“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
The online debate around the proposed Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan hasn’t always been civil. Radio Free Montclair set a tone for a different kind of discussion Saturday — a live, friendly discussion among neighbors, taking place on the long weekend culminating with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The setting – the home of Radio Free Montclair’s James Cotter on Cloverhill Place, just steps from the Lackawanna Plaza area.
“People are very passionate about the project and each of us brings our unique lens and perspective to the issues,” said Cotter. “What we noticed more than anything else was a lack of true dialogue and engagement on the issues. To many, the process can seem opaque and byzantine, and online discussions can be couched in anonymity and devolve into ranker.”
Situated around the microphones on Cotter’s dining room table were Dr. Renee Baskerville, Ashley Few, David Genova, Adriana O’Toole, William Scott, Martin Schwartz, Jamena Grant and John Sullivan.
Each brought something different to the roundtable discussion. Some raised concerns about scale, maintaining Montclair’s charm and the unknown toll on Montclair’s infrastructure. Others sought to correct some misperceptions about the project they see proliferating online, including those on a petition to scale the redevelopment back.
William Scott, Montclair NAACP Housing Committee chair and Montclair Housing Commission co-chair, had the distinction of living in Montclair the longest, and was given the last word at the end of the broadcast.
“This project, if it’s 375 units, you’re going to end up with 20% affordable housing. If that number goes down to 300 units, it still will be the major contributor to affordable housing in this township in over 50 years,” said Scott. “You will never build enough affordable housing in the Township, no matter what the projects are. What we have been able to accomplish over the last three years is we do have a rent control ordinance. The purpose of the rent control ordinance is to stabilize rents. We need to start looking at building in other wards in this Township – affordable housing, workforce housing, senior housing, veterans housing. We don’t need to have all the development in the Third and Fourth Wards if we start expanding development opportunities through zoning. If you give them an opportunity to bill, they will come.”
Scott then spoke about how he expects the Lackawanna Plaza project will draw people from New York and outside of Montclair as has been the pattern over the last 10 to 15 years.
“If the affordability is there, we can keep some people and minimize the gentrification in this township.”
If you weren’t able to tune in on Saturday, the entire program (90 minutes) is now archived and available for you to listen to below or at radiofreemontclair.org