With the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan currently under review by the Montclair Planning Board one might think that the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) was through going over it. Not so fast: The HPC used its April 26 meeting to critique the plans of the developers to demolish the old train shed of the old Lackawanna railway terminal, and several members of the public weighed as well against the idea. Planning Board members Carmel Loughman and Martin Schwartz attended the meeting, as well as Barton Ross, the Planning Board’s architectural consultant, who has made numerous suggestions for the site and worked with the developer to improve both the site plan and the apartment building design. (Ross has continued to go over site detailing with their architects.) Meanwhile, Tom Trautner, the attorney representing the developers, was in the audience taking notes.
HPC Chair Kathleen Bennett opened the meeting by declaring that the train shed was the distinguishing characteristic that identified the building as a former railway terminal, and that it should remain in place to continue identifying it as such for historical purposes. To do otherwise, she said, would compromise and maybe even destroy the building’s architectural integrity.
Members of the public presented ideas of how the train shed, which is currently being considered for possible partial demolition with its steel pillars recycled as ornaments for the front parking lot, could still be put to use. Priscilla Ecshelman suggested that, with traditional grocery stores losing popularity and with the trend toward stores offering more prepared foods, Lackawanna Plaza’s train shed could function as a market offering fresh food and prepared foods at a reasonable cost for both the Fourth Ward and the rest of Montclair, becoming a destination for public gatherings. She said it could work in the same way as the West Side Market in Cleveland or the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, meeting the grocery needs of local customers while providing a place for people to gather and meet.
Resident Lisanne Renner said that the proposal to eliminate part of the train shed to expand space for parking would create a larger asphalt lot and miss an opportunity to expand green space. Frank Rubacky came up with a novel idea – keep the bulk of the shed in the middle of the parking lot and have it function as an “amenity space” to provide 15,000 square feet for possible outdoor seating. The space would be visible from Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street, and also restrict entry into the lot by having just an entrance at Bloomfield Avenue. In addition, he lamented that the developers’ plan that there was no pedestrian access from Glenridge Avenue to the site, and he suggested that part of the old Pathmark addition could be demolished to provide parking there. But Rubacky was especially to the point on a proposed “amenity space” in the train shed area next to the terminal.
“Without the shed, it’s a terminal building in a sea of asphalt,” he said.
Frank Gerard Godlewski called the terminal building an emblematic design of how railway stations and terminals were built a hundred years earlier and said that the design of the building should employed for other markets as well as food markets ,such as antiques kiosks that could make Montclair a destination for antiques collectors much like Lambertville in Hunterdon County is. The Essex Fells resident, who is originally from Montclair, agreed with Eschelman that it could make a great meeting place for the community.
The HPC members were generally appreciative and supportive of the residents’ input, and they had some comments of their own. HPC member Caroline Kane Levy said the town should “hold firm” on keeping the train shed intact, adding that parking can b placed in other locations. Stephen Rooney even suggested demolishing the whole former Pathmark store and making the shed the shopping area. “Just an idea,” he said.
HPC member David Greenbaum agreed that there was a detriment if there were any demolition of the building due to its uncommon design. He also said that the developer “has made no gesture whatsoever to make up for any shortfall of open space for parking and circulation” by demolishing anything on the Glenridge Avenue side of the property, which is not of an historic nature. The space facing Glenridge Avenue, he said, could be a place where parking could be inserted, as well as the current parking lot of the property’s eastern parcel along Grove Street.
But Greenbaum had another idea. He proposed that the 1984 reworking of the train shed into an atrium could be included in the redevelopment as an example of the ingenuity of the previous developers who found a way to preserve the train shed. He said it would be a good way to honor those who respected the terminal’s history. He even proposed that the former rail terminal could be a terminus for the proposed pedestrian path that would replace the former Boonton Line railroad from Montclair to Hoboken, even though its western terminus is near the intersection of Pine Street and Claremont Avenue, a couple of blocks away.
“It’s a big stretch,” an unidentified resident called out from the audience.
“But it needs to be considered,” Greenbaum replied.
Deputy Planning Director Graham Petto took notes for a revision of the memo to the Planning Board, saying that destruction of the train shed was inconsistent with the demolition criteria and called for its continued use, with the caveat that demolition would be a last resort if retention of the shed is not feasible. The rest of the memo to the Planning Board remained unchanged, and the HPC members and the public seemed to have made it clear that it would not be difficult to demonstrate the feasibility of keeping the shed intact.