Montclair Council: New Parking Lot At Edgemont Park Not Senior-Friendly and A Vote To Move Lackawanna Plaza Project Along

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The Montclair Township Council meeting Tuesday night was dominated by the ongoing issue of the new parking facilities at Edgemont Park.  At issue was how seniors could possibly use the new parking lot as currently designed, given that the township’s activities for seniors are primarily held at the Edgemont Park field house.

Collin Minert of the Montclair Senior Citizens Advisory Committee

Collin Minert of the Montclair Senior Citizens Advisory Committee argued that the parking lot as designed was too small and had too few spaces to accommodate not only the many residents 65 and older who use the field house for senior activities but also youth groups who also use the building.  Minert noted that the field house’s activities for seniors attracted as many as 10,000 senior visits in the 20-month period, many of them frequenting the facility between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays.  The 12 parking spaces planned in the new parking area, he said, were woefully inadequate for both the elderly and for other people who may have trouble parking there, such as mothers with strollers, and he said that on-street parking would be difficult for seniors who chose not to park in the new lot.  He was especially concerned with the planned parking spaces along a curved Belgian-block curb, which he said would be almost impossible for anyone to navigate, and he questioned if there would be enough room for senior buses stopping at the field house.

Many residents took to the public comment to express agreement with Minert that the new parking facility would restrict access for many, but resident Penny Carey saw one silver lining.  She hoped that it would expedite Montclair’s efforts to find a centrally located, accessible site for a permanent senior facility.  Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo said he could understand the frustration that many seniors have with the planned parking-lot renovations for Edgemont Park, saying that senior Montclair residents deserved a senior center, but he added that Edgemont Park’s field house was never meant to be a permanent one, and he wanted to see a plan for the park that would make it available for all uses by all people.

Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, whose ward includes Edgemont Park and who has had community meetings in the field house, defended the new parking improvements as adding to the beauty of the park, suggesting that it could be modified if there were any problems.  Resident Virginia Cornue wanted to know why the township couldn’t come up with a parking facility that was both attractive and functional.  For his part, Mayor Robert Jackson said he was pleased with the overall improvements in Edgemont Park, citing the tremendous upgrades in lighting, as well as new benches and improved pathways that were far better than the decrepit amenities that had existed previously.  He added that he appreciated the residents input over the parking facility, and Councilor Russo held out hope that some modifications could be made to it.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited housing ordinance ensuring a fairer and more equitable distribution of affordable housing that was passed on first reading on April 17 came up for a final vote.

William Scott of the Montclair Housing Commission suggested a final change to the language of the ordinance regarding funds for rehabilitating properties for affordable housing.  In the ordinance up for a vote, up to $10,000 was made available for each dwelling that needs to be rehabilitated; Scott proposed a $15,000 threshold.  After the council spent a great deal of time deliberating over minor wording issues, Township Attorney Ira Karasick said the council could pass the housing ordinance as originally written and add an ordinance that implemented Scott’s suggestion.  Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller asked if this second ordinance amending the original would delay implementation of the original; Karasick assured him it would not.  Both ordinances passed 7-0, and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville thanked Scott for his leadership on the housing issue.

At the last minute, like the Scott amendment to the affordable-housing ordinance, was a resolution supporting the current plan to redevelop Lackawanna Plaza into a new supermarket, which is currently under review by the Planning Board.  The board hasn’t voted on it yet, but the council, still recalling the long and interminable effort to redevelop the Hahne’s property, wanted to show its support for getting the new supermarket built as well as respect and attention for the Fourth Ward residents and their needs. Dr. Baskerville said while it would be ideal to preserve as much of the old railway terminal as possible, she made it clear that she didn’t want the process to drag on, and Councilor Spiller concurred by saying that development of the property would benefit his ward, the line between the two wards running near Lackawanna Plaza.  Both councilors said much discussion had yielded positive results from compromising, including the preservation of the horse trough as a water-art element, but resident Frank Rubacky would have none of it.  Rubacky said the resolution was problematic owing to the fact that the Planning Board had not finished hearing testimony on the parking, and he added that the current plan does not preserve enough of the Lackawanna terminal building.  Between the supermarket and preservation, Rubacky said both were possible, and Historic Preservation Commission members Kathleen Bennett and David Greenbaum reiterated the need to strike a balance between the need for a supermarket in the Fourth Ward and a project that can save the railway terminal’s train sheds and create a public space to benefit everyone.

Mayor Jackson reminded Rubacky that the Planning Bard had the final vote on the project and that any stand the council took was moot.  Rubacky argued otherwise, saying the council still represented the residents and had appointed the Planning Board’s members and fearing that the board members would feel pressure from the council.  He thought it was not an example that the elected township leaders should set.

The mayor and councilors ended up spending several minutes debating the wording of the resolution, asking whether or not it should urge the Planning Board “to consider it [“it” being the Lackawanna project]  favorably and with dispatch;” the council passed it 7-0 after removing the words “favorably” and “and.”  In a comment on a separate Baristanet article, Rubacky said the semantic debate was wasted time “that I, or anyone that watched it, will never get back.  It was the life-span equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes.”

A first-reading ordinance entering Montclair into a government energy aggregation program with other Essex County communities was challenged by First Ward Councilor William Hurlock, who told Gray Russell, Montclair’s environmental-policy coordinator, that he took a dim view of Montclair changing electricity suppliers without their knowledge and against their will. Russell said that PSE&G changes suppliers constantly, and that this ordinance would assure transparency regarding suppliers while guaranteeing a clean-energy source. Councilor Hurlock and Deputy Mayor Schlager were unconvinced, both voting against it while Mayor Jackson and the other four councilors voted for it.

The meeting began with the local chapter of the pro-gun-control group Moms Demand Action receiving a proclamation from Montclair recognizing June 1 as National Gun Violence Day to call attention to the numerous school shootings and other firearm murders in the country.  Anyone interested in joining can reach out to the Essex County chapter of Moms Demand Action at momsdemandessexnj@gmail.com.

Members of the pro-gun-control group Moms Demand Action pose with the Montclair Township Council.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. I guess resident seniors’ parking needs aren’t as important as nonresident developers’. Maybe a page was taken from Trump’s aide’s book regarding Sen McCain…

  2. In the end the biggest question will be “who cares”????? and judging by the pathetic number of people at these critical meetings and then the same 10 people commenting in online forums.

    The sad answer will be…not very many..certainly not enough.

  3. Now down to 9 parkour. I at least know checkmate in 3 moves when I see it.

    On May 14th, Brian Stolar’s testimony before the Planning Board was, “We disagree that the stanchions and concrete slabs are historically registered on Federal or State documentation.” He stated his intent to bring expert testimony supporting this view.

    Now shift to the Council’s resolution & commentary on the johnny-come-latelys that insist on interjecting their disapproval at this late date, after a “myriad” venues and input over 4 years. “Enough is enough” was the headline. The Council then ignores the johnny-come-lately Mr Stolar in not doing his homework and say this back in 2015. Or 2016. Or 2017. It’s OK, you can say it now. We like your plan.

    Knowing the developer does not consider these features historically protected, the Council feels compelled a week later to go on the record saying they fully support him and his development plan. It is pragmatic among their other compliments. The record will show that the Council was silent, much less rejecting out of hand the non-historic train shed argument raised just the week before.

    The Council boldly goes so far as to state the plan pays homage to the historic train station. Yes, homage was the word they used…a special honor or respect shown publicly.

    Knowing that for five decades Montclair considered the train station historic. Knowing that a prior Council voted to place our own local historic designation and a landmark status on the entire train station…even the stanchions and concrete slabs. Yes, we technically could have done it sooner but note our ordinance, as a rule, doesn’t recognize properties as historic if less than 75 years old. Anyway, I digress. Mr Stolar ignores the local designation by the then Mayor & Council.

    Then there were the absurd semantics conversation brought on by Councilor Hurlock. The original part about the resolution directing the Planning Board to consider the application “favorably”. Mr Hurlock’s concern was not that the Council held this view. His concern was the legal exposure to actually putting it in writing. They just can’t say this. The Council’s intent was established by the draft and the quibbling was just applying legal correctness.

    So, we have a Township Council acting as a body – not as residents – that formally inserts itself into a process not within their jurisdiction. Before the public or they hear the full presentation of the application. The presentation & testimony that is the only public record. That the public can’t yet comment on; only ask questions at this stage. They did this rather than go to the 6/18 hearing and give public comment like the rest of us… saying they fully support a plan by a developer that will have provided expert testimony the train sheds are not historically designated.

    And maybe the Council, unlike the Planning Board, considers themselves exempt from addressing in their resolution the obvious inconsistencies with elements of our Master Plan. A Master Plan that took 5 very long years – also all the twists and turns.

    The Council’s resolution now creates issues broader than those arising in this site plan. They went far beyond satisfying the wants or inequities towards a specific neighborhoods or a ward. They opened up governance issues. They created new policy. They created new practice & precedent. They created trust issues. They blurred roles & responsibilities. Whatever happens at Lackawanna will not change what the Council has brought upon itself and the township.

  4. “They created trust issues. They blurred roles & responsibilities. Whatever happens at Lackawanna will not change what the Council has brought upon itself and the township.”

    —yes, it’s the end of Life On Earth As We Know It. What a drama queen.

    Lackawanna Plaza is a rotting receptacle for pigeon dung. It has been such for DECADES. Stop sobbing over the historicism of concrete slabs and move forward.

  5. Yes, my point was wrapped in hyperbole. Good catch!

    Yes, jcunningham, thanks for adding the exclamation point to the Council’s understated message to the Planning Board. I’m sure the 9 dissenters appreciate you stepping up to relay the same message to them. Not that it matters, but I already FYI’d the Council that I will move on from Lackawanna. I am jumping off that hyperbolic bandwagon of dissent. Yes, thank God!

    I am confident that Lackawanna will provide all that most everyone expects. As to the governance issue I was raising, we’ll just have to disagree.

  6. You’re right on the governance Rubacky. What is wrong with that Councilor Renee Baskerville for sponsoring this foolish resolution? Doesn’t she ever get it? She really should stick to negotiating children’s tetanus shots..stay out of development deals.

    You don’t interfere with a land use application and negotiation at the 11th hour to back up a developer who is trying to take down a historically designated site – especially when there are a compromises kicking around to preserve the site AND serve the developer’s business needs. What a dufus — now including the entire Council. They’ve just aided the developer and stopped him from having to negotiate more. Why not pull the rug out from your team? As if it’s the Planning Board who’s been wasting time here trying to get something done and not the Council itself from the very start – as you pointed out before. Just an exercise in true political deflection and cowardice.

    Let’s see if this planning board has any balls. They can still let themselves be made into the Council’s political whipping boy , take the community heat off these elected officials…but still do the right thing and make the developer get to what’s necessary to keep things mostly protected and still create a space plan — at final decision. No one is suing anyone here. This is a historically protected site no matter what people think about it’s current status and any decision not to modify it would ultimately hold up in court. It’s the developer that has to find a way to make it all work — regardless of the Council trying to fold in the towel and any lack of shown gravitas shown.

  7. The Council said it was a by-right development plan. This means that the applicant can build what he wants as long as it complies with our ordinances, etc.

    The Council’s resolution then goes on to say a full-scale supermarket is a non-negotiable commitment to the residents.

    What negotiation? Didn’t know the PB can negotiate with an applicant with a by-right plan and certainly didn’t know that the Council can negotiate with an applicant when the project is no longer under the Council’s jurisdiction. Next, will we have our construction officials negotiating before issuing building permits.

    Three lawyers on the dais.

  8. Spot,

    I’ll amend your summary statement slightly:
    “You don’t interfere with a land use application and negotiation at the 11th hour to back up a developer who is trying to [fill in blank].”

    The historic part, or any circumstance doesn’t matter. It’s the interference that matters. I think some members knew full well this resolution was wrongful interference. If I am right, then they voted for personal political gain and did not put the township first. If I am wrong, that they didn’t see this as wrongful interference, then they don’t understand the boundaries of their jobs. They conceived and rushed this resolution through in a self-imposed 48 hr time constraint. They have another meeting June 12th, the week before the next Lackawanna hearing. Three weeks time to deliberate how best to voice their concerns without stepping on land-use law and those that serve on the bodies executing it.

    Any one Council member can make a misstep and all have done so at times. But, when the full Council makes a unanimous misstep such as this, something is fundamentally wrong. They used their full weight and power of a unanimous vote to say the ends justifies the means. They used their power to single out the land-use body, representing the interests of the entire town, to curtail their role and just pass the plan submitted so far. That the Planning Board doesn’t need to hear the rest of the testimony because the Council has decided what the outcome needs to be.

    There must be Planning Board members who share the Council’s viewpoint. Maybe because some fear not being reappointed. Maybe because they take the developer at his word that supermarket operators will not come in for anything less than what is proposed in the plan now. Maybe they don’t share the preservation value in the “concrete slabs” (I don’t either if we label them in such a way). The public should understand that the hearing process is tainted and by the time we reach the public comment stage, it will not matter. Depending on your viewpoint, this also may not matter.
    It’s the right outcome and how we arrive at it is of little consequence. Sound familiar in the present day?

  9. Rubacky..aka a “negotiation”. You’re taking words and things too literally here me thinks?

    Didn’t that Planning Board architectural consultant in another article say they were kicking around three space modification options still? And the HPC lady says she met with the developer and now he won’t do anything different? Seems like an impasse to me, but still with options that could be worked with. So my point again, why Council do you stick your nose publicly into this and back up the developer here when your own people are at the table and appear to be trying to satisfy everyone. Hello? is that smart?

    Weigh in afterward if needed and maybe privately more if things seem to be taking too long. Put pressure privately or publicly on the developer. But don’t give the developer more seeming negotiating clout to do nothing, because the community is now looking at you, the Council and saying “hurry up” here and you now need a ‘fall guy’ to take that heat off you. Especially when the Council was at least partially the reason why this took so long as you pointed out. And if you need a fall guy, make it the developer. Don’t sell your own HPC side and planning people out. That’s shameful. Could come back to bite them in the butt at election time.

    I don’t disagree with you mostly above. But like I said, this is a legally designated historic site. Therefore, any modification to the historic part is a “negotiation” for adaptive reuse when the intent is to modify the space in a way that the developer says he wants to.

    Whether he’s right to do so, whether this planning board agrees to it..to what and for why? Those are other issues.

  10. You are correct Spot. I was not clear.

    The Council was factually wrong to say it is a by-right plan. The plan is requesting variances and waivers and of course, the demolishing of historic fabric that is part of a historic zoning overlay ordinance. This is not a by-right application. So, yes, this is a negotiation and always has been. The fact that this escaped the fact-checking of the resolution just shows sloppiness. That is unusual for this Council except in the past cases where they rushed through resolutions/ordinances. Than it is more the norm.

    Now that all are clear this is a negotiation, the Council inserted a non-negotiable clause from the cheap seats. If I use the Council’s logic, this means that the HPC can add a non-negotiable clause as they clearly have legal standing versus the Council’s lack of standing in this application.

    Let’s get everyone involved. Does the Zoning Board have any non-negotiable clauses they want to add? Maybe the Cloverhill Gang or the Montclair BID have their own non-negotiable clauses, too? I would love to hear the Board of Education weigh in, even if they can’t muster a unanimous POV.

    Everyone, form a group and add your non-negotiable clauses. They will have the same equal status as the Council’s. FYI, “Stakes In The Ground” are available at American Royal Hardware.

    All your points about the impact on negotiation and the give & take are spot-on.

  11. Further to the Mayor’s defense the Council is just an outside interested party with no power, I ask who does the Planning Department work for? The Planner reports to the Interim Township Manager. The Interim Township Manager works for the Council. The Planning Department sources the experts for the Planning Board. The Planning Board hires the experts. The experts that will challenge an applicant’s testimony and exhibits.

    Do you think there will be a Historic Preservation expert representing the Planning Board. Note, just being a member of the HPC does not automatically make them experts and most, if not all would not meet the standard.

    The Planning Board hires the experts they feel they need using the developer’s escrow fund. But, they have to vote on the hire. No time to do so – and clearly there is no longer a need for this. The PB faces accepting the developer’s expert testimony unchallenged.

  12. Do you think ALL the Planning Board’s experts are now aware that the Planning Department’s boss’s boss passed this resolution? Wouldn’t it be prudent to share the resolution with them? The resolution is now part of the application record.

  13. Isn’t this story about parking for seniors at Edgemont Park? Frankly, this whole LP debate is getting a bit old.

  14. True. Historically old. I moved on to the issues with the Council actions which this article was covering.

    Noteworthy was the split vote on the Township-wide energy aggregation plan over the issue of Opt In vs Opt Out. Many will have no doubt noticed the barrage of emails, notifications, etc they are receiving about updates to the privacy policies, personal data sharing and so forth. Part of the reason is rooted in regulatory bodies moving away from the obsolete Opt Out approach. The energy aggregation program is based on this obsolete Opt Out approach. The program is a worthwhile endeavor- even progressive. Montclair has been working on this program for years and Opt Out then was not the issue that it is today. But, life moved on and we haven’t. I guess we’ll catch the wave at some point down the road.

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