Montclair Planning Board Hears Alternate Plan For Preserving Lackawanna Train Station Site

Lackawanna Station’s train sheds — and whether to preserve them — was at the heart of the debate at the recent Planning Board meeting on Dec. 17. Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) officials, and members in an unofficial capacity, disagreed with developers on their significance as a historic designation. The ongoing saga of getting the redevelopment plan off the ground has been stalled for the past year; the HPC has put forth opposition to facade and structural changes on the site. In the works is a new supermarket, along with 154 housing units, a medical center and retail spaces.

Site developers Pinnacle and Hampshire plan to remove the platforms for more ample parking space that would expand the current lot from 233 feet to a depth of 371 feet. Tom Trautner, attorney for the applicant, said that 74 of the 98 supports would be preserved and relocate the remaining 16.

Thomas Connolly of Connolly & Hickey Historical Architects, represented the HPC’s position on the importance of keeping the sheds. He argued that the present structure should be kept intact while adaptively reused. He went into the history of the station and various phases of property while incorporating the sheds.

Thomas Connolly of Connolly & Hickey Historical Architects, represented the HPC’s position on the importance of keeping the sheds.

“The train station inclusive of the sheds is locally designated as a landmark for defining architectural features,” Connolly told the board. “Such designations are not to be taken lightly.” He further stated that the demolition on any grand scale did not occur in the past and incorporated the “butterfly” sheds in an innovative manner.

In one heated exchange, John Wynn, Planning Board chair, when referring to the historic designation by the state, said it was a general designation that did not specifically name elements of the property. However, Connolly countered by stating that the site needed to be viewed in its entirety.

John Reimnitz and David Greenbaum, both HPC members but presenting as private citizens, previously gave presentations on possible alternate schemes at prior meetings contending that the proposed demolition of the train sheds was contrary to the HPC element Master Plan. They also felt the current site plan’s train shed demolition would disregard the 1984 redevelopment at a time where “the design’s best realization as a single tenant open space is within our grasp.” They had argued that there had been no alternative to the developer’s tearing down of the train sheds.

Their current proposed alternative plan would preserve the historic structures and maintain an open space area, which was inclusive of the train sheds. The 56,000 square feet of total space available, under the canopy of the glass atrium space, which would result in available parking on the north and south side of the site. The demolition that would take place in order to provide parking would come at the expense of the 1980s Pathmark building but not at the expense of the atrium spaces created by the train sheds.

Greenbaum and Reimnitz also noted that pedestrian traffic would be improved with glass storefronts and entrances facing both Bloomfield and Glenridge Avenues.They emphasized that it would be comparable to similar markets such as Grand Central Terminal in New York City, Reading Terminal in Pennsylvania, West Side Market in Cleveland, and Central Market in Lancaster.

Some issues raised by the board and public comment concerned costs and feasibility prompting Wynn to ask, “Is this real or pie-in-the-sky hopes?” Several residents who spoke during public comment were concerned about the continued delay of the project that was stalling the arrival of a much needed supermarket in the area.

Testimony will continue at the next Planning Board meeting on January 14th.

Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NampKoy7g0Y

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