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.
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 18.104.22.168 – 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.