A Big Change Near Walnut Street Train? All Eyes On Montclair Planning Board Monday Meeting

The former Richie Cecere’s Supper Club space (known back in the day for its big band and dancers), at the corner of Label and Erie Streets, has been vacant for years. Now it’s one of several properties being considered in a possible Label Street redevelopment plan near the Walnut Street train station.

Tonight, the Montclair Planning Board will hold a “Public Hearing on Area in Need of Redevelopment (AINR) Study for Block 3307, Lot 7 and Block 3304, Lot 1.”

The properties identified as Parcel 1 in the study are 2,4,6,8 and 10 Erie Street and 7 Oak Place. All the properties are owned by 34 Label Street Associates.

Excerpt from Label Street study describing properties being proposed for redevelopment.

SaveMontclair is crying foul and writes…

This Monday, April 11 at 7:30 PM our Planning Board is scheduled to review two Walnut Street area land parcels proposed for a designation of “ Area in Need of Redevelopment” or ANR so 3 story zoning restrictions can be officially ignored.

One parcel is half the block between Label and Oak Place including vacant restaurant and second parcel is empty lot on Forest and Oak Place corner. A developer has a plan already in place for an 8 story building. This building would replace the factory building currently housing 16 businesses at older construction rental rates. The proposed building is shown here.

Factory building now operating with 16 businesses.

The ANR designation is meant to provide financial incentives and flexibility to attract development for dilapidated, dangerous or abandoned property which would otherwise be of no interest to developers.

In this case the ANR designation would help a developer’s interests but alter the charm of this successful mixed-use neighborhood as well as add congestion to the adjacent residential streets. If the ANR designation is stopped Monday night by the Planning Board and not recommended this kind of building cannot be built.

Residents need to voice opposition by calling into Monday’s meeting.

The redevelopment study, which was authorized by the Town Council, provides an interesting history of the area and its many changes with a timeline beginning at 1869.

“Our key land use body should look at the site, surrounding area, zoning, infrastructure capacity and make a recommendation about the parameters for what should be possible there and pass that analysis and conclusion back to the Council. That’s at least my reason for supporting a redevelopment study — to get expert guidance,” says Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis. “That said, I’m fine with sharing that my initial reaction to this image was not positive.”

Yacobelis added that the “concept” was first presented to himself, Mayor Sean Spiller and Councilor Robin Schlager at an economic development committee meeting.

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  1. FYI, the scope of this hearing tonight is only to determine if the existing conditions support designation of an Area In Need of Redevelopment. What could be built, and the special zoning overlay created, is determine by the Council in the next phase.
    Simply put, the Planning Board tonight will simply determine if the redevelopment need exists.

  2. The Planning Dept report being used as a basis for the PB decision does wander beyond what the Council asked the PB to review by introducing Transit Village designations as a consideration. A Transit Village is, by definition, a minimum of a mile in diameter and cleary impacting many neighborhoods far from this site. Hopefully, all TV references will be stricken from the final report.

  3. Fun Council fact: The Walnut Street Train Station is unique in that its boundaries encompass 3 of our 4 Wards. Councilors Schlager’s 2nd, Price Abrams’ 3rd, & Cummings’ 4th.

    Fun Zoning Fact: Of the 39 parcels within Zoning Block 3307 (that now has two Areas In Need of Development questions referred by the Council) only 4 parcels are commercial. Two are the issue tonight. The other two are 1-story businesses. The rest of the block is either zoned R-2 (31) or Public (4).

  4. Frank, while what you’re saying is technically true, the houses on Montclair Ave don’t feel like a continuous zoning block to this parcel. Neither do the houses at Chestnut and Forest. Just kind of an odd condition of the zoning map they they were all lumped into the same block. I don’t mind the added density at the train stations. I just think it’s odd to spot zone a single property for that purpose.

  5. Score: Town Planner’s report was rejected as biased and lacking by almost every member of the public that called in and then the Planning Board unanimously agreed and voted down her report recommendation for an ANR there. Telling the Township Council “no.”

    Watching this charade, Councilor Robin Schlager and the town Planner Janice Talley, were actually stepping all over each other in the beginning to minimize any appearance impropriety that the Township and Council were just acting in the interests of the owning developers. Which they clearly were.

    It finally came out after lots of teeth pulling, that one of the owners had come to Mayor Spiller and Councilors Hurlock and Cummings directly who are on the Town Council Finance Committee. And that this then resulted in the Council authorizing a study, whose results could ultimately let the developers bypass existing zoning and preservation laws in order to get more square footage and build up their properties.

    The real question is why?

  6. montclairskier,
    I mentioned it for two reasons. First, directly, because of the 8-story rendering that circulated was so crazy. Second, indirectly, and I think you would appreciate, when do two physical blocks exist within one zoning block? Maybe just a quirk? Or a more plausible reason is that over 100 years, multiple zoning map redraws, multiple surveys, this was never a public street. Erie Lackawanna had a siding directly into the middle of this site from their property. The ghost image is even on Goggle Maps. I believe it was never a public street.

    Forget the development issue. Do apartment tenants know they can park 24/7 on the West side of “Erie St”, between Oak & Label, and they can’t get a parking violation judgement?

  7. The current zoning is sufficient. The big problem is the storm sewer feeder lines around the site. I wouldn’t call it a system or network. It is a hodgepodge of 75-100 yr old piping. The cost to improve this stormwater system around the site is beyond any developer’s capability, except possible the infamous 8-story bill-out. I also think the big reason now to designate the Farmers Market/Erie Park lot is because of the stormwater system. Look at the period of development significance for Walnut Business District. We have not put a dime into it and now have a success story. This means the millions of utility charges will fall to the taxpayers under the radar of redevelopment review. Also, we have been borrowing from the utilities to keep taxes down, so a double whammy.

    Bottom-line is that the Council Finance & Council EDC has to be tamed. They are out of control and totally opaque. And the worst part is they have little financial acumen. They really are bad. The entire Council really needs to reach deep need to find a way to do better.

  8. Thank you Barista.net for keeping the community informed! That was the BEST public comment turnout for a Planning Board Meeting I’ve ever experienced. Nothing personal, but I think that the moderator and person who takes the comments should not be the Planner, Ms. Talley herself as to not put her in the position of possible conflict of interest. Thank you to all who contributed with comments. The chestnut Street neighborhood is a fabulous cool neighborhood thanks to the hard work of so many creative people! its an organic Arts District.

  9. Frank R, I think you’re right about the street. Zoning GIS map shows it as a parcel owned by the Township but not as an actual public street.

  10. I have to correct myself. The Sanborn maps show water lines, not stormwater lines. The issue remains, I just confused my map citations.

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