Though it may be awhile before the Lackawanna Plaza project is completed, or, given ongoing opposition to the project, even starts, members of the Montclair Planning Board appeared to have finally put the issue behind them at their May 6 meeting. The board approved resolution for the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment, to be handled by the Pinnacle and Hampshire companies and slated to include a Lidl supermarket, medical office space, and a new apartment building. But the approval was not a quick one-minute formality, as most settled Montclair Planning Board applications are. The rewording of several passages took over an hour. Pinnacle CEO Brian Stolar and his attorney, Tom Trautner, were on hand for the last-minute changes from the board, and Trautner submitted a few of his own on his client’s behalf.
Board member Martin Schwartz offered several revisions to the resolution. He cited the testimony of Wisconsin-based supermarket developer Bradley Knab, who, in recommending a smaller store, said limited parking was a major issue and that parking on the side of the building could be beneficial and could work for a small supermarket.
Schwartz wanted this “finding of fact” included in the resolution, and Chairman John Wynn said as long as it was an exact quote from Knab, he wouldn’t mind. Acting board attorney Dennis Galvin said he could include the quote. Schwartz pressed on and said he wanted edited out the declaration that no parking along the supermarket at Glenridge Avenue was to be included. “Here’s my point,” he said, “that it is not a hardship because there can be no parking on Glenridge Avenue.”
“It doesn’t say that,” Chairman Wynn responded. “What is says is that there is a hardship that exists on the site because it has three frontages, and if no parking is able to be in the Glenridge Avenue frontage, which makes it impossible not to have parking in the front yard, which is true.” Because the item referred to the front-yard aspect and not parking on the street, Schwartz chose not to pursue his point.
Schwartz also objected to the language stating there were “no substantial impacts” as a result of the project because he thought there were substantial impacts to the Lackawanna Plaza area’s historic character. Galvin said the original language was appropriate because the board voted for the project and had concluded that its benefits outweighed its detriments. Language was also changed to acknowledge the space for an 1,800-square-foot fast-food restaurant at the western end of the complex so that it wouldn’t be confused with the current Popeye’s, which occupies the space to be demolished for parking. It is unclear where or whether Popeye’s would remain in Lackawanna Plaza as part of the redevelopment or move elsewhere in town.
The board also wrestled with language regarding the materials to be used in the apartment building planned for the eastern parcel of the property. The resolution stated that no metal or Hardie panels shall be used. The plans submitted, however, did feature such materials, and Schwartz objected to that, as well as to metal trim being used. Trautner said that these materials would be used on an elevation of the building invisible from the street. Chairman Wynn and board member Stephen Rooney recalled that they had been open to Hardie panels used so long as they were not only used out of sight but should be designed so that the joints and seams are not visible as well. Chairman Wynn said it was good that the developer was honest about the use of such materials and was willing to show how they would be used per artists’ renderings of the project, but he added that drawings do not give a realistic picture of what the real-life finished product will look like.
In the end, the board agreed to language that would allow the developer to consider Hardie board but also to have materials reviewed by the Planning Board’s revision committee.
The revisions to the resolution continued. Board member Carmel Loughman succeeded in getting the resolution to acknowledge opposition to the project rather than present a “neutral” view of public sentiment. Also, another revision ensures that the supermarket space is restricted to such use but requires any change or challenge to allow reuse for another purpose to be adjudicated before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, not in court. Another revised item allows people who park on the property to use the Grove Street pedestrian tunnel, even if the two parcels should ever be split between separate owners.
Other changes offered by Trautner were made to accommodate the developer regarding historic preservation. Trautner said the clause referring to protections of historic structures could be taken to mean that the horse trough could not be moved as planned; that section was revised to require treatment of historic elements to be reviewed by the revisions committee. Another revision of the resolution held the developer to look into possibly of incorporating the steel beams above the stanchions into the design, a proposal advanced by Planning Board architectural consultant Barton Ross. The developer is not obliged to such a design element but is being encouraged to consider it. Schwartz noted that no one knows what the steel beams overhead look like until they’re uncovered, so Pinnacle and Hampshire ought to explore the idea of using the beams after they’ve been uncovered – and if it doesn’t work aesthetically, they are free to exclude it.
Having finished revising the resolution at least, the board voted 5-0-3 to memorialize it. Schwartz and Loughman were not allowed to vote on the resolution, as they had abstained at the time the board voted for the original project approval; both had supported a motion first, to reject the project plans. Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager abstained from the resolution vote, having recused herself from the proceedings. Members of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville were in attendance but did not make public comment.
The next application on the agenda was another Pinnacle project: MC Residences at Orange Road. The board members might have been anticipating another long hearing before arriving at the meeting, but the absence of renderings and witnesses at the start of the meeting told a different story. And, in fact, Trautner requested a delay on account of the disagreement in the master plan language as to whether or not 46 residential units are allowed in the proposed apartment building when the maximum density allowed on the block, per the Planning Board’s interpretation, is 18 units. Stolar and Trautner have 90 days to send the application to either the Township Council of the Zoning Board of Adjustment for adjudication. There is, as of yet, no hint as to which direction Stolar and Trautner will take.
The video of the meeting is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EUcH8G_NGk