What To Read Before Montclair Planning Board’s Meeting Monday on Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment

Montclair’s Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment has been stalled after Montclair’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) expressed concerns in April over the removal of the “train sheds” as part of the redevelopment. The structures had been incorporated into an atrium in the 1980s when Lackawanna Station was turned into an indoor shopping center with an attached Pathmark supermarket.

Lackawanna Plaza Station – National Register

Meanwhile, Montclair’s 4th Ward has been without a supermarket since November 2015 when Pathmark closed its doors. Montclair resident William Scott spoke to this at a May Montclair Planning Board meeting, voicing concerns about the delay of the redevelopment, stating that the historic value of the train shed should take a back seat to economic development for the Fourth Ward, and that a working supermarket and new housing with affordable set-asides to be built there were long overdue.

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 at a May Montclair Council meeting where the council voted to move the project along, recommending that the Planning Board “consider it [“it” being the Lackawanna project] favorably and with dispatch.”

This Monday (July 23, 7:30 p.m.) Montclair Planning Board will be discussing Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment, after discussion was postponed from the June 18 meeting. The following reports have been posted on the Township’s website, regarding the site’s historical significance and possible reuse/re-purposing of the existing structures, particularly the train sheds.

Documents include:

  • A 60-page report from Barton Ross, the Planning Board’s architectural consultant, Architecture_BRPA Report_7-11-18.
  • In his report, Ross states that the major issue with the proposed design continues to be the elimination of about 2/3 of the length of the original 1913 metal train sheds. “Because the current proposal still calls for the demolition of the historic train sheds, does not identify or guarantee a “supermarket” anchor tenant, provides too much unmitigated, pedestrian un-friendly surface parking and other inconsistencies with the Township of Montclair’s Master Plan, we do not recommend approval of the application at this time. However, if the applicants take the feedback into account, certain modifications to their plan should bring the proposed project more effectively into consistency with the town’s Master Plan.”

    Ross has stated at a previous Montclair Planning Board meeting that while the design could keep the supermarket and some of the train shed for an urban-style market or seating area or maintain the atrium as it is, he said his favorite idea was to leave the train shed columns in place and let motorists park cars beneath them.

  • A supermarket design report from Mehmert Store Services: Supermarket Design_Mehmert Report _ June 2018, detailing how other communities have adapted/re-used similar structures.
  • The Memmert report suggests either considering a store within the train shed structure or considering the former use as a covered parking garage for trains to a modern use as a parking garage for cars.

  • An 11-page report from Dr. Steven M. Bedford, an architectural historian from Louis Berger, retained by Pinnacle, the developer – Architectural Historian Report_7_13_18 (1) – refuting points in Barton’s 60-page report, specifically stating that Lackawanna Plaza does not, nor did it ever, have Lincoln Bush Train Sheds. Bedford says what Lackawanna Station does have is platform canopies, something Bedford describes as “ordinary.”

    Bedford goes on to say that the “train platforms have lost their integrity and the resulting conclusion is that demolition of the interior mall is not inconsistent with historic preservation principals or requirements.” The report disagrees with the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission’s recommendation that the proposed demolition of the interior mall is inconsistent with Section 347-137(D) of the Montclair Code.

Ross would not comment on Bedford’s report other than to say that the report “does not affect any of our conclusions or recommendations for the project.”

Click here to sign up for Baristanet's free daily emails and news alerts.


  1. I think Councilor Schlager as the Council member representative on the Planning Board needs to recuse herself from the Lackawanna application because of her vote supporting the Council’s May 22nd Lackawanna resolution.

    Councilor Hurlock and Council Attorney clearly raised the issue of recognizing the statutory and jurisdictional differences between the Planning Board and the Council. Yet, Councilor Russo stated “the public is urging us to get this done”. The Council has no jurisdiction to “get this done”.

    Councilor Baskerville introduced this resolution. The prosed amendments were acceptable to her because she thought the intent of the wording being struck was implied.

    We all know the applicant’s presentation before the PB is still far from complete. I think for Councilor Schlager to join in the Council resolution while she was also hearing the application was an unfortunate lapse in judgment.

    Our Council has past conflict of intertest issues as demonstrated by the court decisions. Not recusing herself presents an necessary exposure to the Planning Board and the Township.

  2. This is a letter to the editor that I wrote for the local papers…

    Don’t Blame Preservationists for Holding Up Redevelopment

    In a town like Montclair that is characterized by its fine old buildings, its long standing neighborhoods and its unique social fabric, its only logical that due attention is given to preserving Montclair for what it is. Don’t Blame Preservationists for Holding Up Redevelopment if not enough importance is being given to preserving the towns fine old buildings. The decision makers of redevelopment have a duty in maintaining the Montclair’s historic character because its what maintains the real estate values and protects property owner’s investments in the residential neighborhoods. Montclair’s major real estate worth is indisputably its vast inventory of vintage residential properties. Preservation of the fine old existing streetscapes is a vital factor in maintaining real estate values. It attracts newcomers to invest in maintaining the fine old houses and neighborhoods. Preserving the neighborhoods’ buildings, especially the landmarks, means maintaining real estate values in actual indisputable statistics. This patrimony of historic buildings, is what gives Montclair its attractive trademark. Preservation maintains the town’s character and standards of quality. Its also considered a way to prevent suburban sprawl from harming a town’s desirable character.

    Montclair has a diverse, rich and unique social fabric that must me maintained to order to preserve the character as well. The Fourth Ward’s valuable Black History landmarks are disappearing and cannot afford to lose any more because of their significant social legacy. The Lackawanna Station is also a valuable Fourth Ward landmark that must not be lost to redevelopment. Preserving the the valuable train station landmark is important for the value of Montclair Center as well as the whole town. Preserving the landmarks could be considered a sentimental option but its significance in today’s world is reflected in economic return.

  3. Dr. Baskerville should realize that too many important landmarks have been lost in the Fourth Ward in her tenure. It harms real estate values not only in the fourth Ward but all over Montclair. The Train Station Landmark is too important and valuable to ruin by removing the train sheds. There was plenty of time to organize a supermarket alternative if that was really a problem.
    Bob Russo’s “urge to get it done” is unfounded, uncalled-for and slighting property owners as well. Does’nt he remember that he ran with Michael Strahan on a preservation platform and that his tenure as mayor lead up the demolition of the Marlborough Inn?
    It’s irresponsible of them to ruin the train station.

  4. I love old buildings and think the train sheds are unique but they are not the Eiffel Tower. Most people in Montclair have never been near them or know they exist. The population of Montclair is constantly turning over so if the sheds are razed only a few people will care. I don’t see any of the train shed lovers willing to pony up the money to save them. They sit on an extremely valuable piece of land and it was only a matter of time until it was developed. A new building will go up and everyone , nearly everyone, will forget the sheds ever existed. The MKA field house is a perfect example. The beautiful setting with the old Field House is now a memory for a few and unknown to many.

  5. I totally disagree, Flipside.
    Demolishing the carriage house on Upper Mountain had an understory but it should have been moved and repurposed.
    Removing the train sheds destroys the Train Station Landmark and there is no flip side to that argument.

  6. Yes, residence here is just a stop along the way and memories cloud and fade. We’re all quickly forgotten…so we try to extend the memory of people like Choice and Bullock to teach and inspire – even if just for a generation or two. After that point, the contributions of Choice and Bullock will be understood only by the few that research the archives. Then there will be new buildings replacing the old; given new names and these old names will be a memory. The normal reset of our historical clocks…move forward, never back.

  7. Frankgg…I loved the carriage house on Upper Mountain too and didn’t like seeing it go. I agree with you. That was not my point. How many current town residents remember the original Upper Montclair train station? Not many. How many care that it was replaced and expanded? Even less. Montclair is a special but it is not colonial Williamsburg. It would be great if they could repurpose the supports from the sheds but I don’t know if it’s fair to think a developer has to be limited to preserving them. I think the horse has been let out of the barn on that one…FrankR would know better.

  8. Well..not sure where to begin as there is so much going on here and this is a massive, era-defining project whose legacy, for better or worse will long outlast us all. I would not consider myself a “preservationist” but I definitely see the value in trying to preserve the sheds and the train station at large. However, as is the case with all the redevelopment projects in Montclair and beyond, I fear we are spending 99% of the debate on details that pale in comparison to the design elements that will have negative implications that are order of magnitude greater than anything that will be felt from the removal of train sheds and that the tremendous and expansive amount of surface parking that is being proposed here. Surface parking is a known death to vibrancy and will ensure that these once in a germination availability of prime downtown 8-acres will not go towards providing a public good or one square foot of viable, and vibrant, well thought out public space, but instead will be used to store hundreds of cars. We spend years and years arguing about train sheds, shadows and how “cars will fare making lefts into traffic” and then in the final few hours…hurriedly assign a few sq feet of unusable space for apartments and cars as “public space”…we plant a few bushes on them and then wonder why no human beings will ever spend one minute of time there. Take one look at Valley and Bloom as example one…I walk past that corner every day and have never seen on human being on the sidewalk or sitting.standing, lingering or socializing even for one second there…not one.

    Every great place you will ever visit puts people first and plans the space around what people love to do…and it’s not complicated and those places thrive economically, socially and psychologically. By far, The most important part of a development to “get right” and plan for how people will interact within it is the ground level. The public space, the retail the width of the sidewalks, the street lighting, the public furniture and the commercial uses that support and promote people being in those spaces….we never ever think that way…we spend thousands of hours on parking studies, traffic studies, and never ever consider where people are going to go and how they are going to use this space. Chalk this one up to another Valley and Bloom type outcome..although with the tremendous potential for vibrant public space and overall public good…and all the comments, great ideas and needs that were generated by the public at the “listening sessions” three years ago…the Lackawanna Development will sting ten times more.

  9. Whether the historic zoning is fair or not to the proprerty owner is a good question. The previous owner, ARC Properties didn’t object to placing the historic overlay restriction on the train station. Maybe this was due to the Township effectively brought the site under local historic preservation ordinance in the Master Plan’s 1993 Historic Preservation Element. It was subsequently reaffirmed by the Council extending the Town Center Historic District in 2003 to include both all parcels of the former train station. This included the East Parcel’s parking lot that originally included the uncovered train platforms. While the Grove St viaduct was demolished as part of the Urban Renewal project, the UR project did included the tunnel to connect the two parcels. I suspect this design detail was included to preserve the FEELING (see historian’s report) of how he parcels relate and an attempt at ensuring further development would be complement the SETTING. Combined with the importance the UR design placed on both retaining, and repurposing the train sheds, indicate a municipal consensus in retaining the attributes creating the historic integrity we have today.

    The current owners either knew or failed to do their due diligence when they bought these parcels. Like the parking variances they are asking for, they knew there are these zoning constraints they would have to overcome. To bring in an out of state consultant to visit the site for 1 day and say, without sufficient documentation or research, that the zoning does not apply is surreal. That the Council voted to demolish the train sheds without the benefit of sufficient documentation or research boggles the mind. What is clearly unfair is the process to date. That a council member can sit on one body and say the plan is pragmatic and reasonable – and supports demolition – and then pretend she will give it a fair hearing sitting on a distinctly separate, by law, body that makes the determination is ludicrous…and, IMO, seriously wrong. Fair? To whom?

  10. Montclair’s buildings, especially the important landmark ones like the Lackawanna Station are far more significant to American developmental history than the buildings in Colonial Williamsburg, Flipside. So were the constructions and artifacts of the indigenous that were destroyed by the colonists. Too much significance is given to banal American colonial history because thats the history written by the power people of the time, to en-grandize themselves and to justify their arrogance.
    Mr. Botsford who designed the Lackawanna Station lived in the YMCA in East Orange when he was working to come up with perhaps the finest and most innovative stations of its time. Its a masterpiece design. Unfortunately Botsford died on the Titanic. The train sheds are an integral part of the (or any) train station landmark and removing them would greatly harm the value of our landmark. Once they’re destroyed, they’re gone forever and so is an important piece of American History and valuable community history. I agree with parkour too that it is a great opportunity to design a people oriented center and I feel its a crime to destroy our historic landmark station to create a banal, Anywhere USA parking lot. How arrogant!

  11. Thank You FrankR..Montclair’s favorite curmudgeon. Sounds like local political shenanigans going on here. I appreciate you calling them out.
    Frankgg… let’s not lose track of the fact that those banal American colonists created a country where citizens are free to en-grandize themselves and justify their own arrogance. We all are living on the Founding Father’s laurels and are benefiting by having a living standard that wouldn’t have been possible without them. Ironic that you dismiss the colonists the same way the developers are dismissing the train sheds. BTW, the d’Orsay was barely saved from the wrecking ball and the train sheds aren’t even close to that masterpiece.

  12. FrankR..did you ever think of writing column about the “goings on” in Montclair? Since you know all the players, all the rules (better than the players), and have a grasp on the facts it would be helpful to residents to have your input. It would be great to have a source that sticks to the facts, without opinion, to rely on.

  13. flipside, please believe me that I am grateful to be an American. Like anywhere in the world, there are some extremely disturbing histories.

Comments are closed.