The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) heard remodeling applications referred to it for their historic relevance – one for the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the other for the Planning Board. But the main item on the agenda was a presentation from historic-preservation consultant Mary Krugman of Mary Delaney Krugman Associates on the impact on redevelopment projects and plan in Montclair on historic neighborhoods and structures.
Krugman began by explaining that the various redevelopment plans Montclair has undertaken in the past 20 years have had various effects on the historic fabric of the neighborhoods and areas they were situated in. She said the impetus to redevelop areas in towns was the result of 1992 New Jersey land use law that allowed municipalities to determine areas in need of redevelopment or rehabilitation (a then-new euphemism for “blighted areas”) by having planning boards evaluate areas and recommend how to designate any areas that need investment. The purpose of Krugman’s study was to see what worked in Montclair and what didn’t.
Her findings presented a mixed bag. Non-contiguous areas and properties that were rehabilitated throughout Montclair improved the built landscape of the township, leading to the restoration of 30 houses but historic elements and architectural details were more often than not eliminated from these houses, weakening the historic context of the properties and the neighborhoods. The redevelopment of the Pine Street / Bay Street area was more successful, Krugman said, as the new firehouse and the apartment buildings that line the curve of a rerouted Pine Street are compatible with the fabric of the area, given the use of red brick in many of the buildings, including the firehouse. She found the rehabilitation of Pine Street to be a double-edged sword; the historic properties have been noticeably fixed up, and the neighborhood has benefited from public investment in the form of more streetlights, but she lamented that the area had become somewhat more gentrified.
While Krugman complimented Pinnacle’s design of the Siena for blending in with the fabric of Church Street, she said the town completely dropped the ball on Valley & Bloom. Despite the opportunity to create a pedestrian-friendly, urbane development, with articulation of the mass of each building and design elements that respected the street, Montclair got unbroken bulk with bland storefronts, and only five benches as a crumb to pedestrian space. Valley & Bloom is not in an historic district, but Krugman said the HPC should have gotten involved due to the effect the project would involve adjacent historic areas where Valley & Bloom can be seen. However, she singled out the Seymour Street Arts District’s design standards, noting the long process of devising a plan through the active involvement of the community and the comprehensive account of the elements of the project and how they related to the historic context of the area.
Krugman concluded by saying that smaller and slower changes produced better redevelopment projects and that community involvement is essential to producing a project more compatible with the historic character of neighborhoods. She recommended that historic preservation overlays should always remain intact in redevelopment areas that design guidelines be required for them.
HPC Vice Chair Jason Hyndman asked if there were any specific trends that should be replicated in areas similar to each other when placing redevelopment in historic context. Krugman said each neighborhood is different and that a uniform standard is unlikely to work from one neighborhood to the next. She added that guidelines for redevelopment areas can be interpreted differently from one architect to another. Commissioner David Greenbaum said more feedback from the Planning Board should be sought in seeking design standards that match historic elements. HPC Chair Kathleen Bennett thanked Krugman for her presentation.
The application the Zoning Board of Adjustment asked for feedback from was an application for a new front porch on a house in the Estate District, which is currently a “potential” historic district, near the southern terminus of South Mountain Avenue. Homeowners James and Elizabeth Beltis are planning to build a wraparound porch along their house at 19 Locust Drive. Thomas Connolly, the HPC’s architectural consultant, reviewed the 1962 structure and recommended a simple design that would use shorter rails and wooden steps in keeping with the American Vernacular character of the house, though he did not endorse a wraparound porch as architect Courtney Rombough had designed for the Beltises. Mrs. Beltis said she hoped to keep the wraparound element of the design to allow side access to a mud room. She is also looking at a stone base for the porch, decorated with a pebble-rock stoneface, but Commissioner Stephen Rooney wondered if maybe a lattice base would be more practical. Both Rombough and her clients were open to revisions to the porch design, and the HPC’s recommendations will be referred to the Zoning Board when it considers the plan, which requires a front-yard setback variance, at its February 20 meeting.
The HPC also considered a Planning Board application for new signage in front of the house on the northeast corner of Trinity Place and The Crescent, which insurance agent Robert Crook and his business partner Mariano Verrico are renovating and where Crook has his office. Crook said the sign had to be a freestanding sign per Farmers corporate regulations. The HPC had suggested a single-blade sign, but Crook said that a corner double sign, looking down either street, was mandated by Farmers. Commissioner Greenbaum did make one other recommendation; he proposed that plantings could be placed around the sign to give it the appearance of rising up.
Crook and Verrico, whose 2½-story house features residential and office space and hadn’t been renovated for decades before they started work on it, had a major mishap during their work on the house; someone accidentally drove a car into it back in June 2018. No one was hurt.