Montclair Planning Board Approves Bellaire House Accessory Building; Lackawanna Resolution Delayed Again

The Montclair Planning Board started out with four applications to consider for its April 8 meeting but only heard and approved one.  The application to add a second floor to a one-story commercial structure at 59-61 Glenridge Avenue, first filed in May 2018, was postponed to the board’s May 6 meeting, as was the application for the MC Residences mixed-use building on Orange Road from Pinnacle’s Brian Stolar.  The two remaining applications each had a different fate.

the Montclair Planning Board

The application that was seen to its conclusion was for a new accessory building for an HVAC unit serving the Bellaire House at 530 Valley Road, near the Acme supermarket.  The HAVC unit that had been in the sub-basement of the apartment tower was destroyed in the August 11 flash flood.

Engineer John Ferrante said the new accessory building would be in a secluded area of the Bellaire House’s property, barely visible from the Acme supermarket and not visible at all from anywhere else.   The structure is to occupy an area of 32 by 28 feet, with a 19’10” height.  It meets all of the setback rules for rear and side yards and therefore does not require any variances.

the plan for the accessory building at the Bellaire House

Board member Anthony Ianaule asked Ferrante if a flood study had been conducted in light of the severity of the flash flood that necessitated the project in the first place.  Ferrante said such a study had in fact been conducted, noting that the storm water that collects in the area goes into pipes from which the water converges into a culvert on the other side of the adjacent railroad tracks.  The elevation of the accessory house is about 328½ feet; Ferrante said that, with the flood waters from last August’s rain having reached 327 feet, a twelve-to-eighteen-inch buffer should be sufficient.  Ferrante was quick to add that landscaping would provide some relief, and an asphalt patch on the property would be removed, thus reducing the amount of impervious space.   The equipment is expected to be raised on padding for further fortification.  Also, soundproofing and insulation are planned for both the roof and the walls. The equipment itself is slated to be a low-noise, energy-efficient unit that will minimize sound even further.

Bellaire House board association president Monica Biondi said approval of the project had to be fast-tracked.  She said there was no way that permanent air conditioning could be installed in time for summer, but should the accessory building be approved immediately, work could be done in time to restore a permanent heating system for the winter of 2019-20.  A groundbreaking for the project in early May is needed.

Board Chairman John Wynn called approval of the project a “no-brainer.”  Board member Martin Schwartz advised Biondi to have the landscape plan bifurcated from technical approval and to allow them to proceed with implementation to get a building permit quickly in order to move it along. The project was unanimously approved, with conditions including a security camera, soundproofing complaint with state code, and a wall-mounted ”Knox box” safe with keys to the building for the local fire house to access and retrieve in the event of emergencies.  The fire house will hold a master key to enter a building without the need for a forced entry.

The other application, a proposed addition to the existing apartments above the storefronts at 403-405 Bloomfield Avenue, was delayed because the applicant had just gotten a new engineering report and the architect would not be able to address the parking configuration and safety concerns for the spaces in back due to the planned Midtown Deck.  The architect did not feel confident with what information he did have to proceed.

Schwartz, who was familiar with the application from his review of it at a meeting of the Development Review Committee, understood that the addition, which would increase the height of the building but was designed in such a way that it would not be visible from across the avenue, wanted to see drawings that would show the prospective view of the building coming east or west on Bloomfield Avenue toward the building.  The applicant agreed to provide such drawings.  The application is slated to be heard at the board’s May 20 meeting.

Meanwhile, the resolution memorializing the Lackawanna Plaza project was delayed yet again.  After three drafts, the board still was not satisfied with the wording, and acting board attorney Dennis Galvin said he was working on a fourth draft already.   The hearings for the controversial project may be over, but the struggle to make the application a matter of official record may have only begun.

The video of the meeting is here.

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  1. Re: Lackawanna Resolution

    3 months to write a memorializing resolution after 12 months of hearings and less than a full evening discussing! All to finalize the expected outcome when the process began in Dec’17.

    Maybe it’s time again for the Council to instruct the Planning Board with a follow-up resolution. This time their resolution can say legally insist on an approval, along with the urgency.

    The plan was to sacrifice preservation for a new supermarket. The developer, by right, wasn’t bound to include a supermarket. The developer did want to increase the site’s density of uses, primarily though adding 154 housing units. With the much smaller, 28,509 sf supermarket, the other general retail uses remain at 36,000 sf, give or take.

    The problem was the parties needed 70 more parking spaces and drive aisles to accomplish this. Hence, the need to demolish 20,000 sf of the historic train sheds and their columns – about 45% of the structure.

    If there is an executive summary in the eventual resolution, this is it: The Planning Board determines that demolishing the historic sheds for 70 more parking spaces achieves a higher density that best serves the community.

    The memorializing resolution needs to have a succinct statement like this to convey why they approved this application. What it doesn’t need is a compendium of “this’ & thats” which don’t fundamentally add anything beyond the testimony and exhibits. It doesn’t need to recite the endless iterations of the plan’s evolution for some lame attempt to CYA. And as indicated at the end of last night’s meeting, CYA seems to be the top-of-mind issue with this resolution. When a justification for introducing a new practice starts with “I’ve been doing it this way for ‘xx’ years and never had a challenge”, one should intuitively question it. Will including a confusing chronology of who said what, when, somehow help show the PB’s rationale? Or, is it a presumptive defense of poor execution if the ruling is appealed?

  2. Off-topic, the new generator in front of the Municipal building on Claremont looks (insert sarcastic tone here) FANTASTIC!

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