The Montclair Development Review Committee (DRC) had public hearings for two projects and reviewed a third for the Zoning Board of Adjustment at its September 6 meeting, with Plnnang Director Janice Talley chairing the meeting. Planning Board member Martin Schwartz was present for the first public hearing but not for the other items, and Zoning Board Vice Chair Joseph Fleischer was absent.
The first public hearing was for the Faubourg French restaurant planned for 544 Bloomfield Avenue in a former bank building. Architect Craig Shillitto, who has experience in designing restaurants, told the DRC that the plans for the restaurant would require no variances, with only minor modifications to the building. The restaurant is still to have its main entrance on the side facing an outdoor courtyard, with a woven fence and shrubbery on a cedar base screening the courtyard from the street.
Schwartz asked about the glass front doors currently on the Bloomfield Avenue façade, which he said ought to be preserved and reinstalled in case Faubourg fails or moves. Shillitto agreed the doors would be stored so they could be re-installed should the restaurant ever vacate the premises. The glass façade along Bloomfield Avenue would provide a sense of transparency and openness. Shillitto also stressed that the restaurant’s sign would be illuminated with focused lights that would not spill onto the building, and he added that the lighting plan for the building would feature hooded lamps that would not touch the sidewalk or other properties.
The Faubourg project was approved with the conditions of controlled lighting and storage of the original doors. Shillitto said the roof machinery would not generate a great deal of noise, but he was open to including apparatuses to muffle sound should the old Hahne’s parking lot behind the restaurant be developed for residential use.
Next up was a public hearing for an amended façade plan for the building at Watchung Avenue owned by remodeling firm Classics Reborn, which Schwartz recused himself from. Talley explained that improvements to 98 Watchung Avenue sought by Classics Reborn proprietor William Staehle in 2013 were approved but never made, and under Permit Extensions act the approval was active until 2017, and Staehle got a one-year extension on the approval to make changes. With architect Paul Sionas, he presented his new plan for the building’s façade, which was the same prosaic stucco exterior that the Historic Preservation reviewed at its August 23 meeting.
The DRC recommended removing the long driveway apron in front of the building and making improvements to the streetscape in the form of street trees, though a portion of the apron in front of the narrow driveway on the eastern side of the building would remain. It would be wider than the driveway to facilitate movement of cars onto Watchung Avenue. Staehle would have to go to the county in order to get approval for such work, as Watchung Avenue is a county road at that point. Staehle was advised to get a copy of the county’s approval to submit it to the Plannig Board. On that, the DRC approved a motion for Staehle to come back with a revised plan that eliminates the driveway apron and adds landscaping to the frontage.
The DRC also reviewed an application for the Zoning Board of Adjustment by Samuel Stewart of Honor You Memorial Products, a small company making mementos for funeral services, to expand his business into an adjacent building. (Schwartz had to leave early and was not present for this review.) Stewart wished to have a print shop in the building at 451 Orange Road next to Honor You’s location at 447 Orange Road and build a mezzanine floor at the front of the building. The first floor would have an open space reaching all the way up to the roof that would also be the mezzanine ceiling. Architect John Guadagnoli plans to add a stucco finish to 451 Orange Road and have strategically placed windows near the roofline serve as “lanterns” for the building’s exterior. An adjacent parking area would be striped for three spaces.
The application needs to be reviewed by the Zoning Board because Stewart would need variances for, among other things the lack of a front-yard setback where a 25-foot front-yard setback is needed, the lack of a side-yard setback where a 6-foot setback is required, and permission to place a print shop in an R-1 zone. Stewart’s application seemed to be simple enough until the DRC examined the property’s history. The property is a product of a 1985 subdivision that produced an adjacent property in back of the proposed print shop that lies partly in Glen Ridge. The owner of that property plans to make improvements of his own and it would be necessary to figure out how to navigate parking, deliveries and traffic circulation. To make things more confusing, an easement has been placed on the property as a result of Nishuane Brook running through a culvert and no one knows what the easement says. Adding to all of this is that Honor You is located almost literally in Montclair’s southeastern corner in what could be called Essex County’s Four Corners region – Montclair, Glen Ridge, Orange and East Orange all converge on one point. Talley admitted to Baristanet that even she was confused regarding the easement and property subdivisions in play.
The DRC made a few recommendations to Stewart and Guadagnoli for amending the application when it is heard by the Zoning Board on November 7. Talley recommended that the design should have ground-level windows to give the print shop building a feeling of transparency so it fits in with the residential look of the neighborhood, and though customers would do business in the current Honor You location at 447 Orange Road and not the print shop, she suggested that the print shop ought to have an identifying sign, which could require another variance. Taking care of the grassy area in the back – which Guadangoli called a no man’s land – was also recommended. Guadagnoli and Stewart hope to have the application amended with the DRC’s recommendations – and a description of the easement – when the Zoning Board hears the application.