MontClairVoyant: Love (Between Town Officials and Developers) Is a Many-Splendored Thing

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Last week, you praised Planning Board member Martin Schwartz for questioning how Montclair officials let Pinnacle outrageously enlarge MC Residences from 18 to 46 units. How would you describe the town’s response to Schwartz?

Sincerely,
Orange Road’s Abodes

Weak. It’s quite fishy how Pinnacle was able to take advantage of a requirements-language “mistake.” The next time Pinnacle and certain town officials are lovey-dovey again, only three words need be said: “Get a room!”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Council Chambers? Anyway, if the town did in fact internally investigate that not-corrected “mistake,” it’s problematic that the findings weren’t made public. And shouldn’t there be an independent probe?

Sincerely,
Mueller Might Be Available

Absolutely. Conducted by someone objective. Someone beyond reproach. Someone trusted by all sides. Someone with no skin in the game. And make the investigation quick so that skinless person doesn’t get an infection.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
When MC Residences rises, it’ll further cram an Orange Road area that already has Pinnacle’s The MC hotel and Valley & Bloom (both “double u”: upscale/ugly) as well as Hillside School, Montclair Community Pre-K, etc. Overdevelopment run amok?

Sincerely,
A Question of Congestion

Parents stuck in nightmare traffic between Hillside and Bloomfield avenues won’t be able to drive 100 feet until their kids turn 90. Mom and Dad will be seat-belted corpses by then, making Orange Road an even bigger draw than Montclair Avenue for Halloween.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
With climate change ever worsening, hopefully today’s kids will have a chance to reach 90. So isn’t it heartening that many Montclair High students will walk out tomorrow, September 20, as part of a global strike on behalf of our threatened planet?

Sincerely,
Earth Shoes

It is. The strike was inspired by Sweden’s admirable teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, who traveled to the U.S. on a solar-powered boat that would’ve slid down the Montclair Art Museum’s proposed water wall if The MC hotel weren’t in the way.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
As the Earth heats up, isn’t there another welcome climate-change gathering scheduled later on the 20th on Church Street?

Sincerely,
Adults Also Advocate Action

Yes. A number of blocks south of Montclair High and thus even warmer.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Switching topics, the September 21-22 weekend will bring the appealing annual art fair to Anderson Park, where one of the booths will offer a benefit-the-park raffle ticket sale coordinated by Lisanne Renner. “Be there or be square”?

Sincerely,
Belle View

For the love of God, leave SpongeBob SquarePants out of this!

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
And on September 15, you saw Studio Playhouse’s “The Receptionist” — which I heard was superbly acted, funny, puzzling, and chilling. Given those adjectives, was the play about the interactions between Montclair officials and Pinnacle?

Sincerely,
Naan Sequitur

No, but many town leaders are way too “receptive” to that developer.

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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36 COMMENTS

  1. “Someone with no skin in the game. And make the investigation quick so that skinless person doesn’t get an infection.”

    I usually point out to people when they use certain icky phrases like “no skin in the game”. I always wonder if calfskin coats count. Do they count more if a designer label? But, I’m going to pass this time as you applied it to humans, not animals….and you made me crack up laughing!

  2. Ha! Thank you, Frank! Glad you enjoyed that line! Then there’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” (Thornton Wilder play). 🙂

  3. On a more serious note, the flawed zoning ordinance for the MC Residences parcels was flawed as a concept…and the concern about the much higher density. Rather than bore you with the details, I’ll just illustrate the underlying goal of what the we originally were shooting for.

    Using Google maps, look up the mixed use bldg @ 194 Bloomfield Ave.
    Then look to the left at adjacent the 2-family house @ 192 Bloomfield Ave. Scroll further left and look at the brick-faced 190 Bloomfield.

    This is, on a smaller scale, roughly illustrates the height and massing relationship between the MC Hotel, what the PB wanted for the adjacent parcels (MC Residences) and the parking deck. If anything, I’m minimizing the problem as #194 should be about 2 floors higher. Do you see anything wrong?

  4. Oh, and I forgot, it also accurately illustrates the building setbacks from the street. Well, not totally. The Planning Board approved easements which would require moving #194 two feet forward onto the sidewalk!

  5. Thank you, Frank! Excellent comparison between 194-to-190 Bloomfield Avenue and the segment of Orange Road after MC Residences is built.

    I just Google-mapped 194 Bloomfield and its neighboring buildings, and see that 194, 192, and 190 are not a good look together. 194 is too bulky and “modern ugly,” and is indeed too close to the sidewalk. The house at 192 seems swallowed up. I’m not totally mentally picturing how The MC hotel, MC Residences, and the parking deck would look in relation to each other, but it’s obvious that that section of Orange Road (when all is completed there) will not look good, will have an uneven “skyline,” and will be too crowded.

  6. Yes, 190-194 is a compact case study that conflates the issues of property rights, zoning powers and the public good. And yes, Orange Road will not look good. Definitely Skin Tight (Ohio Payers).

  7. “…a compact case study that conflates the issues of property rights, zoning powers, and the public good” — well stated, Frank!

    “Skin Tight” — good one! 🙂 Then there’s “Lose This Skin” from The Clash, which also sang “Car Jamming” about a certain traffic-clogged section of Orange Road. Very prescient of that band in 1982…

  8. The Clash was my favorite late-’70s/early-’80s band in my much younger years. “Car Jamming” is of course not about Montclair, but I couldn’t resist…

    (“Lose This Skin” was sung by a rather weird-voiced guest singer who wasn’t a Clash member.)

  9. The parents who “won’t be able to drive 100 feet” could opt for more eco-friendly options than individually driving their kids to school. There’s the bus, for example. If they live within the 1-mile circle, there’s walking or biking. I point this out because not more than a sentence or two AFTER you bemoan this uniquely first-world problem of crowded drop-off car traffic, you pivot immediately to celebrate MHS students’ participation in the global climate strike. But do you know what the younger generation (globally) will be angriest about, when they start looking for the whys and wherefores of the climate catastrophe? Our ruinous commitment to car culture at all levels–even among people who claim to be concerned about the climate crisis! You know what they WON’T be upset about? High-density infill development in communities that border major metropolitan areas.

  10. Thank you for the comment, willjames! Very well said!

    You make an excellent observation about the need for less driving. (My two daughters both took the bus to elementary school except on rare occasions, and I personally walk everywhere I can in Montclair.) But Montclair Community Pre-K is also on Orange Road, and, unless there’s some MCPK busing I’m not aware of, many parents who don’t live in or near that neighborhood have to drive their very young kids there.

    As for all the downtown (over)development making environmental sense in a way, I see your point — to a point. Apartment-living is more eco-friendly than houses (I’m a Montclair apartment dweller myself). But all that downtown cramming does create more polluting traffic, and most people living in those new units are still going to have cars; it’s hard to live in a suburb without one.

    Then there’s also the not-climate-change-related problem of most of the new units (other than the small affordable-housing percentages) being priced only for the affluent.

  11. “it’s hard to live in a suburb without one”

    I guess it wouldn’t surprise you to hear me say, “Exactly. And so, maybe ‘suburbs’–per se–are the problem.”

    People are remarkably adaptable, and places never quite stay the same. Brooklyn Heights was once a ‘suburb’.

  12. “You know what they WON’T be upset about? High-density infill development in communities that border major metropolitan areas.”

    So, this next generation is basically going to rationalize it the same we rationalize pig farming?

    “high-density infill”
    What a great phrase we can use to describe oh so many good things. That’s what you predict for the next generation? That’s evolution?

    Bottomline, I think you are totally right about about the younger generation thinking. They will kick the can down the road. What do you expect? We trained everyone that Smart Growth’s was a win-win. We didn’t tell people it was just a reallocation of the detriment. Scope was same – just rearranging. We still believe that and teach that.

  13. Rationalizing our top-to-bottom prioritization of cars in all discussions of “the public good” is the real-deal version of kicking the can down the road. Nothing else even comes close.

  14. BTW, Smart Growthis dead. It had a good run. The obituaries over the decades will be increasing critical.

    This younger generation just put a fork in it. The SG buzz phrases are being disposed of (having an ageless exemption to their recycling). All hail the new.

  15. Yes, I think most agree with you. Cars are the big issue.

    We will revolutionize transportation. Downsize from cars. Free up more space for people, put them closer together with to live, work, play. Basically, the ‘advanced tribe’ concept with a 19th century industrialization imprint tweaked with 21st century connectivity. Yeah, I’d tell them to work on the cars.

  16. You’re always so opaque in the way you phrase things, Frank. “The younger generation just put a fork in it.” By that, I take it you’re referring to the fact that Millenials and younger are moving to the suburbs, yes? If that’s what you mean, then yes, I’ll grant you that they are doing that. But what does it prove, exactly? To my eye, it’s simply evidence that people are (always) very good at responding to current incentives and realities. But just watch what happens if the incentives radically and abruptly shift. If, just to take one example, the folks who support the Green New Deal (like Dave, presumably, who appears to like AOC and the ‘progressive’ wing of the Democratic Party) really & truly support its stated principles and goals, they’re supporting a radical reorientation of the economy, including making fossil fuels MUCH more expensive to use (by factoring all of their environmental impacts and externalities into their price). That alone will make it very “hard to live in a suburb,” unless the very nature of “the suburbs” evolves. And to return to the original point about the younger people who are moving *to* the suburbs, there are already signs that many of them want to see their communities adapt in response to the unavoidable reality of climate change: https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/02/green-new-deal-greenbelt-suburbs-climate-change/582445/

  17. Thank you for the conversation, willjames and Frank! I was “off the grid” there for a couple of hours.

    Will (or is it James?; not sure of your first name), I hear you when you say suburbs can be an environmental problem and they may need to become more of a suburban/urban hybrid. For the sake of argument, let’s say Montclair needs to morph into that, as is already happening downtown. A big problem is that almost all the new development is “upscale,” other than a small amount of mandated (semi-)affordable housing. If the projects were designed with a better mix of low-, middle-, and higher-income units, I wouldn’t be as against them (even as they bring more traffic, a feeling of crowdedness, new students our schools don’t have much room for, etc.). Partly because of this “higher-end” kind of development, Montclair is becoming less diverse economically and racially, and many residents don’t like it. Most town officials are not pushing back against this “upscale” obsession from developers such as Pinnacle. Sure, “posh” projects are more profitable for developers, but they could still make a decent profit being more socially responsible. Also, even with high-density housing, most Montclair residents are going to need cars unless there is a serious increase in intra-town transportation (shuttles, etc.), but little of that is happening to accompany the higher density. Sure, one can easily get to NYC by mass transit, but what about, say, a parent living near Montclair State who wants to bring her daughter to a night-time school event at Nishuane?

    Frank, I think many of today’s youth are going to live in a more “green” way in the future — partly for reasons of conscience (trying not to make climate change worsen even more catastrophically) and partly because of their economic realities (it’s harder to afford cars and single-family homes in an economy that works very well for the affluent but not so well for middle- and lower-income people, which younger people often are). Another example, a bit out of left field from what we’re discussing: While I don’t know the figures, I think more younger people than older people are vegan or close to vegan — a diet much friendlier to the Earth than a diet with a lot of meat.

  18. Actually, a better example of needing a car than “a parent living near Montclair State who wants to bring her daughter to a night-time school event at Nishuane” would be a parent living in one of the new downtown apartments — say, a future Lackawanna Plaza unit — who wants to bring her daughter to a night-time school event at Bradford.

  19. @willjames,

    No, not my meaning. They will be the ones that will discard it.

    Targeted high density is not working to save the planet. The signs are there. Congestion pricing is a tax on targeted density! Basically, the government’s targeted density strategy has morphed from subsidies & givebacks to treating as a luxury/vice. We have to enact rent control not because we our conserving, but because we are optimizing increasingly higher consumption!

    Smart Growth has expedited the rate of environmental damage to the planet. All I have to do is point to the science.

    Lastly, Montclair talks a good game. I also say something worth doings worth measuring. When was the last time Montclair measured anything about environment or sustainability. We’ll strut around about how the world has to change. I guess we can address Montclair another time.

  20. Needing (access to) a car isn’t the point. There’s almost no chance that single-passenger, unique-route vehicles will go away. As Frank mentions above, there are any number of ways that the needs currently satisfied by individually owned cars will be met. The thing that will happen, however, is that (for lack of a better term) “car-miles” will be RADICALLY more expensive in the near future if the progressive agenda is enacted (which anyone who claims to believe that climate change is a crisis should want to see happen). And when that happens, we will ALL respond to that (dis)incentive by curtailing the number of car-miles we travel. Communities that are built to make people’s adjustments to this new reality (of super-expensive car-miles) as painless as possible will thrive, and those that aren’t won’t.

  21. Yes, I also see anecdotal evidence more people are embracing non-meat choices.

    I also see anecdotal evidence of a serious increase in intra-town transportation private ridership.

    I see a MC Residences with studio units the same size as Vally & Bloom, but all the other units average 25% bigger.

    I guess we will see how this all shake out in the end.

  22. I am one who supports a Green New Deal. A big reason is we need to face a major reconciliation with growth.

    The common world belief is that 2% GNP growth is generally a acceptable rate of growth. The problem is the planet is not aligned with this. So, we end up with movies like Logan’s Run. 🙂

  23. True, Frank, that government can be all over the map in terms of encouraging or discouraging what helps the planet.

    As for cars, the future need for them could be handled at least partly in innovative ways — car-sharing, rentals, etc. If “car miles” have to be more expensive to slow climate change, willjames, so be it — as long as there are measures to ease the fiscal pain for lower-income people (such as subsidies), much better/perhaps government-subsidized mass transit, and so on. However it happens, fewer “car miles” would be a good thing.

    I think a “Green New Deal,” or something like it, is a necessity.

  24. Logan’s Run: a blast from the past!

    Yes, re: growth and its incompatibility with current climate realities. But in acknowledging that, we’re clearly admitting, you and I—even if our politicians and our earnest but perhaps not properly pessimistic neighbors won’t admit it—that the strategies that might help us avoid the worst effects of the climate catastrophe would very likely trigger a worldwide economic depression, with all the consequences that follow from such things.

    Scylla, Charybdis.

  25. The first New Deal came to the rescue of our society at the environment’s expense. The second new deal will likely do the reverse.

    Another Greatest Generation?

  26. Without sarcasm or irony, Frank: that is a profound, clear-eyed, & succinct summary of the situation.

    I hope they don’t hate us for the great sacrifices that will be asked of them, but who would blame them?

  27. I’m not convinced that fighting climate change — fighting it hard — will trigger a worldwide depression. For one thing, increased alternate energy development could be an economic driver. But if there’s a risk of a worldwide depression, isn’t that better than an eventual devastated Earth reminiscent of the one visited at the end of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”?

  28. I mean, sure, maybe. But the last Great Depression of similar scale caused underlying geopolitical tensions to explode into the utter destruction of human life that was World War II, so…

  29. You’re right that The Great Depression did indeed have some bearing on World War II starting, but Hitler and his Nazi ilk were already stirring in Germany before the 1929 stock-market crash. There was also German resentment of the harsh Treaty of Versailles soon after The Great War (World War I) ended and other WWII-causing factors in addition to the Depression.

  30. Dave, May I suggest you put Modern Times by Paul Johnson on your books to read list. Mr Johnson is a bit of a crusty old liberal turned conservative but he is brilliant. It is a lengthy read especially if you insist on fact checking but well worth it. I worked for a very smart kind successful man years ago and he gave a copy to every new hire with a note, “required reading.”

  31. Thank you very much for the book recommendation, flipside! “Modern Times” sounds well worth reading. (I just googled it.) But as a weekly literature blogger, I spend all my book-reading hours with (lots of) novels. I just don’t have time for an 882-page nonfiction book. But I also read many news stories and opinion pieces, including content from outlets as conservative as Paul Johnson’s book sounds. So I keep up with viewpoints from both sides of the ideological divide.

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