The Montclair Planning Board inched ever so closer to resolving the Lackawanna Plaza shopping center project at its November 26 meeting, hearing from four different witnesses in a meeting that lasted until 11:30 – about an hour for each witness. Board Chairman John Wynn prefaced the meeting by urging audience members to keep their feedback to questions, with public comment on the project being held for the completion of the testimony from the applicant.
None of the witnesses were new faces. Engineer Kevin Webb, architect Bruce Steive, and parking management experts Carl Pehnke of Langan Engineering and Kristen Sokich of ProPark America (in order of appearance) all returned with new revisions to earlier plans. Webb pointed to revisions in the footprint of the grocery store, aiming at 45,945 square feet of space and reducing 25 feet from the loading dock alongside Glenridge Avenue for a total length of 160 feet. Webb also pointed to some new space for additional retail – 1,080 square feet of space behind and part of the Pig & Prince restaurant, which can be separated from Pig & Prince with a demising wall, or a wall separates one tenant’s space from that of the other, and also from a common corridor. That corridor would provide access to the western parking lot in front of the grocery store. Webb envisioned a take-out restaurant in that space, with little impact on parking; service would be on an in-and-out basis.
Webb defended his plan, which would include shared parking for delivery vehicles providing for pick-up and drop-off at the grocery store, a growing trend in supermarkets and would allow more flexibility for tractor-trailers in the loading area. He also noted that the perimeter of the building between the pedestrian area at Bloomfield Avenue and Lackawanna Plaza itself and the façade of the grocery store allow easy pedestrian access without using the parking lot. Some members of the public were skeptical, including Cary Heller, the owner of the building at 1 Greenwood Avenue adjacent to the project, who asked once again about snow removal from the loading dock. Webb said the snow would be carted away. That did not satisfy Heller, who pointed out that the snow would still pile up in the area next to his building during a storm, as happened in the unexpectedly heavy snowfall earlier in the month.
Steive showed the board his revised version of the design for the supermarket. He cited an entrance canopy now designed to run along the base of the supermarket frontage, with the canopy and the stanchions remaining in place and the storefront inserted between the columns of the canopy. The supermarket wall would be at the backside of the canopy, and the entrance will be at the column line of the canopy, the canopy extending over the sidewalk in front of the store. A pedestrian walkway connects the store with Lackawanna Plaza in Steive’s design. Other features in Steive’s architectural plan included a bus shelter at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Lackawanna Plaza, with stanchions as pillars holding up a glass canopy and featuring benches, while the horse trough would feature a bronze plaque in the center of the front where a water spigot would empty into the pool and also have a bronze plaque in the back with historical information about the Lackawanna Railway terminal.
Board member Martin Schwartz was impressed with the improvements, but asked again about preserving the canopy over the proposed parking area in front of the store, and he also asked if there was a review of moving the supermarket sign to the front of the canopy cover or if lighter materials could be used to preserve the feel of the old train shed. Steive replied that this arrangement would make it difficult for people from the street to identify the front of the grocery store, and he said that using lighter materials would be difficult to replicate the original train shed. Resident Frank Rubacky, meanwhile, said he did not believe that the existing conditions of the building have been reflected in Steive’s design, and he engaged in an argument with Chairman Wynn about exactly what those conditions were. Chairman Wynn conceded that the board needed more accurate information of what has and has not been changed to the railway terminal as a result of the 1984 redevelopment project, which had compromised part of the building’s historical integrity.
Pehnke described his proposal for managing parking at the Lackawanna complex, explaining his plan to assign parking for employees of the various businesses and offices that would occupy the space there. Most of them would park in the eastern parcel behind the proposed apartment building on Grove Street, with valet parking for customers and medical-office patients offered valet space in the same lot. Pehnke would monitor the lot to make sure that employees park in their designated spaces and also keep an eye out for cars that stay parked longer than two hours; he imagined that, considering the nature of the supermarket business and the various stores and offices intended for the complex, no one would need to park more than two hours at a time. But his proposal to concentrate valet parking in the small lot in front of the façade facing Lackawanna Plaza itself was met with jeers from the Planning Board, with Chairman Wynn saying that it would resemble a used-car lot. Sokich said he could see if valet parking on the western lot in front of the proposed supermarket could be utilized. Peak parking, according to Pehnke’s and Sokich’s plan, would be between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, and at around 7 p.m. on Saturdays.
Developer Brian Stolar, whose Pinnacle firm is overseeing the redevelopment of the old railway terminal with Hampshire, said he is still in negotiations with a supermarket tenant, and he added that a second potential tenant may be interested. He can’t promise anything, he said, until he and the prospective tenants know what is going to happen. He remained unmoved by claims of historic importance to the former location of the railroad tracks. When Caroline Kane Levy of the Historic Preservation Commission asked Stolar if he considered tax breaks for historic structures for the project, Stolar said the canopies overlooking the tracks and platforms did not comprise an actual shed, and that the effect of a train shed was the result of the 1984 redevelopment of the property. He does not consider the platform/canopy area to be historic in the actual sense of the word, and he said that the applicant’s own historian, Stephen Bedford, attested to that.
The Planning Board will resume hearings on the Lackawanna Plaza project at its December 3 meeting.