MontClairVoyant: The Blight of Too Much Height

MontClairVoyant

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

The Planning Board wants four-story limits on future Bloomfield Avenue buildings but the Township Council might be okay with some additional higher structures. Is that your understanding of recent PB and TC stances?

Sincerely,

Story About Stories

Yup. Apparently, the PB wants heights to align with our town’s Master Plan while some TC members favor a Doctorate Plan, which involves a PhD in Tallness.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

But don’t existing too-tall buildings — The MC hotel, Valley & Bloom, etc. — already negatively create plenty of “canyon effect”?

Sincerely,

Al Titude

Maybe the Council hopes the Mets or Yankees win the World Series and have their “canyon of heroes” parade in Montclair rather than Manhattan, with ticker tape created from shredding local officials’ love letters to developers.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Can higher buildings be palatable if upper floors have setbacks?

Sincerely,

Lipstick on a Big

That helps somewhat, but tall is tall. And if the Mets and Yankees have too many setbacks, neither will reach the World Series.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Any other potential complications?

Sincerely,

Edgar Allan Potential

Yankees star Aaron Judge is 6’7″ without setbacks, creating a “canyon effect” whether or not his team grabs its first championship since 2009.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

I’d rather the Council concentrate for a while on ending its longtime agreement to provide firefighting services to Glen Ridge, which is greatly underpaying for that.

Sincerely,

The Art of the Bad Deal

Underpaying indeed — and that affluent neighboring borough now has the gall to pit Montclair against Bloomfield to try to renew those services at the cheapest possible price. Besides, how fast can fire trucks get from Bloomfield, Michigan, to Glen Ridge anyway?


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

It’s Bloomfield, New Jersey, you idiot. Meanwhile, the Apollo 11 jacket worn by Montclair-raised astronaut Buzz Aldrin was auctioned July 26 for a whopping $2.77 million! Who purchased it?

Sincerely,

Clothes Make the Man on the Moon

Don’t know (the winning bidder was anonymous), but there’s a rumor that Glen Ridge offered 2.77 cents.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

In other news, the public pre-kindergarten option gone from Montclair since the 1990s might return in a few years due to a statewide initiative. Sound good?

Sincerely,

Future to the Back

Very good. Kids can learn a lot in pre-K — including post-K letters such as L, M, N, O, P, Q…


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Okay, okay — we get the feeble joke. Does your family have any direct experience with public pre-K in Montclair?

Sincerely,

Class-y Question

My older daughter was an Edgemont pre-K student in 1993-94. That was a time when the 2004-founded Facebook had zero users, which somewhat limited the sharing of posts.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

Were there also fewer towering buildings on Bloomfield Avenue back then?

Sincerely,

The Towering Eternal

Definitely. When a time-traveling developer from 2022 walked into the now-gone Crazy Rhythms record store in the 1990s to demand “Eight Miles High,” he was told Montclair structures that tall were not allowed.


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

What would happen if that same developer typed in “Eight Miles High” on YouTube this year?

Sincerely,

For the Byrds

Some accommodating Township Council members would eagerly ask, “Where on Bloomfield Avenue would you like that 42,240-foot-tall skyscraper?”


DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,

What if the developer sought a variance to not include elevators in that colossal building?

Sincerely,

Up Button Deficit

The stairwell could double as a fitness center.

 

 

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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34 COMMENTS

  1. Just to clarify, it is hundreds of citizens of Montclair, who participated in developing the Master Plan, that want 4 stories on Bloomfield Avenue; it is not just the unanimous view of the Planning Board. Why 5 Councilors think that they have the mandate to override this overwhelming support for this ordinance just stuns me! I just wonder what is going on behind the scenes at the Council.

  2. Thank you for your comment, minorchord! That’s a great point about many citizens being involved in crafting the Master Plan — and that many citizens (probably the vast majority) want four-story height limits. Majority sentiment against overdevelopment is something I’ve mentioned in many columns, but neglected to mention in this week’s column. I should have.

    Yes, it’s annoying and wrong of the Township Council to go against this sentiment and support the possibility of additional taller buildings. (The Planning Board has also been guilty of supporting overdevelopment in the past but has suddenly become more vigilant against that lately, at least temporarily; very welcome. πŸ™‚ ) Not sure exactly what’s behind the current attitude of the majority of the Council except perhaps the usual favoring of developers — including maybe the desire to leave things open for the Lackawanna Plaza redeveloper to have higher buildings.

  3. I think you both are mistaken in that the majority of residents support the current zoning. Most of the stakeholder groups support 6-story or even higher buildings. The Council & Planning Board did some appeasing via a scalpel (:) because there are two Redevelopment Areas fronting on Portland Place awaiting plans.

    The Council and Planning Board both know the C-1 Central Business Zone has a C-1 Community Zone overlay…created to retain (not preserve) the character of this 4th Ward section of Bloomfield Ave below Elm St. I didn’t see anyone stand up and say, “whadda say we at least drop the heights to 4 stories in the C-1 Community! Zone?” Not even was it a discussion anywhere along the way.

    Those “heady days” of the 201-2015 Master Plan discussion and debate are long gone. The Forest Street outlaws have long moved out or moved on and the Cloverhill Gang so inadequate.

    Climate change initiatives will never gain traction here because we are too busy building, adding all this density, and impervious pool houses, assorted courts & bbq pits because we tell ourselves we are creating open space somewhere else. Yes, we build like we do on the side of a steep, not quite a mountain slope and the increasing runoff is caused by… climate change?

    The bears & deer are foregoing all these open spaces we are creating because we have open garbage cans in Essex County. Now we are justifying building these new heights for equality! We must drive up Montclair’s supply of housing to make housing Affordable & affordable. And the Planning Board will get itself in a knot over 6-10 Elm St massing and across the street, the will sanction the plan for Lackawanna Plaza. No, the Planning Board members were too lazy to make a decent case and the Council swatted down the childish case they did make.

  4. Thank you for the comment, Frank. I very much doubt that the majority of Montclair residents support more six-story (or higher) buildings on Bloomfield Avenue. And driving up Montclair’s supply of housing is not likely to create a lot of new affordable housing when developers build mostly upscale units. Sure, there’s a chance that a greater supply of housing might create market forces that would lower some rents a bit (or make them rise a bit more slowly), but only a chance. It’s more likely that additional upscale housing will attract more new residents who can afford it.

    Re climate change, I do agree that Montclair is an interesting mix of being environmentally conscious yet also doing some things that are not great for the environment. Also including too many gas-guzzling SUVs.

  5. And I was thinking of you when I went out for my constitutional (a walkabout) and appreciated a neighbor’s SUV recharging next to their new 3k/sf of impervious outdoor improvements in the Steep Slope Zone. I went on to upper Edgewood Rd and just laughed at all the indigenous stones and pavers. By us mapping the Steep Slope Zone, we know where the best city views will be after we cut down the old-growth trees. And by removing that dangerous canopy, we can take in all the glory of the dark skies from public right of ways!

    Yes, we should prioritize our land use energies on Montclair Center’s 5% of our township’s land. The difference between 4 and 6 stories is of huge impact to this iconic touchstone.

  6. Frank, New York Times article or no New York Times article, NYT and Montclair could each theoretically build a ton of new housing, but if that housing is mostly aimed at the affluent, things will not be affordable. I’ll leave it at that in order to not repeat what I said in my previous comment.

    But, yes, an “eco-conscious” Montclair family that has an SUV or two, a big house, possibly cuts down healthy trees, etc., is not that “eco-conscious.”

  7. Yet more right-wing, anti-environment NIMBY BS from so-called “progressive” Dave Astor.

    God forbid we have six-story structures in the downtown strip of a beloved, highly sought-after town like Montclair. The horror of allowing more people to live here just makes me sick! Thank you, Dave, for fighting the good fight. We both love Montclair so much that we wouldn’t dare want to share it with anyone else. It’s long past time we close the border. Make Montclair Great Again.

    In all seriousness, denser development is vastly better for the environment than pushing development out into single-family construction. Single-family housing emits much more carbon than denser apartment complexes. In pushing to ensure that a higher share of development is single-family rather than condos or apartments, you are directly contributing to the climate crisis and increasing emissions. You recognize that a big house and an SUV is hypocritical for Montclair residents who identify as green progressives, yet you want to make greener, alternative ways of living either illegal or financially infeasible. SAD!

    https://coolclimate.org/maps

  8. Thank you for the comment, cjo2015.

    I live in a Montclair apartment, so I’m not on “Team Single-Family Home.” πŸ™‚ And I’m all for new people moving into Montclair, as long as the new units that would house some of them are not mostly for the affluent. Four-story buildings could provide plenty of affordable housing if many more of the units were…affordable.

    Also, I don’t drive an SUV, and never have. πŸ™‚

  9. ” Single-family housing emits much more carbon than denser apartment complexes.

    This statement is false just on the face of it. Think about what it says. Montclair’s R-zones average 7 people per acre. Our downtown redevelopment areas average 125 people per acre. R-zones have a carbon recapture capability. I seriously doubt Valley & Bloom has any measurable recapture capability. Are you counting all the people driving to destination Montclair? Do you think the residents are filling all of our parking decks?

    Even if we accept your premise, we should, as policy, be intensifying the density of our R-zones. Eradicating them. Make suburbia more dense & more efficient in the name of climate change.

    You should actually read the study and the basis for their mapping of here and all 50 states.

  10. Frank,

    YES, we should ABSOLUTELY be intensifying the density of our R-Zones. The fact that we have so much single-family zoned land adjacent to train stations into New York is absolute insanity and environmental malpractice. I would love to see at least fourplexes legalized by-right across all of Montclair. Nobody who cares either about housing affordability or reducing carbon emissions should support single-family zoning anywhere. But the cause is even more important in Montclair. As the hosts of numerous NJ Transit stations (the most in the state, I think?), Montclair can have a bigger positive impact on climate than any other town in the region, if only it allowed denser development near transit. Yes, the “look” of the neighborhood might change. But so, what? The climate is much more important. If you care so much about what what’s built or not built on these parcels, buy them yourself.

    As for the fact that single-family housing is more carbon intensive than a multi-family housing unit near transit, you’re not thinking clearly about carbon recapture. A single-family plot recaptures some carbon assuming some portion of it is green. But the counterfactual in which that home isn’t built is *even more* green space. The counterfactual of building a 10-story apartment complex instead of a four-story complex doesn’t eliminate any green space.

    Sa the US has 150 million homes, 75 million SF and 75 million MF units. If 10 million SF units are demolished and 10 million MF units built, that opens up *more* green space and *increases* carbon recapture.

    Not to mention the fact that housing 100 people in one building uses significantly less energy than 100 people in their own homes, particularly given the fact that those 100 SF units will be further from transit and require the burning of more gasoline.

    It’s long past time Montclair stands for its progressive values on this issue.

  11. Dave,

    This is a constant refrain heard around the country from liberals in exclusive suburbs. The result? A nationwide housing shortage of millions of units.

    A few facts:

    1. New market-rate housing lowers equilibrium rents below the no-build counterfactual. The last 20 years of housing research in the field of urban economics has made this abundantly clear. Opposing new apartments and condos does nothing to ease demand to live in Montclair. It restricts supply. Prices will continue to rise. Do you ever ask *why* Montclair has become radically more expensive over the last 20 years?

    2. In limiting development to, say, four stories, you eliminate even the possibility of additional affordable housing. Push the town to require earmarked affordable units in new developments, sure (though not so many that development is halted entirely!), but when new housing comes up, you say “hell yes!” We have a nationwide housing shortage that is bleeding working class people dry. We need new units and we need them yesterday. Anything we can build will lower rents.

    Further, I’d ask why your aesthetic preferences should be imprinted on properties you don’t own. Why should you be able to weaponize the state against people who need housing just so your view can, uh, stay the same? You don’t want Bloomfield Ave to become a “canyon.” Ok, why should any of us give a flying frac what you think about that? Do you own those properties along Bloomfield Ave? If you cared so much about this view, buy the strip along Bloomfield Ave with a coalition of other Montclairions Against Change and stop those developments. Or better yet, find those property owners and pay them not to build anything new. Easy.

    The fact of the matter is building six or seven stories along Bloomfield Ave instead of four imposes absolutely no tangible harm to you. Perhaps if someone wanted to build a toxic waste dump on Bloomfield Ave, you’d have a point here. But you want your personal aesthetic preferences to trump the housing needs of real, actual people and families. Sorry, that’s simply none of your business.

    Political scientists have come up with a term for a movement that doesn’t want their communities to change, that wants to radically limit newcomers in the name of some subjective, exclusionary cultural or aesthetic preference.

    It’s called “conservatism.”

  12. Be wary of those co-mingling climate change, affordable housing while ignoring open space, but using a 1980’s SmartGrowth argument.

    You don’t know me, but I focus on Montclair. My experience – and what many people seem to tout – is Montclair is not typical, but is hardly unique only… except maybe in our minds. So when people try to apply national trends here, while ignoring the rest of the world, to Montclair, without even facts on Montclair, my bias is that they are not sufficiently versed in the subject.

    It was my mistake to engage with you. Please, have the last word if you want it.

  13. All else equal, a larger share of people living in multi-family housing means more open space. A larger share of people living in single-family housing means less open space. This is very simple.

    People like Dave and elected officials who share his views are, across the country, taking away our open space by pushing development to be of the single-family variety. It’s a disaster for our planet and for low-income people. Montclair is not at all unique in that sense.

  14. I have a serious question. Do people in Montclair truly think that how we develop the town and cutting down a tree or two actually impacts the climate? It is a big world out there once you get out of the Montclair bubble.
    China emits more CO2 than the EU, India, and the US combined. You want to have an impact? Stop buying batteries, EVs, solar panels, and pretty much all the junk we buy that is made in China.
    As far as affordable housing units…well, those government mandates having nothing to do with fairness or altruism. They are the product of RE developer lobby. How else could they get buildings jammed through zoning and planning boards? As alway, follow the money!!!

  15. cjo2015, there’s a lot in your comments to respond to, so I’ll pick and choose.

    You said I and others are “pushing development to be of the single-family variety.” I have never advocated for that in my column — ever. I like the idea of apartments; I also like the idea of a decent number of apartments being affordable. You said taller buildings would increase the chances of more affordable apartments. Sure, a handful more if, say, 10% of units are affordable. But the rest would be the usual pricey housing. Most major developers in Montclair and elsewhere care little or nothing about lower-income people.

    As an opinion columnist and someone who’s often downtown, I have an opinion about how downtown looks. Feel free to disagree with that opinion, as you have. πŸ™‚ And when you say that a number of liberals act exclusionary when it comes to housing, you think the majority of conservatives around the country are thirsting for economic diversity in their neighborhoods? Ha! πŸ˜‚

    Of course, Montclair would have more building height if the Empire State Building moved here, but it might not fit on the 66 bus.

  16. Thank you for the comment, flipside. You’re right that any one place (Montclair or elsewhere) is going to have only a tiny effect on climate change. Obviously, the hope is that the efforts of many places will be cumulative. And while China of course is a major contributor to climate change, so is the U.S. in various ways.

    You ask, “You want to have an impact?” on climate change. My infinitesimal impact is living in an apartment, not having air-conditioning, being vegan, and walking instead of driving when I can. How about you?

    I do have to agree that “follow the money” is almost always a rule to live by. πŸ™

  17. Dave,

    When you explicitly advocate for strict heigh limits and limiting density you are implicitly advocating more single-family development. The country is growing and people need places to live. If the market is barred from meeting that demand with multi-family units, a larger share of those new units will be single-family, with all the inefficiencies and gas guzzling that requires. You feel the canyon aesthetic is a harm inflicted on you, though the kind of sprawling development your policy preferences incentivize inflicts more tangible harm on others.

    Re: economic diversity. It is not that conservatives are better, but that liberals across the country are acting like conservatives. Look at California, where local homeowners have tremendous power to block local housing growth, even using the guise of environmental protection lawsuits to limit enrollment at UC Berkeley. Insanity, right?

    Many liberals and progressives there, many of whom are well-meaning, make these same arguments you do against so-called “overdevelopment.” They say “yes, I support more housing in general so long as it doesn’t obstruct my view” or “yes, I support more housing, but it has to include [x infeasible share of affordable units] or I won’t support any new housing at all.” Even more sinister is the dreaded “character of the neighborhood” defense. And many DSA-aligned folks there also argue that new market rate development will not lower rents. Ironically, some of the best empirical research showing this is flat-out wrong comes from California.

    Montclair can handle new development just fine. You will never be able to conserve the community in amber, nor should you. Things change. The population grows. Job centers shift. And the most beloved neighborhoods in cities and towns across the world are those that changed organically over time, not those people tried to freeze at a particular moment.

  18. cjo2015, you wrote, “When you explicitly advocate for strict height limits and limiting density you are implicitly advocating for more single-family development.” Absolutely not. As I said, I’m fine with Montclair having various new apartment buildings, as long as they’re not oversized and as long as plenty of the units are affordable. But most ARE too big and too pricey. Major developers could make plenty of the units affordable; they’d just have to accept decent profits rather than large profits, which of course they’re greedily reluctant to do despite already being very wealthy in many cases.

    I’ve lived in Montclair for 29 years and it has changed a lot. I’m fine with some of the changes, but letting major developers do almost anything they want is not one of them. How are all the new downtown units helping people of various economic levels when many of the rents are over $3,000 a month and in some cases over $4,000 a month? Those units are only mostly helping the affluent find housing.

  19. Dave,
    Those affluent that you are always railing against are the people that are subsidizing your child’s education and every other town service you and your family benefit from. God Bless the affluent!!! The more the merrier! If the town relied on renters like you for revenue the lights would go out.

  20. flipside, many of the affluent — and especially the very rich — don’t pay their fair share of taxes. (They can of course easily afford the accountants and lawyers to do the dodging.) So excuse me if I don’t send them a thank-you card. πŸ™‚ Most middle-income and low-income people DO pay their fair share of taxes. Those groups include renters, who pay plenty of property taxes indirectly via their rent.

  21. Dave,

    I was right before that renters don’t pay property taxes, but Montclair has codified it with the new Rent Control Ordinance. Property taxes increases are not a basis for relief from the permitted rent increases. Renters are protected from any burdensome level of Township’s property tax increases.

    I’m kinda surprised people didn’t and still don’t understand this.
    Right. Right. We had that extensive community discussion with all stakeholders.

    Sorry to be the one to break the bad news to you.

  22. Dave,
    The rich not paying their fair share of taxes is so overused and misinformed that it is silly to discuss. Montclair doesn’t have that type of money and why do you think you deserve a chunk of what someone else has earned? The problem is the mega rich and the ones that control big pools of money ie Blackrock, Vanguard, Soros, Gates, Bezos, John Kerry, to name a few. They use their money to control government policy so they can make more money and recapture what they do pay in taxes. Some guy in town with a 4 million dollar house, 80k in RE taxes, and a headache of a job is not the problem. I thank them on my walks along Upper Mountain Ave. all the time. They are the people that financially support the town and keep it beautiful. They are rarely seen and most send their kids to private school so they don’t come close to using what the contribute to the town’s coffers. Let me send out a huge thank you to the town’s affluent!!! Keep up the good work!!
    As far as renter’s paying their fair share taxes….seriously? Do the math before you make a statement like that.

  23. Frank, when landlords pay property taxes, at least part of the pool of money from which they pay those taxes is from the rental income they collect. So, indirectly, tenants are paying property taxes.

  24. flipside, while the highest-profile tax cheats indeed include some of the billionaires you referenced (along with some far-right billionaires you conveniently didn’t reference), some of the “merely” rich in Montclair and elsewhere also don’t pay their fair share of taxes. I’m talking more about federal taxes than local property taxes — the latter of which are harder for the wealthy to manipulate out of paying what they owe. So in that respect Montclair might not be losing much money — though the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) sweetheart programs some rich local developers benefit from can shortchange Montclair. And the very rich and “merely” rich not paying their fair share of federal taxes can indirectly dry up some money for towns.

  25. Dave,
    Again, do the math. The government has printed so much money and created so much debt that taxing the “rich” 100% of their income wouldn’t put a dent in the problem.
    So, how does someone get rich? Gaming the government is one way but most get rich by providing society with a product or service people want or need. With that comes job creation, innovation, and a higher standard of living through lifting incomes and goods and services that make life easier. Building better mouse traps has made everyone’s life better.
    Giving the government more money creates waste and corruption. Financial disasters are rooted in bad government policy. Money that is not taxed comes back into the system anyway. Are you enjoying inflation? A hidden tax brought on by bad government policy. More power and money to the people and less to corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle.

  26. flipside, gaming the government is more about the rich getting richer than about getting rich in the first place.

    Why are some people rich? Sure, some of them reach that level in useful, admirable ways. But many others win the birth lottery by inheriting their money (the Walton family members of Walmart notoriety are among numerous examples) or by exploiting/underpaying workers or by some other form of sketchy behavior. I save my admiration for teachers, social workers, etc.

    I have very mixed feelings about government, but I trust it more than I trust most large corporations. And one big reason for the inflation you mention is price-gouging by many of those corporations.

  27. Dave,
    Government IS large corporations. As far as inflation…the government printed 40% of all the dollars in existence in the last 2 years. Inflation was created by bad government policy. You can believe it was price gouging but you can only gouge when there are excess dollars to gouge. Any reputable economist knows that the root cause of inflation is money creation not MSNBC talking points.

  28. flipside, governments are corporations? You’ve lost me there. Governments can be big and powerful, but they’re not corporations in the sense of what almost everyone considers to be corporations: Apple, Amazon, Walmart, ExxonMobil, JPMorgan Chase, General Motors, etc.

    And you can get all wonky talking about the printing of dollars, but when corporations excessively raise prices (to pad their executives’ salaries/bonuses and get their shareholders more money), that increases inflation.

  29. “Any reputable economist knows that the root cause of inflation is money creation…”

    flipside,
    I appreciate your exuberance & experience, but you might want to tighten up your wording to be accurate. In many circumstances you would be correct about the root cause of inflation. In many other circumstances you would be incorrect. As you know, we have been printing oodles and oodles of greenbacks this century.

    Dave,
    Elon Musk today did your argument a favor with the s/w prx increase to drive his Model-T cars that destroy both Tibet and any benefit from the rather disappointing climate change EV credit legislation.

  30. Frank,
    Of course there can be temporary inflation due to the law of supply and demand. Yes, we have printed oodles of money hence the cost of a Coke has gone from 10 cents when you were a kid to a couple bucks today. The people in charge figured the best way pay off the debt is to print more money and pay it back 50 cents on the dollar.
    Does anyone see a pattern here…the government gets involved in the mortgage market and home prices skyrocket, ends in disaster so rates are kept artificially low to re-inflate the bubble. Stay tuned… The government gets involved in student loans and the cost of education skyrockets. The government subsidizes EV and the price goes up. Imagine that! Don’t get huffy, I blame both sides of the aisle. More bread and circuses please…

  31. Thank you, Frank.

    Elon Musk — whose Tesla cars are all over Montclair — is indeed a really problematic guy. πŸ™

  32. My first bicycle was a Huffy from a big box store – probably Great Eastern or E. J. Korvettes. It has one gear – forward – and hitting the brakes meant literally standing on the pedals. It had fat tires, but we just called them tires. We didn’t wear helmets. Bikes provided freedom for us. They were to us then what the internet is to kids today.

    Clearly, Huffy is one of my trigger words.

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