MontClairVoyant: Developers Can Go Too Far with an ANR

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Developers often want to overdevelop and gentrify sites — because, you know, maximizing profits. It’s especially annoying when they seek not-merited Area in Need of Redevelopment (ANR) status, right?

Sincerely,

Swarming and Harming

Right, because that offers developers the potential of undeserved tax abatements, undeserved zoning changes, and undeserved free maintenance on their vintage Barbie toy cars.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Hmm…that third perk sounds a bit suspect. Anyway, the latest ANR seeker was apparently the owner of two properties near the Walnut Street train station. Comment?

Sincerely,

Much to Choo-Choo On

There was even talk that an eight-story building was envisioned there not so long ago; a rendering of it was recently posted on social media by former Planning Board member Martin Schwartz, who, like many others, opposes building that high in our town. Yes, eight stories is too tall for Montclair, and visible from Manhattan — if Manhattan were relocated to Grove Street.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Ah, like the Crane House’s 1965 move from Glenridge Avenue to Orange Road. The attorney representing the developer in this case did deny that an eight-story building was currently being proposed.

Sincerely,

Eight Is (More Than) Enough

The first Jack Reacher novel was “Killing Floor” rather than “A Chilling Eight Floors,” but the latest Reacher book “Better Off Dead” has a fitting title for any proposed mini-skyscraper in Montclair.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Anyway, the Planning Board — like Montclair’s too-developer-friendly Township Planner — is often okay with giving developers much of what they want but…

Sincerely,

Frasier Crane

…not this time. Spurred by impressive public outcry before and at the board’s April 11 remote meeting, PB members unanimously balked at the ANR request. No umpires were there to call the balk, but some chickens in Montclair’s backyard coops went “balk-balk-balk.”


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Words that translate to those Walnut Street-area parcels not appropriate for an ANR designation?

Sincerely,

Nay Is the Way

Yes, not appropriate. The general Walnut area is a vibrant, interesting neighborhood that emerged in a mostly organic way — with industrial architecture, businesses, housing, and more sharing a nice ambience ranging from scruffy to affluent, aka “scraffluent.”


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Did you just make up that word?

Sincerely,

Language Not Languishing

I did, but it’s not accepted yet. When I tried to use it during a Scrabble game my opponent smacked me on the head with the board and all the letters went flying, which upset Montclair’s mail carriers.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Did you imagine that Scrabble game incident?

Sincerely,

Hal Lucination

I also like to imagine that if developers overbuild in Montclair, they should do it only on the properties of their personal homes. THEN we’ll see how they like congestion, even as they’d be banned from buying decongestants at CVS.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Let’s say developers did overbuild on their own personal properties. Wouldn’t that be unfair to their crestfallen neighbors?

Sincerely,

Abhor, Next Door

I knew Jack Crestfallen. Jack Crestfallen was a friend of mine. You’re no Jack Crestfallen.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

A 1988 vice-presidential debate reference? Whatever. Now that the Planning Board has spoken, can the Township Council — which bumped this matter to the PB after reportedly being approached by the developer — still do the ANR thing?

Sincerely,

TC or Not TC

Apparently. But if it did so, the Council Chambers should become an Area in Need of Redevelopment.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

The attorney representing the developer in this case has also represented (lucratively and often successfully) various other clients seeking to overbuild in Montclair. How do people who do stuff like that sleep at night?

Sincerely,

Wide World of Torts

I think most people sleep horizontally. Fight me if I’m wrong.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Cool your jets. Anyway, can the owner of the properties near the Walnut Street train station still end up getting a lot of what he wants without the ANR designation?

Sincerely,

Back to the Future Shock

Certainly possible. After all, developers have fared quite well in Montclair, even though the community-minded part of some of their brains is an Area in Need of Redevelopment.

 

 

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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13 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, Dave Astor, glad you mentioned that I opposed the potential 8-story build there but to be fully accurate — it was because I thought it just wasn’t quite tall enough. The Township Planner had originally proposed 7 -12 stories in most of our train station area lots previously. This one was only potentially 8 stories.

    Shouldn’t we really follow her thinking and support the Councilors driving it, since this “let’s overbuild, kill open space, take down historic asset mindset” she advocates — fits in perfectly with what most Montclair residents want?
    In fact, shame on anyone today who might want to counter this planning perspective, since it was fully exposed in her early 2015 Master Plan drafts. First document drafts which not only pushed huge, transit oriented development at all train stations and in other locations all around town, but at Walnut Street, even advocated multi-story development in the green parks and open ballfields there.

    Why would anyone oppose this? And to think, the attorney for one of the lot owners involved suggested that I was personally running a propaganda, fear campaign for exposing that 8-story rendering on social media, just because it wasn’t tall enough? A rendering floating around the real estate community for weeks and from which the Mayor and Councilor Bill Hurlock reportedly saw, then got the whole Council to approve ANR studies at this site. Which would have allowed multi-story construction there afterward. Once the two buildings at issue were likely knocked down.

    I was actually personally hurt by Attorney Trembulak’s comments at the hearing, criticizing me, just because I thought the rendering wasn’t quite big enough. Because it wasn’t enough overdevelopment there. He actually insulted me over this. Can you believe it?… 🙂

  2. Thank you for the comment, Martin. Ha — very deadpan! 😂

    Yes, compared to Manhattan, an eight-story building in the Walnut Street area is small potatoes. Besides, there might already be small potatoes at the Farmers’ Market… 🙂

  3. You know what sucks? The lack of any historic preservation conversation of this group of blocks. And what Save Montclair said on the matter is pitiful Martin.

    After Lackawanna Plaza, I think private property owners should be able to do what they want regarding historic preservation. Historic Preservation as a public policy should be limited to public education and property owner support.

    So, let Mr Silver tear the building down. We can go to the library or view historic photos online. Oh, yeah, online learning seams to have its limitations. Well, that is what we are asking for.

    I applauded the public speakers who live/work around there at last week’s Planning Board meeting. They didn’t speak to historic preservation because they don’t know our history of this neighborhood. They just know what they have lived or heard. Too bad.

    I could argue this neighborhood is more significant in showcasing the evolution of Montclair than Lackawanna Plaza. Lackawanna Plaza was a railroad terminus. Walnut Street was a woven fabric of work/live/play – with a railroad… and a waterway. Unlike Lackawanna, it had multiple, overlapping periods of significance. The public speakers only spoke of the most recent one. Again, too bad.

    For most people, this is only their town in present circumstances. How the town came to be or what it will become most will not care.

    But, if one wants to understand our town’s character, one should to make an effort to learn some People & Place precedents. Otherwise, let’s drop the whole township character shtick.

  4. Thank you for the comment, Frank.

    From what I’ve read, at least one of the buildings being discussed has some thriving offices in them. So there’s that — in addition to the buildings being sort of historic in an industrial sense.

    Also, the owner can attempt to get approval from the Planning Board to do what he wants with his properties, but asking for an “Area in Need of Redevelopment” designation is not merited and doesn’t seem fair.

  5. Yes, it is unfair and it is just the Council being uninformed & acting stupid. I know there part-time, but they do need to try harder.

    What I don’t understand is how the 14,500 sf elevator building on the corner is still empty. Way before it more than quadrupled in size, it housed The Peace Center offices and those of SANE Montclair. Yes, the Committee for Sane Nuclear Policy.

    The best part is the property owner may just get a Preservation Award from the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission next month. Which would be totally consistent with our other land boards….guided by the fact each property is unique. So what an owner does with one is separate from what they do with another holding. Of course, they are also all unique limited liability corporations.

  6. Dave,
    Thank you for your 2pm comment. I just want to correct your understanding.

    First, the PB was asked for their opinion and it is not binding on the Council. What can be built, as of right, is determined by either the Council’s Redevelopment Plan…or, the less likely scenario where the developer foregoes the Plan offered and develops under existing zoning.

    Second, the buildings are historic in that they are old. Historic Preservation is simply a point-in-time determination of what we want to preserve for the future…and apply our statutory rules how that is done. Sort of historic is not a criterion. It is what the Council calls Historicism where Historicism decisions are delegated to the developer…which is my position now.

    Just for some fun history, the site housed a military ordnance factory during WWII that produced bond fuses and tail assemblies first for the British and the fir our Army & Navy.

  7. Bomb fuses, not bond fuses. Of course, with the way we bond, it may still be an accurate description.

  8. Thank you for the comments, Frank.

    I obviously don’t know all the details of the landowner approaching the Township Council (in a kind of under-the-radar way?) to seek an “Area in Need of Redevelopment” designation for his properties. But it strikes me as entitled, or something — trying to play by different rules than the average property owner. The TC did indeed then throw the matter to the Planning Board, and the PB and people associated with it spent many hours wasting time studying the parcels in question. If the Township Council ends up ignoring the unanimous PB vote against an ANR, bad on the TC.

    I’m not saying the properties are super-historic, but they do have a nice old vibe.

    Again, if the landowner wants to do something with his properties, he can approach the PB without the ANR designation. Given the PB’s usual history, there’s a good chance the landowner would get much of what he wants.

  9. In defense of the developers and speculators, we did put half a welcome shingle back in 2006 and never took it down. I think we even enlarged after Gateway 1 (Valley & Bloom, et al). The average property owner can’t afford the attorneys required.

    Who doesn’t love Walnut Street? I put more stock in the PB doing right than the Council.
    We’ll see.

  10. Very true, Frank, that Montclair has been mostly welcoming to developers in recent years — and various developers have taken, or attempted to take, full advantage. 🙁

    As for putting more stock in the Planning Board doing right than the Township Council doing right when it comes to (over)development in general…um…that’s a tough choice. 🙂 But the PB has certainly acquitted itself better on the Walnut Street parcels, so far.

  11. Re my above comment at 6:36 am, I should clarify that a number of Montclair OFFICIALS have been welcoming to developers and overdevelopment in recent years. Many Montclair residents feel otherwise.

  12. Dave,

    Thought you and a few others may be interested in the following links.

    In the first one, pay particular attention to the last paragraph and the interpretation of this obscure painter’s work. Maybe we should tell the Minneapolis Museum of Art that our Council wants to demolish the remaining buildings.

    In the second, it shows Samuel Crump’s equally prominent house on Highland Ave, directly below Kip’s Castle on the ridge line. Interesting is that it shows the former home of Mr Silver who is the current owner of site being considered as an ANR. It is the largest house of the grouping of 4 just down the hill, Southeastly, from the Crump home.

    https://www.ephemerasociety.org/labels-by-crump/

    http://www.digifind-it.com/montclair/pages/P2493.php?zoom_highlight=P2493

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