MontClairVoyant: Can’t Refrain from Discussing the Town of Crane

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
In his song “Nostradamus,” Al Stewart crooned: “Oh, the more it changes, the more it stays the same.” How does that apply to Montclair?

Sincerely,
The Year of the That

During the 19th century, our burg’s name switched from Cranetown to Montclair. Now, in honor of a certain construction machine being used to grossly overdevelop the Bloomfield Avenue area, we’re Cranetown again.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” What’s that mean for Montclair’s Crane House?

Sincerely,
The Ground and the Jury

It means that when that dwelling was built in 1796, its pricey rental units included USB ports and outlets for charging quill pens. But only one of 10 inkpots was affordable.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Did the Farmers Market fully open for the season on June 1, 1796 — as it did to the delight of present-day Montclairites on June 1, 2019?

Sincerely,
Paulie Walnuts Street

Yes, but the pickles were less crispy 223 years ago to accommodate George Washington’s achy teeth.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Was the wonderful LGBTQ Pride Month celebrated in June 1796 like it’s now being celebrated by many in Montclair?

Sincerely,
Tala Rintz

Betsy Ross had trouble sewing the green, yellow, and red in the rainbow flag — until gazing at a traffic light.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
The Montclair Public Library recently eliminated fines for overdue books. What was the situation in 1796?

Sincerely,
Shelves Not Elves

Local farrier Homer Smith borrowed “Evelina” from the library in 1778 and didn’t return that Fanny Burney novel for 18 years. His punishment was being forced to sit through an entire Planning Board meeting.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Gasp! How much granting of harmful variances and fawning over developers can one person stand?

Sincerely,
Cruel and Usual

The devastated Homer was never the same, falling into a deep depression exacerbated by Cranetown not yet having takeout sushi.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
It’s now “Toast to the Teachers” time in town! Was there a 1796 equivalent to the events that thank educators while raising money for the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence?

Sincerely,
MFEE in History

Some parents back then hosted a toast party that was to feature a food truck on site, but a food horse arrived instead. The horse then gave a rousing speech urging that teachers get a new contract — and fully charged quill pens.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Horses could talk in the 18th century?

Sincerely,
Mr. Ed and Felicia “Fizz” Ed

Not during Board of Education meetings, because their hooves couldn’t hold a pen to write on the public comment sign-up sheet at the George Inness Wasn’t Born Yet Annex.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Is that why the 1796 BOE didn’t vote “neigh” on the PARBBs — that era’s PARCCs-disguised-as-NJSLAs?

Sincerely,
One Pearson, More Than One Vote

Ah, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Blacksmithing and Breeches-making.

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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17 COMMENTS

  1. The Town of Jackson, ooops, sorry, Crane has it quality assurance problems. The most recent example is ordinance O-19-018. Yes, the one where the Mayor is getting the sole power to straighten out that mess we affectionately call the Montclair Environmental Commission. Yes, the MEC is another 2nd cousin to our Planning Board. Anyway, once again the Council has a flawed legislative piece coming up for 2nd reading/hearing. I mean like stupid, lazy flawed. I get the principle they are shooting for – it is their aim that is just so darn inept. This is like the sixth (or more?) situation where there has happened in the last year. Maybe it is burnout? I doubt they will vote on it now…but, they can be a unanimously obstinate bunch and I wouldn’t put it past them.

  2. As a follow-on to Representative Sherrill’s visit to Upper Montclair “with” her NJT partner last week, I’m sure the regular riders noted the spike in NJT’s customer outreach the proceeding 24 hrs.

    Anyway, that was some dog & pony show. What I love about that political folly was the condition of the Upper Montclair station at the time of their visit. Clearly, it is NJT property and off-limits to elected officials. And yes, NJT calls the shots. But, people could push back just a little.

    NJT ripped up the Westbound sidewalk so it is no longer handicap accessible. No big deal. Montclair is not on board with the access concept anyway. However, NJT deserves special recognition for their treatment of anything still green & still living. I’m used to NJT cutting a swath across their RoW. This time they just left it where it fell. I mean like 16″ wide trunks.

    It is not secret NJT doesn’t like Montclair. Maybe it is deserved. But, they came into Upper Montclair with a our newly-elected representative as a decorative accessory and they purposely diminish our train station. Our House Representative need to start figure out the basics is she is going to be perceived as effective.
    Maybe it is time for 1st Councilor Hurlock to visit the station.

  3. I forgot!!

    The train station is on the State and Federal Registers of Historic Places! That explains the Local, State and US House of Representative indifference. NJT tried to delist it and failed. It was probably the only instance since the inception of NJT that they were on the right side. So, now, the station goes to seed. Remember the pedestrian bridge was condemned! Someone put a galvanized steel dam in Toney’s brook. Good job!

    The strip mall mentality of government is becoming pervasive. I finally went by Township Hall. Clearly, a Montchatclair character-free zone with that new generator. Oh, well. At least our taxes stayed flat!

  4. Thank you for the interesting comments, Frank!

    I haven’t followed the Montclair Environmental Commission as closely as I should, so I don’t have a strong idea about how well or not well it’s doing. It certainly hasn’t done much that I’m aware of to prevent the environmentally harmful barrage of overdevelopment. But if the mayor has the sole power to do whatever with the MEC, I’m not a fan of that. I think our town’s mayoral position already has too much power in certain areas — such as choosing Board of Education members. The recently reconfigured BOE now has several great members, but there were a number of previous problematic members (no longer on the board) appointed by Mayor Jackson and Mayor Fried.

    As for New Jersey Transit, I agree that there’s lots it can be criticized for. And it’s ironic that the Upper Montclair Train Station maintained its historic status after most of it was ruined by that devastating 2006 fire when intact historic structures like the Lackawanna Plaza train sheds, The Marlboro Inn, and various vintage homes have not been protected.

    I realize Rep. Sherrill has to be somewhat cautious because she’s representing conservative towns along with the more liberal Montclair in the 11th District, but she’s still been more cautious than many hoped and expected. I guess she’s a centrist at heart, and even leans to the right on some issues. Certainly a big improvement over Rep. Frelinghuysen — smarter, works harder, has a mind of her own, etc. But…

  5. The interesting thing about the MEC ordinance is the Mayor gets to pick the Chairman of the MEC. (Yes, Chairman). No other board or commission authorizes the Mayor to select their leader.

    I’m keeping an open mind on Rep. Sherrill. However, the Obama administration cut TIFIA funding 70% and there are some good reasons why her co-sponsorship of the Transportation Funding Fairness Act is unlikely to pass. Which means funding of Gateway will not be addressed in Trump’s first term.

    We will pave the UMRR parking lot, but we can’t fix the station grounds. The cost certainly is not the obstacle. So, I’m unsure why it is allowed to continue.

  6. I totally agree, Frank, that a mayor shouldn’t choose the leader of a commission.

    Yes, things might possibly improve with Mikie Sherrill the longer she’s in Congress. When (if) she gets reelected next year, perhaps she’ll feel a little more emboldened to take stronger stands.

    Hard to expect funding or enough funding under Trump for ANY decent/necessary thing — virtually all his priorities are cruel and/or not needed. A real shame that our awful former Republican guv Christie nixed the Gateway tunnel back in 2010. That project was (and still is) so necessary, and it might have been almost completed by now.

    Re your last paragraph, maybe there’s a reason for the “no” in De Novo (the restaurant at the Upper Montclair Train Station). 🙂

  7. Dave,

    I’m watching the Planning Board discussion on the Council’s demolition ordinance. It is quite funny to listen this Planning Board trying to understand a historic preservation ordinance. But, my entertainment aside and focusing on your entertainment, you probably only need to know one thing.

    The ordinance will now require Stephen Plofker to make an application to the Historic Preservation Commission any time he wants to make changes to his house (that are visible from the public right of way). Really!

    Of course, the PB doesn’t understand this yet…which is my entertainment.

  8. Ha, Frank! Among the entertaining things in your comment was seeing “this Planning Board” and “historic preservation” in the same sentence. Might be a first in the history of the English language… 🙂

  9. By my count, 2 PB member’s property will be subject to the same, “any changes” rule.

    This ordinance will require a veritable Who’s Who of Montclair’s 2% to make application to the HPC if they want to change a window, a door, a fence, a roof, etc. If the work they want done doesn’t require a township permit, they will still have to seek HPC approval. In many cases, a full-blown hearing streamed on YouTube!

    And just for sport, the property owners won’t be told they are on “The List”. Assuming the owners follow the rules and get a permit, they will be told then their property is on “The List”. Owners should probably not sign any contracts until they know if they are on “The List”.

    But, if they want to make a change that doesn’t require a building permit, it’s up to the property owner to call the town. If they proceed without the proper approvals, they could ask to restore the character features that were altered. Can be a real bummer. e.g. West side of South Park St (before your time).

    At least the B-net reader’s of your column will now know what to do. I am unclear if the clock started after the 1st Reading by the Council. Probably not for building permits, but maybe for the historic preservation rules.

  10. Frank, I want to read more about last night’s discussion and think about it. But my preliminary thoughts are that I strongly favor historic preservation but don’t believe relatively minor proposed changes in structures and their properties should be completely nitpicked. I think it’s more important to save whole historic buildings from demolition (and things like the Lackawanna train sheds from being harmed) than it is to obsess over relatively minor proposed changes. I wonder if there’s some overcompensation here by Montclair officials as they focus on less-consequential historic preservation to try to mask/divert attention from the fact that they’ve (deliberately) dropped the ball on the most important historic-preservation stuff.

  11. The recent demolition approvals and resulting public outcry is the motivation behind this ordinance. The Council’s objective was to expedite , once again, an ordinance that was to narrowly target only total tear-downs. An ordinance that has near unanimous support and would seem very straight-forward to write.

    The Township’s attorney, to his credit, is using a creative interpretation of the State’s land use law to establish the legal authority for the proposed review criteria & process. Politically, the Council chose the top-down approach where they created the ordinance where a bottom-up approach would have taken longer, but would have been properly vetted before it was introduced. Furthermore, the ordinance drafting process didn’t utilize historic preservation experts. That was a rather bad choice.

    OK, so now the Council has asked the Planning Board, Zoning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission for their advice. Well, now the problems with the draft have started to percolate up. The nitpicking – the relatively minor changes – is never something any land use body is going to leave to a property owner or developer to determine. Relatively minor is a subjective and vague term. Either the law clearly defines the term or the law defines the authority that determines what is minor or not.

    The three basic problems with the draft are 1) it doesn’t align with the original objective, 2) the language is confusing, inadequate and or doesn’t reflect how HP works in real life, and 3) no one wants to tell the Council they need to pull this ordinance back for reworking.

    It is not the Historic Preservation Commission’s fault. They are getting handed an ordinance that has already been introduced. I think the HPC, on one hand, will like the ordinance for the additional review authority it is creating. On the other hand, they will not like what the property owner pushback will do to furthering preservation in Montclair.

    As the Planner said, there are about 10 full tear-downs in an avg. year. The Council wants an ordinance to address the 10 cases or so. The Township attorney is describing the ordinance as casting a wide net for a quick, ideally painless review that will route the narrow amount of worth cases for an in-depth review. Basically, it is mislabeled as a Preservation Lite approach to deal with total tear-downs.

    This ordinance is a thumb in the porous dike of preserving the township’s historic character. A property owner can still remove, without review, the front facade (& one side) of their building. They can remove or cover all the architecturally significant elements as long as they don’t demolish 50% of the walls. They can convert a Queen Anne into a Modern box. Simply put they could do what was done to Hampton House when they converted it to an Art Modern facade. After many decades, we have come to like the end result. However, it could have easily taken a style that would be an eyesore. Further, it was mis-classified as a Contributing building back in 2003 to give it more protection. It should be classified as a Harmonizing-Altered structure. Under our HP ordinance, Harmonizing-Altered structures, while they might enhance a historic district look, they are not deemed historically significant. Hence, a minor subcommittee can authorize their demolition.

  12. Thanks for all that information and all those thoughts, Frank. I agree that the focus should be on preventing total tear-downs of historic homes and other historic buildings. I also agree that a bottom-up approach, and plenty of input from preservationists, is almost always the best way to go. And as long as a demolition moratorium remains in place, the process doesn’t have to be super-rushed.

  13. Yes, it is TMI. Sorry.

    To be clear, I think the ordinance focused on total tear downs is really a stupid approach. We have 8,000 or so structures in Montclair. I’d rather lose another 1-3 houses in the next year so we can work to create a coherent and consensus policy.

    We won’t. We’ll create a small shiny ball so the ordinance’s backers can say “look, aren’t we great!”

  14. No, Frank, not too much information — useful information. 🙂 While I think preventing total tear-downs of beautiful, vintage, historic structures is a good prime focus of any preservation ordinance, additional preservation protections are fine with me as long as they don’t get too “micro.” And no houses would have to be lost if the demolition moratorium were extended as long as it took to come up with a more comprehensive policy. But, as you allude to, who knows if a more comprehensive policy would happen.

  15. Yes, what you describe is good, high level policy that I think many people would rally around.

    Getting “too micro” is a euphemism for “designing”. This is where Montclair preservation tends to overstep property ownership rights which I also feel strongly about. I think we need a strong policy grounded in preserving the existing, integral historic fabric of structures with significance. Conversely, the policy should be more laissez faire when it comes to the properties that lack specific HP significance, but have distinct character.

    Comments by Chair Wynn of the PB were going in the right direction, but he had trouble verbalizing his reservations and suggesting a middle ground alternative. The alternative is there. It’s kind of obvious to me, but the Council has positioned themselves and this ordinance to being close to written in stone. They can be really stubborn.

  16. Can’t disagree with anything you said, Frank.

    Meanwhile, I can’t remember agreeing very often with anything the way-too-development-friendly Planning Board chair has said or done. If he has sort of staked out somewhat better ground than the Township Council in this case, well, maybe the moon is in a strange position. 🙂 It will be interesting to see how all this plays out with the Council.

Comments are closed.