Montclair Planning Board Continues Lackawanna Plaza Hearings, Considers Revised Design For Supermarket

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.

A bird’s eye view of architect Bruce Steive’s design for Lackawanna Plaza

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.

The proposed walkway between the retail stores at the former Lackawanna railway terminal and Lackawanna Plaza

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.

The proposed bus shelter at Bloomfield Avenue and Lackawanna Plaza

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.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Re: visibility from the street???

    It just goes to indicate how very little Hampshire understands about retail or the retailers are not very strong candidates. Unless their retail partners are Sears & K-mart, grocery patrons are overwhelmingly repeat customers. They know where the store is. And there are all the signs around the periphery. This type of thinking is why strip malls look like they do. As the applicant said, they all ask for the same thing.

    It’s these types of dumb statements the public can’t challenge because it is heresay. The applicant has yet to comply with the Chair’s request for a complete historic inventory. I harangue the Chair to get him to move on these deficiencies. The PB needs to get control of the process.
    The Chair needs to set a normal bar for the applicant to meet.

  2. Being in the retail commercial development business for 35 + years. The process for approval for all large projects is a series of meetings based on new and on going comments on both sides.kind of like one big puzzle.

    My best guess it will be a supermarket and the one that comes to mind is a new entry into the both the U.S and New Jersey its called LIDL based out of Germany. It competes with Aldi’s which opened a store in Bloomfield.

  3. The problem with plans for the stationhouse, indicated by Mr. Rubacky at the meeting, are more serious than I first thought. In the plan, seen in distorted form in the video of the meeting at about 1:20, it shows the developer’s intent to extend the 45′ building going back from Bloomfield Avenue by one third, to 60 feet – approximately. Looking at the east elevation, which I haven’t seen since the meeting, the extension of the brick facade Rubacky complained of, designed to approximate the existing part, is a 15-foot ad-on.

    I don’t know what kind of teeth historical protection laws provide but it seems an alteration like that, designed to alter the shape of the original plan without it being noticed by people viewing the building for the first time, and to do this without telling anyone, is unacceptable.

    Thanks to Mr. Rubacky also for bringing up the May 22 city council resolution under a recent Baristanet article. This surprising document contains a couple of surprising clauses:

    The assertion that the proposal is “appropriately scaled” couldn’t be farther from the truth inasmuch as the planned extremely densely peopled development area lacks sufficient parking according to customary norms by about half the customarily normal number of parking spaces.

    The scaling problem has obtained through “years of public scrutiny and refinement” – unabated.

    That the supermarket “remains a non-negotiable commitment” is not seen as such by the developer and they said as much the other night. I doubt there is any binding commitment.

    The plans are not a “reasonable, pragmatic homage” but a ritual sacrifice.

    (My interest with the station is as a train station, and that the most appropriate use for it is as a train station, and I hope to be able to explain that at some point.)

  4. Montclair Residents:

    Missing from the Article: The Parking Requirements for the Proposed Lackawanna Project Application proposed by Mr. Stolar of Pinnacle Properties (The Sienna, Valley & Bloom and new Hotel), based on Township Ordinance, consistent with best practices nationally, is 859 parking Spaces. The application as presented includes 459 parking spaces, a 400 Parking Space deficit for which the applicant is seeking a Variance to be granted by the township. The argument is that a Shared Parking plan will mitigate the need for 400 parking spaces because tenants in the residential portion of the development will be away at work during the day and those spots become available for retail patrons at the yet leased Supermarket and other merchant tenants. The applicant is requesting the removal of 3 township metered parking spaces as well. Please note that the area around Lackawanna has no public parking aside from a limited number of metered spaces to support the other merchants in the district, already a tremendous deficit to standard parking ratios requirements.

    Consider:

    • the most intense volume of grocer shopping, based on National statistics takes place between 2:00PM to 4:00PM Saturdays and Sundays. Where will be the residents cars be during these times?

    • the most intense hours of grocery shopping on Weekdays based on national statistics is during the hours of 4:30PM to 6:30PM. Where will the resident’s cars be at that time? As a resident, you will arrive home from work (for those who don’t work from home or commute by public transit), to find a car of grocery shopper picking up a quart of milk in your parking space.

    • The busiest grocery shopping days of the year are as follows: New Years Even dDay, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Super Bowl Saturday and Sunday, Thanksgiving and day of and before expected storms. Where will the residents cars be parked on these days?

    • The applicant is proposing Valet parking services for shoppers. That means at the busiest time of day with the highest traffic counts along Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street thoroughfares cars the applicant imagines cars being continuously driven back and forth across from the East and West parcel of the lot (East and West of Grove St.). In addition the applicant is proposing the addition of a 72 seat new fast food restaurant on the site.

    • The average period of time a patron visits a grocery store is 43 minutes (including travel time).

    This is important information to add to the contents of the article. Residents of Montclair who appreciate the current state of parking and traffic congestion in the downtown districts should be aware of the facts that the Montclair Planning Board must consider in terms of their review of the application.

  5. Of further consideration is Mr. Stolar’s repetition of his own paid expert’s opinion that the National, State and Locally designated Historic train station site is not in fact historic. The applicant is seeking that the township permit him to demolish of 90% of the train station on the premise of needing to do so to attract a supermarket/grocer. Planning Board Expert Witnesses, other Township commissions, local scholar’s and interested residents have testified and confirmed the historic nature of the site. Expert Witnesses have further attested that the present station can be easily and attractively repurposed to create an authentic “Space and Place” that is logistically and functionally well suited for a 21st century grocer.

    The Planning Board, on behalf of the residents of the Township will need to apply thoughtful consideration to the complex, multivariate array of components/imapcts upon Montclair and its residents and visitors:

    • Preservation of the National, State and Local designated “Historic” Train Station
    • The site and its place in the context of the Township’s Bloomfield Ave Designated historic District including issues of density, traffic, and pedestrian and vehicular circulation.
    • Impact on traffic and Parking, among other factors all with consideration of the soon to be arriving Seymour Street mix used project and Hotel.
    • The possibility of Daylighting of the river “Toney’s Brook” or Second River, beneath the North side of the site (along Glen Ridge Ave) among them).
    • The impact on the continuity of the pedestrian streetscape along Bloomfield Ave, Glen Ridge Ave and Lackawanna Plaza.

    And so much more. Please support and appreciate members of the Planning Board for their hard work and intense dedication to representing and protecting the interests of our community.

    It would appear reasonable that any and all special accommodations provided to the applicant should be made in the form of Conditional Use vs Formal Variance to achieve a outcomes that insures the best interests of our town are protect and met, both now and into the future.

  6. Maybe they should build a private auto tunnel under Grove St… oh, and the new building. Figure you could get an acceptable grade (for 2.5mph) by run up to front of bldg. then take out stair to somewhere. (best part of the project) a gentle helix would bring to grade opposite – after passing under the sub-basement.

  7. So the 2000′ or so floorspace they suddenly just discovered is a result of the Nov. 26 modifications to extend the stationhouse building back 15′ across most of its breadth, to accommodate a fast food concern. As is, it’s about 5000′. Looking at the plan it’s a rearward extension of the building, with a new rear wall. And the the new sidewall made of surmised brick and decoration is seen in the elevation. (I think the drawings in the PDF are different than the ones concerned parties got in hard copy, or definitely, than what they showed at the meeting. There’s all this new gingerbread and pinnacles – not in keeping with the original style. Actually insulting to it.) Understand there are other illicit modifications to the west elevation of the shed part.

  8. One of the 1st sylized perspectives by Mr/ Stevie’s firm, which is hard to find in undistorted form now, shows the big gable of the supermarket flatteringly minimized – that is, the problem with relative volumes is something they were aware of then. The Longer, Lower, Wider gable of the supermarket APES the station in a way that is NOT flattering. It’s a huge amount of red bricks, which gets oppressive. It would detract from the iconic individuality of the stationhouse and cause it to meld in more with it’s surroundings – although I guess the reason Stolar wanted it so much in the first place is because it stands out so conspicuously from its surroundings as it is now – as a sort of advertisement for his operations.

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