The Montclair Zoning Board of Adjustment finished up 2018 at its December 19 meeting by approving four applications, two of which were for projects by Steven Plofker. One Plofker project managed to avoid controversy after the developer met with local residents, but the second caused some controversy with a dismayed Board Vice Chair Joseph Fleischer. Chair William Harrison, who recused himself from both applications, arrived in time to oversee the latter two – a new garage and a modification to a church project.
Plofker’s plan to rehabilitate a storefront at 112 Forest Street that had once been used as a neighborhood social club and rent it out for a take-out eatery was changed after he met with the locals upon learning of their opposition to his original concept. He said he would now make it into space for non-medical office, retail or personal-service use. The store will not expand in size, and the two apartment units in the building are remaining as they are. Architect Paul Sionas said that the rear of the building would get two new decks, one for each apartment (one on the first floor, another directly above for the second), and both he and Plofker stressed that the changed nature of the project meant that only eight parking spaces, which would be made available in Plofker’s lot for his building across the street, would be required for the storefront – seven if it becomes an office. The driveway would have tandem parking for two cars for the residents of the building. Among the variances requested were for a five percent increase in lot coverage for the decks and to allow signage for the eventual tenant of the commercial space.
Only three members of the public attended for this application. Terrelle Maxine Rodney and her mother, two residents of the neighborhood, were there, and the younger Rodney said that she, acting on behalf of her absent father, was pleased with Plofker’s revisions, but expressed disappointment that she hadn’t been informed of the meetings or the changes. It turned out that Plofker had written her a certified letter as required, but it was returned to him as undeliverable. Brad Finkel, who owns a property next door to Plofker’s building, also found the revisions satisfactory, but added that he had not been invited to the local meetings on the matter. Plofker explained that, because Finkel does not live in the house next door to 112 Forest Street, he was not informed of the residents’ meeting. But Plofker did invite Finkel to add his name to an e-mail list so he could be informed of the project’s progress, an offer Finkel graciously accepted.
The board approved the revised project with the following conditions: the Historic Preservation Commission’s stipulations that the front door be pained to match the facade, the brick frontage be cleaned, the coping at the top be replaced, and that Plofker return to the Historic Preservation Commission for approval of signage. He also agreed not to have as a tenant any personal-service establishment, such as a dry cleaner, that would use exhaust-generating equipment, a concern of both Vice Chair Fleischer and board member Angela Harris.
Plofker then sought approval for his site plan for the carriage house of the old Georgian Inn (now his wife Bobbi Brown’s hotel The George), which he moved to front Claremont Avenue and converted into an office building. Vice Chair Fleischer reacted angrily to Plofker’s decision to paint the window frames black after having shown renderings with white ones. Vice Chair Fleischer said that the board had approved the plans as they were, showing historically accurate white window frames to match The George’s. Any such changes to the building’s historical integrity, Vice Chair Fleischer argued, had to be approved and could not be changed after the fact without consultation. Plofker insisted that no one had communicated the necessity to keep the window frames their original white color to complement The George, and he added that details of any of his projects were subject to change and that his renderings did not necessarily show the final product as it would be. He added that he would have gladly checked with the Historic Preservation Commission if he knew that such a feature was that important. Alan Trembulak, his attorney, recalled the contentious meeting of the October 25 Historic Preservation Commission meeting where this controversy originated, and he pointed out three of the commissioners, including Stephen Rooney, like the black frames. Vice Chair Fleischer said that was irrelevant to the process.
Other changes to the site, noted by Sionas, the architect in this endeavor as well, included vertical bricks over the front entrance; the elimination of a steel canopy over the front entrance to highlight the new brickwork; and an island median in the parking lot instead of a peninsular one to improve drainage. Despite frustration over Plofker’s treatment of the windows without authorization, the board gave final approval to the project, and Vice Chair Fleischer said it was important that such miscommunications be avoided in the future.
Sionas and Trembulak returned for one last application for the night. A construction project to add a two-story wing to the Redeemer Church on North Willow Street, approved in 2017 and now underway, had to be modified to allow 15 small air conditioning units on the roof instead of eight large ones. Sionas and air conditioning engineer Armand Khachaturian contended that the smaller units would be able to treat different rooms of different sizes at different times allowing for more cost-effective and less expensive cooling. The noise from such units, Khachaturian said, would be negligible. The addition will feature administrative offices, classrooms, and meeting rooms for Redeemer Church.
Resident Dana Morgan, who lives next door at 25 North Willow Street, disagreed. He thought that the noise would be a detriment to the neighborhood and to his own house, especially with the air-conditioning noise from the nearby YMCA Geyer Center on Glenridge Avenue. Khachaturian denied this, saying that the noise would not be any worse than the current air-conditioning system at Redeemer Church. Sionas had come up with an alternative plan for six air-conditioning units along the church’s southern elevation, but Deputy Planning Director Graham Petto was quick to warn that the planned Rose Aire apartment building slated for the northeast corner of Glenridge Avenue and North Willow Street, which would be next door to the church, would abut such a system. Khachaturian conceded that Rose Aire residents could not be completely shielded from any air conditioning noise, whether the units are on the roof or on the ground.
The discussion of the effect on Rose Aire was purely academic; construction of that apartment building, approved by the Planning Board in December 2015, has yet to be started. But the zoning board, noting Morgan’s concerns, did ask Sionas and Khachaturian to have a parapet already planned for the new church addition to be enlarged to mitigate noise from the rooftop air conditioners, finding the rooftop plan superior to the ground-level plan. The rooftop plan was approved.
Also approved on this night was a new detached garage for a residence on North Fullerton Avenue. The original garage had been severely damaged by a falling oak tree in one of the four March 2018 nor’easters that hit Montclair. The new garage would replicate the original.