MontClairVoyant: The Dance of Montclair High PE Credit and Lackawanna Plaza’s Future

Montclair High students will no longer get phys-ed credit for dance classes. Bad idea?

P.E. Smith-Jones

Awful idea, and I’m glad students created a petition against it that had nearly 600 signatures as of January 16. Dancing is athletic and more popular with girls than boys, so the change is dumb, sexist, and may make ballet star Misty Copeland reconsider having the same initials as Montclair.

Are you saying Montclair is Mont Clair?

William Wordsworth

Thank you for giving me space at this difficult time.

A number of Montclair High students have no time in their school day to take dance as an elective, and non-affluent teens might not be able to afford dance classes outside of school. Your response?

Trip to the Unfair

So it’s partly an issue of equity — a word Superintendent Kendra Johnson frequently uses. If only Montclair High’s student hoofers had performed “The Dance of the Equity.”

But didn’t Dr. Johnson say at January 14’s Board of Education meeting (where many students spoke in favor of keeping phys-ed credit for dance) that she’s just trying to follow state guidelines?

Regulation Fixation

Then those guidelines should be fought. Students are more important than rules-obsessed state officials awkwardly swaying to “The Dance of the Bureaucrats.”

Dr. Johnson did say she’ll seek some sort of solution to this. Getting back to the letters MC, Planning Board member Martin Schwartz alertly spotted apparently unapproved construction to house mechanicals atop The MC — making that too-high future hotel even higher. Surprised?

Lack-of-Style Points

No. Developers have a history in Montclair of building taller and/or bulkier and/or uglier than the “final” plans that already favor them, yet they remain in the good graces of town officials. Bromance is a many-splendored thing…

The proposed Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment was on the agenda yet again at January 14’s Planning Board meeting, with Montclair resident Frank Rubacky presenting his plan that would (among other things) save LP’s historic train shed and improve parking. Thoughts?

Lack-Look Pro

Kudos to Mr. Rubacky, who has often commented about the LP redo on this site and then put his words into action with Monday’s presentation — with no monetary stake in the matter. On the other hand, developers mostly speak through the lens of profit-seeking, which is why they pronounce any “s” as “$”.

LP will again be on the Planning Board agenda January 28, with public comment scheduled. Will that meeting finally end the LONG debate about the controversial redevelopment that will hopefully include a much-needed supermarket to replace Pathmark?

Redo Redux

The LP process might conclude on that date if you mean January 28, 2044. I’ll arrive at that far-future meeting in my hybrid flying car fueled by gasoline and MishMish lentil soup.

What’s the latest news from the PARCC mishmash after a New Jersey appellate court wisely ruled December 31 that the worthless PARCC graduation test is illegal?

Frankly, I Don’t Give Exam

Two proposed state bills, which I hope people will urge legislators to support, would suspend exit testing for all current high school students so they can graduate. The Senate’s S558 bill (introduced by Montclair’s admirable Nia Gill) and the Assembly’s A672 bill add up to 1230, which reminds me that…it’s time for lunch!

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.




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  1. Thank you Dave for the compliment. While trying not to take the focus off Lackawanna, the Township is moving forward on another downtown redevelopment.

    Montclair’s redevelopment review process is like a familiar expression…when a developer’s proposal gets to the proverbial fork in the road, take it. The latest example is the Hahne’s Parking Lot redevelopment on Church Street.

    The Council proposes to increase the housing density for the developer, so they send the question to the Planning Board. The PB said yes, but the PB also said to add a setback 6th story to the 5 story zoning…even though they were not asked.

    FYI, the Planning Department is revising an ordinance that included limiting downtown development to 4 stories due to the public’s pushback. The Mayor was against the revision because property owners will likely sue us. But, in this case, no one can sue us because it is legally zoned at 5 stories. Lesson here: ignore “the talk” and watch “the walk”.

    Now, a new, 6-story, 75,000+ SF mixed-use building will have its proponents and detractors. Before picking a camp, I recommend caution in what they hear about the proposal. First, it will not be all that attractive or vibrant at street-level experience due to wall screens, entrances, loading and the permitted non-retail uses (e.g. offices). Second, when you hear the phrase “public parking”, cover your ears. Yes, it will offer a dollop of public parking compared to the existing 106 spaces, but not offered thru the evenings. It just means more Township revenue from the ‘underutilized’ Crescent Deck.

    And then there is the question of the design – specfically, an attractive design.

    I would have hoped the Council had learned from the good things they did in the Seymour Redevelopment Plan and the many, many negatives of Valley & Bloom project. A key difference was the Council incorporated an extensive section on design standards & requirements in the Seymour Plan.

    The Hahne’s Plan doesn’t have this. It’s ancient. It was written back at the turn of the century. It was written before we wrote the Valley & Bloom plan. Worse, the HPC review it did have resulted in numerous very good design call-outs being ignored on the Siena. Talk vs Walk.

    I would think that if the Council is going to the effort of revising the plan to add higher density and height ( a height that would be the same as Valley & Boom’s), they would also take this opportunity to add design standards beyond just pushing it back from the street and away from its neighbors.

  2. You’re very welcome for the mention, Frank!

    The plans for the Church Street parking lot you discussed in impressive detail are for the site where the assisted-living place was going to go until it wasn’t, correct? Anyway, among the important points I took from your comment are that Montclair officials sometimes learn but more often don’t learn from their (sometimes deliberate?) mistakes when it comes to approving development/redevelopment, and that our town is fearful of being sued (in at least some cases) if it doesn’t give want-to-build-too-densely developers almost everything they want.

    If developers do sue, Montclair officials should rally residents as allies against those bullying lawsuits and see how developers react. It infuriates me that the threat of legal action is one thing that’s allowing downtown to become so overbuilt. (Often with not enough public parking, as you alluded to.) Sure, defending again lawsuits costs not-insignificant money, but is that worse than seeing downtown become crammed with so many large new projects that worsen parking and traffic, strain infrastructure, overpopulate schools, etc.?

    BTW, nice riff on a Yogi Berra quote by you. 🙂

  3. Yes, the 2012 assisted-living application, and the prior 2011 application for a mixed use building both initially 6-stories. The Fried Council rejected both requests and left the plan at 5 stories. This Council’s revisions would allow more density & height in exchange for doubling the affordable housing requirement from 10% to 20%.

    Here is another Yogism: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

  4. Ha, Frank! There’s a Yogism for almost everything. 🙂

    Interesting “bargain” — more density and height in exchange for a larger percentage of affordable housing. How about not overbuilding while having 20% affordable housing? Developers would still make a decent profit, while getting a reputation for being a bit more community-minded amid their money-making.

  5. How about not overbuilding and still having 20% affordable housing?

    My preference is 4 stories, 15% AH and Township gives up their claim to public parking for a payment in lieu of parking. Part-time public parking is a stupid concept.
    The right developer will easily make their profit.

  6. Part-time public parking is certainly an awkward and unwieldy concept.

    And, yes, “the right developer will easily make their profit” under the conditions you outlined. I’d still prefer 20% affordable housing, but would of course take 15% over 10%. And given that something is most likely going to be built on that Church Street lot, four stories is better than higher — and more appropriate for that street than a higher building.

  7. Thanks for the link, Frank. I couldn’t access the story (seems I’ve reached my limit for the month on that site) but just read The New York Times obituary of John Bogle. He obviously had a very accomplished life in the financial sector — and was a Montclair native!

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