Montclair Planning Board Moves Land Use Recommendations Forward, Hears More on Lackawanna Plaza

The Montclair Planning Board agreed to refer a majority of their recommendations for changes in the zoning and land use regulations to the Township Council, and also heard continued testimony regarding the proposed redevelopment of the Lackawanna train station complex on Monday evening.

The meeting began with a discussion pertaining to the changes to the zoning/land use ordinances that had been the subject of previous meetings. Planning Director Janice Talley stated she had pulled out a section of the ordinance pertaining to lot frontage requirements in residential districts, as she said the subject needed further evaluation. However, she said she would recommend moving ahead with the other recommendations, including limitations on building heights on Bloomfield Avenue, as the board seemed supportive of them. Details on the changes can be found on the Planning Board website.

She said she also added a new section on performance guarantees, because, she explained, as of January 2018 the state Municipal Land Use Law has been amended and now only allows municipalities and planning boards to require performance guarantee bonds if the requirement is in the local municipal ordinance. She said she would like to bring this to the council for discussion for their conference meeting in May. The board voted to move ahead with the recommendation to the council.

Prior to testimony for the Lackawanna Plaza development, the applicants’ attorney, Tom Trautner, introduced Brian Stolar of Pinnacle Companies to speak about the unexpected passing of Todd Anderson, Executive Vice President of Hampshire Companies, the co-developer of the project. Anderson, age 58, passed away suddenly at his home on March 17.

Remarking that Mr. Anderson had been seated beside him at the last Planning Board meeting, Stolar said, “He was just a wonderful guy and was very, very committed to this…We all miss him.” He then introduced Rob Schmidt, a principal at Hampshire, who spoke about the company’s commitment to the Lackawanna project.

“Todd was a driving force behind this project, with Brian…. Despite the tragedy, we need to move on. I just want to give the board Hampshire’s full commitment to continue on with this project,” he said. “I’ve been overseeing Hampshire’s retail properties for the past 15 years, and we have a ton of resources to get this done despite the loss of Todd, and we fully intend to make this happen and bring this to fruition in Todd’s memory.”

The applicants, Pinnacle and Hampshire companies, are proposing to renovate the former Lackawanna train station property on either side of Grove Street, revitalizing the historic train station shed and bringing in new tenants, as well as building 4-story residential apartments on the eastern side of Grove Street.

At last month’s Planning Board meeting, the Board heard testimony from architect Bruce Stieve and engineer Kevin Webb. Renderings were shown of the proposed project, which will include an almost 44,000 square foot supermarket and other retail tenants on the western parcel.

An artist’s rendering of the southwest corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street in the proposed Lackawanna Plaza project.

At Monday’s meeting, engineer Kevin Webb returned to go over changes to the plans based on input from the previous meeting, landscape architect Steven Laudati testified about the proposed plantings and green space, and Karl Pehnke discussed traffic patterns.

Attorney Trautner explained they would not get to parking testimony. “We have recently retained a parking management consultant and are finalizing that plan,” he said.

Webb began his testimony by explaining that he had an exhibit that was not presented last time, which is a “work in progress.” Once the board provides input, he said they would finalize it and incorporate it into a revised set of plans.

He said the area the grocery store loading area on the northern end of the site on Glenridge Avenue has changed. Previously, there were two openings to the area, with an island left in the middile. He said that based on input from neighbors, they decided to create a single driveway opening of 78 feet, to make truck access more efficient, plus a concrete apron and well-marked pedestrian walkway to enhance pedestrian safety.

Webb said there had been comments regarding snow removal. In response, they have created a space of about 550 square feet that will be curbed off on the side of the loading dock, with grass pavers. It will afford an opportunity for snow removal and maintenance and also add new green space.

The new plan also shows screening in place for the compactor and composter, which was not previously shown to the board.

The current grocery store configuration had the loading docks oriented in an East-West direction. The new plan calls for the docks to be rotated 90 degrees to a North-South direction, which was preferred by potential tenants they have spoken to.

There will be two formal loading docks, with a ramp that would be for hand trucks and carts, with opportunities for smaller trucks to park in front of the compactors and unload without interrupting activities at the formal loading dock.

He said trucks would generally be coming from Grove to Glenridge Avenue, make a left onto Glenridge and then would back into either of the two spaces. He said they will provide truck turning templates demonstrating the maneuvers that tractor trailer trucks would be able to execute as part of the final submission.

Compared to the previous plans, this configuration will only eliminate one of three parallel parking spaces along Glenridge Avenue rather than two.

Planning Director Talley asked whether they would forbid trucks from making a left turn coming out onto Glenridge Avenue. He said in general he would expect traffic to turn right, but they don’t yet know where the tenant’s distribution centers would be located. Board member Carmel Loughton suggested trucks should be prohibited from making a left turn to avoid traffic issues and prevent them from going through residential areas. Board member Martin Schwartz suggested it could apply just to trucks over a certain size. Webb agreed that that vans or box trucks could be allowed to turn left, but not the tractor-trailers.

Janice Talley asked about an above-ground transformer that had been requested to be put underground. Webb explained they had had discussions with the power company and they were loath to put the equipment underground as it’s harder to maintain. “It’s physically feasible but not desirable from the power company’s standpoint,” he said. He assured the board that there would be plantings screening it but it would still need to afford access to the company for maintenance.

Webb then testified they had met with the Montclair fire company and it was confirmed that the ladder truck would be able to enter, circulate and exit from the buildings without any changes to the proposed plan. Fire lanes will be delineated in front of the buildings. Outside of the fire lane there would be a rideshare drop-off loading/unloading space for Uber or Lyft. He said the area would be about 50 feet and could accommodate two to three vehicles depending on size and how closely they parked

They propose to include four bike racks (two on each side of a pedestrian tunnel that runs from the eastern to the western side of Grove Street), and perhaps two in the public plaza space. Janice Talley asked whether there would be a separate employee entrance, and if so, where would they park their bicycles. He said they don’t know yet since they have not identified a definite tenant for the grocery store, but they can incorporate bike racks if needed.

Chairman Wynn asked about outdoor seating areas on the eastern side of the retail space. Webb explained that until they have a tenant lined up, it is hard to know what will be suitable. Wynn requested that they make a baseline plan so that the board will have something concrete to approve, and if it is subject to change, they can account for that.

The last item Webb addressed was the reuse of the original metal stanchions that had been part of the original train shed. Since the new grocery and retail space require that a portion of this section of the historic site be removed, the Historic Preservation Commission had requested the original fabric be reused elsewhere in the development where possible. Webb said they would be utilizing 81 out of the 98 stanchions being removed and incorporating them into other aspects of the project. He said they had considered placing them around the parking lot but had gotten strong opposition from potential tenants due to liability and insurance concerns.

In response to a question from Carmel Loughton, Webb confirmed that they had been in discussion with the owner of the Pig & Prince restaurant, which is housed in the historic train station waiting room and is not part of the renovation. He said the owner is supportive of the project and they will work to address any issues that may arise.

During public comment, Kathleen Bennett of the Historic Preservation Commission, which had reviewed the application twice, commented that she was glad to see the reduction of massing and demolition, but questioned whether the applicants should request a demolition permit. She asked that they come back to the HPC so that her board can issue written documentation for the demolition, saying they had not been focusing on that aspect of the project.

Chairman Wynn suggested instead that the board meet informally with the developer in a subcommittee to discuss it further rather than sending the application back to the HPC. He asked Bennett to set it up with the planning office.

Next, licensed landscape architect Steven Laudati of Langan Engineering testified about the plantings planned for the site. He testified that in all, the proposed landscaping comprises about an acre, with 11,000 square feet on the western parcel of land and 32,000 square feet on the eastern parcel. Plantings will include 62 proposed trees, with 48 on site and the remainder on the surrounding streetscapes; 2,100 shrubs, 300 ornamental grasses, and 1,200 perennials.

He explained that on western side of site, most of the trees in the parking lot and those along Grove and Bloomfield Avenues are either dead or in poor condition.

He said they met with the township arborist and are proposing a substantial amount of landscape to green the area. The goal is to provide seasonal interest throughout the year, extend blooming time with perennials, and complement the historic and proposed architecture.

On the eastern portion of the development, they want to have a unified landscape design, so many of the plant types proposed for the western side would also be carried along on the eastern side. They would include foundation plantings, street trees, and a mix of perennials, shrubs, grasses and ground cover. 

He said there would be 18 trees planted within the parking area and they will be putting structural soil below the pavement to ensure they survive. He testified that a total of 30 trees will be removed and 48  will be planted, which meets township requirements on tree removal.

Laudati also covered the lighting plan for the site. He said currently the street lights are cobra high pressure sodium lights, and the parking lights are old “shoebox” style lights and are in poor condition.

They are looking to unify the streetscape and site together. They propose to make all of the lights on the streetscape and on the site be of the same style. They will be LED lights, with the color matching the Montclair standard. 

Janice Talley asked why they don’t continue the deocrative lighting along the frontage of the site and on Glenridge Avenue to the west, given the township already has put new lighting fixtures on Glenridge Avenue east of Grove Street. 

The attorney agreed they would extend the lighting along Lackawanna Plaza and along Glenridge Avenue west of Grove to light the sidewalk.

Wynn asked what the ratio of deciduous to evergreen trees would be on the site. Laudati said there would be approximately six evergreen trees, with the rest being deciduous. He explained in an urban setting, evergreens, which have lower branches, tend to obscure sight lines and possibly affect safety in parking lots so they are usually used in other locations. 

Wynn suggested they add more evergreens to the mix since deciduous trees are bare so much of the year. They agreed to take a look at it, depending on location.

Karl Pehnke, traffic engineer at Langan, testified last. He had prepared a traffic impact study that was submitted to the board in February, followed by a letter with udpated analysis dated March 28, 2018 based on feedback from the town’s consultant.

He went over the general methodology of the study, and stated he had collected data in 2017, and met with the county to discuss the project and share the development access and circulation. 

He stated, from an overall perspective, the project is basically developing a piece of property that’s currently developed. The proposed project is falling within the same rough densities and traffic generation that the site previously generated when the retail space was active. He explained later that they modeled the comparison based on the previous occupancy level.

He said the net effect of the development is the project is trading off around 22,000 square feet of commercial retail space for 154 residential units. The proposed project is falling within the same rough densities and traffic generation that the site previously generated.

Peak hours on weekdays are mornings from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and afternoons, 5-6 p.m. On Saturdays  , the peak comes at around 12:15-1:15 due to the commercial use.

The model shows a slight increase in the morning of 30-40 trips overall, mostly due to the residential component since retail is not that active in the morning. In the evening on weekdays, there are actually 50 fewer vehicles than when the site was fully occupied and functional, and on Saturdays, there are 70 fewer vehicles. So, in general,  he said, compared to the site’s previous use, “it’s a wash.”

He went on to explain there are certain things proposed in the plan that enhance access, circulation and parking. On the western parcel, the major reconfiguration is expansion of the existing surface lot. They will regrade the lot and improve circulation. There will be a slight modification to the driveway on Bloomfield Avenue, shifting it to the west a little and aligning it with the internal circulation aisle. Traffic will move in and out of the site more efficiently as a result.

They will be adding a driveway on Grove Street, as far from Bloomfield Ave as possible, also with access to the internal circulation connection. The driveway on Bloomfield Ave to eastern parcel will remain right turn in right turn out. On Glenridge Avenue, the driveway will be maintained where it is today. The driveway to the eastern parcel of the property from Bloomfield Avenue will remain right turn in, right turn out.

Pehnke stated the county will be receiving money from a federal grant that will enable them to implement upgrades to a number of intersections on Bloomfield Avenue, including Grove Street. They have discussed a proposal with the county to restripe the intersection from Grove to Bloomfield Avenue to make it a true two-line intersection with a dedicated left-turn lane to improve safety.

Board member Carole Willis asked whether having a driveway in mid-block leading out into Grove Street, which often backs up from the light, will cause further traffic problems. Pehnke stated the resriping of the road into two lanes will allow for stacking in one of the lanes to turn off into the parking lot, and there will be gaps for people to enter onto Grove from the site between lights. “I think that’s very optimistic,” she commented.

During public comment, William Scott questioned the large amount of surface parking proposed, given the Master Plan calls for more efficient parking solutions such as parking decks. Chairman Wynn explained that recommendation pertains to public parking lots. More testimony on parking will be heard at the next meeting.

Councilwoman Renee Baskerville asked whether a pedestrian walkway could be placed across Glenridge Avenue to the post office, but was told this is not recommended given there are other locations at the end of the block that accommodate pedestrian crossings.

The application will be continued at a special meeting scheduled for May 14, 2018.

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  1. “Webb said they would be utilizing 81 out of the 98 stanchions [emphasis added]being removed and incorporating them into other aspects of the project.”

    The developer went dumpster diving and retrieved 34 of the demolished stanchions to be “incorporated” into the site much like decorating a Christmas tree that never comes down.

    This is recycling, not preservation.

    The plan is to demolish 51stanchions out of 98.

    If the township does not step in to save the train station, I like the latest proposal being drafted to put the 17 unused stanchions in the U Mtc Train Station parking lot. It will give much needed historic fabric to the U Mtc station – which has almost none. A pattern in Montclair? Historic fabric lost, but keep the designation. I think this would greatly complement the adjacent historic Anderson Park. It’s not preservation, but it is recycling. Same thing now.

  2. The Township must step in to enforce preservation regulations… They can’t modify any of the existing or move elements around.

  3. Another failure of preservation here is topping the portion of the train shed that is not being demolished with a brick and cast stone parapet. The creation of this non-historic design element obfuscates the train shed the developer’s are taking credit for keeping.

    This will just add insult to preservation injury.

    The design element will ONLY be added to this one side of the historic train shed.

    This new element’s sole purpose is to harmonize the train shed with the development’s new distinguishing architectural feature – the supermarket’s peaked parapet. It will serve to provide a more consistent building massing around the perimeter of the new parking lot.

    This key architectural design concept serves to accentuate the supermarket structure at the expense of featuring the historic train shed’s design. All to achieve an architectural transition between the supermarket and the terminal building occupied by the Pig & Prince.

    The Warner Communication building project on Lorraine Avenue in Upper Montclair used a modern, transitional design element to connect the new addition with the original historic building. It is a well-accepted strategy and one that was approved by the infamous Design Review Committee, the HPC & the Planning Board. But, applying this concept to the existing historic structure at Lackawanna is an utter bastardization.

    I can not see a rational for disfiguring the train shed and the historic relationship to the terminal building to make it now look like part of the new supermarket facade. It is certainly not any preservation concept I know.

  4. I agree with all of the points you guys always make..the problem is…it seems to be only a handful of people who even care enough to comment let alone speak out. These projects largely go uncontested outside of 2-3 of the same people at meeting making comments that people Nicely nod their head to and then move on…

    Empty conference rooms as this proposal just rolls on…another example of “what could have been”

  5. I don’t think they projects go uncontested. They get recognized for achievement.

    Yup, the Township is once again handing out awards for achievements in historic preservation! The Pinnacle Company is a lock for the Preservation Services Award for their Harmonizing Parking Decks, specifically The Orange Road Deck and its accomplishment in art display & architectural lighting. Mr Plofker is the front-runner for both Preservationist of The Year (Forest St, Plymouth St, & Diva Lounge projects) and in the Bricks & Mortar Award for The George and its stunning front yard parking lot.

    Vote people!

  6. Frank… please keep posting the discrepancies with the regulations here as well as. I would like to make sure that nothing gets ignored by the township. Your point of view too. I’m saving everything that you are saying and want to follow through with the Montclair HPC. This is one of the most important historic train stations in the USA. The redevelopers are more appropriate for NJ Strip Mall designing and they don’t care… neither does Montclair’s planner. (we all know and have seen for sure that their mindset is to ignore preservation)

  7. I will frankgg as I’m a big believer in divine intervention.

    Hopefully, parkour, you assessment in this case is wrong. If a prescient post, then maybe the Township will add another award category: The Preservation Lost Cause of The Year. It would be an small honor just to be nominated by those who protect Montclair’s character and signed off on this demolition.

  8. All deserving of the awards, but it also points out a key difference with Lackawanna. It is not a collaborative Redevelopment project between a redeveloped and our Council. It is just a ordinary site plan application put forth to the Planning Board by the property owner. As the Redevelopment Plan never made it out of draft stage it is meaningless. The proposal is evaluated under our existing zoning, our historic zone overlay and our Master Plan. None of which support the demolition. Hence, the Planning Board has to find a plausible mustache to justify the demolition. If they do, you should watch their individual discomfort as they attempt to explain it…in land use terms. It will be a priceless video history that will live on the internet in perpetuity.

  9. Frank…do you kno when/if there will be any public comment period on this site plan? I have been following and all is see is opportunities to ask questions but not offer and suggestion, opinions or weigh in in any weigh..not that it will make any difference but it just feels like it has been many many months since the PB has had to listen to any in person commentary on this project?

  10. I’ll give you what I know or believe, but it would be better if Martin Schwartz posted an answer fore you.

    Public opinion part of public comment will be heard after all presentations and testimony concludes. As you stated, the general public can question any sworn witness giving testimony. Legal counsel remarks are a gray area to me. Questions from the public immediately follow each testimony. The Chair can elect to combine & postpone the public questioning to later in the meeting.

    With a little creativity, you can make a suggestion to a witness as long as it is in the form of a question. E.g. Has your professional experience been that a majority of the boards you have appeared before end up approving the demolition of local landmarks or it typically the exception. (They love the word typical 🙂 )

    Ok, back to you question. This application has been given the entirety of a special hearing on May 14th. You will hear their new parking expert & the town’s parking expert. After they conclude these and some other witness testimony, the public hearing will be sometime later that night. If the hearing runs late or devolves into parking minutia, there is a good chance this application – and public opinion/feedback -will be continued to another meeting.

    Hope this is clear and hopefully Mr Schwartz will step in and post a reply to you.

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