Montclair Planning Board Approves Lackawanna Application – Lidl Supermarket Coming (Updated)

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Updated with corrected quote from Lidl’s Nicholas Buckner

Monday’s Montclair Planning Board meeting started with a bang, and despite having led to a conclusion of the Lackawanna Plaza application at long last, it ended with a whimper.  German supermarket chain Lidl, which began opening supermarkets in the U.S. in 2017, was revealed to be the chain interested in becoming the primary tenant of the Lackawanna Plaza development proposed by Pinnacle and Hampshire.  After much debate, the board, with seven members present, approved the application – by which point most of its detractors in the audience had already left.

German Supermarket chain Lidl has opened a number of U.S. stores including three in New Jersey, the closest in Union. Source: Lidl

Pinnacle’s Brian Stolar and Hampshire’s Rob Schmitt introduced Lidl real estate manager Nicholas Buckner to describe his company’s business.  Lidl operates over 10 thousand supermarkets in 29 European countries – with its first store in Latvia now under construction – and 66 stores in the United States, mostly on the East Coast.  It is currently undergoing rapid expansion in the U.S., which it sees as a market ripe for growth.  Currently, France has the largest number of Lidl stores outside Germany.

Buckner told the Planning Board that Lidl’s objective is to sell “highest quality at the best possible price,” adding that 80-90% of Lidl’s products are private label, a majority of which, are sourced in the US with some imported European products as well. Lidl has also won various awards on product quality. (Editor’s note: Correction was made to previous incorrect quote)  The Montclair store would be 29,000 square feet – 18,000 square feet less than the area planned for, though Stolar said he could subdivide the surplus 18,000 square feet into smaller retail units.

Buckner also said Montclair was a perfect location for Lidl because of its pedestrian-friendly layout.  Ironically, the Lackawanna project’s main sticking point – the expansion of the parking lot at the expense of the old train shed – was the most hotly debated topic among the board members, not including Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, who felt it necessary to recuse herself from the final proceedings.

Lidl real estate manager Nicholas Buckner

Board member Martin Schwartz worried that a secondary parking plan that would offer less parking up front but would still be functional had not been considered.  He reiterated throughout the meeting that he was afraid Montclair would make a grave mistake by allowing the demolition of the train shed, especially if Lidl were to fail. Board Chairman John Wynn countered that the board was in no position to decide a better alternative because the alternatives presented in testimony were inferior.

Schwartz was undeterred by Chairman Wynn’s assertion, saying a building listed on the federal, state and local historic registers must be preserved in its entirety if it were to be made for adaptive reuse.  He also pointed out that a good deal of the historic fabric already preserved in the plan came from pushing the developers to find more opportunities to preserve it.  Chairman Wynn, though, said the shed had been radically altered when the railroad tracks had been buried under concrete and spaces between the original canopies had been filled in to make a mini-mall.  He felt preserving the waiting room – now the Pig & Prince restaurant – was more important, and he said that compromises had to be made to push the project forward lest Montclair lose the opportunity to get a new supermarket.  He was afraid the former Pathmark would become as unwanted as the old Hahne’s building if it were left vacant much longer.

Board member Carmel Loughman sided with Schwartz on the train shed issue. She also found the valet parking arrangement for the medical offices problematic.  Loughman thought the high use of doctors’ offices would be better served by parking on the eastern lot, and she said patients could use the current pedestrian tunnel under Grove Street that the project designated as a connection between the apartments on the eastern parcel and the stores on the western parcel.  Chairman Wynn found that to be absurd, saying residents of the apartment building would never consent to letting the general public go through the underground parking area for the apartments to cross Grove Street via a private tunnel.  Board member Stephen Rooney admitted he never liked the tunnel anyway.

Montclair Planning Board Chairman John Wynn (left) with Vice Chair Keith Brodock

When the other Planning Board members weighed in on the project, board members Keith Brodock and Carole Willis clearly leaned toward it as much as Schwartz and Loughman leaned against it.  Brodock, the board’s vice chairman, said he found the conclusion of the property’s historic value from 1972 to be based more on the waiting room of the railway terminal than the train shed, and he found the effort to preserve 74 percent of the stanchions for use in the parking lot and for a bus shelter to be a reasonable compromise. He also found it impossible not to have a large parking lot up front, which Chairman Wynn thought was still an improvement over the vast asphalt desert that currently exists on the eastern parcel. Willis was not happy about the compromises being made but she was willing to support the project to finally get a supermarket in the Fourth Ward.  She liked the alternative proposals but conceded that they were not submitted by the developers but rather by Montclair residents, and she noted that the developers were under no obligation to follow the alternatives.  Moreover, she said that the Planning Board’s own consultant admitted that trying to incorporate the train shed in the design would be difficult.

Loughman insisted that the train shed was historic, and that skylights and railings in the mini-mall gave her sense of the shed’s past. She added that the proposed apartment building would be too large.  Board member Daniel Gilmer, though, said the train shed had lost its historical context in the 1980s redevelopment project, and he added that the plan put forth by Pinnacle had made great strides to preserve as much historic fabric as possible.  He did say that the plan needed more access from Grove Street and Glenridge Avenue.  Rooney agreed that compromises to preserve as much of the historic fabric as possible had been made in good faith, and he still thought the property had a good chance of becoming a public gathering place.

Schwartz, aghast at Rooney’s opinion given his role as an Historic Preservation Commission member, sought a motion to deny the application, but it failed by a 5-2 vote, with only he and Loughman voting to deny it.  The board then spent an hour going over the conditions worked out by acting board attorney Dennis Galvin, which included designated hours for tractor-trailer deliveries, procedures for snow removal, retaining the stanchions on site, 20 percent affordable housing for the apartment building, and the location of turn lanes to facilitate entry into the complex.  The exact conditions would be worked out between the Planning Board and the developers and be memorialized in a resolution for the application.  The board then approved the application, 5-0-2, with Schwartz and Loughman abstaining.

The Lackawanna project application finally done, the board adjourned, as there was no time for the second order of business – a review of a Township Council ordinance amending the redevelopment plan for the Hahne’s parking lot.

The board will vote on the resolution memorializing the Lackawanna Plaza application on March 11.

Planning Board meeting video link here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKbfe3LmFFA

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Typical Montclair. The Planning Board approves the demolition of a historic train station, to pave the way for a foreign supermarket that has no sure footing in the US. A win for the developers, to line their pockets at our expense, and the rest of us have to live with this hideous mutilation of the site for decades to come.

  2. Suddenly the tenant appears. At 18,000 square feet they have completely rescinded and negated their own reasoning for bulldozing the trainshed. Obviously the justifications so hotly pronounced and promoted as necessary by the applicant and their pet board chairmen while squelching every view to the contrary should be revisited. But they won’t – probably, unless someone compels them.

  3. Please see my alternate plan at rail-nyc-access.com/lackawanna-plaza-alternate-plan – which if nothing else proves that it’s not necessary to get rid of the trainshed in order to have apartments there. Also, the older scathing page linked to it at the bottom, with written out transcript of the hotly argued unannounced expansion of the stationhouse by 22.5′ from its back wall – and the argument that ensued bet. the Soviet board kangaroo chairman and Frank Rubacky as a result.

  4. So, the largest and most valuable piece of Montclair RE is going to be a supermarket that belongs on Rt. 46. Great move. I know a few believe there should be a supermarket in the project but why? Path mark has been gone for years and residents have adapted. Ah, what could have been….

  5. I agree Redrum. I don’t trust what transpired. A totally phony process. Finally a smaller grocery store (whose website says they work with historic sites) But the planning board approved the mega parking and landmark demolition anyway. Unacceptable.

  6. For preservationists, the question is where to go from here?

    Mr Schwartz has said this Planning Board, unlike its predecessors , “gets it”. We’ve disagreed on that. They passed a 2017 resolution stating the stanchions were historic. Two years later they ignored it and unanimously argued the stanchions are now no longer historic. Then, when it came time to stand up for their beliefs, the two dissenting PB members abstained.

    The PB Chair said he knew HP as well as anyone else serving the town. I suspect the entire Planning Board also feels they know, as well as or better than the HPC, all they need to best serve our preservation public policy. The Historic Preservation Commission’s representative on the Planning Board said the HPC was viewed as a joke by his PB. He joined the vote for the train station’s demolition. That’s making a statement.

    The Council’s intervention into Lackawanna caused their representative to recuse herself, but 4 months after promising to make an immediate inquiry to the township’s attorney. Our Council form of government continues to struggle with the question of conflicts of interests. Our Councils have struggled to find a consistent public imperative for a strong preservation policy.

    The Council downzoned a chunk of the C-1 downtown from 6 stories to 3 stories to protect the historic character of that neighborhood. They now argue that to similarly downzone the Art Museum’s adjacent C-1 neighborhood would subject the Township to lawsuits from property owners. Yet, they also are funding the possible expansion of the downtown historic district to protect – at least in theory – its character. More likely, its purpose is to have a municipal design-policing role over the look of 6-story buildings.

    The Council also recently authorized studies to create our first residential historic districts designating a large swath of the 3rd Ward and Anderson Park and Wheeler Street residential neighborhoods. I’m unclear how they reconcile these actions with their representations that a majority of residents value property rights and don’t want further restrictions on what they can do with heir homes. The Council will likely approve later this year reductions to minimum lot widths so that residential property owners can make alterations without land use reviews. More house on the same square footage.

    Montclair’s has a historic preservation vision document. It is aspirational. It’s not too different from those who make New Years resolutions. Maybe when it comes to private property, our historic preservation public policy should be about private choice. Our public policy can still educate, inspire and guide. But, as demonstrated by the train station, each property and its historic value is unique. Let the decision – the execution of what to keep for the future – be left to the property owners to decide. Prior Councils have already established this precedent. The Montclair Art Museum has not been designated for this very reason.

    Focus the Historic Preservation Commission’s architectural expertise as an advisory resource that property owners to utilize. Have the get out of the business of dwelling on the design minutiae. This is their current advisory role to our land use boards and governing body for public projects. Just do the same for private property owners.

    It makes a lot of sense. Its evolutionary, not revolutionary.

  7. I would like to commend Baristanet reporters (particularly Mr. Maginnis) for their excellent reporting on the lengthy and complex LP hearings.

  8. Montclair has had a long, uneasy embrace of its historic preservation (HP) public policy. This is not unusual, nor unique to Montclair.

    Public policies generally are hard to quantify – whether it be their objectives, the scope of the need and the benefits specifically realized. We pursue them at any given moment and only to a given minimum level we perceive the political majority supports. Even then, the application of these policies vary based on arbitrary constructs and ongoing, competing public interests. Affordable housing is a good example.

    The Federal government has always realized the inherent limitations of “centrally planned” HP approach to both their Standards & Guidelines. The State generally follows the Fed lead. Both recognize that their historic designations typically lack broad value and are solely of local value. Further, the general philosophy on HP Standards is not to preserve the past. The Standards exist to determine what has survived to the present and and the treatments appropriate in deciding the extent of any preservation for the future. The companion Guidelines just illustrate the recommended ways preservation treatments should be applied.

    Municipalities codify who makes the local determination. This assignment of decision authority (public policy), like all zoning, is a balance between upholding individual property rights and furthering the public interest. Montclair, for mostly politically practical reasons, tailored its application of HP public policy depending on the 4 property classes. Residential and municipal properties have traditionally been hands-off. Commercial has the preponderance of historic zoning regulation. Non-profits have fallen somewhere in between.

    The elephant-sized policy issue – and inequity – has been the lack of residential designations; either historic inclusion by districts or individually. The natural & visible political friction our policy creates has been one at arms-length for most residents as they are not directly affected by it. When they were affected in the past, there was considerable pushback. Even in the case of the Marlboro Inn demolition, an underlying decision driver which caused some hard feelings was neighbors objecting to preserving the continued commercial use in a residential neighborhood. There is no doubt the neighborhood’s home values have risen significantly since its demolition.

    Before expanding historic preservation, and in light of the treatment of Lackawanna, we should first reassess the public policy and identify a current consensus on what success should look like. Then we can get into a better road map for “people, processes and org” and dealing with the Township’s growth our Master Plan has laid out.

  9. Rick Gearhart of TV 34 does an excellent job too. Its great to be able to see the meetings streaming live on YouTUBE.

Comments are closed.