“Both sides have submitted written arguments regarding the grounds of our suit; next will come oral arguments by counsel in front of a judge. This will take place on Thursday, September 17th. We invite the public — particularly the 200 people who signed onto our cause — to listen in. More details will be forthcoming. I’m confident that by participating, the public will better appreciate their vital role in holding their elected and appointed officials accountable.
As a reminder, the core of our appeal is objecting to the arbitrary and capricious way the Montclair Planning Board approved the project. Among other grounds, we contend the Planning Board arbitrarily limited public comment, and most egregiously did not allow the public to question changes to the plan announced moments before the Planning Board voted on February 11, 2019. At that meeting, the developer identified Lidl for the first time, saying they would take just 29,000 square feet of the planned 47,000 square foot project. No mention was made of how the remaining 18,000 square feet would be used, or how that usage would impact traffic, parking and safety. Remember, the Planning Board granted a variance (shortage) of 400 cars — which would not be necessary with a smaller market. If you’ve ever had trouble parking in downtown Montclair or found traffic frustrating in the vicinity of Bloomfield Avenue, Grove Street, and Glenridge Avenue — or if you simply appreciate that the First Amendment is first for a reason — you might plan to listen in.
The problems with the plan didn’t end with its approval in February 2019. Legally, the most disturbing discovery was finding that the developer’s approved plan seizes the County’s easement on the east side of Grove Street — this is the sloped grassy knolls surrounding the rotunda entrance to the pedestrian tunnel. This came to light as we researched how the pedestrian underpass — used by the public for 35 years — could be privatized simply based on the developer’s claim to it. Those who have followed the Lackawanna application may recall from the public hearings that the original survey map was missing from both the County and the Township; once we finally tracked down a copy of the map, we saw it clearly exposed the County easement. This shows a shocking lack of due-diligence by the Planning Board. The County’s easement needed to be disclosed in the developer’s drawings and discussed during Planning Board hearings. Replacing pervious grass and a County easement with a private concrete structure (154 apartments) is just not right without Planning Board and citizen review.
Traffic safety is literally a matter of life and death. The Township Council voted in April of 2019 to ban left turns into and out of the parking lot on the west side of Grove. This ordinance passed well before the Planning Board memorialized their approval in May of 2019. The new ban on left turns completely upends the developer’s traffic plan for the project. Grove Street is a busy road and it’s no small concern how the hundreds of projected cars will find their way in and out of the site (remember that zoning for the project requires 800 parking spots, yet the approved plan will only have 400 due to the jumbo building plan and the significant parking variance granted by the Planning Board).
These are material issues which will impact the residents of Montclair both today and for years to come. Join the court hearing from your home computer or mobile device to better understand these issues. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you details once we have the call-in number and exact time on September 17.”