Montclair Businesses Struggling With Pandemic Frustrated By Tent Removal Letter

A letter from the Township of Montclair added insult to injury for Montclair business owners who have had to get creative to serve customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The above letter was sent to a number of businesses in Montclair utilizing tents. The letter states that the tents will not be permitted as of November 30 unless the business has a Building Permit and Certificate of Occupancy for the structure.

According to Mayor Sean Spiller, the Township Council and the new COVID-19 Task Force were not aware of the reminder that the Building Department sent out, dated November 18.

“That said, they are now, and are seeing if there are any creative ways to offer assistance to meet the state requirements,” says Spiller.

We asked Jason Gleason, Montclair BID director, if heard from his members about the letter.

“Yes. And we’re working on it,” Gleason said.

Gleason is encouraging businesses to contact the Montclair Building office as soon as possible and is also communicating with the Township, the county, as well as Montclair’s COVID-19 Task Force and the other Montclair business districts to help Montclair businesses navigate this process.

Katya Wowk, Township Communications Director said permits for tents and other structures go through the Montclair Building Office; permits are required by State law and regulated under the NJ Administrative Code and Uniform Construction Code.

“These are long-standing requirements, including the November 30 start date. They were put in place to ensure the safety of the businesses and their patrons,” adds Wowk.

“The township does not have the authority to provide special dispensation to exempt businesses from the permit requirements. That would be illegal,” Wowk says.

“The township’s Building Office employees are sensitive to the conditions our business are facing and they are there to assist applicants in any way appropriate to help them through the permitting process,” Wowk says.

According to the state, any tent that has been in place for more than 180 days, is no longer considered a temporary structure.

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  1. If the issue is that “any tent that has been in place for more than 180 days, is no longer considered a temporary structure” then let these businesses relocate their tents by an inch and give them another 180 days.

  2. This could be one where we assert “HOME RULE” constitutionally. Claim an emergency health and economic crisis for the Township, assert more powers superseding the State and cut through red tape just to help local businesses expedite. Given restaurants a fast, on-site tent inspection from the building department or code office. Something…

    There’s a time for strict, red tape-strict adherence, and a time to move ….given circumstances and low risk — to just help make it happen. Let our people and businesses operate more easily. It’s a judgment call from the top… knowing when to relax what.

    No one from the State is looking over the shoulder here…for paperwork filing on this one. Management just needs to make this one happen asap. Not focus on dotting the i’s.

  3. Gas heaters. Toxic, combustible low melt point materials. Extension cords. Enclosed. One exit. Untrained staff/owners. Restaurant customers.

    Red Tape?

  4. No one is saying we should turn a blind eye Frank. Just that we need to help make this happen. And not squeeze the restaurants with a two week window right before the holidays. Give them like only 8 business days to comply. Bloomfield had a Covid commission operating in the spring. This should have come up two months ago here if we were on the ball and recognized we needed to do what we could to keep our restaurant retailers from going under.

    Commercial rateables are an extremely important source of revenue for the township. They directly reduce the taxes all resident homeowners ultimately pay. They also help keep rents down. If we don’t aid our retail businesses in this time of need — we are just hurting ourselves. A commercial building is taxed based on the rents. So we need municipal creativity and council awareness how serious this situation is. Then react and operate accordingly.

    In the beginning of Covid — cops were still giving double parking tickets for people picking up food. Making it even harder for restaurants to get and keep customers. Not smart policy direction from above. And now, we hit them with this.

  5. Martin,

    I agree there should be open to emergency standards, but they have to come from the State. Montclair has neither the competence, the leadership, nor the sense of urgency to properly implement in a timely manner. The Task Force will be generally ineffectual. I say this with great confidence.

    I totally reject the argument there was not enough. The BID knew it. UMBA, too.

  6. And doing what the task force should have done by now, the Township Manager will hold two group permit education/application sessions in the Erie Street tent. The Mayor, the Deputy Manager, Construction Official, MFD & Code Enforcement (& the Task Force) will all be there. Owners can complete their application, hear the FAQ addressed, see real life examples, suggested best practices, & alternatives. The Construction Official will then schedule each application before they leave. How many tent parcels are there? Maybe 40? Tents over 8 people capacity are prioritized, including re-inspections.

    Bottomline is the commercial property owners knew better. Their business districts knew better. The municipality knew better. What we are not going to do is compromise public safety because people didn’t act on what they knew. That is just going over the line into some really stupid stuff.

    PS: my Erie Street example above was a suggestion. There is no such municipal initiative…and likely won’t be. Just blue-skying.

  7. We’re in full agreement here Frank. Your hypothetical Erie Street expedite town management/Building Dept. interface meeting is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. With the State reps brought in if needed. But one first has to process that we need that local restaurant economic sector to survive and then do everything possible asap to help them. That did not happen here at the top.

    That means proactively thinking about this needed oversight in September. Not waiting last second to squeeze. And not relying on the BID or UMBRA to lead that push to prepare for stepped up oversight. The COVID Commission is late to the table and with no specific mandate. This should have been set up and rolling in the spring. At least starting July 1.

    The town government is here to support and service residents and our businesses. They are not here on behalf of local government.

  8. Sorry to be disagreeable, but the commercial restaurant ratables are a small percentage of our total. If previous recessions are any indication, it would probably enhance the sector long-term by driving down Montclair’s sky-high rents. Last I checked on property assessments, 80% were residential, about 10% was non-profit and 10% was commercial. It gets a little cloudy with mixed-use buildings (residential above commercial).

    Restaurants/food retail is a big percentage of commercial, but relatively small in the aggregate. We have a commercial diversity issue amidst too much retail space in general.

    This is old news. Muni government should not prioritize support for an over penetrated sector. It is bad capitalism.

  9. And further to your point on lack of execution…
    My experience is anything called a ‘Task Force’ and “Advisory’ is slow and unwieldily. Councilor Hurlock will back me up on this.
    Yes, we were all told last Spring to expect a bigger surge around now. So, we wasted a lot of time on some things. But, now we are here. In the 2nd, bigger surge. Most things needed are measured in days & weeks. Who cares what the Task Force figures out by January or February? Advisory? Really? Advisory? Cut a dozen members & keep the half dozen liaisons.

    Not to date myself, but the last government task forces that were extremely effective was the aircraft carrier type after Pearl Harbor. (How that for dating myself? How’s that for using the NYT editing parenthesis?)

    Martin, all funning aside, most of us will get through this and those that don’t will be replaced soon enough.

  10. Martin,

    No doubt you saw the Thanksgiving edition front page of a certain local paper. Clearly, $26MM to bring the air quality up to speed in 12 out of 14 buildings is a lot of money. That debt will kill our AAA rating and seriously cut back on all of our dining out budgets. The best part is that the Board of School Estimate knew this, or worse, wasn’t told this. Does it matter? I’m a little more concerned with who the stating QB is for Chicago on Sunday.

    FWIW, I started to read the consultant’s report and one of the very first paragraphs was this:

    The Charles H. Bullock School was not included in this assessment as it was constructed in 2010 and should have been designed and installed to have code compliant ventilation. All of the equipment at this school is relatively new and should be in good working order. The District should conduct further investigations at this school to ensure all unit are functional and in good working order to provide mechanical ventilation to classrooms and other spaces within the school.”

    Right then and there, I would never hire this consultant again. I am sure once I force myself to read the report my first imopression will be reinforced thrice over.

    So, my question is can we afford to help out businesses? This $26MM is on top of our existing $84MM of school debt (not muni) and the $66MM the other consultant said we also needed to spend, e.g. Watching playing field. This doesn’t included the new Green Program initiative – which, frankly, I have lost track of how many millions that will cost. Basically, the school debt alone will b low past $120MM.

    That is pretty special…and a slight property tax burden. But, we have time to plan this into our household 2021-2031 budgets. Fortunately.

    Now, back to the Bullock School. That certain local paper didn’t do any homework for their articles. If they had, they would have looks at the energy consultant reports. I suspect they are unaware of them. They are probably unaware that….wait for it….wait for it…they didn’t evaluate the Bullock’s school actual energy use. They substituted a Regional average. Pretty special. Did the energy consultants or anyone local look at the SRECs sales revenue from 2016-2020?

    Anyway, Montclair taxpayers are facing a long road ahead of debt increases. Not good news for the restaurants & their tents, but, thankfully, we have the BoSE to make it as painless as possible for the rest of us without tents.

    And Seniors? Bye

  11. And to simplify it further, it is all about the Charles H Bullock School. Whether it is ABA, energy audits, ventilation audits, funding, curriculum, design, etc, etc. CHB is the MPSD’s Red Flag GOAT. That’s simple to remember.

  12. Of course Frank, you remember the controversy whether to build the Charles Bullock School in the first place? Many arguing we should instead do capital upgrades to our existing facilities then since the population growth need being used to push creating the new school to start — was not really a given.

    I argued then that we should instead buy back the Montclair built Deron School on Grove for more space which was sold off years ago, and could have been available for around $6 million at the time — plus say $2 million on upgrades. The current owners said they had to expand or leave. And they asked for a variance to the building code to do so — which easily could have been denied for cause. That was much better than spending $35 million on a new school build, plus what another say $20 million on interest over time? No one listened, or thought it through. The group-think Bullock train was too far down the tracks.

    If we now need to spend more on upgrading that new Bullock facility too — it’s absolute economic foolishness.

  13. Yes, of course I remember. And, as you know, quite a cross-section of Montclair’s COVID-19 Task Force also participated in Montclair’s School Reorganization Task Force 10 years ago. That task force was created to advise what to put in the new, unnamed school. Like this current task force that was created after the COVID-19 arrived, the School Re-org Task Force input was after Bullock had been designed and under construction. Yes, we were building a school we didn’t know how we would use it. Then we underutilized it for 5 years. 5 years. All while we fended off less & less of the many lawsuits. That task force was pretty funny. Good times. Now they are back for more. But, this time they are joined by a lot of smarter people.

    PS: The school cost the State $4.8MM. Our construction costs were about $27MM. Which brings up the whole, decade long SDA financial fiasco…which I was not planning to raise here…but, you went there.

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