MontClairVoyant: Snow in the Fall, Chaos for All; More Housing Downtown, Making Us Frown

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
As if downtown wasn’t getting crammed enough, a 74-unit residential building could rise on Church Street. Comment?

Sincerely,
Ralph Crammed-In

If that part of Montclair gets any more developed, Manhattan might sue for plagiarism.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Plus the units would surely be pricey, with at most just 10 percent of them reserved for desperately needed affordable housing. Thoughts?

Sincerely,
J.R.R. Token

That translates to 7.4 affordable units — meaning 40 percent of the 8th unit would be occupied by a lower-income family and 60 percent by an affluent family. Awkward. But I see a sitcom…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Not funny was the November 15 snowstorm, the horrible commute home that day, and the closing of Montclair schools with very short notice the next morning. What do you make of it all?

Sincerely,
Weathering Heights

A number of neighboring districts announced November 16 school closings the night before. Then again, they had six inches of snow while Montclair only had three plus three inches of snow. Do the math.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
You joke, but what about work-outside-the-home parents who had to frantically make child-care arrangements at 8:15 that Friday morning?

Sincerely,
Dee Stressed

The district did offer some child care, but it was still a crazy scenario. Luckily I work from home, so I could be there for my 11-year-old daughter while humming “I’m dreaming of a white…National Button Day.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Yup, that holiday is on November 16. And Thanksgiving this year is November 22. Your family’s plans?

Sincerely,
The Cranberries

Eating at Veggie Heaven — even as plants covered by autumn snow were in Veggie Hell.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Then, on November 30, the Montclair Women’s Club (in conjunction with the United Tastes of America) will host a lunch version of the Syria Supper Club that helps refugees adapt to their new lives in/near our town. How wonderful is that?

Sincerely,
Emma Grintz

Heartening to see refugees treated with love and respect so different than the hatred from so-called “Christian” Republicans. The last straw is renaming Christmas “Trumpmas.” Ho…ho…NO!

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Not that the hates-to-read Trump would care, but the Montclair Public Library Foundation has launched a worthy campaign to raise $225,000. Will it meet its goal?

Sincerely,
Shelve-is Presley

Most probably, unlike Montclair rec-soccer players who couldn’t meet ANY goals (or goalies) after their November 17 games were canceled. At least there was plenty of advance notice.

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Re: Hahne’s Redevelopment

    Yes, this Council is straight out of the post-WWII, Soviet land use politburo. Design? Vision? Nyet!
    But, hey, execute? Da!

    This ordinance is straight out of that classic Soviet land-use mindset. Density is a good thing. Height is a good thing. In a Communist state, all floors are created equal. Here in Montclair, we think the same way. The ground floor has no added value. It is just another level. So much so, we treat an accessory use – surface parking – on par with primary uses like apartments and stores.

    We’re not he brightest township, but there is a remnant group of intelligent residents that appreciate streetscape. They put it on a pedestal. Unfortunately, most Montclairions don’t even know what the term means.

    So, the Council is voting next week to put another 74-space surface parking lot with a thin veneer of office space out front. This is what Dick Grabowsky wanted. More wallets downtown.

    The irony here is spectacular in this Trump Era. Blue Wave! Blue Wave! Blue Wave! Oh yeah.

  2. Well said and funnily said, Frank! 🙂 But the possible 74-unit building and Montclair’s other downtown overdevelopment seem more like capitalism run amok than liberalism or communism to me. Many of our town’s officials, and some of our town’s developers, may well be Democrats who are progressive on certain issues, but their development philosophy (too big, too pricey, running roughshod over community opposition, etc.) seems rather Republican to me.

    That said, “More Wallets Downtown” would make a great name for a rock band. 🙂 (Referencing a frequent Dave Barry quip there.)

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Drolly said, Frank. 🙂 Capitalism obviously has its good points and bad points. One bad point is that rich white guys (three words that describe Montclair’s trio of most powerful developers) can often do just about anything they want. In cases such as that, capitalism gives itself a bad name.

  4. Nah. Local government is giving capitalism a bad name.

    The lot has been an area in need of redevelopment (ANR)since 1989. This lot was a surface parking lot before the ANR designation and this plan is to make it a nicer detriment.

    The best part is the Council’s use of taxpayer funds to pay out the downtown business owners!

  5. Well, when local government helps/enables big developers who overdevelop, local government is indeed giving capitalism a bad name.

    And, yes, it’s infuriating when local government uses taxpayer funds to give to businesses — if those businesses are wealthy enough to not need those funds. Sort of like (on a much bigger scale) NYC giving all those monetary incentives to the already-flush-with-cash Amazon.

  6. Dave,

    You don’t understand. The Council is directing a developer to make a cash payment to an entity not controlled by the Council.

    There is another layer of inappropriateness, but I’ll save that for when they pass this ordinance.

    Regardless, this ordinance will likely bring another lawsuit on the town. Watch everyone say (now) we are in the right…and later, “well, gee whiz, golly, the court saw it differently.

    How many times have we heard this with our governing bodies?

  7. Thank you, Frank! I wasn’t aware of this, or of any details about it. Do you have a link that mentions it? (I realize you might know about this via the way you keep up on town-government affairs, with no story needed for you to know. 🙂 )

  8. Yes, one would think in the Menendez Era the Montclair Township Council would go for transparency and put the hard copy online. Nope. Apparently a text document takes up some fantastic quantity of storage space that prevents this. I think it is something like 100 quadrillion megabits for each attachment. Of course, to the Planning Dept’s credit, they bought the Verizon’s Unlimited Data Plan back in the day. This allows them to post the incessant site plan iterations of the Lackawanna Plaza folly.

  9. Geez! I’m making mistakes all over the place!

    Forget the quadrillion. I’m an old-time, Smith-Corona type of resident. I didn’t realize Presdient Trump changed our weights & measures. Quadrillion was deemed obsolete and replaced by something 1000x bigger and better called a trumptillion.

  10. Dave and Frank…you two give Statler and Waldorf a run for the money! Can’t wait until you two form a development company and show Montclair how it’s done. Make sure you don’t make any money. The town has enough rich old white guys!

  11. flipside,

    I don’t expect you to get it. What we are seeing in Montclair recently is trading values for policy goals. It sinful to me, but I appreciate that in churches and synagogues around town it is being rationalized into acceptance.

    It is also very popular on BOTH sides of the political aisle.

    Yes, it is very simple. The ends justifies the means and policy trumps values. That is what Montclair is about now. I guess the township elders need to embrace it. Yes, they should embrace it to keep their positions.

    Remind you of anything?

  12. Thank you for chiming in, flipside! Cleverly stated. 🙂

    Maybe The George and The MC hotels could be renamed the Statler and Waldorf, and have moneyed puppets (aka Muppets) as guests.

    Co-form a development company? Let me check if that’s on my bucket list. It is! Number 1,472,223!

    Actually, becoming a developer in an already-max-developed town has no appeal, whatever income there would or would not be.

  13. Frank,
    Didn’t Montclair vote for more development? Isn’t the hope for an expanded tax base? I guess if you want to be hip, woke, diverse, and progressive someone has to pay for it. There is a lot of underutilized real estate in town. I would expect more gentrification, more development, and more young people moving to town. Doesn’t bode well for the town elders.

  14. Ha, Frank! Satirically expressed. 🙂

    Total government transparency is as rare as an edgy “Family Circus” comic.

    And developer “SP” on the Montclair Center BID’s board of directors? How utterly convenient (and unfortunate).

    A Trumptillion sounds a bit like a dinosaur. One that went extinct 65 million years ago after a giant McDonald’s burger crashed into the Earth…

  15. flipside, I believe the current Montclair mayor was elected for a variety of reasons. He’s smart, he seems like a good guy, he’s a longtime town resident, etc. He did run partly on development, but I think many voters were shocked at just how much development they ended up with. One reason he was reelected in 2016 despite that was because he had no one running against him. If he decided to seek a third term in 2020, he wouldn’t have as easy a time after all the downtown overbuilding that’s happened or is about to happen. I think there are many progressives who don’t want gentrification; those who do want it have shaky progressive “credentials,” because gentrification is pretty much the opposite of progressive.

  16. Very true flipside… Montclair voted for development to reduce the tax strain.

    You will also recall the tag line used …. Smart Growth. We would do it in a smarter way than past residents. One key point I’m making here is we are not doing it smarter. It is just straight-up development of whatever use an applicant thinks will be profitable.

    My other, lesser point was this development was to reduce tax strain. So, the Council sells an asset and takes a portion of the capital gain and directs the developer to pay the downtown commercial property owners.

  17. I agree that one reason why many Montclair officials support development is to reduce the tax strain. But, as Frank also mentioned, the promised “smart growth” is not “smart growth” — it’s sort of “dumb growth” in its overwhelmingness.

    Also, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not sure how much will be netted in new ratables. Much of the additional tax revenue will be lost to educating new students, perhaps hiring new public-safety people, and other expenditures connected with a larger population and a more congested town.

  18. Frank, I know what your complaints are and I agree with most of them but did you really think once the barn door was opened we would have “smart growth”? Ok, call me cynical but when Montclair went the development route this is exactly what I expected would happen. The Siena was the tip off of what was to come.
    Dave, you missed my point about being progressive. Someone has to pay for it hence gentrification. Maybe one solution to new kids moving into apartments is an education surcharge. Someone who rents and has a kid or two or three should have to pay a surcharge to send their kids to public school. It cost almost 20k per student so the portion of rent that goes towards taxes covers a tiny fraction of the cost. As it stands now there are enough rich white guys paying 70k in RE taxes and sending their kids to private school to offset the disparity. You rent, right? What would you do without those rich white guys carrying your load???

  19. Great point you made to Frank, flipside. Even “smart growth” intent is not going to withstand the typical developer’s lust for profit. And if a town does want to push back on that, well, the developer might sue or threaten to sue. It’s (usually) the developer’s land, and they’ll do almost anything they want with it.

    Yes, I rent — after owning a house in Montclair for 21 years and paying lots of taxes. What my wife and I now indirectly pay in taxes is indeed small compared to what a rich couple pays for living in their “Mansion on the Hill” (Neil Young song). But if one adds up all the taxes tenants indirectly pay for the 70 or so units in my apartment complex, and factor in that there are fewer than 20 or so school-age children in the complex, we’re paying our fair share of education costs.

    I’m uncomfortable with the idea of the education surcharge you suggest — sounds unfair to apartment dwellers versus homeowners, and could get complicated and bureaucratic. What about homeowners who have, say, four kids? Should they pay a surcharge, too?

    Not convinced lots of gentrification is needed for a town to have enough money for everything. Heck, my now-adult daughter got a very nice education in Montclair starting in the pre-gentrification 1990s. Of course, enough state aid has something to do with that.

  20. I thought it would be thoughtful. The Siena and Gateway 1 were decided before this Council. Yes, this Council attempted to enlarge Valley & Bloom, but was beaten back. The torturous Master Plan process did give me hope with all the flowery language. I wanted to believe the rewrite of the historic preservation element was a positive signal. While I disagreed with the Council about the historic worth of the new modular replacement that is the Upper Montclair Train Station, the Council resolved to retain its status. The Lackawanna visioning meetings and work product supported incorporating the train sheds. Like the prior Council playing the “hotel card”, this Council played the massive “supermarket card”. At that point, I came back to reality.

    I am still quite taken back by this Council’s lack of interest in the pedestrian safety issues with the parking lot. Having 200+ pedestrians/hour share the drive aisles with 200 cars/hour is quite telling where their priorities are.

  21. Frank, interesting that some Montclair officials seemed to have more concern about the historic worth of the mostly burned Upper Montclair Train Station than about the greater historic worth of Lackawanna Plaza. In the case of the latter property, preservation has unfortunately taken a partial backseat to placating a major development company that wants to make lots of money on the LP redo.

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