The Montclair Development Review Committee (DRC) had a quick meeting on March 7 to go over three applications slated for the Planning Board. Two applications involved minor site plans that required variances while a third was a major application for a condominium apartment tower off Valley Road that did not need variances but was of extreme importance.
The first application was brought by Bluestone Coffee owner Harvey Shilling for a new carport, designed by architect Paul Sionas, for the back of his building at 123 Watchung Avenue, which houses Reliable Cleaners as well as Bluestone, with apartments on the second floor. The plan is to reorganize the parking area to the rear of the building with six head-in parking spaces under a carport with solar panels on its roof. The head-in spaces would have concrete wheel stops to shield the walkway along the building’s southern elevation.
The plan for the back of the building would also having the siding and trim restored to its original appearance and finished with a fresh coat of pale navy-blue paint, which Shilling said was a color chosen for its historical value. Light-emitting diode strips would be placed in the ceiling of the car port, and the columns would correspond to the lines separating the parking spaces. In addition, four stacked parking spaces for Bluestone employees would be provided along the building’s eastern elevation. The trash receptacle area would be nestled into the southwestern corner of the property, but an alternate plan would center it between the three western head-in parking spaces and the three eastern ones.
Among the variances needed are a variance to allow a rear-yard setback of 1.4 feet for an accessory structure when a 20-foot setback is required; a variance to allow a side-yard setback of 2.75 feet for an accessory structure where a setback of 0 or 6 feet is required; variances to allow the same setbacks with the same measurements of the trash receptacle (if the first, not the alternate plan is pursued); and a variance to allow the stacked parking spaces even though they are not connected directly to the street.
Planning Director Janice Talley noted that the original application did not call for stacked parking along the building’s eastern elevation, and Sionas admitted that this was added on after the fact. Martin Schwartz of the Planning Board found one objection regarding the solar panels. He thought the placement of the panels would allow them to be easily seen and thus create an eyesore. When Schwartz asked if it were possible to include a parapet, Sionas and Shilling said they were told that it could have a negative effect on the panels’ ability to capture the sun’s rays. There was a suggestion made of getting a new design of a set of panels that offered better aesthetics, but if one panel were to malfunction, it could cause all of the panels to fail.
For his part, engineer Joseph Vuich didn’t think that getting approval for the materials being used would be a problem because of the concern for aesthetics. However, he did stress that more lighting was needed for the pedestrian alley along the western elevation, and Director Talley concurred. The plan for 123 Watchung Avenue is likely to go before the Historic Preservation Commission for their input.
The second application involved dentist Paul Rotunda’s plan for his house at 83 Park Street, which doubles as his home and his dental office. Dr. Rotunda plans to build a three-story addition to his existing house on the current location of a one-story garage. The addition would provide additional office space on the first floor – 962 square feet – as well as extra living space on the upper floors. Dr. Rotunda explained that he also intended to reconfigure the parking lot in the back of the house to bring it 10 feet closer to Walnut Street, which he hoped that, combined with the additional space, would allow him to handle his patients more efficiently. Among the variances requested are a variance to allow a 7.83 side-yard setback where a 20-foot setback is required; a variance for 15 parking spaces where a minimum of 18 are needed; and a variance for a front-yard parking space along Walnut Street (which is considered front-yard space despite the house’s Park Street address) where front-yard parking isn’t allowed.
The DRC liked the addition, which architect Mike Sweebe designed to emulate the existing house, and he plans to adorn it with scalloped shingles. But Vuish and Director Talley said the front space would need screening from the street with plantings, and Zoning Board Chair William Harrison opined that the blind spot created by such screening would be problematic. Dr. Rotunda said he thought a space directly in front of Walnut Street would be nice to have, but seemed open to the DRC’s suggestion that he eliminate it.
The DRC’s easiest application on this night was, ironically, its largest. The residents of the Bellaire House condominium tower in Upper Montclair sought approval for an accessory building between the tower and the Acme supermarket to house its HVAC units, the need for which they demonstrated clearly when they showed photos of the destruction of the basement area of their tower caused by the flood of August 11, 2018. That flood inundated the basement with 63,000 gallons of water and took out two boilers and three air condensers in addition to damaging several cars in the basement garage. Monica Biondi, president of the condo board association, said a new structure to house HVAC units was necessary to have air conditioning available in time for summer. Engineer John Ferrante showed a plan to have such a building located in the southwestern corner of the property, with plans for a garden to soften the scenery around it. Only the residents, he said, would ever see it.
Director Talley asked Ferrante to send her updated plans for the project by March 15, and Schwartz urged him to go to the building department and find out what equipment was necessary to purchase for the Bellaire so he could order it in time for installation. The application for Bellaire is due to be heard at the Planning Board’s meeting on March 25.
The DRC also approved the site plan for signage for Robert Crook’s insurance office at the corner of Trinity Place and The Crescent.