MontClairVoyant: Lackawanna Plaza Okayed And Some Are Dismayed

Lackawanna Plaza could’ve had a much-needed supermarket and TOTAL preservation of what’s left of the old train station, but the Planning Board caved February 11 and voted for the developers’ history-harming plan. Comment?

Appointment With Disappointment

I’m outraged. With today being Valentine’s Day, the board and LP’s developers now have a romance for the ages — like Jane Eyre and Rochester, who got married after a building (Thornfield Hall) was destroyed.

Many more Montclair residents spoke against the LP plan than for it — at meetings, in Baristanet comments, on Facebook, etc. Does our town’s Planning Board believe in representative democracy?

The Ignorers

Apparently not. But the board members who voted “yes” might now receive holiday cards from LP’s developers, and I’m guessing they’ll be as giddy as kids on Christmas morning.

Especially if the cards have sparkly glitter. But kudos to the two board members — Martin Schwartz and Carmel Loughman — who didn’t vote “yes” on the plan, which is not only a disaster for LP’s historic train sheds but features a bad, in-your-face parking layout.

In the Outlier Caucus

No surprise the plan was flawed given that LP co-developer Pinnacle gave our town The Siena and Valley & Bloom. The “arts district” is next for that company, and I feel so ill that I’m renaming the Wellmont the Sickmont.

A Lidl supermarket will succeed the late Pathmark at LP. The size of the coming store isn’t huge, and some existing Lidl outlets are on historically preserved sites. So why couldn’t that have been done here? What am I missing?

The Lidl and the Damage Done

I don’t know, but Lidl is missing a vowel.

As if things weren’t bad enough, a combined Montclair property that contained two mansions is being marred by its owner — including the tear-down a few days ago of the 1865 house at 14 Undercliff. A travesty?

Dee Stroyed and Dee Molished

Yes. The 154-year-old mansion dated back to America’s Civil War — aka, The War Between the States, not The War to Demean Estates.

Will developers also include Montclair’s director of planning on their holiday card list for actions that included her part in eliminating protections against tear-downs of beautiful old buildings in 2012?

Preservation Abdication

Seems fair, though there are SO many cards to sign. I envision an epidemic of writer’s cramp, creating a whole new job category of “Developer-Hand Masseuse.” Who says builders don’t help the economy?

I heard the huge replacement home at/near Undercliff will have elevators, a spa, an indoor pool, a bowling alley, a basketball court, a movie theater, a nine-car motor court, seven guest rooms, a staff wing, etc. Obscene conspicuous consumption?

No Ifs, Ands, or Huts

Maybe for a couple with only one or two children, but I assume anyone living in something that gigantic will have 11 million kids. Don’t worry — just 1 million new students for each public school.

Speaking of schools, who knows where this June’s Montclair High graduation ceremony will be held now that the amphitheater won’t be available because of all the repair work that followed the partial collapse of an inside stairway. Suggestions?

Cross Off Crossing the Bridge

If only that aforementioned monster home could be built quickly. Commencement in the spa!

I am so depressed. Any positive news?

Mel Lynn Collie

At February 6’s Board of Education meeting, some of Montclair’s great teachers were feted as Governor’s Educators of the Year. Among them were Edgemont’s Avril Fagan (who taught my older daughter) and Bradford’s Shawn Finnerty (who taught my younger daughter). Thankfully, those two opted to become teachers rather than developers.

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  1. Yes, Frank, it makes a sound — as long as it’s an Ent from “The Lord of the Rings.” πŸ™‚

    Joking aside, my frequent criticism of the developers’ Lackawanna Plaza plan obviously fell on deaf ears. I get it — town officials and developers couldn’t care less about what I write. But a LOT of residents spoke against the LP plan, and “the powers that be” heard that opposition. They simply chose to (mostly) ignore it.

  2. Sorry, not my meaning. I’m a little obtuse.

    PB Chair Wynn made the point that the train sheds were not discernible to the average Montclair Joe. Hence, the historic context is lost. Hence, his argument they were disposable.

    Now take the two houses that were demolished. They are not visible to the public due to their setback and elevation above Lloyd Rd. So, even if the Zoning Board reviewed the demo beforehand, it would not be considered historic by that logic.

    When you get right down to it, the major premise underlying Montclair’s HP ordinance & policy is if it isn’t publicly visible, it’s not the Township’s historic business.

    Not my logic, but then I’m part of the Outlier Club. This was the meaning behind my original post.

  3. Thank you for the clarification, Frank. I was uncertain of your specific meaning in your first comment, so I just kind of guessed. I should have asked before answering!

    Excellent point, and well stated. Out of sight, out of mind in a way. When I used to walk in the mall part of Lackawanna Plaza, the repurposed train sheds certainly still looked train station-ish to me, but many shoppers understandably focus only on shopping when they visit a mall. And, yes, those two ill-fated Estate Section mansions are not anywhere near as visible to many Montclairites as a big house on, say, Upper Mountain Avenue.

    Of course, as you allude to, something being not that visible doesn’t take away from its historical significance. Among the major appeals of Montclair are its history and its architecture, and some developers are trashing that.

  4. They were plainly visible. I just wished the members of the PB had some gumption and just said, yes, they are historic, they are there, but we personally don’t like them. End of discussion. Because that is what the members did.

    As to ‘some’ developers are trashing? You made me laugh. No one rememberers Stephen Plofker’s original application for the Georgian Inn project. It proposed demolishing the adjacent, locally historically designated, Kohout House. Thankfully, the Zoning Board made it clear he can ask, but he was overreaching even for him. So, he is batting 500.

    It’s like Montclair put out a shingle that says, “Ask, we’ll do our best to give it to you”. Oh right, it was called an election.

  5. Yes, Frank, total honesty would have been nice. Planning Board members and the developers (if all given truth serum) probably would have acknowledged the historic nature of the train shed part of Lackawanna Plaza while adding that the plan that was approved Monday was the easiest, most profitable way to go — history be damned. Clearly the train shed part of Lackawanna IS historic, and did not lose that quality during the site’s 1980s revamp.

    I was trying to be diplomatic when I said “some” developers. πŸ™‚

  6. I laughed because the same names always come up under the “some” classification. There are some good developers working in Montclair that are not high profile types and I like to think they let their work speak for them. One (nameless) always tops my list. They don’t do the same volume or size, but size shouldn’t matter. πŸ˜‰

    On a side note, I never thought volunteering in the service of capitalism is on par with volunteering for the public good. The Planning Board members should dwell on that for a hot second.

  7. True that some developers are better than others, and that certain lower-profile developers are among the better ones.

    MUCH wisdom in your perfectly stated second paragraph, Frank. Volunteers on something like the Planning Board put in lots of time and effort, which is commendable, but giving overbuilding/anti-preservation developers almost everything they want has little or nothing to do with the public good. Volunteering for, say, a food pantry? Now THAT’S admirable.

  8. Its unacceptable that they have accepted the proposal. The LIDL supermarket is a smaller one and that would have been fine. Instead, the developer got the big tacky scheme approved. Mr. Winn chided the public saying we could boo or react. (like in fascist Europe in the 30s) All of this is entirely unacceptable.

  9. “Its unacceptable that they have accepted the proposal” — well put, Frank, and so true. πŸ™

    And you make another great point. The developers, in making one excuse for their not being that preservation-minded, frequently talked about needing a big space for a big supermarket that all the historic elements of Lackawanna Plaza would not allow. But they ended up getting a smaller supermarket, yet still no total preservation. As you say, unacceptable. But an unfortunate reality given some compliant Planning Board members.

  10. Dave, I find it fascinating that someone would build such a huge house in Montclair. Whoever it is has obviously been hugely successful financially. I assume his company has provided some type of service or product that society find desirable and perhaps makes our lives easier directly or indirectly. If he chooses to spend his money building a huge house so be it. I imagine his property taxes will be in $200k to $300 range. That will go a long way subsidizing the education system. Personally, I think huge houses are silly and wasteful but I respect the owner’s right to have what he wants.

  11. When doing comps on a similar house’s taxes (00 Highland Ave) and the combined taxes of the two demolished houses, there is no increase in the rateble taxes to benefit the township.

  12. Frankgg, What happens when a 20,000 sq foot house goes up on the property? No comp in town but I am sure the assessment will be in the 8- 10 million range.

  13. I hear you, flipside, but it pains me that one of the homes dated back to 1865 — 154 years! Had to have been one of the older surviving homes in Montclair. If a non-descript 1950s mansion were torn down, I might feel differently.

    One also wonders why a buyer ultra-wealthy enough to build a compound like that wants to live in Montclair, where so many residents are legitimately furious about this country’s huge and rising income inequality. Surely there must be a more compatible town offering that owner huge acreage, a view of the Manhattan skyline, blah, blah, blah. But, yes, it’s the owner’s property to do “The Great Gatsby” thing with. I hope at least tear-down permission was obtained; there seems to be some question about that.

  14. Excellent point about taxes, Frank. I’m sure the previous owners of the two knocked-down homes were already paying tons of taxes, as you allude to.

    flipside, the huge new compound might give Montclair somewhat more in taxes than the pair of previous mansions. But was it worth it to raze two beautiful homes more than a century old and replace them with what will probably be (as Frank noted) a not-beautiful compound? Not to me. Maybe the new owner could’ve built a tunnel or enclosed walkway between the two now-gone mansions. πŸ™‚ With diamonds encrusted into the floors, of course. πŸ™‚

  15. Dave, I love old houses too. I live in turn of century house in Montclair and own a tiny 1760’s cottage in the Berkshires…but the houses that are being knocked down seem more old than than special. (though I wouldn’t knock them down) I don’t envy the guy or worry about income inequality. You may think I am crazy but I feel income inequality is also a measure of opportunity. I may not like this guy’s taste and not a fan of what he is doing but if he can afford it …have at it.

  16. Thank you, flipside. I share your love of old houses, and it’s great that you have one in Montclair as well as the tiny pre-Revolutionary War cottage!

    The 1865 and 1907 mansions that were torn down looked beautiful, at least in photos. I have no idea what they were like inside, and how much renovation they may or may not have needed.

    I do worry about income inequality, but I don’t envy the owner (or owners) who want to build that compound. I don’t envy people guilty of that kind of excess.

    Some income inequality is indeed “a measure of opportunity.” But a lot of it is based on what family a person is born into. For instance, the Walton (Walmart) heirs didn’t exactly become mega-rich through their own hard work.

  17. Dave, I have seen a lot of silver spoon train wrecks. Some heirs maintain or expand their ancestors hard work through hard work of their own and some blow it. I wouldn’t know but I would think there is a lot of pressure and expectations of those born into wealth. I relate more to Roberto Benigni.

  18. “…silver spoon train wrecks” — great turn of phrase! Yes, some heirs to large fortunes are unadmirable while others rise to the challenge. And I agree that there’s pressure and expectations. What I’d like to see more of from heirs of all kinds is some humility that they lucked out; that they were born on third base rather than hitting a triple, as the clichΓ© goes. But that might be too much to expect, except in some rare cases.

  19. Flipside… I wish that it was all just a game … like in Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful”… instead the reality of what we’re going through with these planning boards meetings and their done deal decisions is more like fascist Europe.

  20. “…done deal decisions” — exactly, Frank! Public outcry and reasonable alternate plans — all ignored. πŸ™

  21. Wow, indeed, Frank! I thought Pathmark stores were gone for good.

    Now we can think about the return of A&P, Gimbels, Korvettes, Caldor, Crazy Rhythms, the Soda Pop Shop, Taj Palace… πŸ™‚

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