic to the neighborhood — provide a big tax win for the township, more ratables…more bodies for shopping — when compared to the costs. Dave, the belief is that they do. And you have zero proof ..and have presented none to date really other than your feelings — that say otherwise. We, of course, both agree on bad looking structures that appear out of place and too dense for their location. No issue there — V & B being the worst to date (c. 2008 underlying Plan approvals yes Frank R.) However, on the economic gains Dave — you have really not made a proven argument. The township is not more population dense and will not be from these builds…we are still way under our peak population from the past. So if the new cars coming are being parked for the most part — and they are from the new build decks and lots — then your argument on density really does not hold up — if there are economic benefits among the other gains like a more vibrant downtown. And as you know, the PB has now voted to reduce the heights of downtown buildings to 4 stories from the previous 6 — to try and limit visual “density”.

    On this zoning issue — Frank Rubacky I will take a mild personal smack on this. When first proposed, I told my peeps that I did not have time to fully evaluate it when presented…and I just did not then. Other things and other PB developments had to be addressed. Instead, I relied on the judgement of my colleagues on the sub-committee to fully vet and make a decision on benefits v. detriments. Of course, the obvious reduction in CBA heights to four stories was a welcomed lead. But sadly, they and I were not seeing this as as a back door tool to allow additional construction in the residential areas. And in my opinion now, we were out-finessed by the Planning Department which did not present any potential detrimental outcomes like this in making the recommendations. It was manipulation by omission from the professional staff IMHO. A tactic I have previously commented on here in other situations. So the fact is, I too was taken along for the ride on this one.

    Fortunately, this Washington Street application came up before the Council moved on these recommendations to illuminate the potential probelm. Since that meeting, FYI…I’ve now made a formal request that the PB re-address the issue directly at our next meeting. And I’ve privately asked some of the Council now not to move on the modifications until we see what, if anything — the entire Board is willing to do. So stay tuned.

  19. Thank you, Martin! I’ll private message you my address and the name of the apartment complex. It’s a garden-apartment complex, built soon after WWII, that has a number of two bedrooms — one of which can of course be the bedroom of a school-age kid. Heck, I know of at least one household here with a kid in a one-bedroom apartment.

    I hear you about property rights. If landowners (whether Pinnacle, Steven Plofker, etc.) want to build, they’re going to build. What I’ve had a big issue with is Montclair officials not driving harder bargains with those developers so projects are not so tall and/or dense. (I realize officials belatedly have become more vigilant with Lackawanna Plaza.) And, yes, Montclair is not at the peak population of its past, but that’s when families were bigger and the town thus needed fewer houses and apartments to accommodate more people.

    Also, yes — there’s new parking for new residents. But parking decks in of themselves help contribute to over-density. And then there’s the added traffic…

    I agree that there are some development benefits (ratables, vibrant downtown, etc.), but feel the negatives (more students for schools already at capacity, strain on infrastructure, most of the new housing being pricey, the aforementioned added traffic, etc.) outweigh the positives. I wish local developers would focus their building on towns less dense than ours. But I guess Montclair is more “hot” and profitable.

    We definitely agree on not liking Valley & Bloom. 🙂 To my thinking, it’s too big, too close to the sidewalk, and ugly.

    Last but not least, thank you for the information you provided to Frank in the second half of your 12:45 pm comment.

  20. Yes Martin, you clearly stated back then you had time constraints. Thank you for taking the lead in fixing this quite major issue.

    I was not only giving you a love tap, but the 3 members of the zoning sub-committee that unfortunately didn’t do their jobs here. Excusing the newest & perceptive PB member who also voted No, the other 3 No votes were by the sub-committee members! The sub-committee voted against their own recommendation that supposedly received it full due diligence. You can’t say the zoning sub-committee did its job on this and not on that….because when it comes down to it, we’re all relying on this sub-committee’s vetting.

    A zoning ordinance rewrite is on par with a (Master Plan) land use element rewrite. This rewrite’s biggest deliverable was this handling of lot frontages. Politically, this kills the rewrite for this year. So too some of the smaller stuff of dubious demonstrated vetting against our blind spot – the law of unintended consequences.

    For example, the unintended impact of expanding Accessory Dwelling Units in the R-0 and R-1 Zones is really suspect. – As I have stated before, it allows adding an apartment to a house with up to 2 people beyond the 2 borders now allowed. A lot of parking – or a lot of Ubers.

    Let’s do this right, OK?

  21. Martin,

    You just might want to walk down Upper Mountain between Claremont and Bloomfield.
    This is what happens when the Planning & Zoning Boards, et al, allow poorly written definitions of zoning terms. You know the bad ones. The Zoning Board certainly does.

    Maybe Councilor Spiller might want to take a look at it. He’s not my Councilor, but I believe he is yours.

    We’ve been focused so much on the commercial zones lately.

  22. Martin,

    Sorry, I had some badly misdirected anger about this and you unfortunately were the focal point. I was wrong.

    What I should do is invite Chairs Harrison (ZBA) and Wynn (PB), still Acting Manager Stafford & Planner Talley, and Mayor Jackson to take a walking tour of Upper Mountain Ave in toto. The street is the prime example of how the Township has lost control of the most basic responsibilities (yes, it is hyperbolic). But, setting aside your bias, look at the range of issues this street offers as examples. Almost too much to digest. The one in the Claremont-Bloomfield segment is just the latest and most absurd. (Gray, you might want to stroll up there, too)

    I suggest the group does the Bloomfield to Colbert segment first and work their way down as their schedule permits. You’re welcome.

  23. Frank, I realize your most recent comments are addressed to Martin, but I couldn’t help noticing your sly reference to Tim Stafford “still” being Montclair’s ACTING township manager. Since October 2014! I have no clue why ACTING is still in his title after all that time.

  24. Yes, but Martin won’t respond. It was just FYI.

    I assume the Acting title suits everyone all the way around.

  25. And Martin deserves a lot of credit for putting himself out here when he could, like the Councilors, the Boards, & Commissions only deal with public comment when it is in their sandbox, under their rules.
    Availing himself here as a target…coming out ahead on a blog site like this…is difficult at best. Martin holds his own, consistently.

  26. Not going to comment on active specific applications Frank and Dave – just the zoning land use issues impacting. However, for clarification, I was not at the meeting where members voted on the Washington Street application.

    Dave, just for FYI…the planning Board and Council HAVE IMHO become more vigilant and negotiation savvy in relating to developers since I’ve come on the Board. Especially in relation to the give-aways of what went on before. That’s both for aesthetic results from final building design and from benefits back to the township in deals resulting in more equity, amenities or bulk reductions — where set backs may have helped. And thats for both Seymour Street, the two now approved Steve Plofker buildings on North Willow, Montclairian 2 and the building coming next door and the new comer on GRA and N. Willow.

    Without getting into the density issue impacting these — which is a much wider and more complicated discussion — but remembering that there are personal property rights for the owners of land given past zoning laws — I think when these various new buildings are completed, that you will have a better reaction to what’s being built of late — especially compared to the new construction previously approved around town from say the last fifteen to twenty years past.

  27. I gave you what I thought was a nice, unsolicited compliment and not so much as “noted”. Gee whiz. FYI, the compliment still stands.

  28. Frank, I guess “acting” township manager might indeed suit all parties, but it’s still a little…unusual, or something.

    And, Martin, I agree with Frank that it’s kind of you to comment here on Baristanet — something you don’t have to do. You offered Martin a very nice compliment, Frank.

    Martin, we’ve discussed the Seymour project before and I agree that township officials were somewhat more vigilant/negotiation-savvy with it than with the regrettable Valley & Bloom. The same might be said with some other, smaller post-V&B projects. I still think this somewhat more vigilant/negotiation-savvy approach didn’t go far enough. The hugeness of the sprawling Seymour project still worries me, not to mention the CUMULATIVE effect of one downtown project after another.

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