Radio Free Montclair Offers a Better Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Discussion

“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.

Radio Free Montclair roundtable (l to r): Jamena Grant, Ashley Few, Dr. Renee Baskerville, David Genova, William Scott, James Cotter, John Sullivan, Martin Schwartz, Adriana O’Toole and Radio Free Montclair’s Ritesh Patel.

“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

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  1. If you listen to the petitioners, everybody seems to like the way Montclair is now. They also seem to accept organic development as a given and our zoning, whether downtown or in our neighborhood commercial areas reflects the limits of what that can be. So, why do we continue to push using the Areas In Need of Redevelopment mechanism to incent, expedite and expand beyond organic processes?

    The petitioners should take another moment and explain their position on this fundamental question…because I don’t understand which lane they are driving in. And, maybe they should use their directional signal to let us know when they are changing lanes in the near future.

  2. Presenting this last quote from William above, as a kind of main focus takeaway, is actually a distortion of all the many particulars presented and clear pushbacks to rework this Redevelopment now, put forth from over 1150 resident petition signers saying “Scale It Back”…

    William is just wrong. This project will actually add to gentrification here and sadly, help further push out the very diverse economic and racial populations he and we want to retain.

    What are they thinking?…

  3. What are they thinking?…

    I don’t know. I really wanted to like this format, but it is totally appropriate, as part of today’s interpersonal communications etiquette, to talk over people before they can finish their thought.

    What I do know from the photo is Mr. Scott, a Boomer, won the Best Dressed Award.

  4. News flash!
    The Township Council’s Economic Development Committee (Schlager, Spiller, Yacobellis) just eliminated historic preservation as public policy! Thank God. Reminds me of what the Council’s Finance Committee did to the Montclair Public Library. Anyway…

    I thought I would never see this day! These 3 wise people, without concern for their political future, dispensed with carrying the yoke of dead resident’s history…and clarified the difference between buildings and all else historic.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    And they didn’t even need to consult the full Council! Efficient, expeditious government – the cherry on top of living in Montclair.

  5. Stopped cold for the moment Frank Rubacky. Forced to table the ordinance, from which you are correct. If passed, it would have further emasculated the HPC and hindered even more preservation controls here. All this designed to really help over-the-top Lackawanna Redevelopment get around the historic elements on that site.

    They had twisted the HPC’s draft language given to them, and reworked the copy to acheive the opposite intent. Eliminating HPC oversight for some town elements and only applying to new buildings..playing with dates too to open up buildings that could be touched.

    I’m pleased to say that the EDC — Spiller-Yac-Schlager — were outed doiing this today…first hiding the proposed ordinance title without any mention of Historic Structures or Historic Buildings being separated. So no one one would look inside at what they were attempting. Then, after HPC Chair Kathleen Bennett spoke in opposition, they still tried to recover during the Council meeting with Spin Meister Janice Talley circling the wagons offering her obfuscation double-speak.

    However, that outed them directly even more, now by 4th ward rep David Cummings (except letting “I really should know better” planning board member Schlager off the hook who conveniently went MIA on a Spiller-Talley Yac recovery phone call earlier). And then finally being lambasted publicly by yours truly. Nonetheless, early emails behind the scenes to everyone today forced the players to announce a punt, even before the item up came up to the table and they took their public hits.

    I even got to pull out one of my old take-away lines for undemocratic, fascistic manipulation: “This is not the Soviet Politburo.”

    Who says the cold war is over.

  6. You’re right Martin. Thank you for calling it out before the fact.

    I am increasingly exasperated with this Council. They insist on respect but they don’t give it to others. Note, as an aside: the Chair of the HPC is female.
    If they had more, we would have more transparency, more communications, less always pulling back agenda items because of process deficiencies.

    After serving two thirds of their term, these shortcomings can no longer be attributed to circumstances. They must be attributed to the governing body’s collective values. And yes, any high performing organization has and needs a set of these.

    And yes, they don’t have to be positive values to be high performing.

  7. The problem with this group is their personal political ambition. Period. There is simply no way of knowing the connection between their positions on local issues including this development, their fund raising and their relationship with the local political machine. It is sad. They speak of local values ad nauseum but the words sound like talking points intended to hide the loss of the most important local value- just trying to do what is right.

  8. Martin,

    I read the revised ordinance and it has the same fundamental flaw running through it as the rest of our Historic Preservation chapters. We never defined what is a historic site. For a reason.

    The resulting language is a problematic sequel to our our mash-up of land use terminology liberties. E.g. what is a property? Land? A parcel? A tax lot?…and which, if any, are extended local legal protections?

    Montclair has tried to protect the buildings. We do not treat the land the buildings sit on as historic, and so never protected. This is confirmed by any reading of the full chapter set.

    If you don’t define what comprises a historic site, you can’t employ view shed concepts to protect the integrity of any designation – based on our ordinances. Not even the foundation is necessarily historic.

  9. My new, favorite feature of the Council’s Redevelopment Plan is converting the Train Station Waiting Room to a historic lobby entrance for the proposed, very modern, very tall 200K+ SF Building A. Everyone knows Building A as the one that will house the “state-of-the-art” supermarket the taxpayers are paying for. And yes, “state-of-the-art” retail is code for, among other things, cashless. I could tell you other things about retail, but, s I said previously, we have nothing but retail experts in this town. (can we get rid of coin-fed parking meters, too?)

    We taxpayers are also paying for the Main Plaza pedestrian-oriented open space. On which one entrance is an office and another is a supermarket. Two uses we all know for their pedestrian dominance. Does anyone use a car to drive to the office or go state-of-the-art shopping?

    So, Lackawanna Plaza (the roadway) will be a front yard parking lot with car ramps on one side and an office entrance anchoring the other. Wrapping around the corner, after five, the office use closes…but, we still have a site-of-the-art supermarket entrance fronting on the Main Plaza. And many picnic tables with market umbrellas. And the Uber drop-offs/pickups. And lots of pavers and stamped concrete.

    I like this plan. It is bold, out of the box approach to downtown land use. It will be our version of a village green.

  10. I am watching this big, bad threat to the character of this very extended neighborhood’s 300 acres & 16,000 residents play out on the main stage. And over here (but in plain sight) is the Council’s introduction Tuesday of their Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance.

    This is an ordinance that impacts over 2,500 residentially zoned acres; about 65% of our township. The ordinance allows corporations to buy up lots with 1 principle dwelling unit and add up to 2 accessory buildings with a total of 800sf of living space AND, a potential bonus payout if you already have a carriage house and/or your 2 boarders. A lot of parking. But, my favorite part is the requirement the corporation legally has to have a soul. Yes, legally, the corporation has to have primary residence at the address.

    Only in Montclair. And, meanwhile, the advocates will invoke imagery of very old widowers, on a fixed income, that want to stay on their land where they raised a family. The imagery of old people, in their sunset years visibly relieved at the option to become property developers & mgrs. To, maybe for the first time, hire an attorney to create a S-Corp and an accountant to file the K-1s. To hire a real estate agent to handle the rentals and file all the Township’s annually required paperwork, etc. etc.

    The ordinance does need to be vetted for some errors, omissions, and bad choices. But, it is worth leaving us leaving our Kansas to help corporations fulfill their only wish of having a soul.