Residents File Complaint, Demanding Appeal of Montclair Planning Board’s Lackawanna Plaza Approval

One Greenwood, LLC and A Better Lackawanna, LLC (plaintiffs) filed a complaint Friday (Docket ESX-L-4595-19) against the Montclair Planning Board and the Township of Montclair (the defendants) regarding their approval of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment application.

In the complaint, One Greenwood, LLC and A Better Lackawanna, LLC (“described as an entity consisting of concerned residents of Montclair, Montclair tax payers, and historic preservationists, many of whom are individual named Plaintiffs, including managing member Caroline Kane Levy”) assert that the defendants “not only ignored recommendations of the Historic Preservation Commission, but ignored the evidence presented and its own factual findings by failing to fully maintain this locally protected historic site from demolition, when alternative sit plans were presented to both maintain the site and accomplish the applicant’s goal for obtaining a supermarket tenant in this location.”

The complaint cites the discrepancy between the original plan of a proposed supermarket of 47,000 square feet and the announcement, near the end of the application process, of a proposed tenant, a Lidl supermarket at 29,000 square feet, as a “contradiction and violation of the original plan.”

The complaint also alleges a conflict of interest with regard to Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager’s involvement in the process, as council’s appointee to the Planning Board. The complaint cites that Schlager, immediately prior to the Defendants’ vote, recused herself from the proceeding.

The plaintiffs are demanding judgement against the defendants as follows:

A. Reversing the determination of Defendant, Montclair Township Planning Board;
B. Denying Lackawanna Office, LLC’s application for site plan approval;
C. For counsel fees, interest and costs of suit; and
D. For such other relief that the Court may find to be just and equitable under the

Priscilla Eshelman, one of the residents named as an individual plaintiff, gave a statement Friday regarding the Lackawanna Plaza complaint:

“The way the Planning Board handled this application was disgraceful and demands an appeal. There seems to have been a concerted effort to marginalize public opposition as if only historic preservation was an issue, while completely discounting pushback on obvious negative impacts on the neighborhood. The lack of transparency regarding privatizing the public domain is outrageous. We want safety, quality of life, and a supermarket with adequate parking, and this plan has none of that. We have documented dozens of procedural irregularities, any one of which could require a new plan. We will continue to educate our friends and neighbors about our objections to the review and approval process of this application. We welcome all who want to join our suit. Democracy is not a spectator sport; we need the community behind us.”

“We have dozens of additional supporters who have asked to be plaintiffs and we expect this number to grow substantially,” Eshelman added.

Eshelman was the organizer of a recent tour and discussion of the Lackawanna site and concerns about its future.

The push to save Montclair’s Lackawanna Train Terminal recently got support from Preservation NJ when the site made the 2019 List of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in NJ.

The complaint cites Lackawanna Plaza Rail Station, as a “key” building in the Town Center Historic District and as being listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.

In May, on the Lackwanna site walking tour, Cary Heller, owner of One Greenwood, spoke about the approved Lackawanna plan.

“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.

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  1. While our Council and Planning Board may be functionally illiterate when it comes to historic preservation, we have to admit the do out-produce on the kicks & giggles.

    Giggle #1: OK, we have a Governing Body and one of the two Big Land Use Bodies that…wait….wait…wait some more…are very concerned about the potential red tape to developers in granting total demolition permits of “non-historic” houses. To credit of both bodies, neither sees a responsibility to the earth’s sustainability. Their common mantra is ‘GROWTH’.

    The Council & the Planning Board want to ensure there is an expedited process to raze perfectly good houses. Yes, that is their biggest concern! For example, I want to tear down a classic, mid-century modern house (as is my right). Both the Council & the Planning Board want to ensure I don’t have to wait 1 day more than necessary. Really, do you want a Council and a Planning Board with this mindset? Should you give it a thought? Nah!

    Giggle #2: A Planning Board member, on the subject of the anti-demolition ordinance, states 80% of structures in Montclair are not historic. His figure is more right than wrong. However, this the same Planning Board that voted unanimously to tear down one of the Township’s most iconic, historic landmark. So, by the PB’s math 99.999% of the Township is not historic. Again this is the way they think.

    Giggle #3: To make the transplanted New Yorkers feel more at home, Montclair is on a record pace in adding both legal and illegal front yard parking. We have everything from 6-figure jobs on Upper Mountain Ave to 3-figure jobs on Valley Rd. Neither the Council, the Zoning Board or the Planning Board care. Yes, we are getting greedy. Yes, character is for sale. But, you have to love their argument. The household car ownership is trending down. Yup. They are really saying that. Montclair’s irrational property owners are building parking capacity they clearly don’t need.

    Montclair’s property owners are know to be thrifty…and rational. So, I think the transplanted New Yorkers, Hobokeners, etc. miss their front yard parking and that is why all this pavement is being added. Another ten years and we’ll complete the transformation. Maybe the Montclair BID can sell the “where the city meets the suburbs” to the next town?

    Giggle#3: The Township uses it own capital to buy Montclair Center BID a $158K sidewalk sweeper. Not a street sweeper, streets are the Township’s responsibility. No, we bought the business owners a sidewalk sweeper to help the BID member’s keep their assessment flat. Yes, the BID get a 0% property tax increase like we all did. We wanted to give an additional little token of our appreciation above this – to the nail salons and the public sidewalk cafes instead of wasting it on something stupid like a Sr Center, a decent police station, etc. I would have said the schools, but they already get too much to handle well. Have you noticed the MPSD has to reboot after every initial decision? Even a blind squirrel find some nuts!

  2. The Plaintiffs would be well served to read the PB”s memorializing resolution and also using it as an exhibit.
    This resolution reflected the collective mindset of the voting members and abstaining members…and not a positive thing. It didn’t get a Giggle# label because it might be one of the worst-written, misleading resolutions ever posted to the Township’s web site. Essentially, it is a MAGA resolution. It promises tomorrow will be a better day – in perpetuity – with no basis in fact.

    Of course, it pairs nicely with the Council’s Lackawanna resolution – and both should be served with soft cheese and a box chardonnay.

  3. I’ve clearly lost track of numbering my Giggle items, so let’s call this #5.

    What should strike the court as odd is the Planning Board’s memorializing resolution, covering 14 hearings, could only cite Findings of Fact from the applicant’s team or members of the PB. They could not find facts from any of their Board Experts or any from the objector’s testimony.

    OK, I testified and will admit I rarely deal in facts, much less important ones. However, this PB paid a boatload for their own expert testimony and didn’t get a single noteworthy fact out of them. I can only assume the PB only thinks that only a developer should provide facts, that outside experts shouldn’t be allowed to provide them, and the PB member opinions count as noteworthy facts. Because that is what the minutes and the memorializing resolution indicate.

  4. Giggle #6 was the last Planning Board meeting where they discussed the anti-demolition ordinance the Council referred to them. It is related to Lackawanna in that their discussion was further proof the members lack a basic understanding of both historic preservation standards and our HP ordinance. If they don’t understand this then they obviously can’t be expected to apply them to actual applications. The case with Lackawanna.

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