Montclair Historic Preservation Commission Calls For Changes to Lackawanna Redevelopment Plan

Montclair, NJ – Change is coming. That’s the takeaway from watching both the Montclair Planning Board and the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, who have devoted their most recent meetings to reviewing the Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Plan. This Monday, when the Planning Board meets again, it will have this resolution from the HPC to add to their recommendations for the site to conform to the master plan.

The HPC’s findings echo many of the issues Montclair Planning Board members have already raised at their meeting.

In their resolution, the HPC states “the buildings, masses (height, width and depth) are out of scale and disproportionate to the historic scale of the immediately surrounding neighborhood and that “massive buildings will dominate and minimize the historic significance of the train station and the historic Redevelopment Area.”

The HPC added another element to the list of key historic structures and elements detailed in the redevelopment area  — the viewshed — the relevant lines of sight that protect the view of a historic site.

The HPC is calling for eliminating Building C altogether, a building slated for a mix of office space and retail, to protect and enhance the viewshed from Bloomfield Avenue to the historic Waiting Room (the structure that houses Pineapple Express currently).

HPC is recommending eliminating Building C in the proposed Lackawanna Redevelopment Plan.

“The massing of Building C can be redistributed among Buildings A, B, D and E possibly in the form of taller, narrower structures or the lengthening of building A into the Station Plaza area. The Main Plaza and the Station Plaza should be a single coherent plaza. At a minimum, the Commission recommends that the base dimensions of Building C be substantially reduced or the design of the building be otherwise altered so as not to interfere with the historic viewshed to the waiting room building,” the resolution states.

The HPC says all historic features — the illuminated masonry piers, the horse water trough and the steel stanchions which support concrete canopies, known as ‘butterfly sheds’ over the train platforms — are to be retained in place.

The HPC recommends the adaptive reuse of all historic elements into the redevelopment project and states that “if during excavation, original train tracks are uncovered, on either the west or east parcel, they should be adaptively integrated into the plaza.”

When Lackawanna Was A Station

Photo taken in June 28, 1913 at opening of Lackawanna Railroad Terminal.

Lackawanna Plaza, at over eight acres, will not only make history as the largest redevelopment project in Montclair, it’s also, as the HPC states, “the most significant historic site within the Township.”

The Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Area includes structures listed in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, the New Jersey Office of Historic Preservation Historic Sites Inventory of 1980, the National Register of Historic Places Inventory, and is designated as a “key” building within the Town Center Historic District.

Kathleen Bennett, chair of the HPC, calls the railroad the driving force that turned Montclair from “a sleepy agricultural town to a thriving suburb.”

That history dates back to June 28, 1913, when Montclair celebrated of the opening of the newly completed Lackawanna Railroad Terminal. School children lined the processional route, waving flags, as the assembled dignitaries congratulated each other before partaking in a luncheon at the Hotel Montclair. There was a commemorative booklet depicting the new terminal. The station was lauded for its Grecian Doric style of architecture, tapestry brick, and marble chip concrete. Architect William Hull Botsford, the man who designed what was dubbed “the handsomest and best arranged suburban railroad terminal in the United States,” died tragically a year before the opening, aboard the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.

A commemorative plaque outside the Lackawanna Plaza waiting room building.

Former township historian, Jack Chance, in a letter dated 1981 and in the collection of the Montclair History Center, highlighted the architectural significance of the site, the architectural genius of Botsford and the site’s importance as a transportation center in the history of the township of Montclair.

The HPC, in their resolution, is critical of the redevelopment plan, stating the “design and placement for the new buildings, the loss of context for the platforms especially separating them from the main station, as well as the renderings showing a passenger railcar in the middle of a plaza with bits of railroad track show the authors of the plan neither understand nor appreciate the historical significance of the site, its roles in the development of the Montclair, and the historical and architectural significance of the Montclair Town Center Historic District.”

To bring the plan into conformance with the Historic Preservation Element of the Master Plan, the HPC calls for several amendments to the plan, including:

  • Preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings, viewshed and historic structures on the site is required. The design should incorporate the historic structures, features and preserve the site’s heritage as a railroad terminal and gateway to Montclair.
  • Height bonuses should be utilized to encourage narrower buildings to preserve the historic viewshed and call for the separation of upper floors to permit narrower towers in order to preserve the viewshed.
  • The upper story step back of Building A must be at the 3rd floor (versus the 4th floor) to reduce its perceived scale relative to the train station and the neighborhood buildings.

Historic Features and Structures

Below are the historic structures and elements the HPC is requiring to be preserved in place and adaptively reused. The one exception is the copper dome with concrete columns on the Eastern Parcel that serves as an entrance to the underground tunnel. The HPC states this structure “should” be preserved because it depicts the history of the site when it was first redeveloped in the 1980s.

 

Waiting Room – the two-story structure fronting on Lackawanna Plaza and abutting the western most portion of the Parcel; currently occupied by the Pineapple Express Restaurant.

 

Terminal Shed – the Structure comprising the western façade abutting Lackawanna Plaza (the street).

 

Lackawanna Plaza interior showing steel stanchions – original structure creating the train platforms running parallel to Bloomfield Ave. Photo: Portraits by Michael Stahl.

 

Horse trough
Reinforced concrete stairs, balustrade and railing leading from the ground level parking lot to Grove Street.

 

Lighting columns (6 in total) which define the perimeter of the site.

 

HPC included this image to represent the viewshed — open area from the corner of Bloomfield Ave. and Grove Street to the waiting room structure fronting on Lackawanna Plaza.

 

Copper Dome with concrete columns on the Eastern Parcel.

 

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17 COMMENTS

  1. The old expression says success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. We’re looking at an orphan.

    The Planning Board walked away from preservation a long time ago. It was a regressive concept to their leadership.

    The Council has an unholy attraction to Disney-like historicism they pedal to attract new, young voters to town who seriously decorate for Halloween.

    And my favorite people of the moment – the 1,200 petitioners. Yup, these are the people that represent the majority of Montclair. They get it.* They are the vanguard of change.
    (OK, ignore their shoes. I keep telling them to spend a few extra $ on the shoes).

    *Unless it involves history. They are tactical. Their vision is limited to now. They have no view of the future nor understanding of the past. They confuse capitalism with the Bill of Rights. This is Montclair today. It could be worse.

  2. The only issue one should really take with the HPC’s report, is that they missed the obvious. Who says the existing excessive bulk and square footage proposed needs to be maintained?

    While clearly noting the proposed 5 huge buildings block and effectively “dis” this local, state and federally landmarked site, the HPC’s answer should not be to make the surrounding building tower’s thinner and taller to compensate but to scale the entire project down. To better fit in with its surrounding neighborhood character. As is directly required under the Master Plan.

    All the controversy created here is entirely the Council’s doing. And unnecessary. Which they still do not get. Our elected leaders could have (and still should say), here are the parameters of a project being allowed at this legally designated Area of Redevelopment. Which means that it’s the government’s decision what is built there and not the private property owner telling them.

    Then, pass a Redevelopment Plan something like this:

    — openly display and and adaptively reuse this federal, state and local landmark site
    — Up to four stories of building height allowed surrounding and in the lot areas across the street
    — Provide a supermarket of no less than x size within
    — Provide x % of retail from the new construction proposed.
    — Up to x% of overall building construction coverage allowed on the site
    — Remaining space, either to be open greenery, or public plazas
    — adhere to the form and aesthetics of the surrounding Downtown Commercial Historic District (which is largely provided in the draft Redevelopment Plan from other cumulative past Planning Board Redevelopment reviews)
    — fulfil the 20% affordable housing mandate within amount of housing proposed
    — park the required amount of vehicles based on the types of site “uses” sought

    With this kind of development framework, a property owner and the market could have responded accordingly. And the economics of a project thus more delineated. Instead, the Council acted like passive lambs reacting, led to the speculation slaughter. Only working themselves behind closed doors with the developer.

    Now, over 1200 petitioning residents, the Council’s advisory HPC and soon, the Planning Board, have told our local elected officials — you blew it. Acting today like you are the developer’s waterboy — doesn’t cut it.

  3. C’mon Martin, you and your 1,200 need to come join us in the real world. What the Planning Board says will have little standing. Yes, they will cherry-pick passages from the LUCE, but the LUCE is quickly becoming obsolete as a standard and lives on mostly as a compilation of aspirations.

    Even our vaunted Zoning Board of Adjustment has had it. Shortly after the LUCE was published, each of the ZBA’s Annual Reports has had a recommendation like this:

    The Board recommends that the Governing Body act to implement any recommendations of the adopted Land Use & Circulation Element of the Township Master Plan that it supports as soon as possible. For the remaining recommendations, we request that the Governing Body state whether or not they intend to move forward with those recommendations.

    After their latest report, the ZBA considered whether they should just demote the LUCE [I would suggest a footnote is good enough].

    And remember “The Deal” most everyone (not the Forest St residents) agreed to back in 2014. Well, you are clearly leaving the deal that you agreed to. Which is fine. We have so many new, informed people now that were not part of that deal. But, it only goes to my point that LUCE is just downright dated and being disavowed with each subsequent land use decision we make.

    Any experienced, large developer has at least 3 options: 2 development options and an exit strategy. It makes absolutely no sense to offer a property owner a down-zoning plan. Plus, we are insisting he use a chunk of HIS land for a “state-of-the-art” supermarket. Great plan! Absolutely brilliant of you and the 1,200.

    The other obvious option is he develops under existing zoning. And the threat of denial of requested variances? There is that supermarket thingy. And they are two separate lots and no reason he can’t submit two separate applications. And he has better legal minds than we do.

  4. “The Deal”

    …as stipulated in the opening two paragraphs of the LUCE:

    1.0 Introduction + Overview
    The zoning modifications proposed in this document are designed to impact zones and districts bordering train stations and within the downtown and commercial areas of the Township. They are not intended to change the regulations with the RO-Mountainside, RO(a)-One Family, R1- One Family, R2-Two Family, R3-Garden Group and R4-Three Story Apartment zone districts (the Township’s residential zones). This document does not specify any changes to the land uses, bulk requirements or density of the RO, RO(a), R1, R2, R3 or R4 zone districts.
    Present diversity of residential neighborhoods is cherished. These residential neighborhoods are to be preserved by retaining existing residential zone districts and adding additional protections, such as historic districts, where appropriate. Quality of life in quiet residential neighborhoods is an amenity that defines the character of our Township.

    So, we agreed to concentrate high growth, its development and ratables in our commercial areas. Primarily downtown.

    And I know you were there because the very first image inside was a photo of you.

  5. Frank Rubacky — the “growth” does not have to be excessive and out-of-character for the surrounding neighborhood and does not mean 9-10 stories in height.

    I wanted even more stringent language edits into that Land Use Circulation Element document, to avoid just this kind of over-the-top situation — but could not get other PB members to cut the language further. We removed the hits to the other areas in town but this one still on the table.

  6. And yet we encourage an Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance that will send far more children into our school system than this. Far more impervious surfaces and runoff out of view. Which allows building an accessory building up to 40% the size of the house; up to 800 SF ADU which is the size of the average Valley & Bloom apartment. Even more front yard parking.

    You know how we know it will be abused? The Deed Notice filing requirement.

    Think about that requirement. Think about the scope of the information to be filed. Think about Deed Notices are more often used for things that ‘run with the land’. Our ADU ordinance is effectively a contract with the owner.

    And do you think we run Deed Notice requirements for owner-occupied multi-families, for other things? And, of course, you know why that is not the case. And, of course, you know the neighborhood around LP know this.

  7. Martin,

    The building range from 13-15 stories, not 9-10. And, there will be a community garden skywalk & bike path at the 10 floor connecting the buildings. And, because these buildings will rise above Montclair’s atmosphere, the rooftop stargazing will give all an opportunity to connect with the other universe around us.

  8. Last night’s Planning Board (PB) mtg was interesting.

    First, it helps to overlook their lack of retailing & retail operations expertise. In fairness, some members said they had no expertise. Undaunted, they still practiced

    Second, the main event. The PB wants an even bigger supermarket than proposed. Up to 25% bigger. As minimum square footages.

    Their reasoning? It will improve its viability. PB said bigger = broader assortment, more efficient, more shoppers/wallets = lower prices. Yes, it is the Big Box Retail model. 50,000 sf is a big box by anyone’s definition.

    Ideally, this supermarket will draw the existing grocery shoppers already serviced in Mtc & just beyond. I would make the trip down Grove St to get better prxs and a state-of-the art shopping experience.

    For every 1,000 sf of supermarket space requires 1,200 sf of impervious parking asphalt. The big public good here is that while LP will require to provide for this additional parking, it will be in structured parking! Totally consistent with what our LUCE calls for.

    Feeling the rush of an increasing consensus, they went all-in. After betting on the big box river card, they pushed in the rest of their chips on relocating the big box retail to be more visible from Bloomfield Ave! OMG, go big or go home!

  9. A critique was in order here Frank, you are correct. While Board members were right to want to ensure that the coming Supermarket is successful. And to even try and legislate that somehow by ease of access, or better visibility as goals. However, they were just off trying to provide the exact solutions for that — especially with no retail supermarket experience among them.

    During the last Lackawanna PB hearings, a supermarket consultant testified that the correct store size for that location was around 30,000 square feet. Has this changed post Covid and with other evolving food market factors? I don’t know because I’m am not in that business. Wouldn’t try to insert. And here, there is already a lease on the table supposedly. Some major food company in the market knows what they want. So this was well-intentioned, but still board member over-reach and micro-management. Especially trying to fix a size.

    It remains that the major Master Plan elements negatively impacted by this excessive build and bulk — neighborhood and town character” — excessive “heights and bulk” — which hopefully get well presented as significant inconsistencies. That’s because they are the major goals and objectives in the Master Plan and as proposed, will completely change the downtown setting and township feel if allowed. This should be one of the major considerations.

    This proposed project will not be ugly as Valley and Bloom, I have no doubt. But it will still move us more toward the Hoboken, downtown Stamford etc. feeling. Rather than organically fit in, more like Seymour. Which 1200 resident petition signers have clearly said they do not want again.

  10. Martin,

    The Master Plan never called for a supermarket, much less a state-of-the-art one. Yes, a single, 1-sentence citation, inserted in 2017, noted the then current [Jackson] Council was working on a plan with a a state-of-the-art supermarket as the key. In 2012, LP was to be Mayor Jackson’s legacy project. Then the concept went in the crapper and he changed horses to make Seymour District his legacy project.

    Seymour District, as you know, was determined by the PB to be totally consistent with he LUCE. It is a smaller version of LP with a majority of the same attributes, including adjacencies. The shiny ball there was a reinvigorated Wellmont Theater. Anyway, you know the Summit Health Bldg tops out over 90′. You know it has 7 real stories. One bldg the town thinks is a good place to put a sign the size of a Cadillac Escalade at the top…facing the ADJACENT residential zones.

    And you don’t think the South Willow, Seymour & Roosevelt Place people had no choice but to suck it up and accept the new Montclair everybody loves? Anyway, to my point today….

    From a land use perspective, what is a state-of-the-art use? I’m serious. Now layer in the question of what is a super market? A supermarket, generically defined, is a collection of principles uses under one roof. And not defining state-of-the-art? I don’t have a crystal ball to say what that could mean 10 years from no, but that is my point. It means the property owner gets to define it at any point within the plan’s 30-year statutory timeframe. What if they use the European leased-space model? Stop and consider the stupidity of the display space in a modern supermarket of today. And 50,000 sf requirement for an undefined concept in the middle of an fast appreciating urban center?

    The PB didn’t do its job. Didn’t meet its core responsibility. Simple as that.

  11. I was in the W.O Whole Foods recently and came across their open-air (no doors) frozen food units. They monopolized 300sf of floor space (<1,000 cf… in a space with 24'+ ceilings) for a dozen packaged sku's. When the Amazonians are bad, they really suck it. Remember their store in Upper Montclair?

  12. Frank, Did you really measure out the 300sf of floor space? …and count the different products? Amazing!….but what a waste of talent.

  13. flipside,

    All my fun aside with the state-of-the-art supermarket silliness, I will try and be more serious and talk about this development and water infrastructure.
    Specifically, the concept of firm capacity of our water supply and the relationship to our township-wide development strategy.

    Our water system’s Firm Capacity is the State’s measure of a system’s current surplus (or deficit). It accounts for both existing demand and projected demand from in-pipeline projects.

    Local development is restricted by the State if you are running a deficit (e.g. Glen Ridge). We always ensure we have a surplus. However, our surplus has shrunk about 24% in the last four years from 21% surplus to a 16% surplus. Both surplus figures accounted for the Seymour Arts District. And I’m using the State’s numbers even though the presentation quoted an even lower current Firm Capacity. I’ll assume the not-insignificant discrepancy was attributable to an off-the-cuff quote for only illustrative purposes.

    What came up at this week’s Water Utility budget presentations is the Water Utility has not factored in LP’s potential water demand in our firm capacity. This would be reflected in a line item called Committed Capacity after site plan approval. However, the horse has left the barn at that point as far as planning. The LP Plan’s Utilities section does not discuss water system demand, much less anticipate the Committed Capacity for the proposed scope of this redevelopment.

    The final consideration is our Water Utility operates on a self-liquidating model. Basically, it pays for itself through the dedicated revenue it collects. Anyone in town for a while will know our water charges have increased, percentage-wise, far faster than property taxes. It’s one of our “hidden taxes”. If we need more water for future development, the cost will show up in our future water rates. And no, I did not hear any mention on township water rate increases this year or in conjunction with the capital needs discussion.

    Hopefully, the Council will spend some time hearing from our experts on this issue before they finalize their LP Redevelopment Plan.

  14. Frank, Now you have proven that you can think past lunch which is definitely a talent lacking in Montclair. With all the development happening now with much more to come…ie more R-2 zoning, ADU’s, and mega buildings yet to be proposed eventually the problems of paving over paradise will rear their ugly heads. It is a nice gesture to believe it is unalienable right to live in Montclair but population increase brings pain. Like you mentioned, water usage but also increase run off, and let’s not forget more toilets to flush. Could assigned pooping times be in our future. Can our sewer and water system handle 60,000 people flushing at the same time?

  15. Speaking to the question of stormwater runoff…only to LP…is the plan calls for it to be zero. It is to be captured 100%; which is amazing. The less amazing part will be IF this feature will be paid for by the developer or is classified as a public good that we subsidize via a reduced PILOT. Same goes for whether we are ultimately paying for the Affordable Housing County share the developer is assuming. This Financial Agreement will be a must-read when this Council publishes it.

    I was disappointed to hear from the Utilities Director (and his “Can I Get A Witness? Hallelujah!” to Councilor Schlager) that our restaurants are illegally dumping their cooking oils, fats, etc into our system & causing quite a problem – ultimately for us taxpayers.

  16. flipside,

    Since you raised the topic….

    re: Accessory Dwelling Units in the residential R-1 Zone

    This ordinance adopted will be so much fun. If property owners wants to expand the rear of their house, say for a growing family, they can’t extend their abode into their rear yard’s protected setback – which zoning law says is equal to the greater of 25′ or 25% of their lot depth. For a typical house lot here, that 25% translates to about 35′ from the rear property line. However, if your backyard neighbor wants to build a fairly substantial, 15′ high, Accessory Dwelling Unit, it can be placed only 6′ from your property line.

    I have to wonder what the purpose of a rear setback is anymore if you can place a 2nd dwelling within it. The lawyers will have a field day using this as the basis for their variance requests.

    Basically, Montclair is saying some property owners have different rights than others in the same class. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And so American.