Lackawanna Plaza Tour Raises Issues About Pedestrian Walkway, Toney’s Brook and Revitalizing Grove Street

Lackawanna Plaza is on the cusp of a major change. A group of residents, concerned about how the newest possible iteration of Lackawanna Plaza might affect Montclair’s future, gathered Saturday for a Lackawanna Plaza Impact Awareness Walk.

More than 25 residents, as well as Fourth Ward Councilor Renee Baskerville, who came to hear from constituents and learn their concerns, toured the area slated for redevelopment.

Residents listened to perspectives on the site and the development plans in terms of history, preservation, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, as well as possible environmental effects. They also heard from a developer, though not Lackawanna Plaza developer Brian Stolar.

Cary Heller, who developed the shopping plaza straddling Montclair and Glen Ridge where Panera Bread is located, and who also owns the building adjacent to the Lackawanna Plaza development, One Greenwood Ave., encouraged those assembled to try to help the Lackawanna Plaza developers do better.

“I know these guys, they are great people. It’s a tough situation and a tough property,” said Heller, who added that it was a mistake for Montclair when the train station was moved to Bay Street.

Pathmark opened in the mid-1980s, as the then-anchor tenant of the Lackawana Plaza shopping center, to revitalize the site of the former train station. Across the street was the store’s parking lot; today, the plan is to turn the lot into a new residential development.

The facade of the proposed apartment building along Grove Street, with its four-tiered entrance

“They are going to put a four story apartment building, with no setback, right across the street with an underground parking structure and the walkway will be buried,” said Heller, of the pedestrian walkway that currently allows people to cross Grove Street from the parking lot without having to walk to Bloomfield Avenue.

“This is an incredible opportunity for the developer and the town to correct something that happened 37 years ago. This is great opportunity to connect the train station and eventually the Bike/Walk abandoned rail trail,” said Heller, adding “it could be much prettier rather than just a corridor for cars.”

Lackawanna Plaza walkway, currently open to the public.

Priscilla Eshelman, who organized the walk, echoed concerns about the public walkway (currently being utilized by patrons of the two remaining stores open in Lackawanna Station — Robertos Pizza and Popeyes — as well as anyone in need of a safe, shortcut to cross Grove Street) being taken away the public.

Baskerville heard the concerns and said she was very interested to determine if it indeed was a public right of way, and if so, how best to reclaim it.

Priscilla Eshelman and David Greenbaum review proposed and alternate plans for Lackawanna Plaza, as Councilor Baskerville looks on.

Another sticking point was a new 95 foot driveway for trucks on Glenridge Avenue, opposite the post office, that would take away two metered parking spots. Questions were raised as to why such a large driveway was needed now that the supermarket was much smaller (29,000 square feet) than what was originally planned (47,000 square feet).

Heller also questioned why there would be a need for four loading docks, rather than two, given the much smaller store. Eshelman raised the issue of no pedestrian access from Glenridge Avenue to the proposed store.

Also discussed — the alternate plan of 30,000-square-foot supermarket developed around a single parking lot (in red).

Right by the proposed 95 foot driveway, is a fenced triangle where the group could see and hear Toney’s Brook, a tributary of the Second River, rushing below the street. Environmentalist David Wasmuth spoke of the need to explore whether Toney’s Brook, which flows underneath the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment site, should be daylighted, whenever and wherever it can be, and how the waterway itself could become more of a focal point and a connector to other parts of Montclair, rather than buried under the ground. Other Jersey towns are exploring reclaiming rivers and streams by daylighting buried water ways to bring them back to life.

The developer has shared its vision for pedestrian access on the Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Facebook page.

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  1. The ship has sailed. The application has been approved and has the support of the Planning Board. This walk should have happened 4 years ago. We must all live with this monstrosity now.

  2. Could not agree more redeem…

    Much like the American public with our current national administration…we are all about three to four years behind the wrongdoing of those in charge.

    This walk and these efforts, as noble as they may be, are far to late and being carried out by far too few people to have any impact whatsoever. The status quo relies on apathy and disinterest to get away with what they do…and this is no more apparent than in local politics…The developer and planning board and council know that even with the worst applications…all they have to do is sit through a few nights of comments from maybe 15-20 people in a town of 40,000 (.00005%) and smile politely as they opine and object and then move on with what was decided long ago.

    They are also very skilled at pinning groups and interests who should be one the same “team” against one another, in this instance it was the 4th ward affordable housing/supermarket at all costs interest, pitted against the historic commission vs. the pedestrian/public space faction. In the short range…the 4th ward won (sorta)…in the long range neither will be winners as the entire parcel will be “re-imagined” as luxury condos.

    Game Set Match…winner Pinnacle.

  3. “Team”?
    I always thought you were pro-development. The Affordable Housing contingent is staunch pro-development. NJ Bike/Walk is pro-development.

    The commonality among all these was a core desire to design. A misguided focus on design that muddled the principles, process & outcome. Designing that precluded any coalescing of opposition around principles and values.

    The blame or credit shouldn’t be placed on Pinnacle/Hampshire. They don’t have the accountability issue. The corporation executed the wishes of their shareholders. The Council executed the wishes of their voters. As you said, the “opposition” was insignificant. So, in hindsight, the project devlivered. The lessons-learned are anti-climatic to the majority that prevailed. By definition, the outcome served the greatest public good. So, I agree it is time for the minority viewpoints to accept the outcome and move forward.

  4. I think the opposition was general. They know how to “wear it down” over time. Not too enthused about the idea of chopping off the east end of the trainshed to get more parking/thoroughfare. It would create a stinky hangout with poor sightlines for surveillance. I was at pains to show the endlong view of the “Tudor Arches” is an unexploited asset of the of the 1984 redo. Also as it applies to the Grove St. frontage which is set way back. (unlike the grand apartment entrances opposite) Why the ’84 developers chose to put the fanplant and back-of-house stuff there rather than in the new structure is a mystery except it probably cost more. It’s a nuisance to clear it out, but not as much of one as chopping off part of the building – including discussing minutia of where it should be chopped and what should be done with the resulting unused steel members.

  5. You make my point about designing. Designing by committee rarely yields interesting designs – especially when the government is part of the committee. The alternative designs had their pros and cons, but the only one that mattered and considered was the applicant’s design. Local land use objectives which did matter like preservation, walkability, safety, etc. were the primary responsibilities of the PB. They chose to focus on economics & density. The PB rightfully argued against their design role. If predetermined the train sheds were not historic, they have no basis for a design review. The design doesn’t really matter. Yet, even they can’t resist the design temptation and now one of the Planning Board’s subcommittees will review and ensure “strict” conditions on the design of the remnants. Remnants that admittedly don’t rise to a level of importance for the full board. The joke is on us.

  6. I think the developer sees it as a joke when they spend so much time on that stuff. The result is a joke too, either way.

  7. Yup. Montclair loves its plaques. Approving them is the one role the HPC can say they 100% own.

  8. If the Historic Preservation Commission really had a sense of humor, they would award the Township Council a Preservationist of the Year at their May 30th announcement of honorees. Now that would be funny! Colbert-level funny. Of course, they would have too resign afterwards. Well worth it. People used to make statements like this back in the day. Not now. Sign of the times.

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