The Montclair Planning Board had what was likely its shortest and quietest meeting in months, with the Lackawanna Plaza supermarket application finally out of the way. The bulk of the 75-minute meeting on February 25 was given over to discussing recommendations to the Montclair Township Council for its ordinance amending the redevelopment plan for the Hahne’s parking lot on Church Street. As with the Lackawanna Plaza application, however, board member Anthony Ianuale recused himself, as his business has association with Bijou, a development company that is the contract purchaser of the property.
The board has been going over ideas for a residential or mixed-use building that could fit in the parking lot and could include a maximum of 74 apartments while providing enough parking spaces. A couple of conceptual drawings were shown to the public, provided by Bijou and designed by the Hoboken architectural firm Marchetto Higgins Stieve, whose partner Bruce Stieve is designing the Lackawanna Plaza project for Pinnacle and Hampshire. The drawings shown, depicting an apartment building along the sidewalk with its front elevation facing the side of the Unitarian church and set back 20 feet from the church’s eastern elevation, were produced in 2017 and do not reflect a final design of any sort.
Planning Director Janice Talley sought to compile comments from board members – who at this meeting included new member Frederick Cook – that would be incorporated into a recommendation to the council. The members of the board’s Redevelopment Subcommittee – Martin Schwartz (not present at the February 25 meeting), Carmel Loughman, and Board Chair John Wynn – had gone over drawings with architect Ira Smith of Smith Maran and recommended that any design for an apartment building on the property have the front elevation face Church Street with a 15-foot setback to provide a transition point between Montclair’s central business district and the three church buildings in the immediate area. A setback would likely allow for fewer apartment units, but Chair Wynn said that the goal was to strike a balance between the new building and existing buildings, keeping in mind how they would fit with one another.
One sore spot was the suggestion that 10 percent of the available units, not 20 percent, be set aside as affordable housing. An earlier recommendation was to provide 1,000 square feet of community space and payments of $3,000 to the township for different purposes and uses of the space, which was considered as an offset that would be beneficial to the township. Board members, however, made clear their desire to keep the 20 percent affordable-housing standard.
The board also tried to find ways of including community space without necessarily having room inside the building. Early designs proposed a courtyard for the building that board members suggested could be used by the public as well as by the residents. There was also talk of trying to enliven the façade along Church Street with token commercial space, although Chair Wynn wondered aloud if it was necessary to add to the token storefronts in town, which include the space used by Studio Montclair at the Montclarion at Bay Street Station apartment building. At issue was having some commercial space to balance the proposed 15-foot setback from Church Street. Vice Chair Keith Brodock said he was not opposed to the setback but wanted to find a way to have the front activated. Director Talley thought that was a reasonable suggestion, adding her input by proposing a small tenant like an ice cream shop, but Chair Wynn said that such an activated space couldn’t be guaranteed by any developer, and that it just couldn’t be worked in.
The proposal of requiring a setback between the side of the proposed building and the back of the commercial building along South Park Street might create an eyesore that would be easily viewed from Church Street, as many of the garage receptacles for the South Park Street businesses would remain visible. Chair Wynn said there might be creative ways to shield the back of the South Park Street building – perhaps a tree, or many be a trellis with plantings – and he added that the owners of the existing building along South Park Street might be given incentives to improve the appearance of the rear area.
The board voted to recommend to the council that the building be all-residential and that the mixed-use requirement be dropped, along with keeping the building at five stories and requiring an average 10-foot stepback for the building above the above third floor on all sides. It also reaffirmed the need to set aside 20 percent of the available units for affordable housing. The recommendations were passed unanimously, without Ianaule’s vote and with the council’s board liaison, Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, abstaining. The Historic Preservation Commission, meanwhile, plans to submit its own recommendations to the council after reviewing the ordinance at its March 28 meeting.
The board also unanimously approved a letter of support for a Green Acres application on the part of the Department of Community Services to refurbish some of the township’s parks. The projects, according to Director Talley, include new benches and pedestrian paths for both Nishuane Park and Essex Park, as well as new picnic tables for Nishuane and new playground equipment and lighting fixtures for Essex. The Department of Community Services also seeks to refurbish the basketball and tennis courts at Mountainside Park.
A continuing application for a second floor on the building housing Domino’s Pizza at 59 Glenridge Avenue was postponed to April 8 per the applicant’s request for more time. There was no further action on the Lackawanna Plaza application, where the Lidl (pronounced “needle”) supermarket chain will open what will likely be its fifth store in New Jersey. The resolution on that application – with all of the conditions that apply – will be before the board at its March 11 meeting.