Montclair, NJ – The Montclair Township Council started its conference meeting Tuesday with a last-minute surprise announcement: In efforts to minimize exposure to COVID-19 during the winter months, the Township Council Conference Meeting will be broadcast live on Channel 34 and streamed live on the Montclair TV34 YouTube channel.
Later in the meeting, Spiller explained that the council had wanted to move upstairs to the smaller, more intimate conference room, but given concerns about the winter season and Covid, the Council made the decision that they would stay down in the council chambers and continue streaming as long as they are downstairs.
The move to stream all conference meetings was something residents had been asking the council to do for weeks, and specifically for Tuesday’s meeting, due to the interest in the vote on the Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment plan.
Public comment on the project started with calls to delay the plan. William Scott, chair of the NAACP Housing Committee, reading a memo sent the Council by the NAACP, requested that the council postpone their vote on the plan until such time an independent public safety and quality of life impact analysis can be done.
Former 4th Ward Councilor Dr. Renee Baskerville also made an appeal to the council to take more time on Lackawanna Plaza, citing concerns about the density of the project and how higher density can have ill effects on mental and physical well being. Another resident, urging the council not to move forward, carried a sign that read “Too Tall.”
Then, the remaining public comment shifted, with resident after resident expressing their support for the plan, and more specifically, of the importance of moving it forward to the Planning Board without any additional delay.
Charles Rosen praised Dave Placek as a thoughtful, caring developer and spoke of the plan’s financial, cultural and socioeconomic benefits to the town.
James Cotter supported moving the plan forward, citing positives such as the green space and supermarket, but reiterated the need for an independent traffic study that takes into account a radius of development and any recent changes to traffic lights affecting the area.
A Cloverhill Place resident expressed concern that “time matters and time kills deals.” He lauded the plans open space and said there was a strong vocal minority that had been “pushing against progress.”
Marie Cottrell asked the council to “please stop stalling” and that residents “deserve a better lived experience” in the neighborhood.
Melissa Walker, a longtime Montclair resident and founder of Jazz House Kids, spoke in favor of moving the plan forward and voiced her wholehearted support of and confidence in developer David Placek of BDP Holdings.
“I’ve never seen a person more collaborative than Dave Placek,” said Walker. “We need to look through lens of social justice and ask why we have allowed this important piece of property to lay under-utilized and under-resourced and with a food desert for so long.”
Former Montclair Mayor Ed Remsen also asked for no further delays.
“Every question that remains is going to be discussed in the process moving forward,” said Remsen. “This needs to go to the Planning Board so they can review and study it.”
“This plan hits all the marks we want it to hit,” said Rachael Grochowski, a Montclair-based architect with certificate in historic preservation. “It honors the past so we can plan for the future and live in today.”
When it came time for the council to discuss the resolution before voting, Councilor David Cummings said he wanted to postpone the vote to the December 20 meeting, as he had heard from members of the Planning Board, including the chairman, that they wished they had more time to review the project and how the holidays were going to make it difficult for them to get the time they needed.
Councilor Lori Price Abrams asked whether the Council could give the Planning Board 60 days instead of the previously mentioned 45 days.
Planner Janice Talley said the council could give them a longer timeframe, but they just needed to indicate when they wanted them to respond.
Mayor Sean Spiller liked Abrams’ idea because it would actually give the Planning Board an extra 15 days, whereas delaying the vote would mean postponing for 14 days. He also said by beginning the process, many of the questions that could not be answered before will now begin to be addressed.
Another issue Cummings raised was wanting the public to see the 3D model of the site. Talley said the model would be ready for the Planning Board’s meeting on Monday night.
“Before I retire, I want to see Lackawanna Plaza on its way to completion,” said Councilor Bob Russo, who apologized for missing the last few meetings. “We cannot leave this for the next council.”
Councilor Peter Yacobellis thanked the public for engaging in the process and said the engagement would continue as the process moves forward.
“These are not developers showing up to make a buck,” Yacobellis said of the Placeks. “These are people who live here, are invested in our community and thoughtful in their approach.”
The council ultimately voted unanimously to move it forward to the Planning Board, with only Councilor David Cummings abstaining from the vote.
Eileen Birmingham, speaking during public comment, remarked on the 82 people watching the meeting’s livestream and how it was much safer to have those people watching at home, rather than crowding the council chambers without being able to socially distance. She urged the Council to continue streaming all meetings.
“People should be able to be included at town meetings. It is our public right. We can stream these meetings. We have the technology. Don’t make us beg you.”