Montclair HPC to Developers: Hands Off Lackawanna Plaza Train Shed

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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.

the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission

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.

A March 2010 view of the train shed in the old Lackawanna railway terminal in the form of a mini-mall, after a 1984 redevelopment project. The former Pathmark supermarket is to the left. Photo by Jim Henderson – image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. This preservation commission clearly needs a new Chairperson. That’s if they want to stop looking foolish again. She obviously doesn’t understand government process and timing. Didn’t the developer give her Commission their new site plan proposal months ago? Hasn’t this HPC had two hearings on it? Now a 3rd?

    And only now are they coming back with all this? Only recently, have they realized this developer’s true demolition plans for our federal, state and locally designated historic train station site? After her commission already made its report to the Planning Board without mentioning this and the Board already started its hearings? Not smart at all.

    But that doesn’t mean the HPC is wrong. They appear to be 100% right about saving the train station elements. But something is wrong because this developer keeps trying to take the station down rather than fully working within it. And given that the company involved is Pinnacle – it’s a good bet he’s trying to scam the town again.

    Still, it’s hard to see that with all the ideas being kicking around, all the architects involved, someone can’t find a solution. Something that maybe even better exposes those original Lackawanna station details, but still satisfies the developer’s business needs.

    They seem to do it with older buildings in Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. Why not here in Montclair.

  2. Kathleen Bennett is an EXCELLENT Historic Preservation Chair. The best and most capable that Montclair has ever had in decades. Historic Preservation in Montclair seems intentionally undermined and she has to work around the constant negative push. (She drove 300miles to get to the meeting last night. A granddaughter was born a couple of days ago. Thats how dedicated Ms. Bennett is to Montclair.) Congratulations and thank you!

  3. She obviously doesn’t understand government process and timing.

    I am glad you brought up our government process for the review of this application. I think I know our process well enough to comment.

    My short response is that the Planning Board does not hear public comment until the completion of all testimony (slated for 5/14). So, if the public has any standing and objects, it is by process design very very late in the game.

    The HPC revised recommendations are still coming within the initial testimony phase and before the Planning Board begins its deliberations. Assuming the PB has not prejudged the application, it is still timely.

    Ultimately, on major development plans like this, the Planning Board is always the approval authority on issues of historic preservation. They will decide to approve or not approve the demolition plan. The HPC is only allowed to give an opinion.

  4. Can’t tell which way your wind is blowing here Frank Rubacky. If this group of government Commissioners really wanted to express their positions firmly and impact the decision-making process, the best time to do that was when the developer was doing their architect show and tell with the Planning Board. That would logically be the moment to ask this developer questions why they didn’t consider this or do that. Especially given this property’s preservation historic designation, or what ever they technically call it. It’s very hard to follow all this terminology mumbo jumbo.

    So yeah, they may be still able to influence the outcome for the timing reasons you cite above…maybe able even to become nay sayers if necessary using that demolition permit technicality the chairwomen talked about. But it still wasn’t handled right. Both for them and for the developer. The objections should have been made massively clear from the start. Then, everyone would have had to find a solution early on, which for those of us just watching — appears now to be the next step anyway.

  5. Totally agree.

    This not being handled right goes back to the Mayor subverting the process last Spring to fast-track the development. Up to that point, the community feedback from visioning forums was to preserve as much of the train station as possible. The possible part is key.

    The bottom line is that we all, myself included, under-appreciated the amount – and preserved condition – of historic fabric that still exists and may have to live with our regrets.

    A distinction that should not be lost is that Hampshire/Pinnacle bought the property in recent years knowing a.) of its long-existing historic designation and b.) it was a speculative risk as it did not have a commitment from a supermarket tenant.

    The Planning Board’s similar predicament is that it a.) now fully appreciates the existent historic fabric and b.) it has to consider the risk of approving the demolition for a supermarket use that may not come to be.

    The “as possible” part was the developers insistence from the first review that they had exhausted all alternatives as unworkable. They based this on Hamsphire’s long experience with the supermarket industry and what the industry executives said was minimally required.

    Have you noticed that all this reliance of unarmed industry experts has not been challenged by the any of our land use bodies as hearsay? There have been no industry experts presented (that I have seen) to give testimony & subject to PB/public questioning. Further, there has not been testimony (again, not aware of) by a State licensed planning/land use expert that would have had to coverer the tradeoff of historic site for a deleterious land use.

    So, yes, for all the above reasons, not our finest hours.

  6. And to be fair & balanced in assigning accountability, the Mayor’s 12/7/17 review and the 5-member Development Review Committee this year were our first bites at the apple.

  7. I am all for historic preservation, but the train sheds that have been rehabbed are in what were large historic stations in major cities like Philadelphia and St.Louis. There are vacant retail spaces between Valley and Park Street on Bloomfield Ave. (At least one third are now vacant). I believe with the assault on brick and mortar retail rents will decline in Montclair as they have begun in NYC. As a landlord that owns apartment rental space and as a retailer that leases space in town, I believe that a grocery store is the best use for the space. We need ratables in Montclair to lower taxes. The costs passed onto property owners and to their tenants needs to be spread among more tax payers, not fewer, as would be the case in setting up a Train Shed with kiosks and antique dealers… That does not pay the the bills that this town generates….

  8. Don’t think you don’t know your stuff here Diverobert. They’ve done this type of thing in Boston with open area food markets, they’ve done it in Washington DC. Maybe some combination of artisan food shops, or prepared food offerings with farm to table, and a supermarket store behind it or connected — could be just what the doctor ordered to pull in even more people traffic from around the region. Whether the prepared food section is run from two entities or, the supermarket does it more like whole foods as one prime tenant — or Trader Joe type store – some of these concepts are clearly working elsewhere. See pictures from this DC, capital hill area train station market usage:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=Eastern+market+washington+dc+pictures&client=firefox-b-1&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=5I2KXDvw6pG-sM%253A%252CFWc4lfC3L1DzFM%252C_&usg=__jk5C4n5HaphIIX64TC17OwfJlS4%3D&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiH-4e1mtvaAhVRmuAKHTEpAJIQ9QEIKzAB#imgrc=5I2KXDvw6pG-sM:

  9. diverobert,

    Both sides want a grocer here to specifically serve the Montclair. It is planned as a 1-acre size building on 8 acres spanning two parcels. Space has never been the issue. The issue is the developer wants commercial uses with the highest parking demands among those typically found downtown… in one project.

    Thank you for explaining your interests behind your viewpoint. You should understand the application the Planning Board is approving is for general retail. Not just a supermarket. It will be a ratable, but not necessarily the one we are all focused on.

  10. Thank you for the fabulous links therealworld. I hope that everyone has a close look at them. They perfectly depict the grand old marketplace plaza opportunity that would be the most successful, exciting and prosperous way to go for the Montclair public…. old and new. Montclair people are warm, innovative and creative in a landscape of fine old buildings that have reached their prime and need to be repaired and repurposed with creative thinking. (thats a Montclair characteristic) A major public space in Montclair should feel like this. This good energy would rivive the surrounding downtown neighborhoods and make them desirable and productive again. It would create interesting job possibilities for young and old Montclair people alike. What booming AirB&B possibilities that this would create for people who would actually come to enjoy the Montclair vibe for the weekend. What a GREAT meeting place for “pop up” Art Exhibitions and Vintage Markets as well. I wish that Montclair could also have a vertical farming economy that would generate jobs and new businesses for the existing community. This way the food market produce is also local. This dynamic would repurpose entire neighborhoods surrounding the Lackawanna Plaza. https://www.nytimes.com/video/nyregion/100000005080478/aerofarm-vertical-newark.html. I love these exciting possibilities.

  11. Therealworld, please do not profess to be an expert if you are not. The project you have referenced, the Eastern project sited in DC was a gentrification or Phase One project, it is not in a transit hub area and not in highly commercially trafficked area. The outdoor train shed picture is new construction, not old or rehabbed. The indoor space was part of an old armory that has been re-purposed into a farmers market, much like we already have in Montclair and surrounding areas in open spaces and parks. Inner cities do not have open spaces and rehab unused buildings for these purposes. These projects were undertaken east of the Capital to renovate and revitalize rundown areas. The Lackawanna project is not a similar demographic area. The economic plan recently announced by Governor Murphy and Sheila Murphy would be perfect for unused buildings in Orange, East Orange and Newark, for revitalization, where a public/private partnership is necessary. We in Montclair are lucky enough to have a DEVELOPER that owns the property and we should work with them to develop the property and increase our tax base. Other surrounding communities would love to have these opportunities. The Direct train line infrastruture project to Manhattan is what made all of this possible. We should work with one another and stop fighting. And no I do not work for Pinnacle. I am just tired of listening to people who do not know what they are talking about slowing down progress…

  12. Diverobert – I think you are being way too limited in your thinking. It seem like there are a number of ways to go here. A supermarket run pre-prepared retail food area in that atrium – maybe just move some of the lost parking to the rear. Or a supermarket with a more open market type set up into that atrium area as was suggested — again some parking moved to rear same. Or how about just a supermarket in the same space for Pathmark now with all front parking, but maybe some of that parking right under that atrium area — expose and keep use all that old train station structure above? Why not that as someone suggested?

    From just reading all this speculative back and forth — clearly the station was and still is a landmark. The developers knew this when they bought the property (wasn’t it on spec)…and so, they need to keep things intact — maybe expose even more, while also making this building work commercially as usable space.

    But the onus is clearly on this developer here. The landmark was already there. They knew it. And like I said, people do seem to do this in other cities and towns — bring back and restore their historic structures — but adaptively reuse them commercially in the process. Therefore, it has to be this particular development company that can’t put it together fully as yet — to make this all work.

  13. How I miss that Pathmark. It was such a friendly place and they were so supportive of non profits. Great Rhythm & Blues Music too while you shopped. Shoppers would smile and say hello. It was a true anchor to the neighborhood and had such a Montclair vibe. The Pig & Prince is a vibrant wonderful place to have and they do so much any are very appreciated. They are such a great fit for the landmark.
    Its a question of “taste” and understanding the “characteristics” and expectations of Montclair’s very unique, creative and informed public. There is a vast gulf between the taste the community and that of the developer’s and planning department’s redevelopment. This is the problem.
    I’m inclined to think that Governor Murphy will do a very good job for NJ and that many of the new residents voted for him. Montclair is different, however. The governor’s economic plans and tax base ideas will possibly be good for other places besides the very unique condition of Montclair. Montclair cannot be classified or cookie-cut into being a suburb, intercity or city by broad government standards. To take the pulse of the long standing informed community, Montclair is more the land of Jim Johnson and has more specific characteristics, history, ideas, tastes and vibe.

  14. Pardon my changing the subject on preservation, but I’d like to share my thoughts on the prospective grocery store. I’m sure many agree that the existing Whole Foods in Montclair on Bloomfield is just an absolute nightmare. From the unsafe disaster of a parking lot to the tiny cramped aisles where you can barely squeeze two carts into, it just doesn’t work. I’d say a larger Whole Foods (similar WO on Eagle Rock) would be better suited for the area, and what better location than the LP? That would open up west location for a smaller, more appropriate grocery store like Trader Joe’s. I often find myself traveling the extra distance just to not have to deal with that Montclair Whole Foods. Thoughts?

  15. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the size of the old Pathmark. Yes, the interior was dated and in need of a facelift and better lighting, but it worked. Had Pathmark not filed for bankruptcy, it would still be open. The retail segment also worked, all of the storefronts were full until the landlord started jacking up rents and sending everyone out of there. My lasting impressions of the space were that all it needed was better maintenance and better lighting. The skylight/ train shed is the only architectural cue that this was once a rail terminal, losing that would be a significant loss to the town.

    There is a sleeping giant across Grove street. Everyone is so focused on the train shed issue that they are overlooking the behemoth of an apartment complex that will be built on the east side of Grove. It will be a 4-story tall wall of apartments almost a thousand feet long, by far the largest building in Montclair. Devoid of character and quality, it will be a grotesque foam-clad monument to greed that we will all have to live with for decades. The size and scale of the building is grossly out of character for the neighborhood. Separate, smaller buildings, or townhomes like what is behind it, would be more appropriate.

  16. Another aspect not being focused on is Essex County’s role – requiring our Council’s support – in this historic demolition. The County’s role, currently in discussion, includes the roadway improvements to Grove Street (CR 623) and Bloomfield Ave (CR 506). The latter is being done with Federal funds.

    But, a specific aspect, and a technicality I’ve mentioned before, is the County’s roadway 10’ reservation into the project properties along Bloomfield Avenue. The Board of Chosen Freeholders may vote to give it up, but they won’t do it unless our Council formally supports releasing the reservation. Not usually an issue, but this plan makes it one.

    The developer is retaining a portion of the train shed structure for a bus shelter use. The developer credits it as preserving a historically designated, key feature. Most seem to accept this argument. The technicality is ‘the train shed repurposed into a bus shelter’ will be placed within the County’s roadway reservation. The County has two options with this plan. Give up its rights to this reservation or approve the placement of an historic structure on its reservation area. Either way, it is contributing to the demolition plan of a State and Federal designated site.

    The County can certainly do this, but I’m not sure the Board of Chosen Freeholders want to get drawn into this. Especially as the BoCF President Gill lives in Montclair.

  17. Under the category of Timing is Everything. A perfect vehicle for our social media oriented high school students who support preservation. From the NJ Historic Preservation Office:

    Celebrate National Historic Preservation Month along with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, National Park Service, and National Trust for Historic Preservation by entering the National Historic Preservation Month Photo Contest! Everyone is invited to share photos of themselves, family, and friends enjoying a historic place on their own social media sites simply by using the hashtag #MyHistoricPlace.

    Please share the contest with your contacts, on your website, and on your social media channels. One winner will be picked weekly and announced each Tuesday in May on the ACHP’s social media sites. Winners will receive a fabulous historic preservation prize package!

    View our video, which you can share: https://youtu.be/i1EAl09_wfU

    Starting May 1, enter the photo contest by posting a photo using the hashtag #MyHistoricPlace on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds. You are then automatically entered in the contest!

    You must tag the ACHP @USACHP, the National Park Service @NationalRegisterNPS (Facebook), @NPSCLP (Instagram), and @NPSParkCLP (Twitter), and the National Trust for Historic Preservation @savingplaces, and you must also include a brief caption that includes the name and location of the historic place.

    Get the vote out! Go to https://woobox.com/ugw53r, or click on “Campaigns” on the ACHP’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/usachp for more information, to view the gallery of photos submitted, and vote once per week for your favorite!

    Follow the ACHP on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/usachp/ and like @USACHP on Twitter https://twitter.com/usachp and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/usachp/.

    We all have historic places we love – so share them with us! These sites allow visitors to become more aware of how to build a greater national preservation ethic while raising awareness of the many benefits of our nation’s heritage. Additionally, historic and sacred sites demonstrate to young people their connections to our collective stories.

  18. I also never quite understood redrum why the neighborhood celebrated the perceived low height of the East Parcel’s apartment building.

    A new zoning draft being reviewed by the Council would limit downtown heights to 4 stories and a maximum height of 47’. Interestingly, because of a change in calculation methods, this proposed zoning would still allow for both the proposed supermarket and the 154 residential units all on the East Parcel. I’m not mentioning what could be put on the West Parcel while keeping the train station intact.

    Alas, this East Parcel plan is proceeding under the existing zoning at time of application rule which allows 6 stories and a 67’ maximum height for its 154 residential units alone – no retail.

    The proposed building is 54’7” to the actual roof, but does not include the parapet walls. It is 61’8” at its highest points. The neighborhood will see just 5’-10’ less height than the 67′ allowed.

    A 6-story or higher building with proper stepbacks on this parcel never bothered me. Personally, I saw more public benefit trading more height for ground level open space.

  19. redrum, i believe you may have misread my comment. I was referring to the limited space at the existing Whole Foods and respective parking lot. I believe the old path mark space would be a better fit for a Whole Foods market.

  20. Ah the old Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s issue. Putting a Whole Foods at Lackawanna would mean the township and developer are not committed to providing an affordable, all-purpose supermarket for the seniors and lower income residents of the 4th ward. Is the township committed to that? Or will gentrification override that?

  21. Apples & oranges.

    Your exchanges do bring up an interesting question. What happens if the grocers interested in this location want a smaller format?

    Shop Rite is in the trending group moving to supersize stores (e.g. 65K+ sf) to be competitive. These large format stores require very high customer traffic and above average shopping basket spending. The other trending group is the smaller, curated assortments like TJ’s, Aldi, Lydle, & Whole Foods 365 which range from 15-30K sf. The avg TJ’s is under 15K sf.

    The grocer space at Lackawanna is being designed as a 44K sf space. The 40K+/- sf format segment in the industry is not growing. So, this format size is a zero-sum game. I estimate the Montclair Whole Foods is about 16K sf. King’s is about 21K sf. There is no tenant in the pipeline now. Umh…

    There is a good chance that if we do get a grocer, it will be below 30K SF. The leaves us 15K sf too retail to fill. So, we would be tearing down the train sheds for more of what was there before Pathmark went out.

  22. The historical legacy https://baristanet.com/2017/05/lackawanna-plaza-montclair/

    Also- the concept of setbacks are not relevant in a hill condition like Montclair. Setbacks are not perceived as diminishing the bulk of a building when seen from a higher elevation (uphill) or from downhill. The devise of a setback only works from the street level of a building when you’re in close proximity. Setbacks in Montclair are don’t work.

  23. I’m talking about stepbacks, not setbacks. The upper story stepbacks, by definition, always reduce mass. That aside, upper story stepbacks are important because they allow additional light and, yes, visually enhance the building’s human scale. I think there is some 5th floor rule-of-thumb about what detail a person can perceive of a building from ground level. Even their shadows are more interesting of the course of the day.
    As these lots are at such a low elevation and such a distance from residents higher up on the hill, stepbacks break up the perceived mass.

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