Montclair Planning Board: MC Residences Hearing Delayed Due, Redevelopment Plan Wording Discussed

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The Montclair Planning Board meeting of March 11 was to have been the start of hearings for the final component of developer Brian Stolar’s ambitious effort to remake the block situated between Bloomfield Avenue, Valley Road, and Orange Road.  With the Valley & Bloom buildings long since completed and the MC Hotel inching slowly toward completion after the groundbreaking for it nearly three years earlier, Stolar hoped to have hearings for his application for the MC Residences, a planned mixed-use building involving a ground floor for retail and three upper residential floors, get under way at this meeting.  The plan as currently conceived calls for 46 apartments and a public plaza along Orange Road, with environmental certification from a group called Green Globes, an online green-building assessment similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.  Also, on this same night, the board had planned to memorialize the resolution for Stolar’s redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza.

It didn’t work out like that.

Montclair Planning Board Chairman John Wynn confers with Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, the Township Council’s liaison to the Planning Board, during a break in the board’s March 11 meeting

Right before the hearing for MC Residences, to be built on the current site of Ferrara’s Auto Body Shop, was to get under way, board member Martin Schwartz called a foul.  He accused Stolar of disregarding Planning Director Janice Talley’s memo making it clear that the maximum density allowed for the project is in fact 18 units per acre based on the requirements for development along Orange Road in the Montclair Gateway redevelopment plan.  The plan Stolar had concocted, Schwartz said, was based on a technical mistake in the language of the requirements; although the redevelopment plan says that such a requirement applies “to new multi-family residential buildings with no commercial component,” he said that it should read that the requirement applies “to new multi-family and mixed-use buildings with no commercial component.”

“She indicates that you’re ignoring that,” Schwartz said to Stolar and his attorney Tom Trautner.  “Isn’t it true that you’re effectively using a technical drafting glitch to try and significantly expand the number of units that you’re attempting to get into this building?”

Trautner disagreed, saying that a mixed-use building has a commercial component in addition to a residential one, and that Stolar believed the requirement against higher density didn’t apply.  Schwartz asked Director Talley, who replied that the intent of the language was based on the title of the particular section of the development plan – Section 4.1.7.3  – which is, “Multi-family residential, office and mixed-use buildings on Orange Road.”  Furthermore, Director Talley said, there had been a lot of changes to the plan draft and that the sentence following the title was never appropriately edited.  Schwartz said that the developer was clearly trying to take advantage of the township’s miswording of the section, and Planning Board Vice Chair Keith Brodock added that a maximum of 18 units per acre for this building was his own recollection.

Acting board attorney Dennis Galvin said that if the hearing were to proceed, the Zoning Board of Adjustment would have to hear the application on the grounds that it has jurisdiction over what is permitted in the redevelopment area and what is not.  He recommended that Stolar seek guidance from the township council, which Vice Chair Brodock said he believed did not accept the increased density.  Galvin urged Stolar to allow the hearing to adjourn so that he could seek clarification.  Trautner resisted the idea of a delay, but Stolar ultimately agreed to have a conversation with Galvin over how to proceed.  Board Chairman John Wynn said that he personally believed it was wise to have the council and/or the zoning board provide clarification.

Having acquiesced to Galvin’s recommendation, Stolar agreed to a delay in the hearing.  The application for MC Residences is now scheduled to be heard on April 8.  The resolution that would have memorialized the supermarket application, which was to spell out the conditions more clearly, had run into difficulty over its wording, and that had also been delayed until April 8.  However, the decision to carry the resolution was made before this meeting started.

Without any applications to consider, the Planning Board discussed the nature of the minutes for the January 28 and February 11 meetings, which board member Carmel Loughman had compiled.  Loughman had argued that the minutes should be in greater detail and reflect the differing opinions of the Lackawanna Plaza project voiced by the public and by the Planning Board members.  Chairman Wynn said that the intent of the minutes is to reflect the action taken, not what was said.  He felt a summary of what the public and what the board members say was good enough, but he insisted that it served no purpose to take down every comment verbatim.  If the public wanted to access a record of the meeting for something that was specifically said, Chairman Wynn said, there was the digital recording of the meeting, as well as a video record on YouTube.

Loughman insisted that she wanted to capture the essence of what the public said about the supermarket application, but Vice Chair Brodock sided with the chairman, saying that some public comment was hearsay that shouldn’t be reflected.  Board member Daniel Gilmer, while in general agreement with Brodock, did say it was still good to have some comments noted in the record.  Loughman agreed to go over the text again to produce an edited version of the minutes from the board to approve.

The video of the meeting is here.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I followed this Gateway redevelopment plan amendment process from the onset and clearly understood its intent. First, it was a cosmetic attempt to create the perception of closing an open barn door of too much density. Second, it was an ‘additive’ revision in the sense that it (the Council’s ordinance referred to the PB) just clarified requirements for a residential-only scenario.
    It was not changing a mixed-use scenario that retained the higher allowed density given Valley & Bloom complex. I suspect we would have been sued, and lost, if the amendment was written the way the PB say they wanted. Like it or not, the higher allowed density will stand.

    Clearly, intent and/or some recommendations in the the PB’s report’s were not adopted. The Council is not bound to adopt them (e.g. the Hahne’s Parking Lot plan). The Council held a public hearing. PB had the same opportunity the public, the HPC, etc. had to say whoa, this is not what we recommended. They didn’t.

    Furthermore, while the PB believes their recommendations were clear on changing this density point, I and others would have said they did not. But, the PB does not allow public comment during discussion of Council referrals. Montclair land use boards do not publish their reports online for the public to review prior to the Council hearing. Because the amendment language indicated an intent totally consistent with the Council’s stance on high, downtown density and the PB doesn’t “indulge” the public’s input on these matters, and most members just follow the Chair’s lead, this “how did this happen” moment is owned outright by the PB.

    This is a process problem – not a density problem. On one side is a 132′ high hotel and on the other, a 63′ high, 625-car parking deck, and behind it is a 6-story, 252 unit apartment building. Does it really matter whether this project is limited to 11 units or 46 units?

  2. You’re lost in the weeds again Rubacky. Way too complicated made into much to do about nothing.

    You’re right this is about process. Editing and drafting process. And for Council – maybe head in the sand avoidance of conflict to result?

    Seems like the Planning Board sent over a recommendation of 18 units per acre. The Council amendment to the redevelopment Plan reflected it except that when editing the paragraph — headline said one thing…and someone forgot to remove a phrase from body copy that mistakenly inferred something else.

    That’s only an edit writing mistake as the story above notes. Not all your convolutions. Except the developer appears to be trying to use it to get over. And they’re asking for 25 parking spots from the Orange Deck to help pull that off.

    Wish you could see the forest through the leaves more. Always lots of good information. Important stuff a lot of the time. But then you miss wider context and proper take away view resulting. Too often heading down the wrong track.

    Maybe think official process convolutions here now outed …not intent.

  3. There was no editing mistake. The amending ordinance, O-17-046 was introduced in Dec’17 exactly as it reads today in the Gateway Redevelopment Plan. I agree the wording was obviously strange & convoluted. It was sent to the PB. Then the Council held the 2nd reading & hearing in Jan’18. While the Council did this during a un-televised Conference Meeting, the agenda with a copy of the ordinance was posted to the town’s website.
    Per the minutes, there was no public comment nor indication of any changes. FYI, an edit you suggest the PB recommended, considered major, would have triggered a new ordinance process. The Council then approved it – unchanged.

    The Township Planner alerted the PB to the wording “issue” 8 MONTHS later on September 17, 2018. The plan was to send a recommendation to the Council. I guess that didn’t happen or maybe the Council did get a PB recommendation and decided to let sleeping dogs lie. So, here we are today. Just add this to the PB follies:

    Historic Preservation
    Redevelopment plans & amendments
    Proposed New Zoning Ordinance
    Recusals
    Expert Witness Testimony & Public Comment policies
    Master Plan rewrite & follow-thru
    Parking management & variances
    Sub-committee performance

  4. And you forget the Planning Board deemed many years ago the Orange Road Parking Deck to be Magical in its limitless capacity. What’s another 29-car (not 25 as you state) parking demand for this Magical Structure. Of course, there is no entrance for these cars from Orange Road. So, add them to the other cars circulating around the block to the Valley Rd entrance. I assumed you have experience the current Valley Rd congestion. In for a penny, in for a pound.

  5. You are forgetting the Council move in Sept. 2018 to re-edit and correct this copy during period the developer application was deemed incomplete by Planning Department. You are forgetting possible web site copy shifts and edits ..possible re-edits?

    It appears as I said, that a convoluted drafting error screw up not picked up by anyone — Staff, Council or Planning Board — then staff trying to cover who blew the changed ammendment preparation…then turned into Council CYA with roll-over inaction in end due to fears of future owner-developer lawsuit.

    Let’s see what happens now since all exposed and outed.

  6. Let the density go.

    The obvious problem is the proposed parking plan. Specifically, the use of off-site parking (aka using The Magical Orange Road Parking Deck) to fulfill the parking demand. A real eye-opener would be if the PB required the applicant to recap the existing parking demand & capacity of the deck. Now that would “expose and out” an even bigger issue.

    They can start by looking at all the Zip Car Credits and then look at the SF of the roof-top event room again. I guarantee the PB won’t do that. Therefore, they must accept the higher density and move on. Besides, when was the last time the PB rejected an application?

  7. If the Council, Planning Board & Planning Department want to offset this screw-up – and pursue their “neighborhood friendly” development mantra – then they can downsize the building in the Hahne’s Parking Lot plan. That’s 74 units and 81 more parking spaces.

    Nah, just let it go.

Comments are closed.