Montclair Planning Board Discusses Lackawanna Plaza Hearings, Bloomfield Avenue Traffic Lights

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The Montclair Planning Board had hoped to continue the hearing for the Lackawanna Plaza project at its November 5 meeting, but developers Pinnacle and Hampshire requested that it be carried over to the meeting scheduled for November 26.  Board attorney Arthur Neiss, who has recused himself from the application, was present for this meeting for any legal advice not related to the Lackawanna Plaza.

Montclair Planning Board

“You guys are having a hell of a lot of fun with this application,” he joked.

So instead, with no other applications to consider, the board members merely talked about the Lackawanna Plaza application rather than hear on it.  Board member Carmel Loughman asked what the projected timetable was for seeing the Lackawanna Plaza hearing to its conclusion, and Board Chairman John Wynn explained that there was still a long way to go.  The applicant has two witnesses left, and the parking and planning experts who have already testified have to return with revisions to their projections.  Architect Bruce Steive is also expected to offer testimony on revisions to his plans, and Pinnacle CEO Brian Stolar plans to make some comments as well.

Chairman Wynn then noted that the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is expected to offer testimony against the plan in some form once the applicant rests its case.  It was still unclear whether the HPC plans to present a united front or whether individual members – most likely David Greenbaum and John Reimnitz – offer a presentation.  Chairman Wynn said the application will take at least two meetings to complete, but given the opposing testimony expected from the HPC and also the expectation that resident Frank Rubacky will make a formal case against the Pinnacle/Hampshire proposal, it is more likely than not that the hearings for the Lackawanna Plaza project will continue into 2019.  Public comment will also likely prolong the hearing.

Loughman asked if there was a possibility to postpone the final vote on the application should the full board not be available to vote until the full board can do so.  Neiss advised them that such a delay would be improper, and that only a simple quorum of five members would be necessary to hold a final vote on the application.

Meanwhile, board member Martin Schwartz briefed the board about the county’s plans to reconfigure the traffic signals on Bloomfield Avenue.  He said the county had heard the board’s concerns about how plans for the re-configuration would proceed.  The county, he reported, had failed to understand Montclair’s desire to have a walkable area around the Six Corners intersection anchored by Bloomfield Avenue and North and South Fullerton Avenues, specifically the need to get pedestrians directly between Glenridge Avenue and Church Street.  Planning Director Janice Talley expanded on Schwartz’s comments, explaining that Essex County received the funding to redo all of the traffic lights on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, to the tune of $15 million.  Essex County had submitted a concept plan and invited Montclair officials to review it.  She said she asked them to send a set of revised plans, which they did.

“I then went through it and found some anomalies compared to the intersection improvements that were approved by the Planning Board,” she said.  She worked with members of the Township Council and the Smith Maran architectural firm, who is consulting the Planning Board, and prepared a response to county, including the Planning Board-approved plans and a strong recommendation for sidewalk bumpouts and turn lanes along Bloomfield Avenue, which came from the Economic Development Committee.  Schwartz said the Planning Board will hopefully see a proposal from Essex County.

Schwartz added that the county is trying to work through an adequate sequencing of lights at South Fullerton Avenue to move cars turning on to Bloomfield Avenue, but what the county engineers missed initially was the need to create a pedestrian walkway so that people could get from Church Street where it touches the southern side of Bloomfield Avenue to the other side of Bloomfield and onto Glenridge Avenue, which is deemed crucial to enliven the streetscape and further economic development.   Director Talley said there will be a green light for northbound traffic or southbound traffic on North and South Fullerton Avenues, not a green light for both directions at once as it is currently.  Schwartz praised Director Talley for being able to influence the re-configured signaling with all of the information she submitted.  The project is expected to begin sometime in 2019.

One of Director Talley’s issues concerned meetings not for this November and December but next November and December. In discussing the Planning Board’s meeting calendar for 2019, she recommended that the board’s meetings for November 2019 and December 2019 should be held on the first and third Mondays of the month, not the second and fourth Mondays of the month, in order to accommodate various holidays.  Hence, the November 2019 meetings will be on November 4 and November 18 to accommodate  Veterans’ Day (which falls on the second Monday of November in 2019), and because the fourth Monday of November 2019, November 25, comes too close before Thanksgiving 2019 (November 28, the latest possible date for that holiday).   Director Talley also said meetings for December 2019 should be on December 2 and December 16 in order to accommodate the first full day of Hanukkah (Monday, December 23, two days before Christmas).  The scheduled meetings for October 2019 are also on the first and third Mondays (October 7 and October 21) to accommodate Columbus Day (October 14).

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2 COMMENTS

  1. ”..the expectation that resident Frank Rubacky will make a formal case against the Pinnacle/Hampshire proposal…

    The above needs clarification. Yes, my presentation will rebut certain testimony, but with the the end result of enhancing the applicant’s plan. I am not against the applicant’s planned uses for the site. My presentation will mitigate negative criteria and/or replace them with positive criteria in support of the variances and waivers being requested.

    It was the Planning Board & Council that approved the independent study in 2014 that found the lot “being overcrowded, having a faulty arrangement or design, lack of ventilation, light and sanitary facilities, excessive land coverage, deleterious land use or obsolete layout, or any combination of these or other factors, detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community.” In short, the lot – arranged as it was – was a blight on the downtown core. I will take both municipal bodies at their word that they truly believed this when they voted unanimously on this finding.

    2018. The only modifications the developer is making to the lot is to double the amount of parking and add a second entrance. That’s it.

    While the developer chose not to utilize the redevelopment area designation, their choice does not change the ratified characterization of the existing condition. The developer’s plan to bring the site’s uses up to full tenancy also doesn’t change the characterization.

    The Planning Board’s role, its purpose, is to ensure , at a minimum, that any application reduces the acknowledged blighted condition and, ideally, removes it.

    The Township is consumed by the objective of a new supermarket and seems willing to forego any sensible land use requirements that could be construed by the public as detrimental to this objective.

  2. I’m glad to hear that the six corners traffic signals are being addressed. I transit that area daily as a driver as well as pedestrian, and I can say that it is one of the most dangerous intersections I’ve ever experienced. Chaos and confusion are the words that come to mind.

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