Putting a stop on a proposed plan to demolish historic train sheds was at the center of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission’s (HPC) special meeting held on Sept. 17. Members debated the current site plan for Lackawanna Plaza, amending one of their two resolutions against the newest revised land use plan slated to go before the Planning Board on September 24. The site developer Pinnacle and Hampshire Properties has an application that includes removal of the structures that is currently under review by the Township.
Commissioner Jason Hyndman cited the April 26 memo addressed to the Planning Board, where the HPC’s findings did include two alternative designs. He said it also included feedback from members of the public regarding the site plan and emphasized that the purpose of the presentation would be to demonstrate that another alternative is available that would speak to the criteria in the HPC’s ordinance showing the demolition of the structures would not be beneficial.
Commissioner John Reimnitz assured that no one was trying to design the site but there had been no alternative to the developer’s tearing down of the train sheds. He, along with Commissioner David Greenbaum, felt the current site plan’s train shed demolition would disregard “the intelligent and extremely thoughtful adaptive design of 1984 redevelopment at a time where the design’s best realization as a single tenant open space is within our grasp.”
Greenbaum then gave a presentation on a possible alternate scheme for the plaza. Reimnitz said the alternative plan took into account what the developer needs, in terms of the inclusion of a supermarket at the site, as well as a response to each of the line items. Some images depicted the interior of the space incorporating the existing train sheds with sky lights and the space being opened up.
“No one talks about the interior of the space, we’ve only been talking about parking and the exterior area It could be a fabulous space and asset to Montclair,” Reimnitz explained. ” We wanted to show Planning Board and the community-at-large what is possible and not tear down the historic train sheds.”
Reimnitz then reviewed the first resolution, which he defined as the parking plan demolition of existing historic structure of the train sheds, and lack of pedestrian access, and would be contrary to specific language of the Master Plan. He listed the line items as follows:
A. The depth proposed parking setback from Bloomfield Avenue is out of character with rest of downtown Montclair.
B. Pedestrian access is neither convenient nor safe for entire neighborhoods from the north, south and east of the site.
C. The historic integrity of the landmark site retains its full integrity in place and is critical in conveying the site’s purpose and historic context.
D. Proposed demolition of the train sheds is contrary to the HPC element Master Plan.
The second resolution was further detailed during the presentation, given by Greenbaum, who said original thoughts and ideas from the original resolutions were taken into account, along with recent input
“A lot of additional information that has been presented and we tried to do incorporate all the information,” he said.
Greenbaum then highlighted a plan of the actual atrium area, drawn by Reimnitz, which was inclusive of the train sheds and maintained an open space area.
“Our position is that the space alone, apart from the historical aspect and value of the space, is extraordinary space,” he said. “The preview of what our proposal is based upon situating the supermarket in the train sheds and leaving the atrium space wide open with 20 by 40 foot column spacing.”
He then relayed it would allow approximately 55,000 to 56,000 square feet of total space available, under the canopy of the glass atrium space, with available parking on the north and south side of the site. He added that the demolition that would take place in order to provide parking would come at the expense of the 1980s Pathmark building but not at the expense of the atrium spaces created by the train sheds, which he called “architecturally spectacular.”
“The site’s historical integrity is 100 percent in place,” he noted. “The full original use and its context is preserved.”
Kathleen Bennett, HPC chair. said the property is listed under three designations as a landmark, falling under local, state and national coming under Montclair’s HP Code 347-148.
“The Lackawanna Plaza is considered a key building in the district, defined as a building which possesses distinct architectural and historical significance and acts like a landmark within the architectural matrix of the district.”
During the public comment, Frank Gerard Godlewski of Essex Fells, said not preserving the station as a landmark would have negative effects, not only on real estate values in the Fourth Ward but the entire community. He said there would not be a supermarket made available for several years, when addressing the issue that many in the community have that there is a dire need for one, since the closing of Pathmark in 2015. He then stated that he supported the presentation given by Greenbaum.
James Cotter, a Cloverhill Place resident and a member of the Cloverhlll/Grove Terrace Neighborhood Association, said the association has given input into the project for the past three years and that the main concerns continue to be density, a dangerous traffic pattern, pedestrian and public safety. The second concern is the re-viability of a grocery store. Cotter also supported the presentation of an alternative plan presented during the evening. He cited a “recurring theme” when other landmarks have been torn down, such as the original Upper Montclair Train Station, and other locations in the Fourth Ward such as the Crane House, a YMCA and St. Vincent’s Hospital in township.
“We support the HPC’s effort to preserve and honor the history of the Fourth Ward and my neighborhood,” Cotter said. “We hope that the recommendation to the Planning Board urges the developer to bring a thoughtful and imaginative plan.”
The HPC unanimously approved the resolution to amend the April 26 memo in order to include the viable alternative plan that demonstrates demolition is not necessary, in addition to include the presentation’s design specifics.