MontClairVoyant: If This All-Positive Column Makes You Faint, Montclair Has Many Good Doctors

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
You received several comments last week about being too negative. Can you, just once, write an all-positive column about Montclair?

Sincerely,
Bea Moore-Upbeat

Yes — and I prepared by watching “My Little Pony” videos!

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
If you have any brain cells left after that, can you tell us what you like most about our town?

Sincerely,
We Wish You to ‘Dish’

Montclair’s population is more diverse than that of most suburbs. In contrast, driving into mostly white Cedar Grove last week had me humming “I’m dreaming of a white July 4th, with every July 4th card I write…”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
What about Montclair’s public schools?

Sincerely,
Ella Mentary

Love ’em! My older daughter got a great education at Edgemont, Renaissance, and Montclair High; my Buzz-bound younger daughter got a great education at Bradford (and spent happy weeks at Nishuane’s summer camp); and my cat got a great education at…well…he was home-schooled with “McWindowsill Readers.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Better than 19th-century “McGuffey Readers.” What about Montclair’s many restaurants?

Sincerely,
No Country for Old Menus

I’ve enjoyed dozens of those eateries since moving to Montclair in 1993, with Sushi Hana and Veggie Heaven the ones I most frequently visit. To reach the latter’s balcony seating, it’s “Stairway to Heaven” even if you’re thoroughly sick of classic rock.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Our town’s architecture?

Sincerely,
The Builded Age

Love the old homes and old commercial edifices. They have flair, style, grace, pizzazz, panache, elegance, and nice nooks for thesauruses like the one I just consulted.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Montclair’s beautiful parks, trees, and anemones?

Sincerely,
Natural Nuances

So that’s what PTA stands for!

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
And, astoundingly for a suburb of 38,000 or so people, our town has six train stations!

Sincerely,
Choo-Choo Chewbacca

Seven if you count the depot in the Thomas the Tank Engine videos I watched after “My Little Pony.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Plus there’s the Studio Playhouse, Montclair Art Museum, Montclair State University, and more!

Sincerely,
League of Destinations

I’m so glad MSU offers the course “Write a Positive Column for Once in Your Pathetic Life After Writing Negative Columns Many Times in Your Pathetic Life 101.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
The above Q&A would have been a perfect way to end today’s piece, but what about the Planning Board’s July 9 decision to approve (with some revisions) the 256 Park Street building that will further crowd the Watchung Plaza area?

Sincerely,
Bad Soon Rising

I’ll discuss that next week. This week, it’s all blue skies, daisies, sprites, and ice-cream cones — including sprites eating ice-cream cones while sitting amid daisies under blue skies. Plus rainbows…yes, rainbows.

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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59 COMMENTS

  1. Dave,

    I know this is not your usual approach to the column, but same rules apply to positive commentary. It’s got to tell us something new or timely.
    So, note Montclair and Montclair State are out for the summer.
    There aren’t new plays/exhibits in the Summer.
    Our new trees are dying.
    NJT train service sucks equally at all 6 train stations – especially 4th of July week cxls and weekly standing.
    The proposed redesign of 430 Upper Mountain is really, really bad. I pity the neighbors.
    9 Upper Mountain has sprouted even more front yard parking and asphalt than last month… which complements a front facade of only garage doors. It is now two condos – each with their own driveway. Martin Schwartz momentarily questioned this, but quickly said ok. It is hard to understand why we even bother with front yard setbacks. And guess what, we are going to build several more of these.

    I missed your point about the whiteness of Cedar Grove.

  2. Ans speaking of our glorious school district, they decided to floodlight the Buzz Aldrin Middle School with high pressure sodium light fixtures which waste 50% of the electricity on lighting up the night sky. Quite a spectacular display of obliviousness.

    I’m sure if I go to MHS, Rand, etc I will see the same ignorant execution the district is known for when it comes to its approach to green. The only green the BOE and district management understand is the dead president kind.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Frank!

    I’ll definitely get more satirical again next week, but, until then, here’s a partial defense of this week’s column: Montclair State offers summer courses (though probably not imaginary ones 🙂 ). The Studio Playhouse doesn’t have new productions of its own during the summer, but it’s the site of Essex Youth Theater productions. People can still visit the Montclair Art Museum in the summer even if there are no new exhibits. There are indeed major issues with train service, but it’s still amazing to have six stations — a set-up that allows many residents to walk to their trains. Cedar Grove was 89.01% white as of the 2010 Census — not totally homogenous, but not that diverse, either. Plus I badly wanted to do a July 4th version of “White Christmas.” 🙂

    Bad news about trees and continued overdevelopment.

  4. “Plus I badly wanted to do a July 4th version of “White Christmas.” 🙂”

    Will Upper Montclair do? It covers 40% of the Township and is 84% white.

  5. Frank, I didn’t realize Buzz and perhaps some other schools were overlit. Seems wasteful, though I totally understand the need for a certain amount of lighting for security reasons. Also, I remember reading a few years ago about some of Montclair’s public schools not doing a great job with recycling; hopefully that has improved since then.

    While Montclair’s public schools aren’t perfect education-wise (achievement gap, etc.), I have overall been very impressed with them. And, for whatever it’s worth, many MHS graduates end up going to excellent colleges.

    I’m not used to being this positive… 🙂

  6. “Will Upper Montclair do? It covers 40% of the Township and is 84% white.” That’s an interesting point, Frank. I wish Upper Montclair were as diverse as “lower Montclair,” but 07043 and 07042 at least share the same magnet school system — meaning the student bodies of schools such as Buzz and Bradford are thankfully less than 84% white.

  7. The Mayor told the school district to capitalize the salaries of those directing our capital improvements. The BoE said, “capital idea!” These capitalized people are directing the illumination of the parapets because they want the townsfolk to be safe from the “Buzzed” Hunchback of Aldrin lurking on the parapets. There is also strong concern by the BoE that some constellations and galaxies are at risk of theft, hence their laudable efforts to illuminate the night sky and, hence, make them invisible to potential thieves.

    And yes, our much-praised school district is as bad as NYC when it come to recycling. Basically, we don’t recycle. We don’t do green. We talk about it. We’re very proud of the way we talk about it. I admit our talk is almost to the level of compelling if you shut down the cognitive side of your brain.

    Anyway, on a moonless night, I can go up on the roof and see the skyglow of Buzz Aldrin Middle School, Newark and New York City, in that order. I go to Maine if I want to see the Milky Way.

  8. FWIW, Bradford School has the biggest segregation issue currently. Northeast is 2nd and I can never remember the distant 3rd, but I’ll guess it is Watchung. Believe it or not, minority students don’t want to come up that far into Up Mtc. I remember this Council held a regular session up here in 2013 (they were elected just a year before) and never did that again.

  9. Frank, that was a very, VERY funny take on Buzz Aldrin Middle School’s illumination!

    I realize the more-northern-side-of-town elementary schools such as Bradford are less diverse than schools such as Nishuane and Bullock, but they are still fairly diverse. My younger daughter just spent six years at Bradford, so I saw that firsthand.

    One thing contributing to Montclair’s schools not being more equally diverse is that court ruling of whatever number of years ago not allowing race to be a factor in determining the mix of students populating each magnet school. So Montclair has had to do an imperfect end-around with a kind of geographic-zoning approach to try to achieve some level of diversity in all schools.

  10. Im glad you enjoyed my attempt at humor Dave.
    Yes, the schools are generally diverse and the zone approach has its limitations when combined with other wants of the parents. It is not ideal to put a 7 year old on a bus going crosstown. It gets out of wack every so often, we tighten it up for a while, then we start the cycle over. It resolves itself once they enter middle school.

    Frankgg,
    Lackawanna is part of the Town Center Historic District. It is a key site, hence a “landmark” within the district. Stand alone, locally designated historic sites are listed individually. Technically, by local ordinance, none of these individual sites are “landmarks”.

  11. And the proposed redesign of 430 Upper Mountain is not relally ugly…it is just an inappropriate and flawed design that conflicts with our local ordinance’s specifications on the appearance of R-1 structures. I don’t object to its expansion, just the execution and the zoning board should not grant the 19′ variance requested.

  12. Wow, frankgg! A VERY interesting/depressing omission. Glad you mentioned it.

    I wonder if Lackawanna Plaza is not on that landmark list because of an oversight or because some Montclair officials are so eager to have it redeveloped, even at the expense of marring some of its historical elements (train sheds, etc.).

  13. A highly successful attempt at humor, Frank!

    Yes, the wants of some parents does affect the demographics of Montclair’s public schools. Plus other factors such as having siblings attend the same schools. It’s complicated…

    I don’t think even the longest bus rides (say, a student living near MSU going to Nishuane) are outrageously long, but I guess it depends on the student, how friendly or unfriendly the other student passengers are, etc.

    And thanks for your comment on Lackawanna and local historic designations — a comment I didn’t see until after I replied to frankgg.

  14. I forgot about the sibling rule. Yes, they need a quadratic equation calculator.

    Frankgg,
    Applications and their exhibits, for both the Zoning Board and Planning Board, are posted here.
    For 430 UMA, click thru to the Zoning Board section. https://montclairnjusa.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=5276290&pageId=11091819

    Note a few things: the right side roof dormer on existing house is centered from front to back and look at the architect handles the connection, or lack of. The addition starts forward of the existing main structure and its lower angle peak roof perpendicular to the main house. And then there are the 8 over 8 windows. The effect is like 2 houses…think conjoined fraternal twins.

  15. frankgg, the attempts of most developers and some Montclair officials to “undermine historic preservation” are wrong and extremely harmful to our town, even if there are some modest short-term gains in ratables. (I know I’m not saying anything you don’t already know!)

  16. “…they need a quadratic equation calculator” — ha, Frank! That and a dartboard with Montclair school names on it to randomly assign students based on where the thrown darts land. (Just kidding.)

  17. With a 1% waxing moon tonight after yesterday’s New Moon, and a clear sky after 9pm, we should be able to see the Milky Way clearly with just our eyes. Let your eyes adjust away from any light sources for about 30 minutes. If you can’t see the MW, then this will provide an excellent example of what light pollution has done to our night sky.

  18. Frank, it would be ironic if light from a school (Buzz Aldrin) named after an astronaut made it harder to see the Milky Way…

  19. Wow Frank, the proposal seems that no one from the architectural office went on site to see the existing conditions. There are no design connections between the existing and the new. The lateral dormer doesn’t connect to anything and if you open the existing window you just see a wall. That is not to code. The new window with the mullion details and sizes don’t match any existing windows at all and the new facade that supersedes the location of the existing facade just maims the existing house. A bad proposal. Makes you want to faint.

  20. The fainting theme continues… 🙂

    (Thanks, frankgg, for sharing your architectural expertise.)

  21. The Township surreptitiously increased the speed limit on Upper Mountain from 30 mph to 35 mph so drivers will have less time to appreciate these recent examples of Montclair’s new character. The very few pedestrians that walk the street become double-screwed.

    Upper Mountain is the new Grove Street. As a long time resident, it seems very equitable. Each gets its turn & time to get maimed.

  22. frankgg,

    The proposed design mixes the Queen Anne, Federalist, Colonial & Ranch styles. I think it would help immensely if they just lose the Queen Anne style of the original house, Hardi-Plank the entire thing, put a double, street-facing garage within the new addition and focus on making it a Colonial Ranch hybrid.

  23. Drats, timed out to edit my thought. Another option is to get the variance and then change the plan and tear down the existing. This would solve the design issue and just go with a Vernacular Style for a new structure.

  24. Frank, if Upper Mountain Avenue now has a speed limit of 35, I agree that’s too fast. And, yes, ironic after Grove Street’s speed limit was reduced. A very serious matter, though I appreciate your droll reference to speeding drivers not being able to see the “interesting” housing changes as well as if they were driving slower.

  25. That’s my point. The speed limit is 30 mph for a good part of it.

    The Council has sanctioned Department Community Services putting up 35 mph signs. They are taking a Trumpian approach and just saying it is a fake speed limit ordinance.

    See, what works for the Montclair Republicans also works for Montclair Democrats. They just have different choirs as their base.

  26. Frank, I think Democrats in general have better policies than Republicans in general, but Democrats certainly make plenty of not-good decisions.

  27. Not my point. Point was about justifying sacrificing individual values to realize these goals. The greater good. I get it. I always laugh my ass off when people 1.) take the high moral ground when doing this and 2.) say the country is coming to an end. That combination is indicative of a bs.

    Generational myopia.

  28. I hear you, Frank. Aiming for “the greater good” (aka “the greater bad” in many cases) rather than looking out for the interests of individuals is a problem with both major parties — though, again, I think the Republicans are a lot worse. Of course, the alleged “greater good” is often what people such as developers say they want (locally) and entities such as corporations say they want (nationally). With “the greater good” frequently a euphemism for “profits are more important than people.”

  29. Frank and Dave…did you two ever think about getting two milk crates and sitting on the corner to have your little bromance? I have to admit that your comments are so filled unintended irony that it does give credence to the claim that your blog is about humor and satire.

  30. Thanks for your thoughts, flipside.

    Frank comments a lot here, and, as you know, I reply to almost every comment from everyone. I think Frank’s comments are intelligent, interesting, and very knowledgeable about Montclair — but there have been more than a few times he and I disagree. And Frank and I have never met. All that doesn’t seem like a “little bromance” to me, but what do I know — I’ve only seen one Judd Apatow movie… 🙂

  31. Slow day flipside? Moderating the Montclairvoyant thread? And milk crates? I don’t have any, but I can break out my telex machine.

  32. Frank..Moderating? Nah…not really….just opining how boring you two are. The milk crates was a reference to “Do the Right Thing” and a throw back to my teen years when I pumped gas in a “hood”. The sight of you and Dave juxtaposed against Frankie Faison and Sweet Dick Willie tickled my funny bone.

  33. Milk crates, flipside? Not for me. Soy-milk crates? Maybe. That would “Do the Right Thing” for cows.

    The conversations between Frank and I are (according to you) “boring”? Yikes! I’ll try to liven things up in the future with excerpts from “The Wit and Wisdom of Donald Trump.” Oops — that book has zero pages.

    Thanks for reading, anyway. And your excellent mention of Frankie Faison brings back fond memories of when Luna Stage was in Montclair.

  34. I like you Dave…always polite. I do feel badly about your Trump Derangement Syndrome. Especially since when you chose to knock the Don you use the same insulting tactics as he does. Interesting how that works. I am not a fan of Trump’s personality or behavior so I see no point in emulating him. Why stoop to his level?

  35. Thank you, flipside! I enjoy conversing with you, too. 🙂

    I think my insults of Trump (such as the one in my previous comment) are not on the same low level as his insults. I don’t mock his appearance (as he often does with people), I don’t use foul language (as he did when he said “sh-thole” countries), etc.

    Also, when a person insults someone in reaction to another person’s awful words or actions, I believe it’s different than insulting someone with little or no provocation (as Trump frequently does). And given Trump’s bullying personality, being polite in reaction to that is like unilaterally disarming — something a number of mainstream Democrats have done.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re not a fan of Trump’s personality or behavior, even as you might agree with some of his policies — which you have every right to do.

  36. Flipside,
    Objectively, you are right. I’m often boring. I swing between pedantic & esoteric posts on local minutiae to making sweeping, over-blown proclamations on generational cultures. Neither have much of a willing audience. You and others feel that I should come around to more interesting, less prosaic contributions. You want me to give you more relevant insights to a larger Bnet following, or if unable, to desist from posting my rotten tomatoes content. Point taken. But, you are moderating and, jee whiz, you are relating me to a movie 30 years ago. By your standard, you could also do with some breaking out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, Bnet will just be a bunch of us seniors banging on.

  37. Actually Frank I thought I was staying current with a reference to a 30 year old movie. Maybe I should used The Magnificent Ambersons. What would I really like? I would like for you to run for office or somehow get on the planning board or BOE. I would vote for you in heartbeat. (though I only agree with you half of the time) Your knowledge of local minutiae could serve a town that desperately needs a gadfly.

  38. Trivia interlude: Booth Tarkington, author of “The Magnificent Ambersons” novel, served one term in the Indiana House of Representatives as a Republican!

  39. Flipside,

    First I’m to trade my soapbox for a milk crate and now you want to give me chair with a microphone?

    I thought I was already had the gadfly title? Now you want to fold me into the system as part of a group? Part of a team? Wouldn’t it be better for the Township all the way around for the Council to create an ombudsman position…not subject to 3 minute time limit and OPRA information process?

    PS: What little I know of mainstream movies, then and now, is pitiful.

  40. Yes, a gadfly who joins “the system” she or he has been “gadfly-ing” against has a hard time remaining a gadfly.

    Actually, some kind of Montclair ombud is an excellent idea, Frank. I’d hate to see another salary added to residents’ taxes, but maybe a person or persons could do the ombud-ing on a volunteer basis, with some kind of rotation arrangement.

  41. Thanks Dave for the correcting to a gender neutral description. The ombuds should be volunteers.

  42. Thanks, Frank!

    I wasn’t consciously trying to correct anything, but I’m used to the slang word “ombud” from my years formerly writing for a magazine that covered the newspaper business. 🙂

  43. “I’ll definitely get more satirical again next week,”

    Good. The hearing on demolishing Lackawanna Train Station is this Monday…and I just read the new expert’s report. It’s absolutely surreal. When the Planning Board reads the report, they should think about the famous Consultant Bingo game. As he does his presentation, there are certain buzz words and phrases that will be uttered. The first person that fills out their Consultant Bingo card then signals (maybe tweets?) bingo. I’m definitely putting the word “remnant” on my card. It’s a favorite in the report so I’m sure we’ll hear it. I’ll also be using “utilitarian”. I haven’t decided on which phrases to use. The traditional rules of the games require a certain amount of phrases. Usually half. Anyway, a good way to pass the time in a meeting.

    P.S. Now I’m worried that Montclair might have to give back the millions in Transit Village grants. That would really suck.

  44. Here is the report on the township web site:

    https://www.montclairnjusa.org/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=13497972

    Then come back to this excerpt from the Council’s resolution supporting the demolition:
    “WHEREAS, the current plan offers a reasonable, pragmatic homage to the storied history of Lackawanna Plaza; now therefore” blah, blah & blah.

    I can’t decide if a prima facia case of collusion or just backfilling the resolution’s premise that the station is not historic?

  45. Thank you, Frank! Two VERY well-said comments. Monday’s ultra-important Planning Board meeting could be rather memorable. (If the developers don’t ask for and get another postponement.)

    The report you linked to does sound…um…”interesting.” I’ll read it when I get a chance today (I’m off to jury duty in about a half hour). Love your Bingo comparison. 🙂

    “…a reasonable, pragmatic homage” — sheesh. A phrase that seems almost Orwellian.

  46. Frank, the last line of my previous comment should have used more of the phrase you cited and read like this:

    “…a reasonable, pragmatic homage to the storied history of Lackawanna Plaza” — sheesh. A phrase that seems almost Orwellian.

  47. ”…workmanship in a utilitarian structure is difficult to discern…

    I wasn’t sure what to make of the above quote and other gems when I first read the report. I read the expert’s report again this morning – this time over coffee.

    I concluded that it reflects the not so subtle presence of preservation snobbery.

    Surely, an architect with an alphabet soup of degrees and 30 years of experience can discern workmanship in a utilitarian design. I think there was a Utilitarianism movement in design at some time.

    Maybe he means that the common folk of Montclair can’t appreciate the workmanship of a utilitarian steel & concrete structure. Maybe it was dumb luck that we highlighted the very pedestrian train trestle in our the 2013 designation of the Watchung Historic District? Maybe it was just as a novelty that we designated two concrete residences for their concrete construction?

    I’m am not surprised that Hamsphire/Pinnacle doesn’t see or value the historic train station and hired a consultant to say so. It is not surprising that our culture justifies all the time the demolition of historic properties in the name of progress. It is a little surprising to read this argument that it is not historic. I would prefer the advocates of the demolition just say it is historic, but an obstacle to financial gain and move on. It is insulting to ask us to accept this report’s explanation for demolishing the train station.

  48. Let me also offer a not-so-fine point of comparison to the Councilor Hurlock-led Council successfully fighting NJT over the historic delisting of the Upper Montclair Train Station with this report’s case for demolition. If the Council accepts this expert’s “lacks integrity” argument, then Montclair was clearly wrong to fight the delisting of a modular facsimile of the original train station. Upper Montclair really did only have remnants of historic fabric. Hard to reconcile these two in the context of public policy.

  49. The original train sheds are an important integral element that identify the historic structure as being a train station landmark. You can’t remove them because it harms the value of its identity as a train station landmark. Their being there in the structure is whats important, not who the designers were.

  50. Picked as a juror for a trial from the jury-duty pool! Will reply to the recent interesting comments later.

  51. Just read the report that was linked to several comments above. Am I assuming correctly that the Lackawanna Plaza redo’s developers paid this “expert” for the report? If so, they got their money’s worth with his disturbing attempt to trash the significance of Lackawanna Plaza’s historic elements. How convenient as the developers try to maximize profits once again.

    I agree, Frank, that architecture can be historic, nice to look at, AND sort of utilitarian. And you made a great comparison between the strong effort to save the historic remnant of the Upper Montclair Train Station with the later don’t-care-much-about-preservation stance of some Montclair officials re Lackawanna Plaza. It’s inconsistent, a double standard, or however one would describe it.

    frankgg, I couldn’t agree more when you wrote: “The original train sheds are an important integral element that identify the historic structure as being a train station landmark. You can’t remove them because it harms the value of its identity as a train station landmark.”

  52. Dave,

    Just to be clear, I was challenging the report saying the workmanship (vs. the design) is difficult to discern in a utilitarian structure. Like the report, design and workmanship are two different attributes.

    The original steel stanchions supporting the concrete shed roofs appear to be using rivets, not bolts. The 1980s renovation’s replacement parts used welded steel and bolts. These new stanchions were likely in only a small section in the hall to the East where the original stairs from Grove St were demolished. The amount of replacement stanchions would meet the a more accurate definition of remnant.

    I understand welded steel connections became more common after 1930. Riveting is a more labor intensive method. It also gives he stanchions and their supports their utilitarian, strong detail. Whether the workmanship is good or bad is beyond me, but its quality should be clearly evident. The riveting method offers an interesting historic detail in itself. The concrete roofs and stanchion’s concrete footers were board formed on site versus the precast preference today. Again, I don’t know the quality, but the on-site workmanship seems to have held up well 100 years later.

    I refer you to Michael Stahl’s great b&w photographs in this June Bnet article:
    https://baristanet.com/2018/06/opinion-preservation-lackawanna-plaza-montclair-train-station/

    If you mouse over a photo and open in a new window/tab (control/click for mac), you can zoom more and really see the detail of this method/workmanship.

  53. Thanks for the further information, Frank, and I LOVE those black-and-white Lackawanna photos by Michael Stahl. I’m guessing the Lackawanna developers do NOT like those pictures, because they (the photos) deservedly make the former train station’s historic elements look as aesthetically pleasing as they are.

    I plan to mention Lackawanna and the upcoming July 23 Planning Board meeting in tomorrow’s new column.

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