Montclair Business Owners Caught Off Guard By Midtown Lot Closure News

When Montclair announced on December 24th that it would be closing the Midtown Parking Lot on January 4, the news, coming on Christmas Eve, was like The Grinch Who Stole Parking for Montclair business owners already struggling with a pandemic and previous parking lot closures.

Craig Cornell of Diamond Cycle, located on Bloomfield Avenue, said the news, in the midst of the holiday season, left him scrambling to get some answers.

“Why are we just finding out about this now and why has no one from the town come to businesses to talk about a plan and find out what we need,” asks Cornell, who says his business has received nothing in writing from the Township.

What Cornell is learning about the Midtown Lot closure has left him very concerned, not only for his ability to do business, but for the safety of his customers, who had previously been able to park in the Midtown Lot or unload bikes in of the store’s three rear spots — spots that will soon be inaccessible, as will the alley way from the lot to Bloomfield Avenue.

A rendering of the proposed Midtown Parking Deck on Glenridge Avenue

“It’s very difficult and dangerous to load and unload bicycles on Bloomfield Avenue. I believe someone is going to get hurt,” says Cornell who also worries that the closure of the parking lot will force customers, including children, to ride their bikes along busy Bloomfield Avenue in order to reach the store.

Cornell also has no idea how the shop will handle bike deliveries to the store.

When Montclair closed parking lots in 2018, it directed residents and businesses to use the Midtown Lot.

Montclair closed the South Fullerton East Lot and South Willow parking lots in 2018 and at that time, offered the Midtown Lot among the alternative parking facilities.

The businesses adjacent to the Midtown lot have spent the last two years across the street from a construction zone — the Seymour Mixed Used Arts District. Now they will be enduring construction behind their businesses for another year. Studio 42, Greenleaf Cafe, Trend Coffee House and Fume Cigar Shop are just some of the businesses affected.

Dr. Liz Houston of Cameron Animal Hospital says those earlier parking lot closures already dealt a blow to the hospital. She was surprised to learn the Midtown Lot would be closing without any other facilities being brought back online to replace the lost parking spots.

“I thought this was a phased project, and that although we had to suffer the closing of South Fullerton and South Willow, we were given the impression that construction on the Midtown Lot would not start until new parking decks opened,” says Houston.

“COVID has thrown every small business everywhere for a loop and to get this on top of it, it has been a really scary couple days,” says Houston.

Houston is especially concerned that people bringing sick pets to the hospital will have to walk a heavy cat in a carrier or try to carry a nervous dog all the way from the YMCA or Crescent Parking lots to her Bloomfield Avenue location.

“I don’t know how the town can make decisions that let developers sit with two empty parking lots and let more small businesses struggle or close,” she said.

Houston wonders why the town could not arrange for parking spots in the new decks, at municipal rates, until the Midtown Lot is completed.

Another concern Bloomfield Avenue businesses have is the handling of garbage and recycling. Without access to the rear of their businesses that face the closed lot, they will have to place garbage and recycling in front on Bloomfield Avenue. They are concerned about the dumpsters becoming an eyesore, blocking the view of stores, creating unpleasant odors, and of course, taking up more parking.

Businesses will be affected by the loss of both rear parking spots and access. Garbage and recycling will be shifted to Bloomfield Avenue.

Cornell would like the Township to consider allowing for one large rear dumpster for all the businesses accessible by a walkway. The walkway could lead from Glenridge Avenue to the alley that provides access to Bloomfield Avenue, allowing pedestrians to access businesses if they park on Forest or Glenridge Avenue outside of the closed lot.

Both Cornell and Houston said they had been in touch with Montclair Center BID Director Jason Gleason and Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis.

“I’m working with the Business Improvement District (BID) and Township leaders to make sure the right individuals for each of the affected businesses are contacted with the information they need to make decisions,” says Yacobellis. “This project has of course been in the works for several years but understandably the immediacy of it results in a lot of real-time concerns and questions. It’s clear to me that our township staff has been weighing every question and scenario to come up with solutions. I would ask residents to give extra consideration to these businesses when deciding where to spend their money, knowing all of the headwinds they’re up against.”

The alley way from Midtown Lot on Glenridge Avenue leading to Bloomfield Avenue will be closed, restricting foot traffic to businesses. Photo: Trend Coffee & Tea House (Facebook)

Dmitri Banjansk, owner of Trend Coffee & Tea House, wants to be optimistic but his primary concern is how this closure will affect foot traffic to his and other neighboring businesses.

“Yes, the parking lot closing will be difficult for us. It will be hard to park and load and unload supplies for the business. And not having the parking lot for our customers will be hard. And having garbage containers in front will look ugly. But when you wrap all these details up, the inconvenience is number two. The number one thing I’m concerned about is that business revenue will suffer,” says Banjansk, adding that the foot traffic from people walking through the alley from the lot to Bloomfield Avenue normally brings a lot of customers to his business.

Having customers not able to park in the lot or walk from Glenridge Avenue through the alley to Bloomfield Avenue and then having parking spots in front taken up by dumpsters, and then adding all of that to dealing with COVID-19 restrictions, says Banjansk, is a lot for any business to handle.

He also wants to know how the Township expected businesses to be ready to completely change their operations by January 4, when they were only notified at the end of December.

“Right now, you know as much as I know and that’s not right. This is a big project and the Township is still working out the details. We should have known at the beginning of the month so we could be ready.”

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I’m guessing neither the Planning Board, the BID, the Township nor the County told you about the elimination of on-street parking on Bloomfield Ave Westbound from S. Willow up to the alley.

    I do appreciate the Diamond Cycle lead with what seems to be a bicycle themed December to remember. They can buy the bicycles, but Montclair has no Complete Streets to ride them on!

  2. And not for nothing, one of the two Council representatives on the BID Board of Directors was Councilor Spiller throughout the approval of the Arts District Project. A project the BID fully endorsed.

    FWIW, the Montclair Parking Utility has 60 spaces in the East & West Parcels available 24/7/365. I truly don’t understand how the onus falls on the Township. Even I knew about this.

    The BID’s lack of a proper project implementation review and poor communication within its membership is not a Township problem. If it is, then you need to open up your meetings and have a whole other level of transparency. Pick a lane people.

    What exactly does a Board do when you have a $100MM development going in? No doubt the BID Board will now propose their own Warp Speed initiative.

  3. I parked in this lot in early December and noticed a large sign on the door to the printing/copying store which read that the entrance would remain closed during the construction of the parking deck. I get that these businesses are struggling and that construction is an inconvenience, but I don’t understand the surprise of these merchants.

  4. I thought this was a business owners lot. When was the last time a permit became available? What I don’t understand is that pretty much every retail bicycle outlet from m NJ to ME has been killing it. Second to drug & alcohol sales. I’d like to understand how Montclair bicycle sales & repairs is suffering.

  5. There is no specific permit for that (now defunct) lot that I know of. A Montclair parking permit allowed you to park in the specified spots. And if you happen to step in it you could find a metered spot. But Frank, have you ever been to Diamond Cycle or brought in a bike for repair or, heaven forbid, bought one and ridden it there? That back area was great for all those things and helped his business survive. He’s going to get hurt by this closure. And how many times have you traversed Glenridge Ave to Bloomfield Ave via the passageway? I’ve done it so many times I can’t count in the 30+ years I’ve been there. I think they could have made accommodations for the businesses and not just closed up everything. Even a temporary walkway would have helped. But that would entail hiring actual engineers that cared an iota about inconveniencing people.

    I hope Craig makes it thru this pandemic / construction project. He’s a very good business person and very helpful to the biking community. Because bicycle sales are second to alcohol (and drug? Really?) sales that doesn’t mean a blow to accessibility will be a minor blip. Maybe stop by and give him a thumbs up as moral support and the other businesses that will suffer because of this.

  6. My parents bought my bicycles from Great Eastern, E.J. Korvettes and then Reidinger’s. I bought 2 bikes from Diamond, my retailer preference. I know the area extremely well. The developer closed the alley with permission from the Township. Silly mistake. Everyone else is using alleys this year. They will correct this just to use the space. Forget the Glenridge access idea.

    And bringing the narrow self-interest crowd to a higher, macro level – what do you think Glenridge Ave will be like with cars now coming from both directions, two double-width curb cuts 200′ apart serving a 314-car parking garage with valet parking across the street? I wouldn’t let my children get anywhere near this “highly designed” area! And did anyone stop to consider what happens when you outsource your engineering department and all the responsibilities that the Planning Board abdicated to our Township engineer? And the BID with your management and turnover. I’m still amazed how they booted this one so badly. And lastly, the BID doesn’t represent the residents of Montclair Center. So, who is speaking for them. Not the BID. Should they be waitlisted behind the business owner needs? Fine with me, but let’s remember that in this town, the R-zone inhabitants carry the tax revenues water. Sometimes w get our priorities all twisted in a bunch. It’s not an either or case, but let’s keep all constituencies in mind while we hash this stuff out.

  7. My New Years resolution was to avoid getting into the weeds. So, I’m constrained in delving into how the 2,500-seat Wellmont Theater is closed, Montclair Center has a 15% vacancy rate, COVID rules allows, what, 25-50% occupancy, Jan-Mar parking demand is the lowest level in any year, much less a COVID year…and the Seymour construction eliminated just 80, yes 80 hourly spaces. But, that is just looking at the forest. So, there seems to be 2 possibilities.

    One is that, in this COVID pandemic, we do have a real parking shortage.
    I don’t see how, but again, not-going-into-the-weeds.

    If somehow true, the clear implication is that when this pandemic has run its course, those 3 parking decks (and their 750 total spaces) will not begin to service the parking needs for the downtown square footage we built.

    Now, 100 of those 750 were to be new 24/7/365 public spaces. 100 spaces above what we had to be legally replaced. Per a Township ordinance. Unfortunately, Planning Board accounting was superficial. Why? Because we lost 33 on-street spaces – 30 on Bloomfield and 3 on S Fullerton. Let’s call S. Willow a wash. So, we will be getting only 70 new public spaces. Think of it as the Planning Board held a 30% sale during its approval. But, everyone – including myself – knew this. It was discussed at length. The PB literally promoted it. Seriously, more than 3 years ago. Now, Cameron Animal Hospital is right about the Certificate of Occupancy clauses for the 2 new parking decks. Someone could sue. Someone should sue. Maybe a Business Improvement District?

    I mentioned two possibilities. The other one is that there is plenty of spaces now and as the peak infection rate recedes and demand increases, the new parking decks will be on line. And yes, if you had read the financial agreement that the Council didn’t publish, you would have known the parking rates were not controlled like Gateway 1. In all fairness, Montclair Center never asked for the answer tot his question.

    You know what is weird? The petition the business owners created. The BID didn’t sign it or support it.

Comments are closed.