It has been seven months since I wrote “Our Town, Our Responsibility”, my Op-Ed in response to the developer’s proposal for Lackawanna Plaza. The plan is to demolish the landmarked train sheds to expand the parking lot for a new supermarket. I viewed this demolition as a grave mistake. Historic preservation provides an important public good for Montclair.
I have steadfastly maintained that there is sufficient acreage for both a supermarket and real preservation. The Hampshire & Pinnacle Companies, the developer, has steadfastly maintained Montclair could not have both. Our Council weighed in via a unanimous resolution stating a supermarket was a prerequisite for Lackawanna’s development…and didn’t say a word about preservation. They recommended some “public good lite”, less filling… a spectacularly patronizing thing called a historic homage.
At center stage is the Planning Board. They will make the decision. They are, by State law, on paper, separate and independent of the Council. The Planning Board answers only to the courts. If they mangle an application review, that is where it usually goes. Unfortunately, the Planning Board doesn’t have the greatest track record and should focus on getting their own house in order. Instead, the Planning Board’s designated liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission informed them last week – for the record – that his board thinks the HPC is a joke.
There is no question the HPC has received much deserved criticism. But, to be balanced and applying the same criterion, Chair Wynn’s Planning Board would also have to be labeled a joke. For starters, the Board lost control of their process last Spring with the resulting dysfunction. So where are we? The developers asked to postpone a further hearing to the Monday after Turkey Day. There will be another hearing during December’s meter-bagging season, maybe even a vote. The one-year anniversary of this application.
For me, I am winding down my opposition efforts. I have had seven months to positively impact the outcome. More hearings will not change the course of this application. The conversation that was shut down six months ago needs to happen. A real conversation about reaching some middle ground solution. To that end, and my last big effort, I created a compromise plan which addresses the needs of all of the constituencies.
Yes, it preserves almost all of the train sheds. It corrects the general design shortcomings of the applicant’s plan, e.g. adding emphasis to pedestrian safety. I think my plan is more attractive to a supermarket operator. It is timing-neutral, if not expedites a final approval. If it is not, then I cannot see what else I could contribute.
My plan’s concept and its benefits are straight-forward. Drilling down through the details is not for the stakeholders faint of heart. This is not a typical parking lot for Montclair. This is a 200-space, high-turnover, multi-aisle, multi-entrance surface parking lot in our downtown core. Layering in the vision, the goals and best practices espoused in our 2016 Master Plan makes it a further challenge.
I think my proposal is a design that all the stakeholders can use as the jumping off point for finding a middle ground solution. We’ll see. Here is my plan.
Frank Rubacky is a resident of Montclair.