Montclair Zoning Board: Chase Parking Questioned; Washington Street Project Plans Revealed

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The Montclair Zoning Board of Adjustment held a long meeting on Wednesday, March 20 discussing four applications in as many hours, but each application did not take an hour.  One application for an addition to a house on Lincoln Street took only 15 minutes and was unanimously approved, while the board members spent a large amount of time on an application for… a parking booth.

Montclair Zoning Board of Adjustment

At issue was a booth for the parking lot for the new Chase bank branch on North Fullerton Avenue, which is intended to be used by an attendant to restrict parking to bank customers during bank hours and regulate parking for non-customers during off-hours.   Montclair Parking LLC, which administers the parking lot for Chase, offers parking for a fee from 6 P.M. to 10 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and from 7 to 11 p.m. on days when there are concerts at the Wellmont Theater.  Attorney Allison Kasetta and Montclair Parking’s Kevin Costello said the booth was needed so the attendant could manage motorists using the lot without having to stand outside in inclement weather.

The conversation turned into a debate about the use of a paid-parking service in the lot.  Board member John McCullough asked Kasetta and Costello if there was a conversation between JPMorgan Chase and Montclair Parking about extending paid-parking services for other times during off-hours.  Costello said motorists who are not customers of the bank would park in the lot no matter what, and he explained that the paid-parking service offered late in the week and for special events was a way for Chase to control its parking facility to some extent.  Off-hours parking in other circumstances, while inevitable, could not be enforced.  However, Vice Chair Joseph Fleischer, presiding over the hearing – Chair William Harrison had recused himself – objected to the application on the basis of the fact that pay-to-park operation was not part of the original application for the new bank building.  He feared that it would set a bad precedent for other businesses in Montclair to take advantage of the lack of parking in the area by charging motorists to park in their lots as well.

The application passed 5-2 among the seven members eligible to vote, thought there were 10 members at this meeting.  Vice Chair Fleischer was joined in opposition by board members Kevin Allen and John Caulfield, who objected not to the paid-parking arrangement but to a separate booth for the parking attendant. Former Fire Chief Allen said a similar facility could be carved out of an alcove in the bank building.  Voting in favor were McCullough, Jerry Simon, Michael Affrunti and Thomas Reynolds.  Affrunti was able to get Chase to agree to a condition that motorists who park off-hours agree not to shine their headlights at adjacent residential buildings.

The other long hearing of the night concerned plans by the Totowa-based Schreck family development firm to build a new four-family house at 11-13 Washington Street, which would replace two two-family houses that would be demolished.  There would be two 4-bedroom, 4½-bathroom units and two 3-bedroom, 3½-bathroom units. Among the variances sought for the new house are on-site parking for seven cars, including two spaces in garages, when eight spaces are required, and a front-yard setback of 13.5 feet – half as many feet (25) required.

An artist’s rendering of a four-unit house proposed for 11-13 Washington Street, with parking in the rear

Architect Daniel D’Agostino presented a design with strong brick and masonry work and a large black mansard roof to complement the brick apartment building at 6 Washington Street.  The new four-unit house would be moved far to the left of the property line.  Engineer Michael Fantina said this was necessary to allow access to rear parking and get cars off the street.  The Schrecks’ planner, Charles Olivo, told the board he believed the new four-unit house added value to the neighborhoods with its design, and he added that it activated the combined lots while providing appropriate density for the area, given Washington Street’s proximity to the commercial district on Bloomfield Avenue.  Olivo said the project would benefit residents by allowing them immediate pedestrian access to the stores on Bloomfield Avenue and also a five-minute walk to the Bay Street railway station and easy access to stops for the NJ Transit and DeCamp bus lines.

Vice Chair Fleischer, however, had a problem with such a large house taking up so much space in a combined lot despite the one-unit-for-one replacement for the two existing two-family houses.  He thought the proposed four-unit house disrupted the feel of the neighborhood despite Olivo’s claim that it would provide a harmonious efficient approach to redeveloping the property.  He noted that the project requires a minimum lot width of 60 feet, but the application was seeking a variance because the lot width was 10 feet short; which Fleischer felt would make the house out of proportion to the exiting duplexes.  Furthermore, he said, as an R-2 zone of two-family houses,  the neighborhood served as a transition area between Bloomfield Avenue’s commercial/mixed-use structures and the single-family R-1 zone beyond, and that this proposed house was more suitable for an R-4 zone.  Chair Harrison, presiding over the meeting, concurred.

The Schrecks agreed to revisit their project to see what could be done to make it more to the scale of the block.  The application will be carried over to the zoning board’s Aprtil 17 meeting. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, whose ward includes Washington Street, was present for the hearing but did not comment on it.

The board also approved an application from Steve Janett of the Berkshire Hathaway real estate office at 695 Bloomfield Avenue to expand into the former spin studio accessible from Bell Street in the back of the building, based on the original variance allowing the real estate office on the first floor. Chair Harrison recused himself from this application.

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