The Montclair Planning Board finally finished hearing testimony from witnesses for developers Pinnacle and Hampshire for the proposed redevelopment of the Lackawanna Plaza at its December 3 meeting, but the process is far from over. Architect Bruce Steive and traffic engineer Kristen Sokich testified on yet more revisions to the plan for Lackawanna Plaza, and planner Sean Moronski, who had never testified before, made the argument for the two variances for the project. Questions from the public continued to show skepticism, and opponents to the plan are slated to speak next. Summations for each side’s cases won’t be offered until the New Year.
Steive offered new testimony and pictures of the existing conditions of the existing Lackawanna Plaza mini-mall, explaining that when the atrium, situated where the railroad platforms once were, is removed, the brick wall just inside the Bloomfield Avenue entrance to the atrium where the directory map now stands will be replaced by a storefront for a fast-food eatery. The storefront, occupying the 1,800 square feet of space to be created with a demising wall to set it apart from the Pig & Prince restaurant, would have its main entrance in place of the brick wall within the current atrium entrance – not on the opposite facing Lackawanna Plaza, as originally planned. With the atrium removed, the pedestrian walkway within the mini-mall and connecting Lackawanna Plaza to the supermarket would be covered by a canopy, and the door linking the walkway – currently indoors – to the exit onto the Lackawanna Plaza side of the building would also be removed. Steive hopes to preserve a small brick booth on the Lackawanna Plaza side of the building that is part of the original structure; he said it could be used for the valet service planned for the complex.
David Greenbaum of the Historic Preservation Commission, a vocal opponent of Pinnacle’s and Hampshire’s plans for the site, asked Steive if he planned to use natural skylighting in the canopy over the pedestrian walkway. Steive said that no skylighting was planned; he had testified at an earlier Planning Board meeting that electric lighting would be used. Chairman John Wynn asked Steive why the parapet along the eastern elevation of the building, running from the Pig & Prince to the current atrium entrance, had not been extended to the façade of the new supermarket; Steive said it would have been historically inaccurate, and that he was trying to produce a design as close to historical accuracy as possible. Chairman Wynn said the design as submitted looked unfinished and held out the possibility hat the parapet could be extended for the sake of consistency.
Sokich said he revised his parking plan to accommodate more valet spaces away from the small lot on Lackawanna Plaza to avoid overcrowding there. As seen below, four cars (in green) would be staged for parking in the bigger lots while spaces designated for the two cars indicated in yellow would be for valet pick-up and drop-off. The cars indicated in orange occupy spaces meant for take-out from the fast-food eatery, while the rest of the spaces are for people parking their own cars. The valet parking would be marshaled along the edge of the front lot on the western parcel and the far side of the eastern parcel – with the indoor garage of the proposed apartment building along Grove Street used for valet parking in peak periods, such as spring break and the winter holiday season.
Board member Martin Schwartz asked about conditions for shared and valet parking, wondering if a failure integrate them in the future would violate the conditions set forth, such as in the case of a change of ownership or business at the property, what the remedy for the township would be. Acting board attorney Robert Munoz said fines and a shutdown of the operations at the property could be possible ways to hold the property owner to conditions, as well as a court order. Munoz said the board needed a clear enforcement document to ensure the conditions.
Members of the public were skeptical of how valets could take possession of the cars in the small lot along Lackawanna Plaza and park them satisfactorily in the larger lots. Cory Heller, the owner of 1 Greenwood Avenue, said taking them to the eastern lot by way of Greenwood and Glenridge Avenue would be dangerous in light of people pulling out of the head-in parking on Greenwood Avenue across from Crane Park and trucks pulling out of the supermarket loading docks on Glenridge Avenue, but Chairman Wynn doubted that the two avenues would be that busy. Resident Priscilla Eschelman asked if it were possible for valets to drive the cars on Bloomfield Avenue and turn left to drive them into the lot on the eastern parcel, going over the double yellow lines. Although such a left turn is legal there, Sokich said he preferred going by way of Glenridge Avenue and Grove Street because valets would only have to make right turns to bring the cars from the pick-up/drop-off point into the larger lots. He envisioned valet parking being used mostly by motorists with appointments at the medical offices in the complex for convenience, not by supermarket shoppers. No decision has been made regarding whether to charge for valet parking at the Lackawanna Plaza complex.
Finally, Moronski explained the need for the variances being sought. A variance to allow front-yard parking along Bloomfield Avenue is needed for the area ahead of the line between the southeastern corner of the Pig & Prince restaurant and Grove Street. Moronski said this lot would offer ample parking for supermarket customers and help revitalize the commercial space without substantial detriment to the public. The other variance asked for 459 parking spaces overall where 833 spaces are required. Moronski explained that the mixed-use design of the project can be serviced with valet parking and shared spaces, which make the required amount less necessary. He defended the removal of the atrium built over the site of the former train platforms, saying that the platform area had lost its historic integrity when it was converted into an atrium, and he cited the loss of a coal site and other storage buildings that, as he saw it, left the station building now occupied by the Pig & Prince as the only historic building on the property. The HPC’s David Greenbaum challenged this, saying that “Grand Central Station” (meaning Grand Central Terminal) had been restored under the direction of Richard Blender, the same man who oversaw the 1980s redevelopment of Montclair’s Lackawanna Terminal, and asked Moronski if he would or would not consider the train-shed-turned-atrium of Montclair’s terminal as much a part of the original railway stop as the train shed of Grand Central. Moronski reiterated his understanding of the loss of historic integrity in the atrium of the Montclair building.
Chairman Wynn, looking relieved by the applicant’s testimony of witnesses being over, informed the public that opposition testimony would likely commence at the Planning Board’s December 17 meeting. A discussion on a referral from the Township Council about an amendment in the redevelopment plan for the Hahne’s parking lot, originally slated for this meeting, would be saved for later.