MontClairVoyant: Omicron Is an Omelet of Ominousness and Omnipresence

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Your latest thoughts on COVID in Montclair?

Sincerely,

Peter Pandemic

I’m glad our schools didn’t go all-remote, but I do have mixed feelings about the Temporary Hybrid Arrangement Thingy. That’s THAT.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Why the mixed feelings? Isn’t it great for students to have the option to learn in-person or online for a couple weeks during the Omicron surge?

Sincerely,

A Choice, Not Wally Choice

Yes, but teachers don’t have that option. They’re required to be at school (unless they’re sick) and work even harder to teach students who are in two places. Doesn’t leave much time to listen to Lulu sing “To Sir, With Love.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

The late, great Sidney Poitier played a teacher in that film! Anyway, was the Montclair Education Association consulted beforehand about this month’s hybrid plan?

Sincerely,

In the Heat of the Slight

Apparently not. Another insult after school district leaders sued the MEA early last year to try to force teachers back to classrooms before vaccines were widespread. Teachers have refrained from echoing Sally Field by not telling the superintendent: “You dislike us; you really dislike us!”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Additional thoughts on the coronavirus in Montclair?

Sincerely,

One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Glad to see the school district, as noted in a January 12 email from the superintendent, offering more COVID testing tomorrow (January 14) and then Tuesdays and Fridays through February 25. Waiting to see what will happen February 32.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Any other COVID news?

Sincerely,

Virus Goes Viral

Some local businesses that are struggling anew because of Omicron recently complained about town officials not being responsive enough to their needs since COVID began. Among them: Montclair Bread Company, Guerriero Gelato, and Quality Quidditch Supplies.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Leave that fictional “Harry Potter” store out of this! Your reaction to the criticism?

Sincerely,

O. Pinion-Sought

Some town officials have of course been more responsive than others, but perhaps not responsive enough overall. And don’t forget Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Is there a robe for the occasion of overdoing mentions of “Harry Potter” stores?

Sincerely,

Andy Robe-Ustelli

A warm robe would’ve been nice during the bitterly cold days earlier this week. It even dropped to 15 degrees one night, leaving all but 15 degree-holding Montclair State alums bereft of diplomas.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Meanwhile, some Planning Board members at January 10’s PB meeting expressed misgivings about the too-big proposed Elm Street residential/office building in the busy area near Bloomfield Avenue. Surprised?

Sincerely,

Density Tense-ity

Yes, surprised given the PB’s overdevelopment-friendly ways of recent years, but we’ll see if that board ends up mostly caving to the applicant, anyway. The PB has “thrown in the towel” so often that Bed Bath & Beyond launched a special terry-cloth product called “The Montclair.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Bed Bath & Beyond did no such thing.

Sincerely,

Lies About BBB Get an FFF

I blame my mistake on COVID hallucinations — one of which was the vain hope that the school district would seek more input from teachers on pandemic policy.

 

 

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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22 COMMENTS

  1. Dave,

    I am truly verklempt over Montclair’s growth strategies. It is not the extra concentration of housing density in our transit village zone that gives me atrial flutters. Yes, it only took us less than a year to overlay the C-1 Community Area (established to retain an old-time neighborhood commercial feel) with that Transit Oriented Development zone. Yes, we would retain the community feel as we develop the hell out of it. I also remember when the COPE Center, among others, objected to preserving the neighborhood’s character.

    The building heights no longer bother me after the vanity MC hotel. Or when the developer of Valley & Bloom argued for 2 more stories by saying he would make thee building more attractive and use better materials. Nor does the built up & out, still unfinished Not On Orange Road Parking Deck. And Lackawanna East Parcel’s 215,000sf, 5-story (yes, Carmel, 5 stories, 54’high) residences with the 1st floor also dedicated to parking, unanimously approved in 2019 by the very same Planning Board. Yes, the building that uses the same materials Martin, at the same height, the same configuration as the 10 Elm St project – 1/10th the size. The only difference is 10 Elm St is NOT in the C-1Community Area. Oops!

    Next to last is the Planning Board pushback on parking variances requested. Which is pretty funny. The PB, after the Faubourg and 6-8 Gates Av parking debacles, spurred the elimination of the downtown parking exemptions. Developers now had to provide all parking on-site. 10 Elm St did what the PB & Council wanted and is providing 98% of the required parking on-site. In a transit village zone. And added their own private, full size loading zone to service their 22 housing units. 10 Elm’s massing is not the problem.

    My problem, why I am verklempt is….
    Our development strategy is to maximize childless households. We don’t want the high costs from a bunch of new kids flooding our schools. But, let’s say a good, selfless, young Catholic couple wants to move to an apartment downtown and start a family. They are all ready to dump their pet at our shelter to demonstrate their selflessness. Should we tell them thank you for your interest and there is a nice parish over in West Orange or Clifton – and they can keep their pet, too? I feel bad. They are under some considerable pressure from Rome to grow their family. Montclair’s houses are increasingly beyond the means of many young couples. It seemed a simpler time when Ann Landers was around.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Frank.

    Montclair’s downtown apartments might be designed to minimize households with children, but they are still going to have some tenants with children who further crowd schools and increase taxes to pay for education. Plus some tenants who move into the new apartments might later move to single-family homes in Montclair when they have children or more children.

    That said, I have no problem with households with children! I myself have kids who were and are in the Montclair school system. What I have a problem with is the density of the new buildings and how expensive most of their rents are — changing the look and “feel” of Montclair for the worse and sadly making population demographics more affluent and less diverse.

    As for Ann Landers, I met her several times when writing about columnists (and cartoonists) for a magazine. She lived in a Chicago apartment that, unlike The MC hotel, didn’t have a view of Manhattan. 🙂

  3. No need to worry Dave. What you are seeing & feeling is the influx of affluent, childless newcomers driving up Montclair’s population 4.3% in just the last 3 years while the school enrollment is going the other way. We’re building out faster than plan and we should hit out target population of 44,600 by 2030, 5 years faster than projection. We were a positively sleepy 37,669 in 2010.

    (Note to the Self: copy Montclair Environmental Commission; add concern/ use red highlighter -> baseline data collection project and 2030 carbon reduction goals.

    Which also means # of households projected to increase 15.4% will likely happen along the same timeline. Which means 50% of all Montclair households in 2030 will be rental apartments…and quite likely under rent control.

  4. Frank, if school enrollment is going down, it’s at least partly because COVID is causing some families to make other education arrangements. There could eventually be fewer families leaving Montclair’s public schools, but the new rental buildings will still be here — and those buildings will contain some students entering Montclair’s school system. Again, I have no problem with a certain number of new students; I just wish they would be from economically diverse families and from buildings that are not over-sized.

    As for 50% of all Montclair households being rentals by 2030 — quite possible. (Isn’t it 40% or 40%-plus now?) I hope there will be rent control well before then, but, under the current stalled measure, newer buildings are exempt. (Perhaps because of state law?) That may or may not change in the future.

  5. The good news is we will get another liquor license when we reach 42k population. That will net us another $1mm !

  6. Dave,

    Montclair has never been more diverse in its diversity of diversity metrics, diversity data, and diversity of media. What we didn’t get was the clamoring for diversity in who would get rent control protections. Diversity, either way, won’t change the morality we saw on display.

    That ordinance wasn’t about community. That ordinance was simple transaction between select parties with narrow interests.

  7. Frank, I do wish the rent control measure had covered all rentals in Montclair. It was a far-from-perfect, better-than-nothing compromise. And, yes, many measures have political/transactional elements and reasons for being.

  8. I was laughing very hard after reading Paul Krugman’s piece in the NYT on affordable housing in NYC. His approach was to forego rent control, government zoning and regulation and just build more housing to make housing affordable. That’s a fantastic, insightful, bleeding edge opinion. The man is a national treasure.

    In Montclair, we could get rid of our municipal planning staff, the various land use boards, zoning and all other regs. We couldn’t do it all at once, of course. I recommend a simple first step of eliminating the R-1 Single Family Zone. Actually, we would fold the R-1 into the more permissive R-2 Two Family Zone. These former one-families can easily accommodate another family and the environmental benefits would be dramatic. Parking wouldn’t be a problem because we could just formally permit the front yard parking pavements we unofficially allow now. One EV charging station could charge 4 cars instead of two.

    Krugman’s recommendation is eloquent in its simplicity – let the market determine housing levels. I have to come out of the weeds more often and read the NYT every once in awhile.

  9. Frank, new housing is fine (if there’s space and it’s not oversized for the site), but what guarantee would there be in NYC that most of the new housing would be affordable? Certainly hasn’t been the case with the mostly pricey new units in Montclair. Lots of new housing for the affluent is not a major need.

  10. Agree.
    I think he wrote this 1,000 words for the paycheck. How else can I explain his comprehensive solution to affordable housing can be summed up in one sentence…build more housing. I keep saying the Ivy League is overrated, but the Yale Barn at 87 High Street, way back in the day. was amazing!
    I think our last Mayor was a Princeton guy, too.

  11. Speaking of where Yale is located, I suppose Montclair’s recently built pricey rentals can be a New Haven for the affluent…

  12. Very good – I enjoyed that one.

    However, I had a cursory look at the State’s Food Desert map and see the mapmakers included the entire block containing Valley & Bloom, the MC Hotel and its roof top bar, the vacant lot to be the MC Residences, the unfinished Not On Orange Road Parking Deck, the Board of Education and the pre-school. The border artfully runs along the Whole Paycheck parcel.
    The map includes Essex, Erie Nishuane & Glenfield Parks along with he entire MHS sports complex and the ice rink. The Police station, a whole bunch of municipal parking lots & decks also included. Hillside & Immaculate schools. Multiple funeral homes and a bushel of Plofker properties (but not the Georgian Inn). Oh, and about 100, give or take, food establishments.

    I think someone just saw a Rorschach image and saw a food desert. Works for me.

  13. And I have to smile at the fact this map and the Council’s approved cannabis retail & dispensaries map are disturbingly similar in many respects.

  14. Frank, Paul Krugman a national treasure? Please! He prediction about the internet was a dilly. He has made so many bad calls that I am surprised anyone listens to him. Oh, to be an economist and not a trader. If he espousing a free market for good for him. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  15. Ha, Frank! 🙂 I guess it depends on one’s definition of a “food desert.” No mid-priced large supermarket (a la the old Pathmark) in the area you describe, but, yes, a lot of restaurants — many on the somewhat-pricey side.

  16. Flipside,
    I was totally tongue-in-cheek. He is another example of why economists get no respect and the NYT spirals downward. I read the NYT like I read the NYP. I run through the checklist and then I glean what I can.

    Dave,
    Yes, Pathmark. The map suggests a 15,000 Montclairions live in a food desert. We insisted we needed a 65,000sf supermarket. Then every operator said there was no way to support that size. With 15,000 residents we can’t even find an operator to open a 40,000 store. Even Lidl needed to sell home, patio and garden products to do the volume. In the end, the developer will need to ink a ‘70s era anchor tenant agreement to make it feasible. Basically, the anchor pays minimal or no rent. I know, let’s ask Paul Krugman.

  17. Frank, I realize Lackawanna Plaza probably won’t get a really large supermarket, but I hope it gets a decent-size one that’s relatively affordable. And I hope that store pays a fair share of rent.

    Ha — the Paul Krugman quip at the end of your 9:51 pm comment. 🙂 Frank and flipside, I’ve read Krugman for 20 years or so; he’s been right and he’s been wrong, but is certainly as credible as other columnists at the Times and elsewhere. More so than some.

  18. Dave, Credibility of columnists at the Times? That is a pretty low bar.
    “store pays a fair share of rent” What is a fair share? Shouldn’t it be rent controlled? Maybe subsidized by those rich heathens that dine at Faubourg. I would think the last thing you would want to see in this town is a Real Estate free market.

  19. “relatively affordable”? Absolutely not! The requirement is a retailer(s) with a consistent offering of a full assortment of affordable, quality food. And if we don’t get this, then a whole lot of officials and stakeholders will have done us an unconscionable disservice. I’m not joking and I am not optimistic. And if we don’t clearly get this, then we need to hold quite a few people accountable for the development concessions and tax subsidies.

    I recognize Krugman’s name, but really don’t know his work or views. This piece was just plain lazy writing.

  20. Thank you for the comment, flipside.

    I mentioned columnists at the Times “and elsewhere,” not just at the Times. I think some of their columnists are pretty good while others are not so good. You don’t even like any of their conservative columnists (David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and Bret Stephens)?

    As for your rent control reference, I realize you were probably being sarcastic, but rent control is of course more associated with residential apartments than with chain-owned supermarkets. Perhaps some pasta-aisle shoppers could carve out small apartments in boxes of ziti?

  21. Frank, I also prefer “affordable” over “relatively affordable.” Like you, I hesitate to get too optimistic.

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