The Township’s Gateway 1 Redevelopment efforts have not been kind to historic Orange Road. The numerous mistakes are well documented, and I don’t need to list all of them here. Fortunately, Montclair now has a one-time opportunity to at least remedy Orange Road’s longest parcel – the historic Board of Education property at the corner of Orange and Valley Roads.
Orange Road from Bloomfield Avenue to Church Street has been home to more than its fair share of land use blemishes since the start of the automobile era. That is why, many years ago, our Council started placing redevelopment designations on the mostly offensive East-side of the street.
Most don’t know or have forgotten that the Board of Ed property, including the Montclair Pre-K school, was also designated by the Council as an Area In Need of Rehabilitation. With this designation, the entire length of the block, just under a 1,000’, still falls under NJ Housing & Redevelopment law and the powers it gives to a town council.
The last parcels to undergo redevelopment are for the MC Residences mixed-use development. It is currently awaiting its August 12th hearing before the Planning Board. Once approved, 750’ of this 1,000’ of Orange Road streetscape will be devoted to parking, driveways and blank walls. Our Councils couldn’t have envisioned a worse outcome. It is the real-life antithesis of what we espouse in our Master Plan. The hotel and the parking deck are done deals. However, the 300’ long Board of Education streetscape can be easily remediated.
The Township has the parking rights to 78 spaces in the parking deck. Historically, no more than 38 parking permits have been purchased by the BoE for employee parking, leaving us 40 permit spaces. The balance of these permits will likely be purchased, under a long-term agreement with the Parking Utility, by the developer for its private uses. This would be the last, big mistake in the long list of development mistakes.
The Council should immediately work with the Town Manager and the BoE to remediate the BoE’s atrocious surface parking conditions they created. The BoE adds insult to injury by not bothering to maintain this eyesore. That these conditions are condoned for a key property in the Town Center Historic District is not surprising. That the Council will pass on a one-time opportunity to fix them is just an outright shame on them, and us.
The Council must work with the BoE to eliminate the Pre-K surface parking, its two curb cuts, its ugly chain-link fencing. The lost surface parking capacity can be reallocated to the parking deck, using a portion of our excess parking capacity.
The restored open space will complement the building’s education uses, highlight its historic importance, and advance a more attractive Orange Road streetscape. In conjunction with the restoration of the Church Street circle and fountain, Montclair can create an attractive nexus at an important gateway to Montclair Center.
Residents, our Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning Board and the Township Planner need to get behind this and push the Council and the BoE into action. The opportunity goes away once the MC Residences is approved. Time is short.
Frank Rubacky is a resident of Montclair.