MontClairVoyant: ‘The House of the Rising Sum’ Is Coming to Montclair

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
The proposed Undercliff/Lloyd Road mega-mansion was discussed at February 28’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) meeting. Just how big would that monster dwelling be?

Sincerely,
E. Norm Iss

It would be the only thing on Earth, other than the Great Wall of China, visible from outer space. That and an 18-inch Da Vinci’s pizza.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Residents are already irked that the mediocre-looking house would not only be huge (60,000 square feet!) but that two lovely old mansions (one from 1865!) were torn down last month to make way for it. Now the owner wants variances, too?

Sincerely,
Bill Yin-Air

Yup, the owner asked for two of these three things: 11 parking spaces rather than the allowed maximum of four, a much-smaller-than-allowed backyard setback, and his postal mail rubbed with truffle oil before delivery.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Already planned for the mega-mansion — which may obstruct views from Eagle Rock Reservation — are a gym, spa, indoor pool, movie theater, bowling alley, basketball court, elevators, staff wing, etc.!

Sincerely,
X. Sess and N. Titlement

Also, a NASCAR race track in the master bedroom.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
The possible daily schedule at that oversized abode?

Sincerely,
Hacienda Agenda

Six a.m.: Wake up and start the long walk to the kitchen for breakfast. Six p.m.: Reach the kitchen and have dinner instead.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Meanwhile, how did the HPC feel about the Planning Board’s preservation-challenged vote last month for the Lackawanna Plaza redo being co-developed by Pinnacle?

Sincerely,
Amazing Disgrace

Disgusted, and I’m reminded that ancient developer Pinnaculus wanted to demolish Rome to build upscale apartments — with valet parking for chariots.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Did Pinnaculus, two millennia ago, build anything else in Italy besides overpriced rentals?

Sincerely,
Where the Rome Was Buffaloed

It did, including a weird-looking hotel with a rooftop bar from which patrons could see Manhattan more than 4,000 miles away. Native Americans were too busy to wave back.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Why did Montclair’s present-day Planning Board cave to the co-developers’ plan to ruin some of Lackawanna Plaza’s historic aspects when the supermarket coming there will be relatively small?

Sincerely,
Thread the Lidl

Small enough to have saved all of the former train station’s remaining vintage elements. Perhaps Pinnacle wanted to emulate Pinnaculus, which was ruthless (employing no one named Ruth).

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Now the Township Council is worried about the relatively MINOR (albeit important) issue of a left-hand turn into the LP redo while being okay with the MAJOR negatives of overdevelopment and not enough preservation. Comment?

Sincerely,
Sa Lective-Outrage

In the years before Christ was born, the Council website included these immortal words: “The Internet hasn’t been invented yet. Try again later.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
The Council, at its March 5 meeting, did introduce a 2019 budget with no tax hike. Will many property owners be happy with that kind of fiscal discipline?

Sincerely,
Flatman and Robin

Yes, but one reason for no hike is new ratables from upscale overdevelopment — which means less diversity, more traffic, infrastructure strain, etc. A Faustian bargain, so Goethe (1749-1832) should become Montclair’s planning director AND Planning Board chair.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
The two people now in those posts have certainly been overdevelopment aficionados during their long tenures. But the “Faust” playwright has been dead 187 years!

Sincerely,
Nights in White Satan

All good — Goethe wouldn’t need office space in our Municipal Building. Many people telecommute these days.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Also, the Council is now talking about making it harder to demolish old houses after the planning director made it easier to do so in 2012. Comment?

Sincerely,
A Razin’ in the Sun

Maybe the Council’s very belated words will prevent tear-down-minded property owners from hurling shoes at their TV screens when “This Old House” comes on.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Getting back to Pinnaculus, I’ve never heard of him despite reading some ancient Roman history. What’s up with that?

Sincerely,
Ru Bicon

Perhaps you missed the Pinnaculus memoir “Rome Wasn’t Ruined in a Day (It Took Several Years).” Purchased on Amazon and then tossed in the Tiber.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Enough about rivers. Any final thoughts on the aforementioned mega-mansion?

Sincerely,
Cole Lossal

Rumors of the not-yet-publicly-named owner’s identity have ranged from pop star Justin Bieber to the more plausible scenario of an ultra-rich businessman. In either case, you can’t spell “Montclair” without “moan.”

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

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41 COMMENTS

  1. Dave,

    In all fairness to this Council, the only new development that is contributing to the general fund is Valley & Bloom. V&B is netting us just over $1MM. The over-development has only started to impact downtown & the budget. This budget is a reflection of a range of efforts in achieving a 0% increase. We should appreciate this budget, and all the efforts behind it for what it is – the exception to the rule.

  2. Thank you for pointing that out, Frank. Yes, Valley & Bloom is the main recent/too-big project currently bringing in new ratables. The Lackawanna Plaza redo, the “arts district,” The MC hotel, etc., are obviously not finished or built yet. As you note, a range of other efforts (including reduction of municipal debt) are also helping to keep the municipal budget flat.

    Yes, the Township Council does deserve some credit for this.

    But one proviso I’d add is that some projects have had PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreements attached to them. If I’m remembering correctly, those agreements prevent a percentage of new tax revenues from going to Montclair’s education budget.

  3. Dave,
    Just think how many kids that mega mansion owner’s taxes will help educate. Someone has to make up the short fall that renter’s children cause to the education budget. Let’s hope that guy has some friends he can convince to move to town. More power to him and good for him. His company must be providing some type of product or service that makes our lives easier. Most people with that type of coin would pack up and move to Florida.

  4. Thank you for the comment, flipside!

    I hear you — the mega-mansion’s tax bill is going to be enormous. But I still think that huge house is a bit much. Wouldn’t a still-gigantic 30,000 square feet rather than 60,000 square feet have been enough? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was enough humility not to ask for any variances? Couldn’t the property’s now-demolished 1865 house been spared at least — maybe as servants’ quarters? 🙂

    Also, as an apartment tenant, I do pay school taxes indirectly through my rent. Given that there are about 70 units in my apartment complex, and many, many other rental units in various parts of Montclair, that adds up.

  5. Dave,
    Most students education expense is subsidized by other taxpayers. Renters children even more so. We need those home owners willing to pay 50, 60, 70, thousand a year in RE taxes while sending their kids to private school to make up the difference. Is the mega-mansion over the top? Yes, I thought the original rumor was 20,000 sq ft. The tax bill could be 500k…whew! Please give him any variance he wants!

  6. Okay, flipside, he can have a variance for a GPS to guide him from one side of the house to the other. 🙂

    Good point about private school. (Any school attended by that mega-mansion’s children will seem small to those kids. Hope they aren’t prone to claustrophobia!)

  7. The school district receives none of the PILOT revenue. I think two good reasons the Council doesn’t give them anything is because the Township has to pay all the capital needs ($80+MM debt) and the district has yet to show it can consistently manage their finances.

  8. To brighten your evening, the day is coming soon when the Council will redirect some portion of the annual PILOT revenue to the schools. Maybe in time for next year’s muni election.

    Our Affordable Housing ordinance requires 80% of the units to be 2-BR & 3-BR’s. Conversely, the approved market rate units in the pipeline for downtown are 70% 1-BR or efficiencies. There are 495 total units approved that should come on line in the next 3 years.

    What does this mean? It means the Township projection of these 495 housing units only adding 30 school-age children is Colbert-monologue laughably low. Really low. For that mistake, the Council will have to hand over PILOT revenues within 3 years to address the school district shortfall.

    The yin yang of development.

  9. Thanks, Frank. I see what you’re saying, but the PILOT arrangement still doesn’t seem fair. While the school district’s management of its finances isn’t perfect, teachers and other staffers have to be paid decent salaries, health-care costs are mostly beyond local control, etc. Plus our town’s mostly excellent public schools, whatever their flaws, are one reason why people want to stay in Montclair or move to Montclair — which, among other things, makes homes worth more and thus brings in more property taxes that help feed the municipal budget.

  10. 1. Well over 50% (& growing) of taxpayers do not have school age children.

    2. Our school system is not excellent, your personal experience aside.

    3. Our school finances are screwed up. Ask the Council.

    4. Our teachers are well-paid. We are overstaffed.

    5. Our teachers are rated 99% proficient. Seriously? That would be one of the most amazing accomplishments in the modern era for any district, anywhere. And we don’t even have a serious HR function!

    6. What we do have is a real estate industry and homeowners who collaborate to market the school system. I support them wholeheartedly, but it doesn’t mean I drink the Kool-Aid.

  11. Frank, I saw your second comment after posting my above reply.

    “…the day is coming soon when the Council will redirect some portion of the annual PILOT revenue to the schools” — fine by me!

    And I agree that all the new development will bring in more new students than Montclair has projected.

    Nicely played Colbert reference. 🙂

  12. And, Frank, I saw your third comment after posting my second reply. (I may now be ready for the math PARCC. 🙂 )

    I respectfully disagree about Montclair’s school system. Not perfect, but I think it’s excellent. Sure, it might not rate as “high” as some almost-100%-affluent districts, but I believe our district offers students a quality education. And there are priceless intangibles, such as many of our students becoming socially aware partly thanks to what they learn in our schools, and the diversity of the student population directly or indirectly offering a wonderful education for the real world.

    Yes, many teachers (though not paraprofessionals) are well paid. Deservedly so. But not overpaid. If Montclair was ever overstaffed, personnel has certainly been trimmed somewhat due to more than one budget crisis during the 2010s.

    Maybe 99% proficient is a bit high, so let’s say teachers are 98.9% proficient… 🙂

  13. Certainly not overpaid nor underpaid.

    The district is piggybacking the benefit of the township’s diversity with the help of mandated desegregation order. Let’s not give the district credit for this…especially when they have to hire two equity executives. That’s like praising Montclair’s First Amendment benefits…and then having to hire fee speech advocates.

  14. I see what you’re saying, Frank. Every Central Office person, every teacher, and every other person working for Montclair’s school district thinks about or SHOULD think about equity considerations as part of their job — meaning a specific equity hire or hires may not/should not be needed.

  15. I agree, too, Frank — and thank you for specifically mentioning principals. They are so crucial in setting the tone in each of Montclair’s 11 public schools.

  16. Well, our school district received a 2.2% increase in 2019-20 State aid. We have a 2.1% increase to the local tax levy. We project an increase of $455K in other revenues. We still face a $2MM shortfall. Not a lot of good choices.

  17. After the miserly Christie years re public education, it would be nice to have a few make-up years of better state aid. But, yes, the situation is not looking ideal at the moment.

  18. Frank, to clarify my above comment, Montclair IS getting “better” state education aid for 2019-20 than it did for 2018-19. But only slightly better. Our town was obviously hoping for a significantly bigger increase than it will receive. Heck, some nearby towns are getting much larger percentage increases for 2019-20 than Montclair is. Gov. Murphy disappoints again.

  19. I can’t blame the State. You forget the State offered us millions of dollars and then the State watched in total bewilderment as we never got around to collecting it. Just one of many instances where the MPSD just squanders money & resources. And to be be absolutely clear, this groups is no different than the last which was no different than the one before that.

    If I want my fix of Comedy Central, I just watch or read about how the MPSD wants to restart a Pre-K program! Not that we could ever manage one, but people say the State will reimburse us the full cost.

    OK, for those that didn’t make the connection. The MPSD couldn’t be bothered to file the reimbursement paperwork the last time we were offered millions. Worse, the district leadership didn’t even question this. The Township didn’t question this. But, this is the worse part by far and you will appreciate it:

    The MPSD didn’t file the reimbursement paperwork because the school district already had their money.

    The MPSD was suppose to file the paperwork so the Township could be reimbursed. And did anyone, anywhere make a big deal about this – anytime? Nope, not at all.

    So when parents stomp around saying the cuts are at the expense of this group or that group, I just have to say wake up and get over your selfishness. This should be about public policy, not your personal self-interests.

  20. “…the State offered us millions of dollars and then the State watched in total bewilderment as we never got around to collecting it” — I’m not remembering that, Frank. Approximately what year was that? And what was the context — for instance, were there some unappealing strings attached? Any link to a story?

    Also, it should be noted that Montclair’s school district has had a number of superintendents and various BOE configurations in the 2010s. Some have been more blameworthy than others. For instance, there was a lot of waste under Superintendent Penny MacCormack and the BOE at that time — money spent on legal fees, investigating critics, not-merited bonuses for MacCormack, etc. Other superintendents and BOE configurations have been better stewards of our tax money.

    Again, re a possible return of public pre-K to Montclair, I don’t think it will happen without full state reimbursement. And I have little hope that the Gov. Murphy will fight hard for that. He doesn’t seem to fight hard for much of anything.

  21. Dave,

    Let Dr MacCormack go. Every time some stakeholder goes back and gives a ‘Special Place In Hell Award’ to her I laugh. I laugh at the stakeholder ignorance. It’s very Trump-like. Amazingly Trump-like. Yes, God gave us two sides to our mouths for a reason.

    People can remember when their children were born, took their first steps, etc. etc. etc., but to a stakeholder, their memory can’t go back further than Dr MacCormack’s short reign. People then say they didn’t know, they were otherwise busy with more important things. Good for them. But, now that their children are being directly affected, they want to be heard. Fine, they can speak for their narrow self-interests, but they shouldn’t try and make this anymore than that.

    If you want a catalog by BoE, by Superintendent, the waste, have at it. I would suggest you just look at the category level numbers over the last 30 years. Dr MacCormack’e era wouldn’t rate in the top half.

    The School Development Authority grants. You will not find much on the subject….which was my point! Ask a councilor or BoE member. The answer is not so important – it will be Charlie Brown-like blah-blah conversation noise. Listen to their tone, their mannerisms. Listen to what they don’t say.

  22. “Let Dr. MacCormack go” — I have, Frank. Just a brief reprise by me there, like an overplayed song on a classic-rock station. 🙂

    Obviously, every superintendent and BOE has had some less-than-stellar moments, fiscally and otherwise. There has indeed been some waste, but I’m not sure the waste has been over-the-top all that often. The ultra-important need to educate kids (including the indirect costs associated with that) is an expensive proposition.

  23. Glad you have that attitude. Let’s apply it to healthcare:

    The ultra-important need to deliver health services (including the indirect costs associated with that) is an expensive proposition.

    All fun-ing aside, what this year and previous year’s threads have in common is….predictability. Yes, some less-than-stellar moments, but not that often. As sure as Spring approaches, we go through the same dance.

    Now, you would think residents would be concerned about the paras & teachers. They’re not.

    Every year (predictably) cuts of 2-5 dozen real employees are proposed. Every year (predictably) , a group of employee are put on the bubble unnecessarily and wonder if they will be cut, will they be brought back, etc. And we (predictably) expect these people we don’t care about to care about Montclair and the kids? I’m sure most of them (predictably) do, but it is one (predictably) ass-backward & totally (predictably) selfish way of treating our employees.

  24. Frank, I understand the comparison you’re making, but health care could be made cheaper easier than public-school budgets could be made lower. Countries with single payer or similar medical systems don’t have the huge administrative costs from the “middleman” of profit-focused private insurance companies. Not sure how the equivalent savings could be achieved in education; a modest reduction in central-office-type administrators wouldn’t do it.

    I totally agree that having teachers, paras, and other Montclair school personnel on the bubble each year due to budget shortfalls is predictable and cruel — and of course demoralizing for those employees. But I disagree that many residents don’t care about those employees. We know them (and are grateful to them) in school through our kids, we see some of them around town, and we might even have them as neighbors (for instance, one of my younger daughter’s former classroom paras lives across the street from us!).

  25. Dave,

    New Jersey has 565 school districts! Of course you are having a problem comparing a single-payer system.
    Do you really think Glen Ridge and Montclair need separate school districts? It is absolutely ludicrous.
    When someone wants to start an intelligent discussion of trade-offs, I’ll show up. Right now this is just a parade of stakeholder selfishness with little to show for it.

    Fortunately, both the healthcare industry and the school districts self-regulate themselves and I hear their performance metrics are 98.9% favorable (meets or exceeds standards).

  26. Frank, you make a very valid point about New Jersey’s huge number of school districts. Not just an education issue — there are of course also tons of towns with separate mayors, councils, police departments, public-works departments, etc.

    Consolidating school districts and municipal services sounds good on a certain level, but a lot of jobs would obviously be lost — which would mean plenty of savings but plenty of people out of work. And towns and residents LOVE their autonomy. Might be more realistic to do away with, or at least scale back, county government.

    “I hear their performance metrics are 98.9% favorable” — ha ha, and touché! 🙂 But, seriously, many teachers, doctors, nurses, etc., do a good job. Medical-insurance-company execs? Not so much, at least on a moral level. Their popularity is somewhere between waterboarders and Satan…

  27. The more realistic option is to leave everything in place, hold the annual handwringing ritual and all get their autonomy and their sense of control.

    Imagine a new, merged Glen Ridge & Montclair PTA:
    The political & social friction?
    All this poor officers who worked long and hard to establish their power bases?
    Think of all the parents that angled to get their kids in the MPS “it” school and now the “it” school is in GR? Or vice versa?
    Or an expanded union that protects the paras even less (as if that is possible)?

    No, leave it all in place. We had our fun here this year. Let’s look forward to this time next year.

    PS: Noted your strong feelings about insurance company executives.

  28. Before we conclude here, I will say the “House of The Rising Sum” wordplay is one of your best & most memorable.

  29. Thank you, Frank, for the three comments — and for the deadpan-humor moments in the first one. 🙂

    “The House of the Rising Sum” headline practically wrote itself. 🙂

    Not exactly sure when the MEA contract expires, but later this year sounds about right.

    Yes, in the past the MEA didn’t protect paras enough. There was even that early-2010s period when paras outrageously lost their health-insurance benefits. Of course, many, many MEA members were uneasy about paras being treated like that, but it was a time of more cutbacks than usual and not all sacrifice was shared equally. Obviously, the BOE of that time was to blame as well — maybe even mostly to blame.

    Re reducing the number of New Jersey school districts and having shared services, you’re right that it’s probably not going to happen. Still, there’s at least some non-school sharing — for instance, I believe Glen Ridge still uses Montclair’s fire department. A combined Montclair and Glen Ridge school district? Yikes indeed!

  30. Ok, I’m distracted. I’m sitting here in the museum parking lot looking at the MC Hotel. My god, it is even taller than Martin Schwartz complained about.
    It’s 11 stories! I kid you not.

    I want to feel badly for residents, but all the folks around the hotel pushed for it. As far as the museum and its view, just a case of karma for their loading dock.

  31. Well, Frank, The MC is supposedly 9 stories (including the rooftop bar), but it seems taller. And, who knows, maybe it IS taller, with mechanicals and stuff. Whatever the height, The MC sticks out on Bloomfield Avenue like a sore thumb — though sore thumbs are more aesthetically pleasing.

    Undoubtedly some residents near The MC and in Montclair as a whole wanted a hotel. But many other people (including some I know) are not happy with the added congestion The MC will bring and with the way it will block views — which it’s already starting to do.

  32. Take my word for it, there were not that many 3rd Warders who objected to the project. The best part is you could just read off the Art Museum’s list of boards!

    My top three memories of how the Council mangled this project:
    1) The Council’s & the developer’s argument Montclair could get better design quality Valley & Bloom buildings if we agreed to add two more stories.
    OK, they were serious. Seriously!. That comment actually transcends this project and was in the running for #1 all time, town-wide…until this Council said Lackawanna wasn’t historic. (No blame credit to the Planning Board for parroting the Council remarks ’cause they just don’t count)
    2) The Magical Orange Road Parking Deck approval.
    A new name is needed because the public can not access the deck from Orange Rd. The PB just figured that out last year. After this example of how Montclair’s math curriculum only makes sense within the township borders, we probably should not have held out any hope that the Planning Board fundamentally understands the concept of parking. Now I know why the school district is increasing the Summer School budget.
    3) The MC Hotel’s Rooftop Toilet Seat.
    Similar to move #1 argument, it was argued that the building would seem worse, e.g.ordinary, without the toilet seat appendage added to the roof. The Toilet Seat appendage was suppose to be 18′ high. The “what were we thinking of spending this much” wedding reception room is 24′ high. The mechanical screen is 8′ feet high.

    Unless you spend time in this part of the 3rd Ward, the end result won’t matter. Of course, if you live anywhere in the Township, then we can see how this particular logic and values permeate our land use policy.

  33. Those are three very vivid memories, Frank. A great read (your comment).

    What a deal — Valley & Bloom got permission to be higher yet it remained as ugly as a Trump brain scan. Yes, ridiculousness on a par with the historic Lackawanna Plaza being falsely described as not historic.

    At least The MC hotel, near the end of the approval process, “advanced” from horrid-looking to “merely” awful-looking. In “Developer World,” that’s about as much of a tossed crumb as we’re going to get…

  34. I have a feeling that local developers and the Montclair officials who enable them would have trouble passing a development-related “Advanced” Placement test. 🙂

  35. You lost me. But, I don’t have any experience with AP tests. The one time I met with my assigned MHS guidance counselor I was told not to bother to take them.

  36. I didn’t take any AP tests or classes, either.

    My main AP experience was with the AP that is the Associated Press. When I was editor of my college newspaper in pre-digital times, the machine spewing out AP wire copy on dead-tree paper was in the sports department’s room, and the noise was driving the people there crazy. So I hired a carpenter to build a sound-reducing wooden box around the machine, with a slot for the AP copy to snake out of. Come to think of it, my one experience as a developer. 🙂

  37. Ha, Frank!

    UPI was definitely the smaller, “underdog” wire service. I knew some people who worked for it. I just googled UPI to see when it folded, and was surprised to see that it still exists in a minimal way.

    The box covering that AP machine was maybe plywood? I don’t remember. Definitely not bamboo. 🙂 I wasn’t thinking that environmentally back then. Might have helped if I had grown up in Montclair… 🙂

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