MontClairVoyant: Lamenting a Vote While Edgemont Visitors Need a Boat

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Something troubling was mentioned at March 28’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting. What was it?

Sincerely,
Wicked This Way Came

Pompeii’s Corso 79 restaurant was buried under lava in 79 AD, but Corso 98 opened in Montclair 19 years later.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Where did you come up with THAT? Wasn’t the “something troubling” the Planning Board’s February 11 approval of the history-harming Lackawanna Plaza redo?

Sincerely,
Tiki McSqueaky

Yes, Pinnacle said for months it had to raze some of the former train station’s vintage elements to make room for a 47,000-square-foot supermarket, but then AT THE LAST MINUTE unveiled a grocer tenant needing only 29,000 square feet — even as the same amount of Lackawanna history would still be erased. Rather sneaky, Tiki McSqueaky.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Couldn’t the Planning Board have criticized that subterfuge and/or punished Pinnacle and/or postponed a vote until the surprising smallness of the Lidl supermarket was discussed in a way that might have changed the redo plans?

Sincerely,
No Panic in Lidl Park

It could’ve, but Brian Stolar’s company almost always skates along with the help of deferential Montclair officials and a Trump-like Teflon coating — though Pinnacle never insults John McCain.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
On March 27, attendees at a First Ward community meeting heard that the First and Second Ward council members worked to mitigate the impact of the coming apartment building near Watchung Plaza. Comment?

Sincerely,
Mitzi on Mitigates Avenue

That building will still be too big for the already-packed area — bringing so many additional pedestrians that breakfast eaters leaving Bonjour Montclair won’t fight their way onto the sidewalk until it’s time to say “bonne nuit, Montclair.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Then there are the eight homes being shoehorned into the former one-home Pleasant Avenue land where the renowned Aubrey Lewis used to live — with one new dwelling listed at $895,000. What’s not to…dislike?

Sincerely,
Village of the Crammed

Yup, “The Collection at Montclair” is bringing our town more overdevelopment and more unaffordable housing. So I prefer to call that pretentiously named subdivision “The Octet at Should Be Beset By a Vet Wielding a Baguette.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
It’s also not “Pleasant” thinking about the water-drainage problems at Edgemont Park since it was renovated for a pricey $900,000 or so. Did Montclair adequately monitor the quality of the contractor’s work?

Sincerely,
Meet the Wets, Greet the Wets

All I know is Edgemont geese are happy to have as many ponds in that park as there are municipal pools in Montclair. Now those feathery fowl are lobbying for beach chairs and vending machines.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Speaking of municipal, any comment about the respected Linda Wanat departing as municipal clerk after 30 years?

Sincerely,
Claire Mont

A tenure so decade-spanning that when Ms. Wanat started in 1989, a typical CVS receipt only stretched from the South End to Walnut Street. Now that receipt is long enough to reach Edgemont Park, where it dissolves into wet pulp.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Further north is the still-shuttered Bellevue Theatre, whose future sadly remains in limbo. Thoughts?

Sincerely,
Cinema and Pa

I’d love to see that historic building become a movie theater again. Until then, Montclair High can borrow its staircase.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Speaking of classroom matters, kudos to people such as Montclair Education Association leaders Petal Robertson and Tom Manos, and Councilmen Rich McMahon and Bill Hurlock, for saying at Board of Education or Board of School Estimate meetings that teacher and para jobs shouldn’t be threatened nearly every year.

Sincerely,
Verbal Prose at BOE and BoSE

Layoff fears are of course disruptive and demoralizing for educators — as well as for students. If the BOE wants an annual Easter-season tradition other than budgets that slice jobs, I suggest the ritual sacrifice of a marshmallow Peep.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Peeps, a 4:30 “Release the Report” rally is to be held today (April 4) at Church and Bloomfield. If the partisan U.S. Attorney General feels Trump is innocent of all he’s plausibly accused of, why didn’t he quickly make The Mueller Report public?

Sincerely,
It’s a Low Barr

We also need to know if Trump colluded with Pinnacle on how to be so Teflon.

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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26 COMMENTS

  1. Dave,

    Yes, the developers are a crafty bunch, and since they do it for a living, it is to be expected. The Chair is no slouch. He has been on the PB since he left the cradle. The Chair allowed new testimony from Lidl after he closed the hearing. In hindsight, it made no difference as we all found out -they approved 47,000 of retail anyway. So, why did he allow it?

    I think he allowed it because they had the votes to demolish the train sheds, but they wanted the cherry on top…they brought a supermarket to LP…and any follow-up questions by the public would just create new problems.

    Too bad it didn’t work out. The PB should have first put the preservation stake in the ground back in March,’18. OK, now the supermarket is 19,000SF after it was originally 65,000SF. I still chuckle at what the municipal braintrust was thinking when 65KSF was proposed. Anyway, if the Chair wasn’t allowing questions of the witness, the other PB members should have insisted on discussing if preservation and a supermarket could both fit. They didn’t. Again why? Because the Council sent a message by passing their resolution…the train sheds had to go.

    The PB relinquished their independence. It is really that simple. And they think The HPC is a joke? C’mon, man – or kettle!

  2. Many good observations, Frank. Thank you.

    Yes, developers have lots of practice being crafty. (Maybe Montclair’s coming “arts district” could be called the “arts and crafty district”?) And the Planning Board chair is indeed “no slouch” — in continually favoring overdevelopment and in not being that concerned with historic preservation. You’re right that he badly wanted the Lackawanna saga to end, with the co-developers getting most of what they wanted. Also, as you noted, most of the other PB members and the Township Council did not acquit themselves well, either.

    The Planning Board chair “has been on the PB since he left the cradle” — ha! A long tenure indeed.

  3. Sad times. I’m not sure where the future is for our Historic Preservation Commission.

    Land use law says the Planning & Zoning Boards make the preservation decisions for all developments. Without the Township’s support, the commissioner’s role is just approving signs, lighting and awnings.

    All the boards and commissions hire experts to evaluate, write position papers. We could easily – and more efficiently – reassign the HP experts to the PB…and at least use the escrow funds from the applicant to pay for them! The PB subcommittees can handle the signs, lighting and awnings. The Council can enhance this further just with a policy that one member of the PB has a preservation background. The Council approves all historic districts and landmarks…and no nomination will get to them unless they are going to vote yes. Lackawanna Plaza’s approval is not an an anomaly. Rather, it showcased the norm.

  4. Frank, I definitely wish the Historic Preservation Commission was listened to more. The commissioners have said many important things, yet are often mostly ignored. Makes one wonder if certain town officials are allowing the HPC to exist only sort of for show.

    I hear you about integrating historic-preservation voices more into the Planning Board and Township Council, but I fear those voices would be marginalized there as well. Historic-preservation people would probably never be allowed to have too much say in PB and TC decisions, because developers wouldn’t like it — and developers are unfortunately major powers in Montclair.

    And, yes, the Lackawanna Plaza approval scenario was indeed the norm in various ways. More history-wrecking than some other approvals, but still the usual too-deferential-to-developers overbuilding excess.

  5. About a dozen local people will miss the train sheds and these folks are loud. They’d be easily dismissed if the resultant new building were magnificent, made with high end materials and attractive details. But this property is being developed by Pinnacle, which produced the half baked Sienna and the thing across from the Police Station that looks like it was made from odd lots of construction materials assembled by trainees. Does this firm ever use an architect?

    It’ll suck but it’ll suck on its own merits, not because of some ripped out train sheds.

  6. Thank you for the comment, townie!

    I respectfully disagree that only a small number of local people will miss the old Lackawanna station’s train sheds. I’ve personally met or corresponded with several dozen residents who want all the sheds kept because of their historic significance and/or because of the way they look, and I know there are many others who also feel the same way.

    But I do agree with, and chuckled at, your expertly constructed sentences about Pinnacle’s track record of some inexpert construction (leaks and mold in The Siena, things falling off Valley & Bloom…). And I also agree that the developer’s odd-looking buildings range from so-so to ugly. Several other (not all other) local developers seem more interested in quality and aesthetics.

  7. Frank, speaking of cemeteries, I wish the initials “RIP” also stood for “Rein in Pinnacle.” 🙂

  8. Dave,

    Fun fact for the weekend:

    The California Teacher Retirement Fund (CalSTRS) is the redeveloper of Gateway1. The MC Hotel, the Valley & Bloom condos, The Magical Orange Valley Road Parking Deck (btw, is not subject to PARCC testing on any level), and the newly proposed MC Residences.

    So, do you want to add teachers to your list…or just give them a pass?

  9. Thank you, Frank. Happy to reply to that, but I first want to know the California teacher fund’s exact connection to Montclair’s downtown overdevelopment. Does the fund own stock in Pinnacle, or is there some other kind of tie?

    Funny PARCC quip!

  10. Happy to, too.

    The Township designates a redeveloper of a ReDevelopment Area – Gateway 1 RDA here. The original property owners and Pinnacle created Montclair Acquisition Partners (MAP). The Township designated them the ReDeveloper of Gateway 1.

    CalSTRS former a joint-venture corporation with a company called LCOR for this project. They bought the controlling interest in MAP and so the Township transferred the redeveloper title for all of Gateway 1 to them. I don’t know why CalSTRS is a redeveloper…except they have a whole lot of pension money to invest.

    CalSTERS & LCOR are the also the land owners and developer (no ‘re-“) of the MC Hotel.

    PS: do you recall the inflatable, non-union rat that showed up at the construction site?

  11. Thank you for that information/explanation, Frank.

    I’m appalled that the California teacher fund would invest in something like this. Downtown overdevelopment/gentrification is making Montclair less diverse, more expensive, and too crowded. A big, sad irony is that many teachers can’t afford or easily afford the rents for what Pinnacle has built and is building. 🙁

  12. Frank, not sure how Democratic Socialism is relevant to this discussion, unless construction workers need a “safety net” when building The MC hotel’s ninth-floor rooftop bar high up from the street… 🙂

  13. flipside, looking back at my comment, I probably could have used a better word than “appalled.” Of course it’s no surprise that pension funds of all kinds often invest in some problematic things. Hopefully the California teacher fund doesn’t invest in REALLY atrocious things, like gun-company stocks.

    As for your “shocked, shocked” clip from the immortal “Casablanca”…touché. 🙂 Fun fact: Humphrey Bogart once dated someone from Montclair. If they walked past downtown’s Louis Harris building, surely Bogart later said “We’ll always have Harris…”

  14. Are you talking about non-union laborers or union laborers? It makes a difference 😉 in the political construct.

  15. Ha, Frank! Cleverly said. It does indeed make a difference. 🙂

    I have no idea if Pinnacle uses unionized labor or not, but I can’t find a link to “Solidarity Forever” on its website…

  16. Pinnacle is just a minority partner in the hotel. Pinnacle’s specialty is residential. You need to go on the CalSTRS website to search for Solidarity Forever. CalSTRS/ LCOR are the ones signing the contracts.

  17. Interesting, Frank. Pinnacle has been billed as The MC’s co-developer. Did that role get reduced at some point?

    Given Pinnacle’s track record with The Siena and Valley & Bloom, I’m not hearing “Solid Forever.” 🙂

  18. Yeah. As I said, they specialize in residential. And remember, Pinnacle offered the Township a better design if they could build 2 stories higher. Yup, I swear there is nothing this town won’t do for some cha-ching. Yup, pretty base.

    I don’t recall Pinnacle ever having more than a broker’s role in the MC. Where did u get the sense they were more?

  19. I read the headline and press release differently, but I see what you mean. Pinnacle speculated, they packaged it, they got it approved. That’s a developer.

    I will credit Pinnacle’s significant role as a developer in Centro Verde.

  20. I hear you, Frank — “developing” and actually 100% “executing” a project can sometimes mean different things. In the case of The MC, part of the baton was passed to a hotel company at a certain point.

    And, yes, Pinnacle was heavily involved from start to finish with Centroverde/renamed Valley & Bloom. I don’t like the “preciousness” of either name, but Centroverde was a little less annoying.

  21. Enforcing historic preservation guidelines would be a means to cull the big tacky development that’s harming Montclair.

  22. Thank you for the comment, Frank! Unfortunately, those guidelines seem to have loopholes as large as…Valley & Bloom.

    “Big tacky development” perfectly describes much of what’s being built.

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