MontClairVoyant: When the BOE Loses a Quartet, It’s a Four-Gone Conclusion

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Before you discuss a list that puts Montclair’s Planning Board to shame, your thoughts on the Board of Education’s many recent changes?

Sincerely,
Not Bored With Boards

I’m thrilled Eve Robinson and Latifah Jannah are the BOE’s new prez and veep. That’s slang for president and vice president, because I want to keep this answer short during our short-attention-span era. Short as in not long. Not long as in short. Merriam-Webster defines short as “having little length” — unlike the lengthy analysis I’m about to offer of the marriages dissected in such a psychologically nuanced way by George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) in “Middlemarch.” Dorothea shouldn’t have married Edward, Tertius shouldn’t have married Rosamond, and…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Shut up! The two great new BOE officers have lots of experience working in education, and both have rightly questioned over-reliance on standardized testing. But what about Laura Hertzog quitting the board after being replaced as president?

Sincerely,
Goodbye to All That

Interesting, because she and her three now-also-gone BOE allies were questioned about board-leadership maneuvering in the past. I haven’t seen so much churn since watching a butter-churning video on YouTube, which I just watched so I could say I watched a butter-churning video on YouTube.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Yup, all four BOE members who voted for the current superintendent — during an April 2018 meeting held without the other three BOE members present — are off the board 13 months later. Awkward?

Sincerely,
Four-Gone Conclusion

Extremely. One member’s term ended without reappointment, another was accused of not living in Montclair during at least part of his BOE term, and the other had already accepted a job in another state before the superintendent vote. Proving that truth is stranger than fiction — like George Eliot’s excellent novel “Silas Marner.” I’d like to expound on why Silas became a miser. Some scholars theorize it was because Montclair’s rents are rising so much, but…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Shut up! I wanted to mention that every BOE member works hard in what is an unpaid, demanding, volunteer position. That said, your thoughts on the newly appointed Dr. Alfred Davis Jr.?

Sincerely,
Choice of Another Voice

He has an impressive background, but I don’t know his views on education. Which reminds me of the differences in schooling received by siblings Maggie and Tom Tulliver in the patriarchal society George Eliot depicted in “The Mill on the Floss,” which for me evokes Mills Reservation and the dental-supply section of Grove Pharmacy. Still, it was clearly Eliot’s most autobiographical novel in a career that…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Shut up! Meanwhile, Preservation New Jersey smartly and thankfully included Lackawanna Plaza on its list of the 10 most endangered historic places in our state. Comment?

Sincerely,
Downbound Train Sheds

It’s another condemnation of the Planning Board’s awful vote for the Pinnacle co-developed Lackawanna redo that will wreck some vintage elements of the former train station that opened in 1913, 33 years after George Eliot died. Her riveting last novel “Daniel Deronda” — a book helped immeasurably by not being co-developed by Pinnacle — co-stars Gwendolen Harleth, who has some money after unhappily marrying Henleigh Grandcourt even as her London view is blocked by Montclair’s MC hotel despite 3,500 miles of ocean separation. Indeed, water is a major motif in the novel, which…

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Shut up! I hope a lawsuit kills the Lackawanna redo. Meanwhile, Pinnacle also wants to cram a 46-unit MC Residences into an already-packed part of downtown seemingly zoned for no more than 18 units per acre. How will you relate THAT to George Eliot?

Sincerely,
Orange Road Overload

I can’t. Eliot’s “Adam Bede” was a great debut novel, and Pinnacle has never had a great building. Valley & Bloom is ugly; Adam and the book’s preacher character Dinah Morris are not. Interestingly, Charles Dickens was one of the first people who didn’t know Eliot to guess that she was a woman despite her pen name. That was just before he wrote “Great Expectations,” about his fond hopes for Montclair’s new BOE leadership.

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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63 COMMENTS

  1. I saw a nightly television news coverage of Brick Twnshp’s lottery (redux) for all placments in their new Pre-K program…funded by the State. The lottery came about because the State requirements to receive funding is a 15 student maximum per classroom. I wonder how big our program will be.b.
    Something to think about. All the pieces & players…who made me think of B.B. King’s “Better Not Look Down”

  2. Thank you for the comment and link, Frank! A state-funded Pre-K program with a lottery doesn’t sound good to me. All eligible students in a school district should be accommodated, even if the class sizes are somewhat bigger, or else don’t have the program, unfortunately.

    Great 1983 performance by B.B. King! Somewhere in my apartment I have the “45” of his “The Thrill Is Gone,” which could be the theme song of departing BOE members…

  3. As I understood the reporting, NJS says all classes 15 max or no $. And Brick is pretty hardwired into Trenton.

    Great, great song. Yes. Clearly. For most. It’s the Blues. Not a song for deK. She keeps coming back for more.

  4. Interesting, Frank. That then leads to the question of whether enough teachers can be hired and enough space can be found to have a sufficient number of 15-kid classes.

    Good observation about Jessica de Koninck. She’s the second-longest-tenured current BOE member besides Anne Mernin. Plus she was on the Township Council.

  5. It’s all about space and the capital costs. If we had the space now, we would have Pre-K next year.

    I don’t worry about this Council’s resolve in controlling capital spending, but the next one. A new school, a senior center, athletic fields, etc. So many vote-laden constituencies advocating to spend now. The upcoming election will certainly be interesting.

  6. Yes, Frank, so many needs and/or wants. It will indeed be interesting what the next Township Council might or might not do. I’m assuming it will have at least a few different members; hard to imagine that all seven current members would want to serve for 12 years (2012-2024). But who knows?

    In the school realm, one wishes leaders of the past had had the vision to, for instance, not sell Grove Street School (now the Deron School) for a relatively small amount of money. I’ve read that some residents opposed the sale at the time, arguing that more classroom space would eventually be needed even if district enrollment was temporarily declining back then.

  7. Ms. Hertzog resigned in a huff. She said has not been able to “change the toxicity that I have experienced” since coming on the Board. But that’s because most of the toxicity actually came directly from her and past Board member supporters -– all now gone. With Eve Robinson’s ascendancy, hopefully we’ll now see a level of educational professionalism and non-personal power thinking for the kids again. That’s what ‘Miss Eve’ brought to the Montclair Pre-k. When she headed up that quality organization. So it’s very good news.

    For Ms. Hertzog: “as you sow, so shall you reap”. Your “coup” to take over Board has now come full circle.

    Effectively, Hertzog and supporters exacerbated the racial divide here. She and they were the problem. Very destructive personal power and control politics. Which is why the Mayor first tried to rescind those appointments once he realized it. She and they ended up creating more inter-board animosity among BOE appointees instead of real debate and problem solving. Turned a reasonable concern over the Superintendent’s lack of management experience into a public racial battle.

    Give us a break. Scheduling the appointment vote on a night when three of the four white BOE members could not attend. When Hertzog knew they did not support Kendra Johnson. To this day, some residents still believe that vote was racially directed – not about policy and operational experience. And are those policy direction and management concerns valid now given the Superintendent’s staircase repair handling and scheduling plans?

    But for our African American mayor also publicly questioning Kendra Johnson’s appointment publicly then, the resulting resident take-away would have been much worse.

    So bye bye… See ya Ms. Hertzog. With all supporters gone you were a lame duck anyway. Still, do we hear any future quacking for the coming Council election. A run for Mayor? We shall see.

  8. Thank you for the comment, therealworld. I also found it “interesting” that Laura Hertzog accused others of doing what she had been accused of doing. (In her resignation speech, she did praise a number of people first.) And I also think Eve Robinson — and Latifah Jannah — will do a great job leading the BOE. They indeed both have impressive backgrounds working in education.

    And, yes, having only four BOE members at the superintendent vote last year was an outrage.

  9. All true. Also all BS.

    All members, past and present are the salt of the earth. You appoint them to the Montclair Public School District Board of Education and the toxic culture consumes them. Some only need a slight push. Some just let what it means to be human unshackle their inhibitions. Doesn’t matter why. They’re just a mirror.

    The superintendent is not yet the issue. The stairwcase issue is really about stupid, selfish parents (not the ones with the signs on their lawns, the other ones). The students actually were more honest. Also selfish, but much more honest.

  10. Interesting point, Frank, about how becoming part of the BOE (or any entity) can sometimes somewhat change the way a person behaves.

    The staircase issue is indeed about many things, but to me the most shocking aspect is how long it has been taking to fix the problem. That Montclair High staircase partly collapsed way back in September.

  11. The staircase debacle is part of a continuing issue for the township how it’s handled major repair, capital and construction projects. I’ve constantly pushed to set up a combined BOE and Montclair township construction management group. For better internal oversight and more operational control. Combine efforts across budgets.

    Why? The BOE’s head of business affairs does not really know how to supervise and contract with architects and contractors. The past BOE business head made constant errors. That resulted in massive project delays, missed combined efficiency efforts and cost over-runs. Results…fields not ready….projects had to be redone. Areas not workable..asbestos released etc. etc. Sound familiar?

    Same with the township…the financial people need a go to group and team. Normally, it would be set up in our Engineering Department. But our last head of Engineering was so “off” for many years — that little was done well. The town finally ended up replacing her by “farming” out the oversight work to a contract company. A subtle way of avoiding an age and racial lawsuit. Which is why she was never fired IMO.

    Nonetheless, the need remains. A knowledgeable team working for both the BOE and the township. That’s because work and timings do interface and impact residents…A schedule set up for area reviews and improvements. And a resident oversight committee of local architects and construction professionals to report to — to keep things in check financially. Watch the watchers. (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?)

    Maybe someone running for Council next will push and implement this kind of pro-active, forward thinking efficiency?

  12. Martin,

    A waste of time & effort. There is so much wrong with the MPSD that we can’t slap patches on each issue that resurfaces to the public from time to time. If you don’t fix the core problem, the plane will still go down.

    The core problem with the MPSD is quality assurance. Those 2 words are at the heart of every single issue the district has – from the BoE to school lunches. I believe almost all people won’t get this and that is why we have the school district we do. This district doesn’t understand quality assurance. It doesn’t want quality assurance. The standard in Montclair is that if something works 90% of the time or comes out 80% right, then we must be one of the top ‘such-and suchs’. Yes, people believe this. Well, for some time we have not even hit these “high” standards.

    For example, the District & the Board of School Estimate’s discussion over the budget last year. When the subject of oversight of capital projects came up, the District said they created a position to supervise all project work. I remember this because… the Mayor then said to classify the salary of this job in the Municipal capital budget. Yes, capitalize the man’s salary! And, yes, I will play the “I told you so” earned credit and say it was a bad idea climbing the slippery slope side of Fiscal Responsibility Mountain.

    So, we contort & distort, but we don’t fix the underlying problem. Mostly because we don’t want to measure ourselves. There is little upside for anyone in a decision-making role.

    The MSPD/BoE has these home-grown presentations. They’re almost all reactionary. Someone – an outsider – has indicated Montclair has a problem. Then we change it for next time. We don’t do apples to apples. E.g. we don’t link student infractions presentations to suspension data or alternate placements.
    Nope. Just bury it.

    Now you want some architects (really?) and some construction-types (really?) to oversee capital projects? It would be cheaper and faster for the Council to offer a whistleblower reward based on a % of the project cost. Now that would be instantly effective…and fun!

  13. Thank you for the conversation, Frank and Martin. I think your suggestions have merit, Martin, and, Frank, I understand your skepticism about whether certain problems will ever truly be fixed. (Though I should add, Frank, that, as we’ve discussed in the past, I admire many aspects of Montclair’s school system — even as that admiration is more for teachers, other school staff, and a number of principals than for certain BOE and Central Office actions or inactions.)

    I would add to my “May 25, 2019 at 7:44 pm” comment that I don’t blame parents for the Montclair High staircase debacle. I understand why many parents were upset at the post-May 20 schedule plan that ended up not being used; there was too much study hall time, crowding of the George Inness Annex felt wrong, etc. And I got the sense that parents were not consulted enough about the plan.

    Among those I do blame for the staircase debacle are the people who knew about the 2016 staircase repair and didn’t make sure that staircase had follow-up inspections/maintenance that might have prevented the September 2018 partial collapse. I realize that at least a couple people who were in leadership positions in 2016 later departed the district, but they could’ve left a better paper trail (and verbal trail) for their successors.

  14. Dave,

    Yes, I noted & believe that your family’s experience has been positive.
    You will recall I said the district evaluates 99% (dbl chk this) of their teachers as meeting performance expectations. Many in Montclair readily accept this with a straight face. Yet, their faces contort when our President states quote a debatable figure. Interesting local phenomenon.

    Yes, all those prior regular (inclu. interim) superintendents, prior and current administrators and managers, and prior and current BoE members. Just count up all the combined years experience. The knowledge! The “been there / done that” skills! And the end result? Talented people! Not such a great organization. Who’s to blame?

    The parents were not consulted?
    Sorry, it’s been a while. What exactly does the PTA do? Apparently nothing of consequence.

    Anyway, Montclair does not desire consultations with the public. All it does is result in one group of parents say A, another saying B, and their children saying C. The only agreement here is the children don’t have a say.

    Look at the Council and the $1MM improvement project for Edgemont Park. They didn’t want consultation with the public. OK, the drainage was a little problem. Yeah, the driveway design was problematic. (FYI, they did have an oversight firm for the project). Small stuff. Yeah, and we still had the complainers. The ones who thought it could have been better. Aggh.

  15. Sorry Frank – you didn’t fully get it. Went off a bit into the wrong weeds again.

    We need an inter-group BOE and Township team of a few staff people. Who talk and work together. Engineers…project managers….to deal with and oversee hired contractors and architects. They then all meet with a wider resident professional group. But the resident group of architects and construction pro’s don’t line manage the staff. Just that there is some resident input to proposed and on-going staff actions and contracts …so our people hear wider thinking and concerns perhaps not anticipated.

    Not formal like a Planning Board for approvals…not as loose as the Communications Advisory Committee.

    It’s the kind of the set up we have for new projects coming in to the town Development Review Committee now where the applicants architects/engineering and planing pros come to the table….the township’s “experts” review….ideas are generated…concerns come up now much earlier on. Better development construction process. Forget policy…this is just construction and execution.

    Here however, it’s the township’s team and their project architects and pros. They/we are the applicants in effect. And should come to a wider resident group of professionals for some early and on-going input.

    Unless I’m mistaken, you are not a construction professional. So while your corporate quality control model above is needed in many areas…construction projects…..those rollouts…architect and engineering plans….project management…etc. .and then those schedules and impacts — are a somewhat different management animal.

    The drainage for say water down the driveway at the football field became an issue in the winter…it was not forseen in planning and construction plans. Could have been picked up by a wider group most likely. Seems minor….but it stopped the whole project cold for months. Serious inconvenience. Or rolling out the new Bullock school. No one asked for an environmental audit and full title search to start. They are standard when you do new construction on land. We had no development pros at the BOE then. And still don’t. Result — entire project stopped for almost two years with a million dollar historic grave site remediation. That we paid for. Likely, this would have killed the school going there if first discovered early on. Or the land cost would have gone down considerably.

    I’m talking about this his kind of thing to catch the obvious and stupid. Won’t be 100%…but much better than now.

  16. Frank, no maybe-exaggerated statistic in Montclair (teacher-performance percentage or otherwise) can remotely compete with Trump’s countless, blatant lies. He’s in a truth-challenged class of his own, and the teacher gave him a deserved F.

    Very true that we’ve had many talented people on the BOE. But some have had little or no experience working in education during their careers, some have had views at odds with many Montclair parents, and some haven’t gotten along with other board members. That said, the current revamped BOE membership seems promising to me.

    You’re right that when parents are consulted, some parents will often have different views than other parents. But I still think parents should be consulted more — and students, too.

    You asked: “What exactly does the PTA do?” I realize your question might have been partly rhetorical, and that you know the answer, but PTAs of course fundraise, coordinate events in their particular school, etc. If I’m remembering correctly, local PTAs are prevented by the national PTA (or at least discouraged) from taking sides in controversial matters; for instance, PTAs were rather silent a few years ago when the refuse-the-PARCC-test movement was huge in Montclair.

    I have some negative feelings about the Edgemont Park improvement project — as you mentioned, there’s the bad drainage and the circular driveway not ideal for the seniors who use the field house. But the project definitely has some positives, too. The park looks better, overall.

  17. Martin, a team working on both BOE and township issues makes sense to me, for certain issues. As you noted, it wouldn’t make everything perfect, but that kind of coordination and expertise could improve some outcomes. And having some objective people involved, with no personal profit to be made for them or their company, would certainly lend credibility. That contrasts with the Development Review Committee scenario of meeting with developers and their paid representatives in the initial stages of a proposed project. I guess there can be some benefits to thrashing things out early in the process, but it also seems like some side-stepping of true democracy.

    Great example of Bullock School to back your point about the need for better planning and pre-planning.

  18. Martin,

    You keep making my points for me. Thanks!

    1) QA is corporate? Hysterical. This type of ignorance is why most small businesses fail & people have a universal negative view of governnmet. Recent example this weekend – Brookdale Pet Center. I think they care about animals. Just don’t have much use for customers. A tough business model.

    2) The Bullock School site selection? Seriously. Get in the loop. They didn’t forget the clauses, search, etc. They didn’t want to know. When did you move to Mtc? That site was going to work – period! I go with surfing the weeds over naivete. Consider it.

    3) OK, are we then we to just chalk up that the business administrator, the architect and the Capital Projects manager ( and their $0.5MM in salaries) are incompetent? Why don’t we just replace them?

    What makes you think your new advisory committee is any more competent? Didn’t the DRC rubber stamp the demolition of Lackawanna Train Station? Thank God for the DRC!!!
    You sit on the Planning Board and we’ve pretty much determined they are a joke.

    The last thing we need is another level of review. What happened to accountability for doing things right the first time? This will just encourage mediocrity because the original decision-makers will point to your oversight committee for the blame. And rightfully so.

  19. And before you get all twisted about the PB’s poor reputation, just watch on 6/10 how the PB handles the Council’s referral of the demolition ordinance. ‘nuf said.

  20. The primary goal of both national and local PTAs is to facilitate communication and collaboration. So, I ask again, what is the purpose of our local PTA? It seems their own selfish interests. That’s fine. But, then the parents complain they are not getting appropriate communications. Maybe they need to put their big, adult pants on?

    Let’s just call it the Montclair Whine.

  21. Frank, I found this description of what a local PTA does on the “Internetz”: “Parents of students work together with teachers to volunteer in classes, raise money for school supplies, and generally support the school’s efforts.” Most Montclair school PTAs seem to do that well.

    Of course, some Montclair PTAs probably communicate better than others. I’m satisfied with receiving a weekly “E-blast” from Buzz Aldrin’s PTA, along with other emails and other communications here and there.

    The Montclair PTA Council obviously has a more district-wide function. I’ve seen its rep speak at many BOE meetings. Not sure exactly what that council does.

    That’s my “PTA 101” — and I realize I’m not telling you anything you probably don’t already know. 🙂

  22. I stand corrected. I inferred they communicated among each other in how to support the school’s efforts. Clearly, this is not one of the things they do. They figure out what their children need and help supply that. Oh wait, now I’m confused. How do they know what their children need? Help! So confusing.

  23. Drolly written. 🙂

    I assume PTA people communicate with each other, too. 🙂 And PTA parents have some sense of what students need from listening to their own children, from teacher and principal input, etc. Not sure if any PTAs literally survey students to see what they need and want, but that would be kind of nice.

    Given that this comment now has one more than two paragraphs, I’d like to join the Paragraph Three Association (PTA).

  24. Agreed. The whole PTA tangent was w/o merit and is best left behind.

    On the more serious side, the 6/10 Planning Board mtg discussion of the demo ord. s/b quite the meal – from appetizers (ethics) to desert (downright confusion).

  25. Frank, I totally understand dreading Planning Board meetings. Among many things I could say, I’ll say that it would be nice if the PB finally had a chair who wasn’t so overdevelopment-friendly.

  26. If true, then that means capitalism has a dark underbelly.
    Montclairions believe in capitalism.
    Does that mean Montclairions have a dark underbelly?

    (of course not, we are good people without a belly, much less a dark one. we believe in what we believe in. enough of ur a and b, t/f c. A MHS graduate.)

  27. Ha ha, Frank!

    Given the racism of America’s current Republican “leadership,” capitalism also has a white underbelly.

  28. Unfortunately, you might be right, Frank — Trump could be reelected with enough Republican propaganda, voter suppression, Electoral College luck, foreign interference, etc. (His support in polls never goes higher than the low 40 percents.)

    When I first saw your comment, I mistakenly thought you might be referring to Montclair’s two-term Township Council staying together again and getting reelected for another four years. I hope not; I’d like to see some new, not-overdevelopment-oriented people there.

  29. Yes, that would have been a big mistake on your part that I was referring to anyone else but the leadership in Washington, D.C.

    It looks to be a busy 12 months for new development.

  30. You’re right, Frank — a frenzy of development: The MC hotel, the so-called “arts district,” Lackawanna Plaza…

    To reference a machine used in construction, Montclair is Cranetown again.

  31. I love it!!
    Cranetown to Montclair to Crane Town!

    It’s gotta suck serving on a land use board these days. You have to wonder what someone is thinking, what they believe, how they want to use a life. Or not.

    You get maybe 7 or 8 decades to work with. Why spend one on facilitating developer profits? Isn’t it the same as voting for Trump? I can’t wrap my brain around that mindset. Do you think they wonder why they are on this earth?

  32. Thanks, Frank!

    A great observation about how depressing it must be to serve on something like the Planning Board these days. Yes, one is spending a lot of time basically “facilitating developer profits.” I suppose some people like the work they do as a board member — the minutiae, the feeling that they’re helping to shape the town, etc., but, again, they’re basically “facilitating developer profits.” It would be different if someone joined the board with the intent of doing a LOT of pushing back against developer overreach. Then again, that kind of person would rarely get appointed.

  33. Yup! And the rare get appointed,…and push back. Maybe even in the form of a request in an annual report. And the recipients of that report just sit on it. Personally, I think they like it. Anyway, that’s what happens. Unfortunately, those outliers serving just don’t make a difference. They are decorative. Unfortunately, they don’t realize their role. They do serve a purpose.

  34. I hear you, Frank.

    Some pushback is better than none, but if it’s not major pushback, little is changed. Reminds me a bit of a Township Council (not Montclair’s) I used to cover when I was a newspaper reporter. That mostly Republican council had one Democratic member who mildly protested a few things but was 99% ignored.

  35. Did the Councilor vote their convictions, in the minority? Or did the Councilor vote to belong in the tribe,…and abstain? Yup, abstain. Who actually abstains…from anything!!

  36. If I’m remembering right (this was a long time ago), the Democratic councilor was on the short end of many 6-1 votes rather than 6-0-1 votes. The GOP majority didn’t mind; to them it was a harmless dissenting vote and offered the veneer of democracy.

    I totally agree with you — unless there’s some blatant conflict of interest involved for an appointed or elected official, abstaining on anything just seems wimpy to me.

  37. Spinning here Frank. We actually agree:

    1) the site for the Bullock school was a “go” no matter what. Why? Because some prominent forth ward players owned it under an LLC. Therefore there was little opposition to the school build there and little opposition to taking down the Washington Street Y, considered the first “African-American” Y in the nation. Where we seem to disagree is that IF there was an environmental audit for the site — standard for new development acquisition — this would have flagged the grave yard remediation expense and public pressure might have stopped the give-aways then. Therefore, better construction process can potentially help impact bad public policy actions.

    2) I do not remember the DRC “passing” on anything on Lackawanna. There was no vote from my recall. The developer presented what was likely, one of their earlier plans — which was morphed away from the 2 year interplay of political and preservation supporter opposition, on-going eighborhood demand for an operating supermarket and then Council reactions to all this — while the developer effort was still under a Redevelopment Plan. The policy “compromise” where we are today with Lackawanna, which you know I voted against, has nothing to do with the construction oversight efforts to be set up — that I’m suggesting above.

    You (and Dave Astor somewhat) appear to have difficulty processing the difference between construction review, construction management planning and oversight of construction with development policies and decisions behind land use.

    Example the MC hotel, the parking deck originally built there and Valley and Bloom — which Dave frequently criticizes — are not construction failures. They are policy failures. Too much bulk was allowed in those spaces. And no clear cut demand in the Redevelopment Plan that they all aesthetically integrate with the surrounding neighborhoods. Washington DC and Philly do this for new construction. We do not.

    Without better and underlying “policy” goals adhered too as directives, the particulars of what was allowed there does not produce a great result. Therefore, any construction modifications to come after, are only playing with the peripheral and end details. But this was a policy failure under the Fried administration. Who controlled the planning board, appointed the planner and wrote the redevelopment plan at that time.

    The Lackawanna inboliglio, one can clearly argue, will fall under this current Council administration as a policy bad. All the PB members were now appointed by this Council. The Council showed their own hand in that resolution to effectively approve the developer’s earlier scheme and to roll to community supermarket pressures. So one could use this historic site partial take down as an “anti-preservation” policy bad if one were running against Councilors.

    Nonetheless, “policy” critiques over development do not take away from the need today to still better operate construction and construction management at both the township and BOE level. Ergo my proposals above. So I advise not confusing development, capital spending (and in the BOE’s case major repair) “policy” with the need for better construction planning and construction management to follow. They do come together, but it is the policies — from top decision-makers — that approve and then drive the construction which results.

  38. Thank you for the comment, Martin. A number of good points, and some I disagree with. You’ve been a major player outside and inside Montclair’s development process, so you have lots of knowledge about, and perspective on, that process.

    I know that you’ve tried to mitigate some of the worst developer excesses, but I think developers (particularly Pinnacle) have still gotten almost everything they truly wanted in Lackawanna Plaza, the “arts district,” etc. Most of the Planning Board and most of the Township Council are just too pro-overdevelopment. (I’m talking about the current PB and current TC, not just the former PB and former TC during Mayor Fried’s 2008-12 administration.) Also, the pressure from developers is overwhelming, there’s the threat of developer lawsuits, and so on. Sure, there was some modification of the Lackawanna plan — for instance, fewer housing units than first proposed — but I believe developers ask for the moon and ultimately get approximately what they secretly want and expect in Montclair after “compromise.”

    I’ll respond to a few specifics: 🙂

    — I’m remembering some opposition to taking down the very historic Washington Street Y, and it’s a shame the Grove Street School (now Deron School) had been sold years earlier. If it hadn’t been, Bullock might not have been needed.

    — Yes, there was and is strong neighborhood demand for a supermarket to replace Pathmark at Lackawanna. But I still believe there could have been total preservation AND a supermarket, and most Planning Board and most Township Council members never made that point publicly in any significant way. Of course, the co-developers didn’t want to make that point because it would have reduced their profits a bit.

    — Valley & Bloom was indeed a policy failure, but is also problematic construction-wise. Yes, town officials basically let Pinnacle do whatever it wanted, and the company took full advantage. But Pinnacle could have had enough pride to make V&B a little better-looking, even if the look didn’t fit in with the neighborhood. And some material from the building has literally fallen off.

  39. C’mon Martin!

    If the Development Review Committee didn’t rubber-stamp the Lackawanna plan, then they didn’t do their job. Either way, the DRC didn’t achieve the objective they were created to deliver.
    They didn’t even read our own HP Ordinance! The design standards they were suppose to follow were the Historic Preservation Commission’s Design Standards. They didn’t read those.

    You did not vote against the Lackawanna plan. You abstained. I can explain the difference if you want me to. Both the MC Hotel and the Parking Deck had construction review failures. I would not characterize them as peripheral: Stop work orders, Right-of-Way easements into the public space, and approving materials prohibited by the Redevelopment Plan.

  40. The private development projects aside, you are recommending adding two layers of internal controls for public construction projects. The first group would be comprised of Subject Matter Experts (SME) to properly scope, design, bid, screen, and track. Subject Matter Experts (SME) we don’t seem to have right now – either municipally or in the school district. The second group would be a volunteer, very technical advisory committee to – what is the term I’m looking for? – right, “corporate” quality assurance. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. Unlike all of our other advisory committees & bodies that are asked once (one & done, thank you very much), this group will provide ongoing review at each phase of a project…and report to the Council. Of course, this arrangement would really blur the legal boundaries of direct involvement of the Council in the administration of the Township… and a State school district. It would also make the Council directly accountable for the performance of all projects – again, both municipal and school district.

    I think we both agree on the problems. I appreciate the synergies you are striving for. However, I don’t see how we could create one solution for both school district projects and municipal projects. All I’m saying is maybe there are other ways to achieve improvement. Maybe explore some inter-local setup if the respective bodies don’t want to staff with SMEs. Maybe it should be outsourced entirely on a project or annual basis.

    I’m also pretty sure there is no room for volunteer advisory committees. Remember the CFAC? Does the BoE even have volunteer advisory committees?

  41. Once again Frank, you focus too much on the leaves…don’t always see the forest. And don’t appreciate the politics.

    On Lackawanna — the DRC does not tell applicants what to do for full projects that come back after before Boards. Members instead point out potential issues they feel will be problematic later, or elements to possibly change to make a proposal more palatable. I know I clearly pointed out the developer was knocking down parts of a historic building while also seeking a major parking variance at the time. And that this was problematic. But the DRC project review was not going to address those underlying policy issues — those were developer choices to proceed and to try to gain Board approval for.

    We also dealt with details — for the residential piece too — to try and make that better. So your understandings and belief when and where things do and should happen — is just frequently off. As is your political understanding of the vote, it was clear to everyone watching what my POV was in opposition from the statements and responses to members — which I made prior to voting. I then put forth a motion directly to reject the application as last proposed. Carmel Laughman seconded. That was my “no” vote.

    My abstention after on a motion to to support was a POV to convey that I did not disagree with the underlying project goals completely – just the details of the final proposal…which I believe to this day do not require knocking down pieces of this historic site in order to be successful. So this warranted abstention — not total rejection of support – in my POV. You can disagree, but that was the thinking.

    On the construction mangement oversight and planning — nuff said above. We can agree to disagree.

  42. A novel POV that I can follow in the next Presidential election. I’ll vote in the Primary and if the candidate I vote for doesn’t win the nomination, I’ll abstain from the general election… because I am not against the idea of holding a Presidential election. Thanks!

    Re: the DRC.

    Sorry, I misread the these sections of the ordinance creating the DRC:

    1.) Determine compliance with the Township’s zoning requirements, development regulations and design standards.

    (2)  Make recommendations on the design and technical elements of any application.

  43. Martin, I understand your logic about your “no” vote followed by your abstention on Lackawanna Plaza, but a “no” from one or more Planning Board members on the final vote would have made a statement. Maybe not a powerful statement given that the plan would’ve still passed, but a statement. Might’ve even provided a little indirect help for a lawsuit if another suit is filed against the plan (which I suppose is one reason why a member of any board might be reluctant to vote “no” on any issue).

    Interesting presidential-voting analogy, Frank. 🙂 If more candidates enter the crowded Democratic field, one of them is bound to have the last name of Abstain. 🙂

  44. I would amend my parenthetical statement in my 12:43 comment to read: “which I suppose is one reason why a member of any board might be reluctant to vote ‘no’ on any CONTROVERSIAL issue.”

  45. Thank you for the comment, frankgg. Yup, none of the FINAL Lackawanna Plaza votes that truly counted were a “no.” An abstention was certainly better than a “yes,” but it was a super-important/consequential matter that deserved every Planning Board member taking an unambiguous stand. One can like some aspects of a (re)development plan but still vote “no” if the overall impact of the plan — or even 51% of the plan — is harmful to the community, historically or otherwise.

  46. Not to be upstaged by the Pinnacle/Hamsphire Companies’ Lackawanna plan , the Montclair Art Museum Trustees (the historical custodians of MAM) have jumped on the“false historicism” bandwagon with their redesign of the MAM property. This is the same group that said they are the best historical custodians of the property – not the HPC. The Township agreed and did not designate the MAM as locally historic.

    The HPC will try and rein them in at tonight’s meeting, but the decision is up to the Planning Board. I guarantee there will not be any PB abstentions.

    The Trustee’s plan is a poor one. It doubles-down on car-centric design at the expense of the historic setting. Further, the plan, viewed in context of the neighborhood (the adjacent Walden Place potential historic district and the First Residential Historic Districts’s Northwest anchor properties of 66, 54, & 40 South Mountain Ave.) is a detriment. As frankgg will tell us, the restoration of 66 South Mountain was worthy of an award. The owners rightly eschewed any false historicism in their efforts. Not here.

    In addition to the HPC’s Architect’s report (see here: https://montclairnjusa.org/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=15691613 ), the MAM proposed design will sit awkwardly among it neighbors. I guess this was the goal.

  47. Thank you, Frank. A change of topic is always welcome, and the Montclair Art Museum situation is related to Lackawanna Plaza in a way (preserving or not preserving history).

    My layperson thoughts on historic preservation tend to focus on houses and other buildings — and, in the case of Lackawanna Plaza, train sheds — more than on outside landscaping and outside structures. So I wasn’t sure at first what to think of the MAM proposal. But after reading your thoughts and reading the HPC report you linked to, I’m now also wondering if the MAM plan could be better and more historical. Plus I hate to see mature trees cut down. I’ll be interested to hear more about the MAM plan from the HPC and others. I remember you expressing mixed feelings about some of what the HPC has done or not done in various cases, but I trust its judgment on many things. And you certainly know a ton about historic preservation.

    BTW, my new (May 30) column posted on this site a little while ago includes a part-joking reference to the MAM plan that mostly focuses on the proposed water wall.

  48. Your focus on the primary structures is the norm. Historical landscapes tend to be a “oh, yeah” consideration. We are fortunate the Friends of Anderson Park, a 2019 HP Award winner, went to the effort of historically designating the park. BTW, the park’s designation was used as part of the argument to retain the the historic protections on the adjacent U. Mtc RR Station.

    Yes, I definitely have mixed feelings about our HPC’s efforts over the years. My larger issue is the Township’s support of historic preservation and the resulting policy flip-flops and the resulting applications. The one constant seems to be if preservation deprives the township of development income, the municipal decision-makers most always side with development over character.

  49. For what it is worth, the following is from Montclair’s HP Ordinance (emphasis added):

    LANDMARK DISTRICT or DISTRICT
    One or more historic sites and intervening or surrounding property significantly affecting or affected by the quality and character of the historic site or sites.

  50. “The one constant seems to be if preservation deprives the township of development income, the municipal decision-makers most always side with development over character” — truer words were rarely spoken, Frank.

    Yes, historical landscapes are indeed important, and make a big difference in the look of a particular site and the look of a town in general.

    Friends of Anderson Park have done a wonderful job. I’ve personally appreciated that park countless times during my frequent walks there and when bringing my younger daughter to her soccer practices there.

  51. Frank and Dave, you obviously haven’t reviewed or didn’t comprehend the Art Museum plans. What could you possibly be referring to by your assertion the Museum is “doubling down on car centric design”? There is no expansion of the parking lots or vehicle egress proposed. In reality, the Museum is proposing to turn several overlooked and underused areas and create a pedestrian plazas and sculpture garden. Even sillier is your comment that the proposal is detrimental to Walden Place, 40, 54, and 66 South Mountain Avenue, and your attempt to imply that these properties are in any way “intervening or surrounding” the Museum. The proposed improvements to the Museum’s grounds will not be visible from any of these properties, and will only enhance the neighborhood by helping to create a visually attractive and easily accessible pedestrian areas, intended for use by the entire community. Any you obviously haven’t taken the time to observe the condition and stature of the “mature trees” that will be removed. “False historicism”- what component of the proposal could you possibly thinking about? Please do yourself and Baristanet patrons a favor and actually take a look at the proposal before your knee jerk reactions derail what will be a wonderful additions of an outdoor sculpture garden and community gathering space.

  52. Thank you for the comment, seriously. I have definitely seen the proposal (the plan as well as images of what the revamped outside spaces would look like), and like some aspects of it. And you make several persuasive points in your comment. I’m all for community-gathering places. 🙂

    But I guess it gave me a bit of pause that the Historic Preservation Commission has some misgivings. Also, it was my understanding that while some of the mature trees are in less-than-ideal condition, others are doing fine. (I might be wrong; I’m no tree expert.) Finally, I guess there’s the question of whether or not the money for the outdoor changes could be better spent on museum programs and that sort of thing.

    Anyway, I’ve visited the museum many times during my 26 years in Montclair, and do appreciate it.

  53. Howard Van Vleck planted the Lebanese Cedar in front of the Museum himself. He cultivated it from a seed in his greenhouse. It was a like a local practical joke… people kept asking him when he was going to plant it. You just couldn’t see it because it was so tiny.

    Howard Van Vleck is the genius behind the design of the MKA campus on Lloyd Road. He was a trustee and son of the architect who designed the Van Vleck house as well as the interiors of the Gates Mansion. Howard Van Vleck said that we didn’t need another fake colonial village for the school campus. Instead, the irregular stone buildings are intended to represent the cliffs of the First Mountain Range, built overlooking the skyline and natural meandering hills and paths.

  54. Dave, the Historic Preservation Commission has not even heard the application yet. The report was from their paid “historical consultant”, not a local resident, who appears to be tasked with stressing the importance of all things remotely “historic”. He has obviously not visited the site and witnessed the condition of the “historical landscape”, not made any evaluation of it’s effectiveness in enhancing the museum experience and the mission of the museum. Hopefully the HPC will be review the plans and weigh the addition of the pedestrian plazas and an improved museum experience, against the loss of a sloping partly grassed area and mature tree in poor condition. As to the issue of whether funds would more appropriately used for museum programs than building or ground improvements, neither your, mine, or or the HPC’s opinion should matter at all, unless we also happen to be on the Museum Board.

  55. seriously,

    I understand your perspective. It parallels the Trustees. I disagree with it as you know.

    I did review all the plans & documents posted under the application.
    1. They are expanding the HC space and the access drive by 4-5’. You can see it in the plans. Also, vehicular aisles and parking are an accessory use and have no significance – just functionality.

    2. The underused areas are underused because they are not designed for pedestrians or they have those stupid video screens…which the Township also approved. If they are not a cry for direction then nothing is. You think the front yard is more pedestrian friendly. We are just too far apart in understanding good pedestrian design. 

    3. For brevity – which was a mistake -I omitted the fact that South Mountain Avenue is a historic streetscape and listed in the Master Plan. This will help you connect the dots.
    4. The reflecting pool is the false historicism. That is just an ego trip for all….”See how important this is!!! Aren’t we great!”

    Trees mature and die. I not fighting removal of trees in the end stages of life. But, there is a replacement-in-kind concept that applies here. Where impossible, then a replacement sympathetic to the original design.

    Please get yourself up to speed on preservation. I’m a lyperson, but the Township is paying good money for the Historic Architect’s expertise and report. All I’m doing is putting the exclamation mark on the criticism. Personally, I think you should just keep your remarks to what you like, etc. and ignore preservation. It works for the Council and the Planning Board.

  56. Thank you for the added conversation, seriously and Frank.

    seriously, fair point about that letter being from an historical-architect firm rather than from the HPC itself. As I mentioned in an earlier comment (1:31 pm today), I’m interested in seeing what the HPC itself thinks. Still, I assume there’s some expertise behind the letter, and is it certain that no one from the firm visited the site?

    As for the trees, I found this story from the Montclair Local:
    https://www.montclairlocal.news/2019/05/24/museum-outdoor-expansion-montclair-nj/
    One paragraph reads: “Architect Paul Sionas told the Development Review Committee on April 11 that as many as 27 trees could be affected — eight of which are dying according to the township arborist, nine of which would be relocated, and 10 which would be removed outright.”
    Of course, I can’t guarantee the paragraph’s accuracy.

    Frank, excellent point about replacing trees whenever possible — even if the replacements end up elsewhere on a site.

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