Montclair HPC: Hampton House Redo, Pre-K Playground Project and Demolition Ordinance

the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission

The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission heard reviews of three applications at its April 25 meeting, along with an update on the anti-demolition ordinance Township Ira Karasick is working on.  Karasick, who serves as the HOC’s attorney, briefed the commission on his efforts.

Karasick then recused himself, however, from the most newsworthy hearing of the meeting.  A group of property owners that own the former Hampton House furniture store, which includes Hinck Building owner Dick Grabowsky, is planning to remodel the Hampton House building for new prospective tenants.  The building is in the Montclair Center Historic District.  The plan is to have a new, 820-square-foot second-floor and third-floor addition that will include bathrooms, a new elevator, and new mechanical equipment.  In addition, a new landing will include stairs, a ramp and guardrail is planned for the building’s North Fullerton Avenue entrance while a new accessible entrance is proposed at the southeastern corner of the building at Bloomfield Avenue.  The plan also calls for new aluminum storefronts on the southern and western façades of the building, along with new storefront windows for the North Fullerton Avenue façade.  Karasick recused himself because of a connection to one of the property owners.

HPC consultant Thomas Connolly noted that the building was originally designed in the Romanesque fashion before the current Art Moderne façade was appropriated, and he recommended to building co-owner Gary DeBode that he document the features they plan to demolish for future reference.  He also proposed in his report that the HPC recommend that all new work match the Hampton House’s design, color, material and texture and that material samples and mockups of the building with its proposed changes should be approved and reviewed before they are installed.  The application, which goes before the Planning Board sometime in the spring, requires one variance – allowing the addition to stand at a height of 40.66 feet where the maximum height permitted is 37 feet.

Chair Kathleen Bennett and Commissioner John Reimnitz were unsure, however, about the transom window over the North Fullerton Avenue entrance as shown in the illustrations.  Reimnitz in particular thought that the proposed design clashed with the uniform horizontal lines of the façade.  Although the side entrance was emphasized by the stone treatment of the original design, the lines of the entrance are more vertical and in keeping with the Art Deco, not Art Moderne, style.  Reimnitz did make suggestion about the railings of the entrance, though, saying that they should be made of steel.

Proposed plan to redo the former Hampton House building on Bloomfield and North Fullerton Avenues

Commissioner David Greenbaum suggested that one way to mollify the intrusion of vertical lines was to have an eave protruding horizontally over the door to provide shelter in a sudden rain shower.  Noting the building’s original Romanesque architecture, though, he added that the impacts on the original building should be of concern. He advocated for preserving as many elements of the building as possible.  He also said that, if anyone wanted to restore the Romanesque look in the future, there should be some consideration for an option to do so.

Overall, though, the HPC thought the Hampton House redesign was a great project, and it was referred to the Planning Board with the steel-rail and preservation of the elements as key conditions, as well as mounting panels for new lettering that will emulate the old lettering to be the same height as before.  The latter condition might require the Planning Board to seek a second variance.

A Zoning Board of Adjustment application was also referred to the HPC because of its location in the Label Street Worker Housing Area, which contains numerous properties that were once worker housing for the nearby Crump Label Factory, which gave Label Street its name, in the 19th century.  Resident Karen Gayle, whose house is in the resource area, wishes to replace her front stoop at her house at 11 Fidelity Place with an entry porch and replace the existing side staircase with one in the front.  She needs a variance from the required minimum front yard setback for principal structures of 25 feet.

Connolly’s recommendations were for Gayle to reconsider the aesthetics of her plan to make it more in line with the area’s historic nature.  He proposed a crown fascia for the eave and added that the new enclosed entry porch have double-hung windows rather than casement windows, which Gayle said were chosen because she thought they would provide more security for the house.  Greenbaum asked about the base of the stoop, and Gayle told him that the exposed concrete from the repositioning of the stairs from the side to the front could be covered with a matching brick veneer.   The steps, she said, would free up driveway space and make the house more symmetrical.  Commissioner Stephen Rooney suggested that the steps be a little wider.

The HPC included all of these recommendations in their approving report to the Zoning Board, and they inevitably asked about the aluminum siding on the house, noting the more traditional use of wood siding for the entry porch. Gayle said she hoped to replace the siding eventually.  The application is scheduled to be heard by the Zoning Board at its June meeting.

Also, Amy Dorr, executive director of the Montclair Community Pre-K, and David Placek of the Montclair Early Childhood Development Corporation, had plans for the Pre-K’s new playground reviewed because it is in a historic area.  The playground will have new equipment and new landscaping to replace the play equipment and respond to drainage problems.  Dorr said that the water collects at the edge of the playground and does not drain properly, and so new surfacing and grading is included in the project.  The plan will feature a new asphalt path and smaller paths made out of existing bluestone pavers in the playground.

The commission had little to say on the issue, although Greenbaum was happy to hear that the cypress trees on the property would remain.  The project is scheduled to be voted on at the Montclair Development Review Committee’s May 2 meeting.

Karasick’s update on the ordinance he is drafting to prevent demolitions like the demolitions of the historic mansions at Undercliff Road and Lloyd Road for a mega-mansion (which is now on hold) involved an explanation of the details.  His draft proposes establishing criteria related to the historic status of a property – with emphasis on federal, state and local designations – that would give the HPC a chance to review them.  Under his current draft, the HPC would evaluate a property’s historic nature and be obliged to report to the zoning officer within 45 days as to whether a demolition permit should be issued.  If the HPC reports that the demolition must not go through, the applicant would have to appeal the decision before the zoning board, and the HPC would be on hand to defend their decision.  Karasick is working on a definition of “total demolition” that would not have a loophole in it and would not allow someone to demolish everything of a house except its foundation and claim it as a “partial demolition.”  The application would pay the cost of the review, and the proceeds would be set up in an escrow fund to pay for the “historic preservation officer” – either a designated HPC member or an outside consultant.

This draft is not the final version, and many changes could still be made.  Karasick hopes to get feedback from the HPC on his proposed language for the ordinance by the HPC’s May 30 meeting.

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  1. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the proposed anti-demolition ordinance discussed last night will not serve the purpose it is designed for. It will only serve to get an HPC review of demo permit applications, but it does not address the aftermath of a denying a permit. It is this aftermath that has not been thought through.

    (I assume the Zoning Board will have a opportunity to give input on the draft as they are the body that will hear any appeal. Their comments should be an eye-opener.)

    The problem is that a denial by the HPC would require the HPC to start the historical designation process. If they don’t initiate this process, the Zoning Board has no choice but to reverse. If they initiate the process, does that negate the avenue for appeal to the ZB?

    The burden to show historic value is on the HPC. The triggers in the anti-demo ordinance alone are insufficient to demonstrate historicism. The triggers involving proposed historic districts in the HP Master Plan Element are problematic in themselves. Further, developing an effective definition of what constitutes a total versus partial demolition will be elusive…and this ordinance does not address partial demolitions.

    On the bright side, going through this process can bring about a constructive community discussion on what our HP policy, objectives and action plan should be. However, I think the Council has the leadership role and I can’t see them taking this up. I think a nice, neat anti-demo ordinance is the limit of their agenda.

  2. On a historically related matter that will soon go before the HPC (and the Development Review Committee) is the proposed Montclair Art Museum (MAM) application to the Planning Board.
    The application review is notable as I don’t recall the HPC ever reviewing a non-designated site landscape for its own potentially historic status as an arboretum. The plan proposes to to remove 22 mature trees among other plantings.

    The HPC does not have its own rules on what must be presented as part of a review. They could, but they don’t….and that’s another issue. They piggyback what is required by the Planning Board. This practice contributed to the messy review of Lackawanna Plaza development plan. The PB doesn’t value historic sites, so their list of requirements doesn’t either. If the HPC had better practices, that application would have played out much differently.

    However, for this application, the HPC (and DRC) should ask for a copy of the MAM’s 2015 Master Landscape Plan as part of their review. The MAM might not provide it, but the HPC can opine on that.

    A overview of a similar concept proposal, based on the Master Landscaper Plan, can be found here:

    Note: scroll to bottom of page and a light gray arrow on left side will navigate you though the 5 slides.

  3. To: MAM Board of Trustees
    Re: Side Yard Rendering ( )

    Obtuse angles measure more than 90 degrees. Can you find the obtuse angles in the above rendering? Good, good, good.

    Now find the acute angles in the rendering. OK. Good job.

    Lastly, go to your architect’s drawing and tell me what this rendering has to do with the drawing? Pick an angle, any angle. Thank you for your participation today.

    I was glad to present to you the artistic world of architectural renderings for getting buy-in!

  4. Funny…and more accurate than I would like to admit. Yes, it will be approved.

    We’re developing everything else, we might as well hardscape the remaining open space. The “Host”, the waterfall & the reflecting pool are appropriately consistent with the MAM’s George Inness Collection. The cable wire guardrail not so much. It is too bad the plaza’s slope can not be ADA friendly.

  5. “Karasick recused himself because of a connection to one of the property owners.”

    What kind of connection to which one of the property owners?

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