Montclair Residents Call Out Councilors For Rude Delay; Call For Fair Shared Fire Services Contract

Montclair, NJ – If the Montclair Township council wanted to add insult to injury, they were successful Tuesday night after keep residents waiting almost three hours before allowing public comment. This comes after the council has not implemented the ability for residents to comment remotely as they did for 18 months or more when the pandemic began – even after Montclair residents formally petitioned the council to ask for this ability.

When the Town Council moved to go into executive session, there was a good sized crowd of residents who had made the trip to Claremont Avenue to speak. By the time the council emerged, that crowd had significantly dwindled. Those that remained and came up to the podium called out the decision of the council.

Some commented expressed overall disappointment with the council.

Adriana O’Toole called it a “rude evening” and said that morale in town hall is low and that there’s a lack of attention to seniors. O’Toole questioned who is running things, citing a lot of dissatisfaction in town and also asked why volunteers weren’t being utilized and why many advisory committees had been disbanded.

Eileen Birmingham called for the council to not allow Glen Ridge to pay less money for the shared services fire contract that is up for renewal.

Birmingham cited how Glen Ridge has their water system flushed for free by Montclair, and how over the years, they continue to pay less and less for services and have had debt forgiven while Montclair residents pay more. Birmingham also asked the council not to have Montclair’s Washington Field be part of this deal with Glen Ridge, stating that Montclair children shouldn’t have to have their games rescheduled or moved to a muddy field while Glen Ridge gets to use a turf field.

“Let’s not repeat what happened in 2012,” said Birmingham. She added that Montclair has been generous with this shared service agreement for 10 years and that Glen Ridge thanked the town by announcing they were going to “pit Montclair against Bloomfield” in an effort to get more for less.

Johanna Coxeter asked why Montclair’s master plan calls for a building height limit of four stories, but Montclair’s current zoning allows for six stories in the C1 district.

David Greenbaum raised concerns about how any construction done on south side of Bloomfield Avenue directly blocks the sun, impacting light and temperature of Bloomfield Avenue, the town’s main corridor. He brought photos that showed the darkness that Valley and Bloom created in that area, calling the building a “disaster” that effectively steals the sun. Greenbaum also called for four stories to be the maximum in the town and stepbacks should be considered at least 12 feet.

Kathleen Bennett, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, also urged to keep lower heights on Bloomfield Avenue.

“The Bloomfield Avenue corridor, aside from the new buildings, has a low height, old tangible beauty to it,” said Bennett. “What is the good of putting up more, taller buildings. What are the benefits to residents?”

“The same way that you pass redevelopment plans, you can reduce heights to four stories,” said Martin Schwartz.

Lisanne Renner cited the many, many, many hours spent creating the Montclair master plan and said that four stories should comport with zoning. Renner cited charming downtowns in Westwood and Madison because buildings are not more than four stories.

Jason Gleason, director of Montclair BID, questioned where was the concern about Glenridge Avenue from the Planning Board and the Township when a five and a half story parking deck was allowed on Glenridge Avenue?

Noticeably absent for public comment and the meeting that followed was Councilor Bob Russo who left during executive session and did not return to the meeting.

When asked Wednesday to comment regarding his abrupt exit, Russo sent the following:

“I’m at Park St. Starbucks this AM supporting workers trying to organize a union! Here with Barista leader James Cruz. My priority right now.” — Bob Russo.

During councilors comment at the end of a very long night, Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings apologized to anyone who had been inconvenienced due to the need to meet in executive session and said it was something that could have been handled better.

Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis had this to say Wednesday regarding the lengthy meeting:

“I want to apologize to any member of the public who had to wait or didn’t get the chance to be heard. We had a couple of time sensitive and important matters that needed to be handled in executive session early, and it took much longer than expected to work through them. This was a rare and hopefully one-time occurrence. I think in general, in the future when we have such a packed night, I’d advocate that we start earlier. Voting on important business until nearly midnight isn’t anyone’s dream scenario. There were a lot of questions I withheld in the interest of time and I don’t think that’s ideal either. I’m appreciative of my colleagues who stayed late and did the work to see our full agenda through to the end.”

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10 COMMENTS

  1. I was surprised no one asked the Council to publicly explain why they won’t allow remote public comment. Has any Councilor privately explained their justification to anyone here?

  2. RE: Lackawanna Redevelopment

    What may have been momentarily under appreciated was the resolution contracting for an update of the draft redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza. A redevelopment plan’s purpose is to create a unique set of zoning for a designated site. It is a legalize form of spot zoning.

    A reminder: The Council never adopted the drafted & contentious plan as the property owners filed their plans under existing zoning laws.

    What is interesting to me is that Councilor Schlager let everyone know they, and the public, would get to see an actual 3-D model (a doll house size) in a matter of weeks. The good news is we will see the property owner’s model of what she called a very, very big development.

    The disconcerting news is that the Council’s redevelopment plan will be adopted afterwards…and with appearances it was written to the property owner’s specs. I use property owner instead of designated Redeveloper because the Council hasn’t designated one. Again, it maybe be all legal, but to Councilor Cummings’s big issue on process deficiencies, it seems like a unique process. Not usually a good thing to have constantly changing processes.

    It seems to me to marginalize the role of our Planning Board and a feeling of deja vu (The original Lackawanna plan).

    I’m sure the Council’s Economic Development subcommittee will do the best they can, behind closed doors, but the full Council has to own this. There will no blaming they were not in the loop.

  3. With the above summary, I hope the citizens who waited 90 minutes to share can now connect the dots on the zoning ordinance maintaining 6 stories. My experience is the smart & prudent developers like to have insurance. The Council kept the option for the developer to submit under existing, 6 story zoning. Maybe not as big, but few appreciate this developer, unlike the previous one, seems to have a purchase contract for the bank parcel on the corner. As the BID Director reminded us of our current guardrail to limit heights, “if they can’t park it, they can’t build it”. The reverse is, “if they can park it, they can build it, by right.”

  4. Frank it’s not too late to submit your guess for how many proposed residential units. You love to play the hindsight game, but I’d love to get a forward looking prediction out of you. I think the last time I asked you I said 400.

  5. If we are not playing by The Price Is Right rules, then 384 DU’s, 736 parking spaces, a smidge over 600,000 GFA, a couple of donated Bloomfield Ave County Road Reservations and not a blade of rye, fescue or Kentucky blue grass anywhere.

    Now, let me have your Over/Under guess on how many Planning Board meetings it will take to approve this application. Currently the line is at 5.5 meetings. I’m feeling good about the Under.

  6. montclairskier,

    I think my point was there is only hindsight where the public is concerned when it comes to our Redevelopment projects. Even by the time it gets to those poor souls on the Planning Board. The Council’s architect said the same thing as you. I was practicing hindsight on Seymour Street – even though the hearing was only half complete. Funny enough, my point was about the now infamous West Parcel parking deck access. Oh yeah, that was hindsight 5 years ago. Now the PB is just beginning to understand how they dropped the ball.
    I pointed this out…and the reply was, “So?”

    If you think there is anything available to the public other than hindsight, you are being disappointedly disingenuous.

  7. More hindsight. The Council passes new cell tower zoning on where they can go on the Seymour Street building. The equipment can’t go on the roof. It has to go on the side of the building where it is more visible. No, the utility can’t put it on top of a 7 story building set back 10 or 20 ft. Nope. You know why?

    But, it is OK to put an advertising sign the size of a Cadillac SUV on the roof? On that particular corner. Not 1, 2, or 3 feet above the roof, but 13 ft.

    And by the way, unlike all other redevelopment areas, the taxpayers still own the land underneath this building. It is a publicly owner parcel and if you removed the RA overlay, you would see that nice Montclair blue of a P-Zone. So why is the PB hearing this application?

  8. Neither hindsight or foresight.

    The Montclair Fire Department now runs annually about $3.25MM above what we need for our superior fire service capacity. Servicing Glen Ridge adds 20% to our coverage area, but we charge them the actual increased cost to the MFD of $1MM/year. The MFD remaining, added $2.25MM cost to Montclair tax payers is simply due to a different, pricier model. It is based on fear.
    It is really that simple. Unfortunately, as I have lamented before, Montclair – new guard, old guard, doesn’t matter – is not all that good at numbers.

    I jut don’t understand why residents think this Council is better at numbers then they are. We spent years talking about rent numbers. Did that exhaust everyone? One & done?

  9. I appreciate the precise predictions. I think you’re right at how many units he ends up at but he will start higher and then reduce. As far as planning board meetings I think the line is right one but I’ll take the over. A lot of opinions on this one, public comment alone will push us into several meetings.