The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) heard an application for a certificate of appropriateness for one project and reviewed a referral from the Planning Board for another at its November 29 meeting. Time constraints prevented the commissioners from discussing a development-oriented ordinance amending an application referral and discussing the ongoing Lackawanna Plaza project.
The certificate of appropriateness hearing involved the commercial building at 18-30 South Fullerton Avenue, currently owned by former Montclair Business Improvement District director Luther Flurry and his wife Jarmela Packard. Packard testified alongside architect Ira Smith of Smith Maran, who designed a new façade to replace the atrium that was added to the building in the 1980s. Smith and Packard explained that the atrium was inspired by the 1980s trend toward mini-malls, and Smith saw this project as a way to reconnect 18-30 South Fullerton Avenue to the streetscape. The building is in the Town Center Historic District.
Smith’s design would eliminate the atrium but would not attempt to re-create the original façade of the building. Smith argued that a redesign of a historic building shouldn’t try to replicate what was originally there but should instead honor the context of its own time. He proposed installing new columns to complement the old columns along the second story. His design also included new window fronts for the stores, a new recessed entry for the corner store at South Fullerton Avenue and The Crescent now occupied by the Heratij clothing store, and orange awnings over the new entrances to the stores. The columns would receive new bases of cast stone at the sidewalk.
The commission was generally supportive of Smiths’ redesign, but a couple of commissioners had a problem with the signage and lighting Smith proposed. Commissioner Jenny Gillette said the number of proposed overhead lamps – four – was too much, and she also said she wanted more information about the lighting in general. The commission approved the certificate of appropriateness but did so with some conditions. Among them is the condition that the details of the lighting be worked out through the HPC‘s review committee, as well as a condition that the signs and the awnings are horizontally aligned with each other.
The commission also reviewed the application for the MC Residences mixed-use building, which would replace Ferrara’s Auto on Orange Road. Architect Stuart Johnson, of the Minno & Wasko firm, explained how the design would work with the existing Valley & Bloom buildings and the MC Hotel, which is currently under construction. The planned four-story building would use a mix of materials for its façade, such as brick and fiber board, with cast-stone face at the ground floor. The corner canopy at Orange Road would feature a metal panel with a wood accent underneath to add the variety of materials used. The building, which would include a small food market operated by local merchants, came up before the HPC because of its proximity to the Town Center Historic District.
The commissioners were, again on this evening, supportive of the project before them, and they agreed that the design worked well with the overall pattern of the downtown area. They especially liked the deep plaza along Orange Road in the design, extending 20 feet beyond the building’s western elevation. Commissioner John Reimnitz said he found the project to be very well done with the plaza providing relief in an area devoid of similar public space and also in contrast to the buildings around the corner, which are four feet from the sidewalk. He appreciated the green roof in the design, and he also made a suggestion for the southern elevation along Centroverde Drive. Noting that the first-floor space in the rear was mainly ground-level parking with metal gratings obscuring the parking inside, Reimnitz suggested English ivy over the gratings to soften the appearance. Commissioner David Greenbaum also said there should be more greenery along the plaza. The HPC recommended those ideas, along with fabric canopies to strengthen the human scale, in its recommendations to the Planning Board. The earliest the Planning Board would hear the MC Residences application would be December 17.
The lack of time to discuss the Lackawanna Plaza project did not prevent resident Frank Rubacky from commenting on that topic. Rubacky said the former Lackawanna Railway Terminal was historic by ordinance, and that the town should interpret its historic nature more literally. He rhetorically asked where the developers’ obligations were, saying they had yet to come up with a plan to keep or replace the historic elements of the building. Rubacky insisted that the HPC had stumbled in its handling of a property now completely in control of the Planning Board, but he said that commissioners still had the recourse of commenting on the application at Planning Board meetings. In fact, three commissioners – Greenbaum, Caroline Kane Levy, and HPC Chair Kathleen Bennett – had attended the latest Planning Board meeting on Lackawanna Plaza just a few days before.
Also, Chair Bennett announced that the state had given Montclair a $24,999 grant to study the possibility of creating two new residential historic districts – Oak Croft, near Anderson Park, and Wheeler Street – in the township. The HPC will be meeting in early 2019 to acquire the money made available.