Montclair HPC: Lackawanna Plaza Controversy, Carport and Addition Referrals

The Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan is the issue that won’t go away.  At least that was made clear that at the meeting of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) on Thursday, March 28, which was attended by four commissioners.

the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission

HPC commissioner David Greenbaum, unrelenting in his opposition to the Lackawanna Plaza project, brought up for discussion a possible resolution in which the HPC would offer comment as a collective body on how the Lackawanna Plaza application was handled by the Planning Board toward the end of the process. Greenbaum noted that, as the application was prepared for a final vote, the developers only then revealed the identity of the tenant for their supermarket (Lidl), who turned out to have plans for a 29,000-square-foot store rather than the 47,000-sqaure-foot store that developer Brian Stolar insisted was part of the plan – which, according to the plan, necessitated the demolition of the train shed.

Greenbaum said he wanted the HPC members to put themselves on the record as a collaborative body as opposing the way the Planning Board handled the application in light of the revisions to the plan and the failure of witnesses to testify or be cross-examined in light of those changes.

“We would find that they are inconsistent with what was presented,” Greenbaum said about the Planning Board in explaining his proposed resolution, ”by the vast majority of people speaking and advising the Planning Board.  Those are specific points.”

But Board Vice Chair Jason Hyndman noted that the Planning Board vote on the resolution memorializing the Lackawanna Plaza plan, which was originally scheduled for March 11, was postponed, and the HPC should wait until that vote is taken.  Once that is done, he said, the HPC can speak to what it disagrees with regarding the resolution.

Deputy Township Attorney Joseph Angelo, acting as the HPC attorney, suggested that the HPC make a motion either on that night or at a later date, though he did not see a purpose in it and that it would not change anything.  Although Greenbaum would have preferred to wait for another meeting, a motion to vote on a collaborative comment from the HPC on the Planning Board was seconded, but it was voted down in a 2-2 tie, with Greenbaum and Caroline Kane Levy voting for it and Vice Chair Hyndman and Chair Kathleen Bennett voting against it.  It could come up for another vote in the future.  The HPC did vote unanimously to acknowledge the comments from Commissioners Greenbuam and Kane Levy about the Lackawanna Plaza project from its February 2019 meeting as part of the official record.

Also, Greenbaum opined earlier in the meeting that Stephen Rooney, the one person on both the Planning Board and HPC, should not have voted for the Lackawanna Plaza plan and should instead have voted in accordance with the wishes of the HPC.  Angelo said there was no legal way of enforcing the idea of the HPC’s Planning Board liaison voting as the HPC does, and he added for good measure that the mayor cannot make it a requirement for said liaison to do so.  The HPC is open to considering the idea of a member who would represent the majority opinion of the commission on the Planning Board, who would essentially be a secretary to the HPC.

the proposed carport for the back of 123 Watchung Avenue

The HPC also considered two referrals for their input, one from the Planning Board and the other from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.  Bluestone Café owner Harvey Shilling, who also owns the building at 123 Watchung Avenue that the café is located in, presented his plan for a car port with solar panels on the roof, designed by local architect Paul Sionas.  The plan was largely unchanged from when the Development Review Committee reviewed it earlier in the month.  The project would clean up the parking area immediately behind the building and have six separate head-in parking stalls for residents of the building’s second-floor apartments and would have the stair tower in the back and the building repainted a dark blue.  Shilling would also center the dumpster between each set of three parking spaces to get it away from the pedestrian alley on the west side of the building.  Sionas’ plan would also include four parallel parking spaces along the east side of the building, to be used by Bluestone Café employees during the morning and early afternoon.   The plan came before the HPC because of Watchung Plaza’s historic district status.

The HPC was generally supportive of the plan and appreciated Sionas’ design incorporating a planter between the sidewalk on Watchung Avenue and the four parallel parking spaces to screen the rear from the front, but members of the commission expressed concern about the eastern end of the carport not being entirely invisible from sight lines along the front of the building. Commissioner Kane Levy asked if the eastern end of the carport could be pulled back a bit and aligned with the building.  Shilling said cutting back the roof would adversely affect the solar panels atop the carport due to the fixed cost of the energy being produced by the panels, and he added that their cost would go up.  Soalr panels are also planned for the main building’s roof.

the rear of 123 Watchung Avenue, as it currently exists

The board chose to recommend to the Planning Board that Shilling have both the front and rear façades painted and cleaned, provide a rendering of the front of the building and the pedestrian alley, and prepare a plan to ensure that the solar panels are not so visible.

The HPC also heard a referral on the Zoning Board application from dentist Paul Rotunda regarding his plans to add a new wing to his house at 83 Park Street, on the northeast corner of Park and Walnut Streets, where he has his dental practice. Dr. Rotunda had presented his plan with architect Mike Sweebe to the Development Review Committee three weeks earlier, but only Sweebe appeared before the HPC.    As reported previously on Baristanet, Dr. Rotunda plans to build a three-story addition to the house where a one-story garage is currently located, and the addition would provide additional office space on the first floor and extra living space on the upper floors.

Blueprint for 83 Park Street

HPC consultant Tom Connolly thought the addition was too tall and threatened to overshadow the original structure, and Greenbaum added that the roofline of the addition was too symmetrical in relation to the Queen Anne-inspired architecture of the existing house.  A planned ramp for disabled patients had the potential to be well-designed, Connolly added, but he felt there were too many entrances in the planned house and addition, which he said could produce problems for dental patients.  Sweebe is expected to redo his plans and show them to the HPC afterwards.

The video of the meeting is here.

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