MontClairVoyant: Slightly Less of a Nightmare on Elm Street

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Last week, you fantasized about an “Alternate Universe Montclair” with small development rather than the too-big development we keep getting. The Planning Board subsequently approved a slightly downsized 10 Elm Street project. Coincidence?

Sincerely,

Sir N. Dipity

Total coincidence. The PB and developers would even read the back of cereal boxes before reading my column. Did you know that “Trix are for kids”? The young goats at my kitchen table know.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Baa humbug. You mentioned “slightly downsized.” So, not a major change in that overly dense building that will rise in the busy, crowded area near Bloomfield Avenue?

Sincerely,

Never Mind the Bullock (School)

Yes, a minor reduction from 22 to 20 housing units, but it’s something, I guess. If that building’s office space ends up being occupied by an optometrist, only patients with 22/20 vision will be seen.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

That would certainly reduce car and foot traffic. There’s also some good news about the February 17 candidates’ forum as our Board of Education transitions from appointed to elected. Have you heard?

Sincerely,

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the…

Have I heard The Moody Blues song “Have You Heard”? Has the goat herd at my kitchen table heard “Have You Heard”? Or has that herd heard “Have You Herd”? Those are deep questions way above my pay grade.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Does the second piece of good news involve the Montclair NAACP joining the local League of Women Voters in bringing us that upcoming BOE candidates’ forum?

Sincerely,

And Then There Were Two

Yes. Feels more balanced given that the local LWV opposed an elected BOE while the local NAACP’s education committee supported an elected BOE even as that NAACP branch’s executive committee remained neutral. But Trix-munching goats are not neutral about Cheerios.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Are you neutral about Gov. Murphy announcing that masks will no longer be required in New Jersey schools after March 7?

Sincerely,

Nothing to Do with Jo March

I realize COVID’s Omicron variant has passed its peak, and that there are political reasons for the state decision about masks — a word that rhymes with the Trasks in John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” a book title that of course refers to Glen Ridge.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Wait, you’re saying Montclair is Eden? Anyway, individual school districts can continue to require masks. Should ours?

Sincerely,

Cover Story

I wouldn’t mind if a mask mandate remained at least through June in Montclair. Most students might be safe without masks, but COVID can be passed on to adults in and out of schools. And while Montclair is not Eden, there’s gotta be some residents named Adam and Eve — and a snake for unclogging drains.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Did you know that, thanks to masks, my wife and I haven’t caught even one common cold during the past two years?

Sincerely,

Nell Who’s Well

Same with my wife and I. Might explain why we’ve received harassing calls from irate tissue manufacturers.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

In other school-related news, Lunar New Year will now be a district holiday in Montclair thanks to the efforts of the Asian Student Union. A good thing?

Sincerely,

Day Off Is On

Yes! As an aside, the highlight of “East of Eden” is the Asian-American character Lee, who was sadly left out of the novel’s famous 1955 movie version. Fortunately, no one living on Montclair’s Hollywood Avenue had anything to do with that bigoted decision.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Speaking of bigotry, or possible bigotry, a canceled-on-February 10 plan to change the borders of Montclair’s 4th Ward would have basically “gerrymandered” Black voters, according to critics of the plan. Comment?

Sincerely,

Polly Ticks

The proposed 4th Ward revamping was influenced by the recent redrawing of the 10th and 11th congressional districts. Good judgment to cancel the plan — and, yes, “judgment” has one “e,” even though Montclair has two U.S. congresspeople.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

To conclude, would you like to mention that February is Black History Month in Montclair and elsewhere?

Sincerely,

Twenty-Eight-Days Gaze

Every month is Black History Month.

 

 

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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50 COMMENTS

  1. This kind of NIMBYism is incredibly classist and elitist.

    There is no “overdevelopment” problem in Montclair. Far from it. We have stellar access to public transportation into one of the country’s biggest jobs hubs. We have a great school system. We have great downtowns. Yet MontclairVoyant doesn’t think those great things should be available to anyone else. Didn’t move to town from Brooklyn in the 1990s? Sorry, this town just isn’t for you. This is why we have a housing crisis in this country and why it’s unaffordable for anyone who grew up here and doesn’t have a trust fund to stay.

    Upzone the hell out of Bloomfield Ave and every other downtown area in Montclair. Make fourplexes by-right within a half mile of all train stations. Stop locking working class people out of our town.

  2. Thank you for the comment, cjo2015.

    I’m not being “classist and elitist.” For one thing, I’m a Montclair apartment dweller with a modest income. But more importantly, most of the new apartment units in downtown Montclair have high rents (in many cases $3,000-plus a month and in some cases $4,000-plus a month) that people with modest incomes obviously can’t afford. If apartment buildings were being built in Montclair with plenty of units for the non-affluent, and if those buildings weren’t over-sized for their sites, I’d be for them.

  3. This fundamentally misunderstands how housing markets work. You will not make the town any more affordable by stopping new housing construction, even not by stopping construction of $3k/month rental housing. You will, in fact, make the problem worse.

    Even building so-called “luxury” housing — expensive units like the ones you are talking about — makes the housing market more affordable for working class people via what economists call the “filtering effect.”

    Say you win the battle for the soul of Montclair and successfully stop new housing construction. The stock of housing is now fixed in town. Of course, the town doesn’t stop being desirable. People still want to live here for the schools and the lovely commercial areas. Only now you’ve intensified competition for that limited stock of housing. Now, instead of the group of people who want to live here competing for the (say, for instance), 25,000 housing units, they are competing for merely 20,000. Who is more likely to win this bidding war — those with higher or those with lower incomes? The answer is obvious. You have the same number of people (the universe of those wanting to live here) competing for slices of a smaller pie. The losers are the working class who are now even more likely to lose this bidding war.

    Furthermore, some luxury units will be occupied by within-town movers, who will leave their current residencies available on the market. This is where the “filtering effect” becomes most visible. Much of America’s market-rate affordable housing stock comes from units that used to be deemed “luxury” units or were at one point expensive for the average person or household.

    This is the economic case against your NIMBY opposition to growth. There is, however, also a moral case.

    The issue of shutting newcomers out of a town is not fundamentally different than the issue of immigration. You say “no more, the town is nice as it is” just as MAGA types say “no more, the country has issues as it is.” It’s a deeply conservative view. I have my town the way I like it, and I don’t want it to change. But who are you to get to decide that? Many people would benefit economically or socially from moving to this town. They unfortunately don’t have a vote yet. You make that decision for them by stopping new housing construction.

    And why? Over your aesthetic distaste for tall buildings? Some unappealing “oversized” buildings, whatever the heck that means? That’s insane. We make policy for *people.*

    I will end by saying that millions of people around the country with similar complaints — “I don’t oppose housing construction in general, just not near me,” “I don’t oppose housing construction in general, just housing that looks like this,” or “I support affordable housing in general, just not this project!” — are why we are millions of housing units short of where we need to be. This is the typical attitude that created and feeds our housing crisis.

  4. Thank you for the follow-up comment, cjo2015.

    If what you posit would keep/make Montclair more economically diverse, why — with all the new housing being built downtown — is our burg becoming less economically diverse? I’ve been in
    Montclair since 1993, and see the trend. Of course there are multiple reasons for Montclair becoming a more expensive place to live, but new “luxury” apartments are certainly one of them.

    The developers doing all this building have deep pockets, and could build more affordable housing and still make a profit, albeit less profit. If they were truly community-minded.

    As I said in my previous comment, I’m okay with more housing if it’s mostly affordable and not super-dense for the sites. So, a bigger pie, to reference your use of that “dessert.”

    Finally, I disagree with your MAGA comparison and find it wrong and rather gratuitous.

  5. You’re missing a few fundamentals about the local market and ignored NJ is flatline/losing population. Mtc property taxes avg 20k for residential, x-non-apartment bldgs. The avg. pupil cost is also 20k/per student. We have grown 8.6% since 2010. Most in our urban core. We will implement price controls on all rentals. However, you were right about focusing on upzoning, (zoning is the big government brake on free markets) as the big opportunity. The biggest, most expedient, cost effective and more deferential to private property rights is to upzone our R-1 Single Family zones. We are working on deconstructing the R-1s by allowing two principle dwellings per lot and allowing 2- family conversions. This seizes on our inventory of large avg lot sizes utilizing the same infrastructure, converting wasted setback space. As many of our inventory consists of lots deeper than they are wide, the additional density will not be readily apparent from the street/minimal impact to the streetscape. This could double the amount of housing units we built in the last 10 years in half the time. By turning the larger one families into 2-families, we would also further drive down the avg household size…maybe even gain a higher share of childless households so the school cost burden would be more manageable. All the trains and NY bus routes slice right through the residential zones and have a walk to their commuting point of preference.

    I hate to venture into moral arguments, but breaking up the R-1 paradigm would be more egalitarian and in line with our oft stated values to be better.

    As I said, the Township is working on a plan now and is well ahead of both of you.

  6. Thank you for your comment, Frank.

    The possibilities of allowing two principle dwellings on some big lots and conversions of some one-family homes to two-family homes are intriguing. As long as it wasn’t done in a crazy number of cases, the resulting extra housing units were mostly affordable, and there was enough school capacity for the additional students.

  7. Dave, the result of your opposition to new developments in Montclair is not new developments that have more affordable units. It’s fewer units constructed, period. That’s definitively worse! That makes the affordability problem worse. Supply and demand ultimately govern the price of housing just as they govern the price of apples and chairs.

    The construction of any new housing — luxury, affordable, or somewhere in between — makes housing cheaper. This is perhaps unintuitive to some, which is why my fellow progressives have, until recently, tended to oppose market-rate construction of housing in their communities. But the latest cutting-edge empirical research on this very question clearly shows that new development makes rents more affordable for everyone. We need all the housing we can get. There is finally momentum on the national level for progressives embracing YIMBYism (thrilled to have AOC recently convert!). I very much hope this energy comes to Montclair soon. We have too long been an exclusionary community.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/04/theres-no-such-thing-luxury-housing/618548/
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/oplls6utgf7z6ih/Pennington_JMP.pdf?dl=0

    The reasons why Montclair is an expensive place to live are on one level complicated, but actually quite simple. It is incredibly desirable but does not have enough housing units for those who want to live here to do so. The housing market — through the artificial restrictions the town places on new development — is legally barred from responding to this immense demand to live here. In this competition, those with money will win. That’s why the town is becoming less economically diverse, not because of some greedy developers here or there. They are no more or less greedy than in any other town. We just steer the rules — through height and density limits, setbacks, etc — such that luxury units are more viable while affordable units are not. It’s our own fault!

    The fundamental force is (often well-meaning!) progressive-minded people railing against any major change in our town. It’s a fundamentally conservative attitude. That’s why I stick by the MAGA comparison.

    Frank — I hope you’re right! I’m admittedly a radical here (as someone who is constantly reading the latest research in this space, it’s hard not to be). I see no reason why we should not legalize enough housing for the town’s population to double. I love our town and would like to share it with as many people as possible.

  8. cjo2015 – you are completely off base here to what the push back is. No one is trying to stop all development. Just limit bulk and heights in the downtown and our village shopping areas (upper montclair/Watchung) because they are charming and historic commercial districts. Which provides six times more economic revenue returns than non historic downtown commercial areas according to a Rutgers study.

    People come to visit, shop and want to move and bring businesses here precisely because of our charming village like feel. Kill that with lots of new, bulky, too tall ugly construction — and we are like downtown Stamford today, instead of Red Bank and Alexandria VA. Why bother to come to this regional destination.

    So you don’t stop development. You just don’t pour gasoline on the fire, especially with builds that can bring in new kids to the school system which we don’t need to work to encourage. Families will come on their own.

    With that in mind — Frank Rubacky’s POV on allowing the ordinance change to two dwelling units per lot, is also not the direction we should go in. Why must we increase our existing population and housing stock here and suddenly grow at an exponential rate — again likely adding more kids into the schools at $20,000 per pop — which will only add more housing for the least tax beneficial portion of our stock today — more single and two family homes?

    Forget even about the original loss of visual aesthetics and reduction in property value from the more gracious and aesthetic one home lot structure. While a change to two per lot may secondarily produce more overall tax revenue from two homes paying taxes, it will also no doubt produce a net revenue tax loss — from suddenly more kids in the schools. Each family today in a one or two family dwelling generally has 2, sometimes more kids and therefore, MOST 1/2 family homes do not then pay for themselves with assessed tax revenue generated. In short we have enough of those homes here today…especially since one of our master plan goals is to preserve open space.

    If say, you start breaking up the large lots on upper mountain, any families remaining there without kids now will likely see their property value decrease in the short term where the parents are remaining in a huge, oversized home and lot paying like 50-70,000 in taxes without kids who’ve grown up…because now suddenly, their neighbors once large lots are being split into a two home neighborhood. Now, that huge kid empty house — once paying premium high taxes with no kid costs in the schools, will be quickly sold to other developers building two homes per lot — and more kids added — thereby reducing our tax revenue profitability. Do that all over and you end up with educational deficits and loss of revenue to cover them. Remember, we do not have malls on a highway here. The more huge homes without kids — the more pure tax profit generated. To cover all of the kids we already have in the system.

    Being self-labeled the ‘People’s Republic of Montclair’ does not mean that every housing and tax decision we make — for every part of town — must be in service of engineering a socialist, equalitarian community here that ends up chasing out the most wealthy among us.

  9. Hello cjo2015, and welcome to the debate. I was amused by your wonderfully vanilla assertion that, “Many people would benefit economically or socially from moving to this town.” True. And Many people would benefit by moving out. Many people also ought to be given cars rather than having to take the bus to work. Many people should live in four bedroom homes rather than two bedrooms. And what’s your real point? That life is unfair but we can do something about it in Montclair, where every right-thinking person agrees that everyone has a right to live? I say, yes, build right up to the railroad tracks, and over too if you can get the buildings department to grant the permit. Other miracles have happened.

    The impulse at work here is more than just your dismissive accusations of elitism and classism against your fellow Baristanet contributors. One of the reasons lifers are moving out is not just taxes; on the one side, yes, is the reality of the very wealthy moving in, generally adding little in the way of community; and on the other side an emerging cadre of the new moralists who believe Montclair has to be more than just a diverse suburb. Many of us doubt that all the planning and social equity contextualizing will ever change the equation that desirable things come at a higher price. What is most disturbing is the tone on display here, implying that being dubious about your central planning instinct is somehow a moral failing.

  10. There is the a further yin-yang consideration specific to the Progressives. The direction Montclair’s Councils and land use boards pursuit of a residential upzoning strategy actually invests in the the landed class. Of course, political life being what is is, government will intervene in a new way, e.g. rent control. Our redevelopment strategy spikes the market, inviting property speculation, and it feeds on itself until we figure out we should have stayed in NY State all along. Taxpayers reap less than our fair share from the redevelopment, but we steel the public school’s piggy bank to keep taxes & utility fees increases tolerable.

    I know. Montclair can outlaw the law of unintended circumstances!

  11. Thank you, cjo2015, for your follow-up comment.

    I get your point that constructing new housing of any kind — including luxury units — can THEORETICALLY make housing cheaper overall by increasing available units. But the cheaper part of that equation ain’t happening in Montclair. Prices of rentals and other housing here are going up, whether the housing is new or older.

    Actually, Montclair does not put as much restriction on new development as you infer. Several too-big-for-their-site projects have been built, and the town has allowed some buildings to be knocked down to build bigger replacements. And even if developers were given total “carte blanche,” most would still go for the luxury approach because most ARE greedy about maximizing their profits.

    As for your comfort with the population of Montclair DOUBLING, I don’t see how our roads, infrastructure, and schools could handle that. Where would we build 11 more public schools? Or perhaps the 11 existing school buildings could each double their height? Montclair VERY High School. 🙂 Some increase in population — fine. Doubling? Nope.

  12. Thank you for your comment, Martin.

    Great point about how Montclair’s “village” feel, even in its commercial areas, is part of its appeal — and an economic plus, too, because it helps draw shoppers and diners and such. So, if developers are going to build, at least they can be somewhat smaller and more aesthetic about it. For instance, I’m not thrilled about the size of the new building off busy Watchung Plaza (the one with the deli), but at least it’s decent-looking. I realize that being “somewhat smaller and more aesthetic about it” can reduce developers’ precious profits a bit, but those wealthy guys (and they’re mostly guys) would survive somehow. 🙂

  13. Thank you for your comment, Watchungski.

    What you said in your interesting remarks reminds me that with all the talk by some people of “the free market,” “the free market” (in Montclair and elsewhere) is almost always nudged in some ways and is thus not really a 100% “free market.” Usually nudged in favor of moneyed interests, including developers. Montclair has certainly given developers most of what they want, but I’m grateful for the small, occasional nudges that prevent those developers from going completely overboard.

  14. I am not the socialist central planner here. That would be all of you, those who want to use the power of the government to tell people what they can and cannot build on their property. In some cases, for the purposes of keeping out children, it appears. Yikes! The fact that my view is seen as central planning shows just how broken the dialogue over housing and development is in this town. It is you, not me, advocating for central planning here. I want to get out of the way while you want to get up in people’s business.

    I simply want us to limit how often we stop developers from meeting demand.

  15. I will add: I’m the one person in this comments section advocating we *dont* do social engineering. This careful parsing of how many children we should allow into town, how many apartments we should or should not legalize — THATS social engineering.

    I’m the only person advocating that we let people make the choices they want to make. Someone on Watchung wants to turn their house into a fourplex and rent it out? That’s none of my business. I’m not a central planning socialist who’s going to tell them they shouldn’t be allowed to do that. It’s their property. Someone downtown wants to sell their strip of land to a developer to build apartments? Fine by me. I don’t want to get in their way. I’m not a social engineer like you guys.

    Our economic development conversation in this country is so broken. I’m the central planner for wanting to *lift regulations* on construction. Unbelievable!

    This is happening in wealthy community after wealthy communities across America. It’s why we’re increasingly becoming separated between the haves and the have-nots, why poor kids are locked out of the best neighborhoods with the best opportunities. Let’s instead stand by the values we love to claim we hold in this town: openness, inclusiveness, liberalism, and selflessness.

  16. Wow. Lots of passion here. No wonder, Montclair is a great place, there’s a lot to protect regarding quality of life, and maybe more we can do better.

    Which is why Brigattista wonders if cjo2015 wandered in from some other suburb and has us confused. No, let’s let the readers judge.

    cjo2015 writes: “We have too long been an exclusionary community.”

    Gulp!

    Perhaps cjo would like to share with the rest of the class?

  17. Martin,

    Let’s be clear, Montclair is mostly a bunch of capitalists in the Progressive clothing of the period. And don’t confuse that progressive clothing with fashionable. After all, this is still suburbia…even if this reminder rankles the new urbanism crowd.

    I would love to see you compare my suggestion against the well entrenched approach of subdividing properties. The Aubrey Lewis Ct? The Alexander or Victoria Cts? Or 481 & 483 Valley Rd? How a dart and you will find the Lowest Common Denominator approach to costly land utilization.

    I would guess 3 out of 4 Board of Adjustment applications in the last year are for garage & “pool house” upgrades. The pride people are taking in the beautification of their accessory structures just wonderful.

  18. I will add: I’m the one person in this comments section advocating we *dont* do social engineering.

    What is your definition of society?

  19. My apologies, cjo2015. I read you all wrong. I’m going to try another angle.

    Frank asks a good question about social engineering. What is your definition of society? What also is your definition of engineering?

    Let’s say that I accept your premise that doubling the population of Montclair is NOT social engineering, even though doubling the population would require the active hand of market intervention to redefine current housing laws, allowing developers to do something that is not currently allowed, steering development into places where it is currently unimaginable (such as I have a 1/10 acre lot with bad grass that my dog does her business on every morning…not exactly a venue for population growth, but on the other hand we could call it Brigattista Court…now that, I do like!). With all of those “nudges” heading towards population growth (maybe not even doubling, but let’s say let’s get us up to a comfortable 65,000 for arguments sake), why is that not social “engineering”? The invisible hand of the market would clearly not be at work here, would it? And if it’s not the invisible hand, then it is someone’s “hand” that is redefining the essence of a place that all of us are enormously grateful, blessed even (can I say that on Baristanet?) to call home.

    Is it classist, or elitist, or even racist, that we are not having a conversation about doubling the populations of Nutley, or Clifton, or Patterson, say? After all, we are all occupiers of the same Piedmont Physiographic Province, share the same watershed, generally similar topographic traits and depend largely on the same physical infrastructure.

    Granted, cjo2015, you say you are not a “social engineer” but I would be surprised if you’re writing letters to the Nutley Beacon or Passaic Dispatch suggesting they change their housing laws to double their populations. Why do you choose Montclair?

  20. I grew up in Montclair. I’m a product of Montclair public schools. I have seen as, how property values have risen, the town has made a concerted effort to close its doors — or at least severely throttle entry. I simply want to stop that throttling and allow the supply of housing to meet demand. We claim to be a town welcoming of all people — of immigrants, of working class folks, etc — and yet we stymie the market such that these groups increasingly cannot afford to live here.

    Frank — You characterize the town completely wrong. We are not capitalists in progressive clothing. I damn well wish we were! Perhaps then we’d allow the housing market to run its course instead of trying to centrally plan this town. Unfortunately the town is conservative. I’ve got mine, now nothing should change. “I moved from Brooklyn 30 years ago, you were just too slow! Try Clifton.”

    Dave — That increasing housing supply lowers rents and home prices is an empirical fact.

    That rents are continuing to rise in Montclair tells us that we are not increasing supply as rapidly as demand is rising. Rents are still rising, but even small developments mean they will rise *SLOWER* than if those meager developments had not been built. That’s the counterfactual against which to compare our current reality. We see all across the country that housing markets are fundamentally shaped by supply and demand, no matter how NIMBYs here and elsewhere may construe it otherwise.

    Additionally, your “too big for the site” criteria incentivizes luxury developments. You are hamstringing your own affordable housing cause here. When you limit development’s scale, you tilt the financing parameters to be more favorable toward luxury development. Scale makes affordable development more viable. Limit development with huge setbacks, height restrictions, parking requirements, etc. prices out more affordable units. We’ve created rules such that not only do we get little new housing, but that virtually all new housing is expensive. It doesn’t need to be this way.

  21. cjo2015,

    Points noted, but you do realize we will then have to revisit the whole idea of taxation, the public good (e.g. educating other people’s kids who move out the first chance they get), and my favorite – tax exempt properties! What about public parking? The new Midtown Deck cost $30,000/space. Let the property owners provide their own parking at whatever level they feel is appropriate. The town just built 100 brand new parking spaces and told the public parking utility to now discount 70% of them for employees of businesses downtown who don’t pay property taxes. What the Council regrettably ignored is the deck is in a redevelopment zone that is supported with Federal financing – and the Feds prohibit discrimination on such projects. It is also in a State special improvement zone – again another no-no. And two of our Councilors that represent downtown taxpayers, sit on the BID’s board, and did not recuse themselves from the vote to tell a municipal utility to discriminate in favor of their constituents.
    They can’t even plea COVID because they did not sunset the provision. The absolute best part is that these property owners can now use these discounted parking spaces towards variances because they are specific to the parking demand their property’s uses generate. So, they can build better and bigger…getting around these throttling zoning ordinances. And why public parking permits for multi-families? Let them provide their own parking or, even better, none at all. Let everyone live/work/play within biking or walking distance. So, yes, let unfetter the marketplace. And now that the schools are not involved with municipal governance, let’s eliminate parking subsidies and set permit parking rates at market prices for the school employees. Let’s lease out the remaining 38 muni spaces we give the BoE at the Magical Not On Orange Road Parking Deck at market rates on a first come basis.

    You are on to something.

  22. Martin Schwartz: A noble cause, yours, butting heads with cjo2015.

    Class warfare comes to Montclair? Not quite yet, but am I alone in sensing I’m on the morally bankrupt, NIMBYist, “deeply conservative”, “exclusionary community”-ist side of the ledger, versus the noble, “the way things *ought* to be” side when it comes to envisioning Montclair a generation from now?

    When cjo2015 declares, without irony, “(T)he town has made a concerted effort to close its doors — or at least severely throttle entry,” one wonders what ideology’s at work. CJO repeatedly uses “empirical evidence” to suggest proof of cause; fine, let’s offer up some “empirical evidence” to support the above statement.

    When a self-proclaimed progressive like cjo2015 puts out a welcome matt for AOC and offers up bromides like, “Let’s instead stand by the values we love to claim we hold in this town: openness, inclusiveness, liberalism, and selflessness” they generally mean none of those things.

    When a progressive claims, as cjo2015 does above, “we make policy for *people*,” you can bet the *people* will have a very different meaning than what the *people* naively think it means.

    Originally *we* did not want to ratchet up the pressure in this argument, but having re-read cjo2015’s many delicious quotes throughout this thread, maybe *we* (the *people*) need to hear more.

    I once visited New Harmony, Indiana. Wonderful place, with the very best of intentions. Not quite as nice a downtown as Montclair’s, and the restaurant scene never did have the chance to gel, but all in all not a bad place. Until the people who *knew* how it ought to be actually decided how it ought to be.

    Worth a visit, CJO.

  23. I forgot the sequel to parking where Councilor Yacobellis wants to implement 15 min free parking at our premium, on-street public spaces. It will save customers a quarter. Of course, we pay our parking brokers a quarter for each visit which means the first 30 minutes are at taxpayer expense. If they stay longer, they still get to pay the same rate as those that have to park over by the library and walk the 3 blocks back to town. Oh yeah. Brilliant!

  24. And we just spent ¼MM on parking meter upgrades when the parking utility is running a $200,000 deficit. Yup, let the market handle parking going forward.

  25. And while we may be throttling back housing here, we are helping to expand housing in Glen Ridge by subsidizing their fire services… and selling them the water capacity to permit them to build that quite large, new apartment building on Baldwin St. Oh, and then there is the $100k/month we spend on leasing new, bigger ladder trucks that can reach the upper floors of the MC Hotel.

  26. And those parking upgrades are using 4G technology, from our obsolete 2G equipment, while the Council is insisting they have a say in the current 5G technology rollout. We better build back our surplus to replace this technology.

  27. Dave you repeat this line year after year “The developers doing all this building have deep pockets, and could build more affordable housing and still make a profit, albeit less profit. If they were truly community-minded.” With just the tiniest bit of research, you’d see that, no, developers actually can’t/don’t make money on affordable housing. They lose money on every unit they build. In NJ it’s around $200k/unit lost. That’s why the ordinance is written at 20%, not to help out developers but because the other 80% of market rate housing funds the lost money on affordable. cjo2015 is spot on with his comments but I know they fall on deaf ears here.

    Look at the project just approved on Elm Street, designed completely as-of-right and you have board members calling the design a “loophole”. Reduced by two units from the original plan which needed a two spot parking variance. Never mind that Montclair’s own parking requirements are much higher than the ITE standards by design. Never mind the fact that the project is a stone’s throw from Bay Street Train Station. We lost two more units in Montclair because of NIMBYs like Mr. Astor.

    The progressive stance should be that we need more housing and more density around public transportation. Frank’s idea of more multi family zoning is spot on (look at that, we can sometimes agree). ADUs might be more digestible for residents then subdividing lots and you’d have less concerns about school age children.

  28. “Let’s say that I accept your premise that doubling the population of Montclair is NOT social engineering, even though doubling the population would require the active hand of market intervention to redefine current housing laws, allowing developers to do something that is not currently allowed, steering development into places where it is currently unimaginable (such as I have a 1/10 acre lot with bad grass that my dog does her business on every morning…not exactly a venue for population growth, but on the other hand we could call it Brigattista Court…now that, I do like!). With all of those “nudges” heading towards population growth (maybe not even doubling, but let’s say let’s get us up to a comfortable 65,000 for arguments sake), why is that not social “engineering”? The invisible hand of the market would clearly not be at work here, would it? And if it’s not the invisible hand, then it is someone’s “hand” that is redefining the essence of a place that all of us are enormously grateful, blessed even (can I say that on Baristanet?) to call home.”

    Only in a town captured by NIMBYs could the *ending of regulations* be deemed a “market intervention. No, the zoning rules in the first place are market interventions. You are the market interventionist. If the state (government) deems you can only build a single-family home on a parcel of land, that is an intervention in the market. I want that intervention gone (or, at least, more of them gone). In my world, in which the housing stock is allowed to grow rapidly (if the market wants! otherwise it doesn’t have to!), we are closer to a free market than in yours.

    That is why it is your, not my, position that is social engineering. Your position is using the power of the state to determine how many people can live here, what kinds of places they can live in, etc. I don’t want to do that anymore because it’s making the town too expensive. I say “doubling” merely for illustrative purposes. I have no end goal for the population of Montclair (other than that it should be higher). My point is that because there is such demand to live here that if we did, as I want, eliminate restrictions on housing growth, the town would grow quite a bit. That would be fabulous!

    Frank– Agree on parking that we shouldn’t give it away or subsidize it. Charge people for the use of a public resource. Econ 101 (as is my housing position).

  29. Forget ADUs. I am not talking about accessory dwellings. I’m going straight to two principle dwellings and/or two or more households (dwelling unfits) in the principle structure. Remember the goal! More affordable housing…and if possible, without a corresponding increase in school age children 😁

    Technically, ADUs in Montclair can only be inhabited by extended family members and prohibit charging rent. ADUs won’t make a dent in our housing supply. They just potentially irritate single family homeowners. 😂

  30. Thank you, Montclairskier.

    The financial viability is affordable housing vs luxury developments is, fortunately, not an inevitable fact of life! There are things we can do to make affordable housing less expensive to build. Among them: Make as much as possible by-right w/ swift approval, no required parking, no required setbacks, no FAR limits, no density limits, no height limits, etc. Let people build on their property what they want. Even if, by themselves, they remain financially unviable with these steps, we can lessen how much developers lose per unit and raise affordability quotas from, for instance 20/80 to 30/70 if we so choose.

    And yes, any step in the direction of legalizing more housing would be met with enthusiastic approval by me. ADUs are a low-hanging fruit that California legalized statewide a few years back. They also just abolished single-family zoning statewide. We should do that here, too. As close to transit as just about every address in Montclair is, there’s no excuse to have single-family zoning anywhere. You’ve got properties a 5 minute walk from an NJ transit line going into Manhattan where it’s illegal to build even a duplex. This is absolute insanity.

    Very happy to see the YIMBY movement spreading and I hope Montclair catches on soon. It’s definitely a town of smart, well-meaning people, so I’m confident this realignment can happen.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/13/business/economy/housing-crisis-conor-dougherty-golden-gates.html

  31. Monclairskier, here is what I meant by “loopholes”: There were essentially two reasons why the revised Elm Street building didn’t require any variances. First, the clear intent of the requirement for “mixed use” buildings was ground-floor retail, not a very small professional office on the upper floors. But if the building had included ground-floor retail, more parking spaces would have been required, and the plans left no room for them. The building is thus sort of “mixed use,” but not in the way the Council intended. Second, State law gives developers two spaces worth of “credit” for up to five electric car-charging spaces. The developer needed that full credit to make even the reduced-scale plans work within the code.

    Something similar happened with the recently approved 6 Gates Avenue development. Those folks are rehabbing a giant building into lots of new office space but with no new parking, taking advantage of a one-time exemption for redevelopment that the Council never intended to be used in that way (and which, unfortunately too late, the Council now has repealed). So that’s two large developments in a row that, as a Planning Board member, I had essentially no choice but to vote in favor of, even though I have serious concerns about the impact the buildings will have on the immediate neighborhoods and on the Township generally.

    I think the building at 10 Elm, as revised to become smaller, is a good one. It will add some large affordable housing units with excellent amenities. Bloomfield & Elm, however, already is a tough intersection. We have cars making left turns out of the Exxon station onto Elm, which is narrowed by less-than-legal parking by the tire store. And, of course, we have elementary school kids walking to and from Bullock. Adding more cars coming in and out of the lot during school starting and ending hours and making left turns onto Elm isn’t the best idea, in my view. But that’s how the lot is zoned, so that’s what we’ll get. But, yes, we’re getting it because of loopholes.

  32. cjo2015: As you say, “My point is that because there is such demand to live here that if we did, as I want, eliminate restrictions on housing growth, the town would grow quite a bit. That would be fabulous!”

    Understood. An elective course in basic economics can give you that kind of confidence, can’t it? And why is there such demand to live here? (I can’t believe we have to explain this, yet again). Because of an abundance of amenities (none of which are permanent), an economically favored population, a multi-dimensional and diverse population (also with access to those same amenities), a moderately acceptable educational system, albeit one that is still riding on a once-legitimate reputation for excellence (cjo2015, you can attest to that, perhaps?). Although I have to be blunt: a realtor friend recently told me he is now under-selling the Montclair schools as an attraction, not because new buyers are interested only in private schools, but because the public schools are worsening and word is getting around, and I do mean quickly. These are all very fragile characteristics of our town, and these are all the things that cause there to be “such demand to live here.”

    [A digression: This is the strangest part of that observation about the schools: this realtor doesn’t want clients to see that the MPS website broadcasts this headline: “Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Policy” AT THE VERY TOP OF ITS HOMEPAGE; yes, that is what MPS apparently wants people to learn first about our educational system, that we have a Bullying policy…your property taxes at work!]

    Fragility. All these desirable qualities of Montclair point to something the dismal science scores poorly in, and that of course is whether the fragility of a community can ever be scientifically factored into community planning. Conversely, let’s say there is no planning, no “social engineering,” we just let the market decide (which in general I’m for, as long as the amenities I value remain in my possession, yes?). It’s pretty likely the market will alter the nature of Montclair considerably; lots of people bemoan the affectation of farmers’ markets, for instance, as do I, which makes that parking lot doubly desirable for a suburban flat-iron building (density right up close to transportation, who can argue with that?).

    You add: “The progressive stance should be that we need more housing and more density around public transportation.” But why? Why do we need more people? Isn’t that what “more housing” means, correct? What if there are actually 40,000 people who want the housing that will be built for the 20,000? Will prices rise? Of course. Will your subsequent policy mandate be to add housing for 20,000 more? You know you have to account for that second wave of 20,000 just as you accounted for the first 20,000, ON MORAL GROUNDS, otherwise what are you really trying to solve by all this?

    And what if those 20,000 aren’t the “right type” of people? I gather you have a certain profile of the person(s) who should be allowed to live here, those underserved whom Montclair has been ‘excluding’ as you assert. I mean, you do mention several times that the population you want here, and you believe has to have the opportunity to be here, is your ‘working class.’ Nothing wrong with that; I’m born and bred working class, you know. But maybe none of them turn out to be ‘working class?’ Do you plan to have to have a filtering mechanism to ensure the ‘right types’ move here?

    A little more direction may be in order for some of the selfish, NIMBYist, morally bankrupt, socially irresponsible types, like me, who actually love Montclair and don’t want to leave. Yet.

  33. Oh my gosh, Progressives do say the darndest things!

    CJO2015: “Only in a town captured by NIMBY’s” really lays bare the true Progressive soul: condescension, arrogance and bullying.

    CJO2015 has a lot of cajones to say that about a town that voted 88.65% Democratic in 2020. You love to invoke “empirical evidence” for everything, so it’s obvious you believe Montclair’s Dems are primarily NIMBY’s. It’s right there in the numbers! And let’s be blunt: NIMBY’s are very, very bad people. Probably even watch Fox (with the shades closed, of course).

    Perhaps its time for a little intra-party purge.

  34. This is what I love about our Planning Board. On the Elm Street side of Bloomfield Ave the PB gets all verklempt about a 5-story, pedestal building design and laments “the loopholes”. Directly across The Avenue, the PB approved the same 5-story, pedestal building design – only 7x’s more massive…and calls it successful redevelopment.

    As I recall, the other Lackawanna parcel, on the same side as 10 Elm and housing the high density / high volume commercial uses would have two entrances bracketing that corner. On the same route the school children would use to get to Bullock. Granted, one side of the roadway is called Elm St and the other side it is called Grove St, but still! And 10 Elm will pay school taxes, yet Lackawanna will not. So confusing, but addictively entertaining.

  35. And for giggles, your board approved The Vestry’s unactivated first floor and the Montclairion II’s opaque glass bays (another pedestal design). And 194 Bloomfield? Pedestal (still gives me nightmares like I’m drowning). And one of my all-time favorites – 119 Walnut St. Pedestal. You might want to have the board think about consistency. No rush.

  36. brigattista,

    I have absolutely no desire to filter the “right people” who move here. I don’t believe in that concept. I want to make the town accessible to as wide an array of people as possible. That involves making it more affordable to live here.

    I don’t want to mandate new people. I don’t want to mandate a certain amount of new housing. I simply want to *LEGALIZE* it and let the market do as it will.

    Your amenities will be fine. Agglomeration effects will take hold. Added density will allow for a deeper market of non-tradable services (ie local retail, restaurants, etc).

    Upzoning is increasingly the progressive stance because the economic effects of downzoning in a town like Montclair are heavily regressive. Low-income people bear a higher share of this cost, either by paying higher rent and house prices or by being shut out of town entirely. Individual towns across the country (and neighborhoods — see San Francisco) making these same decisions using your same reasoning are why low-income people are paying insane rents just about everywhere. Time to change course.

  37. As you know, Frank, I’m very recently appointed. I’m trying to be consistent, but I can’t address things that happened before my time. Your thoughts, as always, are greatly appreciated.

  38. “CJO2015 has a lot of cajones to say that about a town that voted 88.65% Democratic in 2020.”

    Yes, that’s precisely my point. The progressivism and liberalism are fake if we end up being a town of NIMBYs. We’re liberal on national issues but conservative in our own back yard. No more — let’s be consistent. All should be welcome here. There’s nothing progressive about closing the doors to our town.

  39. cjo2015, all good points and well taken. And actually, I have not advocated ANY solutions. I’m agnostic until proven wrong. I’m just asking questions here.

    One point worth considering; my niece recently moved to San Francisco and reports she got a good apartment at a “fairly” reasonable rent; she says this is not an anomaly, although any options to own are out of the question. Therein lies the issue for many people who find Montclair (and SF) desirable places to settle down and own, not just continue to rent, but it’s absolutely out of the question. Is there actual evidence that home ownership, rather than just rental, becomes more reasonable in the scenario you describe? And more specifically, single family home ownership? Or is that not part of the plan?

    The bias of ownership is pretty clear: it’s a big commitment for most, while renting suits a different type of citizen. I don’t think that’s an objectionable observation. Quiz anyone on my block, for instance, and they will answer they would be uncomfortable to add rental properties amidst the owners. That’s an aside, btw.

  40. Jeff,
    I was responding to the issue you and the body raised. I was responding more to the established members who have institutional knowledge and failed to acknowledge how this application materially deviated from the examples I cited. Too often the board falls back on land use law that “each application is unique and treated on the unique merits, etc.” Even in the middle of a the epic building boom in the C-1 Commercial zone where the same issues are before them. In a word, the Planning Board has become increasingly reactionary – with a dash of myopia when it comes to the considering the surrounding neighborhoods & cumulative impacts.

    I like to give new members a 1 year honeymoon period or through their first redevelopment plan, whichever happens first. I single out members on issues that are specific to them, e.g. recusals.

    I believe by early indications you can bring a fresh, strong perspective and, to the contrary to my above criticism above of the body, will continue to add a voice of consistency and your valuable expertise to coming projects before the board.

  41. cjo2015,

    You continually reference the macro national trends when justifying the state of affairs. To me, they are helpful to an extent, but you don’t cite local data. At all. You grew up & live here, but you speak like an outsider.

    Montclair currently has just over 10% of its rental dwelling units formally regulated as Affordable Housing. My understanding is the 2-tier type distribution closely aligns with the required ratio of 1-BR, 2-BR, and 3BR. There seems anecdotal consensus we need more worker housing – affordable with a small a. I am confident we will have price controls in place within the year. I won’t vote for it unless the administration requires the registration and inspection of all rental units, of all types – regardless of whether they are exempt or not. I have a few other conditions, but this one is not negotiable with me.

  42. Don’t worry folks, to paraphrase Yogi: “Montclair is too crowded, no one goes there anymore.” Problem solved.
    The ironic thing about “affordable housing” is that it makes housing unaffordable for others. Affordable housing comes at cost to other renters and home owners. So, who should get the “affordable” apartments and for how long? Should there be a lottery? Should the lease be limited to a few years so more people have a chance to experience living in Montclair? Why should someone get a subsidized lease in perpetuity? That seems unfair to those on the outside looking in. Or, maybe the most fair solution is to let the free market set the price. I always wanted to live in a mansion on Upper Mountain though I can’t afford it. Do you think the progressives can make that happen? Why not??

  43. The amazing thing about our Affordable Housing efforts is we, as a town, are embarrassed by it. We don’t talk about the people who live in our AH. Not the Council. Not its Housing Commission. Not the Department of Community Affairs. Where is the human scale? It’s all numbers. I relate better to numbers. However, there is a significant and growing portion of our population that don’t. Maybe humanize it like when parents have their young progeny tell skate park stories to the Council?

  44. Bravo, Flipside. I myself would settle for a decent front hall colonial anywhere along Grove; no need for ole’ Brigattista to look down on folks from way up on Upper Mountain. But where will our Progressive friends choose for us to live?

  45. cjo2015 – you have clearly swallowed the Kool Aid of unbridled free market cowboy capitalism, and thus, are seemingly unable to see any other POV because you believe that the invisible hand of the marketplace when left untouched — can always do the job.

    Sometimes the free market does not deliver very well — for example when too much speculation is rampant like here. When that speculation actually begins to displace and chase out too many people who have been living in town for a very long time — for whom the town is supposed to serve — not be more concerned about ensuring maximum, excessive profits for developers, or focused on accommodating desiring newcomers who want to move in after and take the current resident’s place who now can’t afford to stay.

    When that kind of severe market impact and movement occurs very fast and creates too much displacement too quickly — especially going up against a seemingly agreed to community goal of maintaining our racial and economic diversity — then government intervention is warranted and called upon.

    Mr. Adam Smith needs to step aside for bit then and let Mr. Kenneth Galbraith come to the fore, for some additional regulation and limitations to help create market smoothing. And there is nothing wrong with this — to accomplish agreed social goals.

    Sure, too much “social engineering” — or limiting a market too much….and you get negative counter moves. So reasonable balance is the answer.

    Here, it’s passing more height and bulk limitations, not to stop all new builds but to prevent killing the village-like feeling that most people who moved here now want. Also, some rent controls within reason today, maybe for limited periods to slow-up price hikes that are chasing out existing tenants……Also, some more HPC preservation regulations to ensure again, that the neighborhood character of our commercial and residential district are maintained and that free market “design detailing” — letting people build whatever style, using what ever materials they want — does not then hurt those surrounding neighbors. Because when allowed, most builders will go with tacky, cheap builds to capitalize on a suddenly easy selling demand. But this then hurts surrounding neighbors.

    The central debate in the U.S., since the founding of the Republic, has been Hobbs v. Locke. Government rights v. individuals freedoms….and courts and legislators continue to try to find that balance between them, to maintain community and public good.

    Your rigid insistence on letting markets run wild as economic philosophy without controls — as you support above — can ultimately produce monopolies, price fixing, labor strikes and a Mafia like territorial behavior even sometimes over services — as we’ve seen in towns, cities and states throughout our history. So, while I agree that the market is the most efficient mechanism generally to provide goods and services when in full operation – its does occasionally need to tweaked and guided…with government intervention. Intervention which is really the people stepping in as a group to say — Whoa — not Central Committee Planning — when there are indeed excessive swings and unwanted negative short term impacts.

    We all live in neighborhoods and have neighbors now. We do not live 10 miles away from the next house on the prairie. What one person or developer does, impacts others.

  46. Martin,

    We are already dramatically intervening in the market. You literally can’t build anything besides a single-family home in most of Montclair. I can’t think of anything more restrictive than that other than a ban on building anything at all!

    I’m not a rabid free-marketer. I voted for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. All I want is to move in the *direction* of allowing more market-rate housing by-right. Is legalizing fourplexes on every lot in town some radical free market idea? I sure as heck don’t think so. Seven story height limits instead of five (or whatever)? I’m not asking for you to be freaking Milton Friedman here. Let’s stop pretending the market isn’t already heavily, heavily regulated. Of course it is. You’re straw-manning me, not engaging seriously. I hope this wasn’t the attitude you took to the planning board.

  47. I love the idea of four family homes but they just aren’t really possible within the current IBC. New construction over three units requires an elevator and sprinkler system. Both cost prohibitive for a four-family structure. Two principal dwellings per lot would probably help quite a bit. As for ADUs, I think they can work to help the housing issue but you’d have to eliminate the restrictions placed on them by the township. No family requirement and allow rental income. Plenty of carriage houses in town that would work wonderfully for affordable housing.

    Mr. Jacobs: I understand your definition of loophole now better than before when I made my comment. “State law gives developers two spaces worth of “credit” for up to five electric car-charging spaces. The developer needed that full credit to make even the reduced-scale plans work within the code.” So by loophole, you mean, following the current zoning and parking regulations exactly as intended and written. Got it. Can’t believe he got away with it. We appreciate you fighting the good fight to keep those two extra units away from our most convenient train station.

  48. cjo2015,

    It may interest you and others to know that 50% of Montclair’s single & two family properties have changed ownership at least once over the last 10 years. These properties are the vast majority of Montclair’s total, privately owned parcels. Also of interest here is that the number of annul sales has consistently increased about 11% year in/year out over the last 10 years. Again, the data I have doesn’t capture a property turning over more than once.

    I would guesstimate rentals in the remaining zones have turned over at a much higher rate. I would infer a typical vacancy rate, but it seems everyone is saying it is unusually low.

    My previous point on the Township’s 8+% population increase deserves repeating here.

    Accounting for in-town moves, but also the many new dwelling units added that have yet to turnover, it is conservative to say a majority of residents have lived here less than 10 years.

    I offer only two conclusions:

    1. There are a lot less old timers here than people make out are here and who are obstructing change. I would also say this suggests a general lack of historical perspective/understanding.

    2. Our extensive discussions on housing reflects the actual data is not driving the discussion…and probably why people rely so heavily on regional and national statistics. Many are extrapolating anecdotal experiences or just making stuff up.

    Lastly, this data is readily accessible to any within our large cadre of real estate agents…and our Council, and it’s Housing Commission.

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