Montclair Planning Board – Finally, Public Comment On Lackawanna Plaza Project

The Montclair Planning Board finally allowed public comment at its January 28 meeting on the Lackawanna Plaza supermarket project that developers Pinnacle and Hampshire hope to undertake, which would include new housing on the eastern parcel of the Lackawanna property on the opposite side of Grove Street.  The arguments for and against the project as currently designed – the majority of them seemed to be against it – emphasized the differing viewpoints that have marked the controversial plan since hearings began in March 2018.

Those who oppose the project as is seek to prevent Pinnacle and Hampshire from demolishing the train shed and removing the stanchions from them, saying it would compromise the structure’s historical integrity; those who favor the development as is seek an urgent commencement of construction for a supermarket to serve Fourth Ward residents currently without a viable food-shopping option.

Montclair Historic Preservation Commission Chair Kathleen Bennett at the January 28 Montclair Planning Board meeting

Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) chair Kathleen Bennett spoke for her fellow commissioners and many Montclair residents who oppose the plans Pinnacle developer Brian Stolar and his architects and traffic and parking engineers have set out.  Bennett said the plan would destroy the train sheds without regard to historic preservation, even though early photos of the Lackawanna railway terminal showed how the shed was an integral part of the complex. Bennett added for good measure that the redevelopment of the railway terminal in to a mini-mall in the 1980s showed sympathetic reuse of the building and called on Stolar and his partners to reach a higher standard in their designs.

The public statements against the plan as presented echoed Bennett’s sentiments.  Judith Rich said a scaled-back plan allowing a smaller supermarket like Foodtown‘s Cedar Grove location was in order, and she called the developments Stolar has already completed or almost finished  “horrifying,” comparing Valley & Bloom and still-incomplete MC Hotel to prisons.  Caroline Kane Levy, another HPC member, said the railway terminal, which is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as the state and local historic registers, has been subjected to three reviews by experts in historic architecture and that they found no evidence to support Pinnacle’s and Hampshire’s claim that the train shed is not historic.  She feared that a large store could possibly fail and leave the town with a white elephant and a big parking lot.  Priscilla Eshelman charged Stolar with not having acted in good faith throughout the process, and cited an urban-supermarket expert who testified earlier that a 25,000-square-foot supermarket would be more appropriate for the area rather than the 47,000-square–foot supermarket Stolar is proposing.  Also, architect Ira Smith noted that when he was on the HPC, he was part of the initiative to extend the town center’s historic district to include Lackawanna Plaza. Smith stated that the loss of the train shed would destroy the entire context of the building as a former railway terminal.

James Cotter of nearby Cloverhill Place said he welcomed a new grocery store in his neighborhood but cautioned that it would take years, given the projects Stolar is currently undertaking, for any such store to open and so traffic and pedestrian circulation had to be reconsidered.  He simultaneously found the parking lot proposed for the western parcel to be too big and the additional parking promised for the eastern parcel to be insufficient for a project of such magnitude, noting the variance that Pinnacle and Hampshire have requested for fewer parking spaces.  Cotter feared the constant valet parking and the traffic circulation along local streets would make the area more dangerous for pedestrians.

Cyndi Steiner, executive director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, defended Stolar’s design, saying it has included access for pedestrians and bike riders.  She added that the Planning Board should not confuse pedestrian access with pedestrian experience, explaining that the project would provide something pleasant to walk to and around rather than a blighted lot. Steiner said the parking lot design has traffic calming devices such as the proposed stanchions in the lot to cause drivers to slow down.  She added that there should be fewer motorists going to the supermarket as pedestrians frequent it more, allowing the lot to be used for special events more often.   Stolar is the chair of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition’s board, but Steiner stressed that she did not share her testimony with Stolar beforehand.

Among other defenders of the project, former zoning board member Sharon Cockey urged the Planning Board to ensure adequate parking while stressing the need to develop and utilize the property.  Kevin Amin said a compromise was needed to get the supermarket up and running and consider the needs of the community and not bother with “highfalutin’” plans for the property.  William Scott, a member of the Montclair Housing Commission and the chairman of the Montclair NAACP’s Housing Committee, appeared with fellow NAACP members Beverly Bussey and Rosita Dobson, to read a statement affirming support for the Township Council’s May 2018 resolution supporting the current plan before the Planning Board and urging the Planning Board to “consider it favorably and with dispatch,” though with the added caveat of preserving the historic character of the railway terminal.

Justin Waldman, a staunch supporter of the project, wasn’t concerned with niceties.  He said working-class customers of the former Pathmark were exasperated by the loss of the old supermarket and said none of them were concerned with architectural details – they just want a place to go and buy basic necessities. Waldman, a Seymour Street resident who frequented Pathmark, said he didn’t want to see Lackawanna railway terminal left vacant as a result of the Planning Board’s  failure to approve the project.  “Get those shovels in the ground!” he exclaimed.

Tom Trautner, Stolar’s lawyer, responded to public comment by saying that his client has made compromises and tried to balance parking concerns, defending the shared-parking arrangement devised.  He added that there are several historic-preservation elements in the plan, including the restoration of the horse trough; the restoration of the staircase the currently goes nowhere; and the explanatory plaques proposed for highlighting the block’s railroad history.  He also re-iterated architectural historian Steven Bedford’s conclusion that there is nothing particularly unique about the train shed, and that the design has been used elsewhere.  As to the subject of turning the building in to a market like the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia or Chelsea Market in New York, Trautner said there were very few opportunities for a market of that nature to work.

Montclair Planning Board Chairman John Wynn with Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, the Township Council’s Planning Board liaison, at the January 28 Montclair Planning Board meeting

This all left Planning Board Chairman John Wynn to recommend, per a suggestion from board member Carole Willis, that the board consider topics and questions to cover as part of their public deliberation over the application. That will take place at the board’s next meeting, on February 11.   Chairman Wynn warned that a final vote may not take place then.

Video link:

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  1. Ms Steiner, the executive director of NJ Bike & Walk Coalition should have had her remarks vetted by her colleague, Brian Stolar, the developer.

    I don’t understand how Ms Steiner’s belief that light poles, placed in between parked cars, create a traffic calming effect in the lot’s drive aisles.

    She further envisions the patronage to be increasingly dominated by pedestrians and bicyclists – and suggested the obsolete, unused parking capacity could become event space. I have to assume she sees much more than the 20-30% her colleague’s plan envisions that walk, bike, etc to the site. Maybe she sees that number surpassing 50% in the darker, colder days of December – the period at issue here.

    I also don’t understand her critique of my plan for 7 drop-off/pickup stalls. These are the same 7 spaces in Brain Stolar’s proposal…which she supports. I actually wanted to add more than 7 spaces to my plan as car sharing would free up land for open space or some other amenity.

    I did expect her to make a case for daylighting the 2nd River Easement that runs from the LP Pedestrian Tunnel down to the Bay Street train Station – and could further connect to the proposed Ice & Iron Greenway at Bay St. I was disappointed she didn’t, but I understand we are probably too far along to realistically consider such a unique opportunity through the Urban Renewal area (as proposed by the Montclair Environmental Commission 6 months ago).

    The developer’s plan is a bad plan. My proposal was only to mitigate this bad plan without further delaying a supermarket opening here. Neither rises anywhere near the level of a transformative urban design this site offers. I am only hoping we can take what has survived to the present and keep it for a future redevelopment. A future redevelopment that could help connect the neighborhood into a Main Street experience it deserves.

    Oh, right. Pedestrian experience is not the issue.

  2. Mr. Trautner once again used a strategy of false deflection: Nobody is suggesting that Lackawanna Train Station should be a multi-tenant food court like Reading Market in Philadelphia or Chelsea Market in NY. This is a false signal to those who want a supermarket. The reference to the Philadelphia’s Reading Market and other successful adaptive re-use of historic buildings for food services by many of us was presented purely as a means of validating the architectural concept’s extraordinarily successful precedent. If a single tenant supermarket/grocer is what the market demands (and what has been the consensus of what has been proposed and clearly preferred) the space would be absolutely viable and outstanding! Mr. Trautner’s suggestion is precisely the type of clever smokescreen tactic designed to willfully misguide and confuse, divide and move the conversation away from the failures of their plan. Its simple: SINGLE TENANT SUPERMARKET (ie SHOP RITE etc.) to be housed in the extraordinary interior structure of the Lackawanna Train Station. Train Station stays. Pathmark structure goes. There are hundreds of reasons this is the best solution from a planning, circulation, architectural quality of interior space, traffic flow, pedestrian access, activation and revitalization of Glen Ridge Avenue, Pedestrian Continuity of Bloomfield Ave, linking/integrating the 4th ward with the rest of town etc. Re-inventing the Grove Street Bloomfield Avenue Intersection……. These benefits alone make siting the supermarket in the existing station the best solution. Preservation is almost incidental benefit in the scheme of things. Yet our entire Town’s Master Plan opines about the value and priority of Preservation. Siting the SUPERMARKET in the Train Station Space is absolute the best solution, endorsed by every expert not affiliated with Brians Stolar’s application.

    Critically, the failed application of Brian Stolar should never been allowed to go this far. His resistance to collaboration and his intransigence for sticking to his poorly conceived purely self serving plan is the only source of delay of this project (Are you listening 4th Ward?). This resistance despite ongoing overtures demonstrates the the very bad faith which can be found imbued throughout his application.

    Lackawanna’s thoughtful, well conceived redevelopment can be the biggest boon to solidifying Montclair’s presence as the premier satellite suburb of New York and enhance our community for generations to come. It is an anchor site to the entire Bloomfield Avenue Commercial District and is the site linking several presently disconnected neighborhoods

    It is time for our TOWNSHIP PLANNER and community leaders to “get on board the train” for supporting thoughtful well conceived development as our first line of defense/offense. There is a “train wreck” of projects that have been improvidently approved in the recent past, largely from this very same developer who now seeks to demolish our most important and extraordinary historic structure in town. A structure that was thoughtfully recognized and saved in the 1980’s by no less than one of the finest preservation architects of the 20th century, Richard Blinder the man charged with saving and restoring NYs Grand Central Station, Apollo Theater, Beacon Theater, Lincoln Center and Ellis Island.

    Let’s get “back on track” and be the thoughtful stewards of our town’s design and development like our wise predecessors in the last 2 centuries that have left us the wonderful legacy of a spectacular townscape. It’s time to wake up. Otherwise the very best of this town will continue to be exploited thoughtlessly by those who wish to monetize our town’s best qualities with little regard for the long term damage wrought. As residents who pay a premium for enjoying the privilege of the collective foresight of our predecessors, it is “Our Station” in life to stand up to protect our community and not continue be “railroaded” by poor planning and misguided development.

    To Mayor Jackson, Town Council and fellow residents of Montclair:

    People get ready
    There’s a train a-coming
    You don’t need no baggage
    You just get on board

    All you need is faith
    To hear the diesels humming
    You don’t need no ticket
    You just thank the Board (Planning Board)

  3. All that I could actually glean from Ms. Steiner’s statements and negative critique of Frank Rubacky’s ideas, is that she is a friend of the developer.
    James Cotter’s statements about the planning slights of the 4th Ward were BRILLIANT.
    David Greenbaum’s clever comments above are right on.

  4. Steiner’s conflicts are obvious. Her comments should carry no weight and be totally disregarded by the board. And why on earth would stoller be part of that organization?

  5. This is whole planning process is a pathetic granfalloon. The very folks who bamboozled the late unlamented Freid Five into the Valley and Bloom Rego Parkerization are now doubling(tripling if Seymour St “art center” is counted-also whose prospects don’t look decent) down into this ridiculous project. Everybody is PC ing into a supermarket boondoggle that will surely be a disaster. There’s a reason that Pathmark pulled out. It doesn’t work to have one there. It’ll go belly up. What’s the point of all the arguing about parking, valets, trainshed preservation if it’l return to it’s present abandoned state. I have thought from the beginning that the idea of opening up the water-greenway connection to the Boonton line pathway, creating some beautiful gathering place is so good that it would definitely not be accomplished and so it has proven to be. Hold Pinnacles feet to the fire on this or kick them out and start anew. I’m still waiting for the promised redo of the fountain at the end of Valley road LOL. Urbanization HO!

  6. Albert G. Biden…you’re totally right on!
    (the link above probably asks you to subscribe)

    Here’s a great article from the Philadelphia Enquirer about how the big new tacky buildings just don’t fit into a historic town center….
    “As Old City booms, new buildings struggle to make themselves part of the neighborhood”

  7. The Planning Board now deliberates on this application. This is not their first rodeo when it comes to Lackawanna Plaza. A year and half ago the Council tried its power play with the redevelopment plan. The Planning Board rightly rejected it and laid out their reasons why. The draft’s weak language on preserving the train station was a central part of their rejection.
    In doing so, they defined what were the key historic elements and how they should be treated.

    The Planning Board members should go back and refresh their memories. Here is the link:

  8. I will post a copy of my alternate apt. bldg. plans shortly under “Montclair Terminal Redux” at and forward copies to David and Mr. Reimnitz.

    Pardon my unfortunate comment… the point of the “Comet” business was to reinforce the idea that the front row of of platform supports is an absolutely integral part of the station’s unique iconic design and massing in it’s selfconsciously-mechanistic-in-1913 form with early hints of modernism – and that therefore Bedford’s paid assertions about the supports are Quatsch. (He is a hired executioner – and doubt he can draw his way out of a paper bag. I know this type.) …but Chief Soviet Planning Show Trail Kangaroo John Wyn’s incessant interruption tactics served to make it too confusing for me to get to the point of the comet argument. Those supports have not been moved from their original positions.

    If you knocked down the trainshed and put up a circus tent every major supermarket would be begging to get let in. Baristanet says somewhere occupancy was 100% in 2012 – this despite new revelations-to-me owing to availability of the 1984 drawings at Mtcl. Planning bd. website – indicating the existing design really had problems from the get-go. I do think Blinder improved it.

    The idea of platform supports in the parking lot is stupid and intentionally so. They are a LUDICROUS INSULT to the station built at cost of life and limb – with the ludicrousness emphasized by their useless obstructiveness in the lot, where more spaces could be had otherwise.

  9. Thank you Bruce W. I agree with a lot of what you are saying about this insult. And when Mr. Scott asked for a commitment for the supermarket, no affirmative answer was given.

  10. Thanks Frankgg! Here is my LACKAWANNA PLAZA ALTERNATE PLAN – though there’s still writing not done yet that has to be added – Hope you like it. Am thinking of a Baristanet OpEd? And grateful to hear any input you may have.

  11. You are welcomed Bruce. Would you possibly post the link again? I does not work… I would like to see what you envision….

  12. Thanks so much for providing the link Liz!
    I am able to have a glance right now and I’ll read more of it later on today.
    I find your proposal fascinating and scientific, Bruce! You’re very talented!

  13. Thanks a lot again frank! I finally got it written last night, I think. It’s all there more-or-less. I numbered the items so it can be referenced. But think this will probably all be over Monday night. Unless someone takes ’em to court. In any case I’d like to force them to include my development scenario in the record – because you can’t make a proper decision with no idea what a trainshed-friendly alternative would look like.

  14. …and thank you Liz George for getting the link right. Don’t know how I messed it up, but several tens of hours into website-editing there is sort of a fall-off in… elevator don’t go all-th-way to the top any more.

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