Tempers Flare Over NJ Transit Summer Train Schedule

BY  |  Thursday, May 25, 2017 11:00am  |  COMMENTS (3)

Everyone is angry and bitter about the announced summer reroutings to Hoboken for NJ Transit’s Morris & Essex trains—even the announcements about the reroutings.

The official news release from NJ Transit about the planned six-week shuffling of all M&E trains scheduled for Penn Station begins on a pissy note: “NJ Transit rail customers have been forced to deal with delays, derailments and unreliable service because Amtrak, which owns the tracks our service relies upon, has neglected the maintenance of its critical infrastructure for years.”

The announcement goes on to say, “Long overdue Amtrak track repair work will significantly disrupt travel this summer for customers who normally travel on the Morris & Essex Midtown Direct service to and from Penn Station New York.” (All Midtown Direct trains on the Montclair-Boonton Line will operate on regular weekday schedules with minor time changes to/from PSNY.)

And NJT’s approach was actually more civil than the one taken earlier on Tuesday by Gov. Chris Christie. The New York Times reported that Christie said, “We know we can’t trust Amtrak,” in an article that added, “Mr. Christie expressed no faith in Amtrak’s ability to keep any trains running on time. He said that he agreed with Mr. Cuomo that the long-term solution to the frequent disruptions and derailments at Penn Station is to replace Amtrak as the station’s operator, ‘given Amtrak’s duplicity, their dishonesty and their inability to keep this infrastructure in a state of good repair.’” Continue Reading

Montclair Council: Lackawanna Plaza Plan In Progress Presented, Public Says No

BY  |  Wednesday, May 24, 2017 9:00am  |  COMMENTS (11)

The Montclair Township Council received a presentation from the Pinnacle and Hampshire development companies on their plans for the Lackawanna Plaza area at its May 23 meeting, and it felt a great deal like a meeting of the Planning Board.  Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors invited the public to comment on the presentation, with resident after resident decrying the plan for being out of step with Montclair.  When the public comment ultimately did end, what did not end was the wait for anyone to say anything positive about the plan.

A bird’s-eye view of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan-in-progress shown at the Montclair Township Council’s May 23 meeting. Yellow indicates the mixed-use units, purple indicates the parking garage, and the light gray within the yellow and purple is the grocery store.

Township residents were eager to see a supermarket replace the old Pathmark store.  Pinnacle’s Brian Stolar and Hampshire’s Todd Anderson started out by explaining that the original plan for Lackawanna Plaza was for A&P to take over the Pathmark location, but that failed when A&P itself did. Anderson said that their goal was to get a modern grocery store into the property, which he said demanded a minimum of 65,000 square feet over the Pathmark’s 40,000 square feet, while providing the necessary parking in an unobtrusive way.  It was a matter, Anderson explained, of trying to put different pieces together. Continue Reading

Developer Plofker Presents Diva Lounge Project to the Montclair Planning Board

BY  |  Tuesday, May 23, 2017 9:30am  |  COMMENTS (24)

The Montclair Planning Board spent the bulk of its May 22 meeting considering yet another project from developer Steven Plofker, an apartment building that would employ the existing building on the northwest corner of Bloomfield Avenue and North Willow Street.  A six-story building – five stories plus a ground-level basement along North Willow Street – would be built to connect with the building that once was the Diva Lounge and its existing ground-floor basement, which currently houses the Kos Autocars auto repair shop.  The new project would be across North Willow Street from the site of Plofker’s Glen Willow apartment building, which has yet to be built.

The former Diva Lounge, on Bloomfield Avenue and North Willow Street, which Steven Plofker wants to connect to a new six-story building – a ground level-basement connecting with the current Kos Motorcars auto shop and five stories of new apartments – behind it. Image courtesy of Google.

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Montclair History: The Landmark Legacy of Lackawanna Plaza

BY  |  Friday, May 19, 2017 10:30am  |  COMMENTS (24)

Lackawanna Plaza

When the Montclair Lackawanna Station was built in 1913, it was nationally acclaimed as the most handsome suburban railroad terminal in the United States. It was built to serve the second wealthiest suburban community in America and the illustrious men and women who were shaping American History at the dawning of the 20th century. The terminal’s styling, by architect William Hull Botsford, is consistent with a design movement of new stations all over Europe at that time.

Lackawanna Plaza

A similar styled station at Danzig

When train service began in Montclair in 1857, (then West Bloomfield), a wealthy newcomer, Julius Pratt, invested $4,000,000 to create the township’s first train line. Aesthetics were remarkably important to Mr. Pratt, who also built what was considered the most amazing showplace in town, “Apple Grove,” a mansion on Elm Street (presently the Martin Funeral Home.)

Pratt also felt that the name “West Bloomfield” was not beautiful enough to attract desirable newcomers, so he rallied for the new, more picturesque name, “Montclair.” Thus, began the important aesthetic legacy when planning for the development of the township and the characteristic style standards of Montclair.

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A Young Montclair Actress Stars in The Miracle Worker

BY  |  Friday, May 12, 2017 12:15pm  |  COMMENTS (0)

When Ayla Schwartz isn’t busy being a fourth-grader at Watchung Elementary School, she’s performing a miracle—Ayla is starring as Helen Keller in a new production of The Miracle Worker at the Queens Theatre.

At 10 years old, Ayla is getting her first opportunity to be part of a professional production, and The Miracle Worker is putting her to the test. In order to play Keller, who became deaf and blind when she was just 19 months old, Ayla did training with a disability coach and a fight choreographer, and even used a blindfold and earplugs during rehearsals to better understand how Keller experienced the world. Continue Reading

Montclair Council: Talk of A New Pool in Montclair; Questions About Pace of Lackawanna Plaza Development

BY  |  Wednesday, May 10, 2017 9:00am  |  COMMENTS (0)

The Montclair Township Council passed only one item in its brief May 9 meeting – the bill list.  It was approved 6-0, with Councilor-at-large Rich McMahon absent.

the Montclair Township Council

The bulk of the meeting was devoted to receiving a committee, responding to residents’ concerns, and the stymied Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan.  The council heard from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) with its chair, Adeola Whitney, and three of its members, to keep Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors aware of what the board is doing.  Whitney said that PRAB hopes to communicate with other advisory committees in town and get a better understanding of which ones they can learn from, as well as continuing to confer with the council and engage with it regarding concerns and suggestions.  PRAB also looks to develop short-term goals for the park system in tandem with the council’s terms of office.

PRAB member Linda Bowers added that the board finds itself with unfinished business at the end of the year when it looks back, and she added that she wanted to focus on the goals of the township.  PRAB is looking to pursue greater park safety for 2017, and it looks to improve background checks for recreational coaches and getting more information out to the township for pool passes.  Another PRAB member, William Scott, lauded the township for improvements to the parks in the municipal system, though he said they could always be improved further. He also praised Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville for regularly attending PRAB meetings. Continue Reading

Another Montclair Planning Board Meeting, Another Seymour Street Discussion

BY  |  Tuesday, May 09, 2017 9:00am  |  COMMENTS (1)

The Montclair Planning Board held yet another marathon meeting – nearly five hours – devoted entirely to the Seymour Street arts district redevelopment plan, in which the plaza and engineering concerns were discussed.

“This is about the 15th hearing we’ve had,” an exasperated vice chair Jason De Salvo said about the project to one resident who thought the process was going, ironically, too fast.  “I wouldn’t say we’re streaming along.”

Elaine Molinaro of the Montclair Arts Advisory Committee listens as Pinnacle’s Brian Stolar (with microphone) makes a point.

Engineer Brian Thompson of Bohler Engineering testified on the retaining wall along the part of the east parcel of the property to be redeveloped, from Seymour Street itself to South Willow Street.  The wall varies in height from only foot near Seymour Street to nearly thirteen feet closer to South Willow Street.  Thompson said a question had been asked about the wall’s integrity, and he said the geotechnical survey had been done to test the structure and the soil.  Thompson said precautions would be taken to ensure that the wall would be fine during construction next to it, and that there was a great emphasis to protect it.

When board member Anthony Ianuale asked how the wall would be repaired should it be necessary, Thompson said a large maintenance activity could be done from the top of the wall.  He said there was access from the parking lot on the side of the apartment building atop the ground behind the wall.

“There’s no access to get in and fix it from your side,” Ianuale warned, noting the lack of room on the developer’s side of the property.  He cautioned that they would have to get an agreement from the apartment building owner(s) on the opposite side of the wall to make necessary repairs.  Board member Carmel Loughman made it clear she hoped they would have the proper insurance.

the wall between the proposed building for South Willow Street (right) , per the Seymour Street arts district plan, and an adjacent property, with a fence along the perimeter of the wall

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Montclair BoE: Outcry Over First Choice Invite to Glenfield, Discussion of Homework Policy

BY  |  Thursday, May 04, 2017 8:00am  |  COMMENTS (3)

The Montclair Board of Education

A vote on a new homework policy, advocated at earlier meetings of the Montclair Board of Education, was overshadowed at the board’s May 3 meeting by a controversy over a sex education program that was almost introduced at one of the district’s middle schools.

Amy Huber, the executive director of First Choice Women’s Resource Centers, which provides specialized medical services for women, took to the podium in public comment to talk about her organization’s Real Talk program, which was started in 2000 to inform students of problems associated with unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases and promote “sexual risk avoidance.”  The program, Huber said, has been given in schools across several New Jersey counties to over 10,000 school students.

A few other women, who were seated with Huber in the audience, offered testimonials for the Real Talk program’s effectiveness.  None of them were Montclair residents, which unnerved board member Anne Mernin and made her question their right to speak.  Board President Jessica de Koninck said they could speak, as it was a public meeting.  Then, resident Sarah Blaine took to the podium to offer additional information on the subject. Continue Reading

A DeCamp Bus Driver’s Musical Ode to Montclair

BY  |  Monday, May 01, 2017 2:15pm  |  COMMENTS (1)

Riders of DeCamp bus No. 66 between Montclair and NYC might view the trip as a daily necessity, but the bus’ driver, Clifford M. Blackwell, finds it inspirational.

He’s been driving the 66 bus for the last seven years, the latest stop in a 38-year career as a bus operator, and his route drove him to write and record a jazzy local tribute, “My Old Town Montclair.”

The song is four minutes of swinging vocal jazz, and Blackwell says it’s inspired by the people who ride his bus each day: “The song chronicles the great accomplishments, achievements, and popularity of this little extraordinary, diverse community of wonderful professional people.”

Blackwell lives in Union with his wife Marceline (they have four adult children), and for more than 45 years he’s been a church musician and songwriter. “I was surrounded by music throughout my childhood,” he says. “My mom loved and sang opera and grew up in the Greater Bethany Baptist Church of Newark. My father also grew up in Bethany and loved jazz, 40s big bands and pop, and he was an avid listener of WBGO jazz radio.” Continue Reading

Montclair Council Passes 2017 Municipal Budget

BY  |  Wednesday, Apr 26, 2017 9:00am  |  COMMENTS (0)

The Montclair Township Council approved at its April 25 meeting the 2017 municipal budget.  The final vote, though, was temporarily delayed when Mayor Robert Jackson asked about a line-item issue.

the Montclair Township Council

Bob Benecke, a financial analyst who has advised the township in the past, and Padmaja Rao, the township’s chief financial officer, gave an overview of the 2017 budget and cited the highlights.  They started out by explaining for the benefit of the council and the residents in attendance that  the budget and tax caps have had an impact on how money is budgeted.  The budget must comply with previously set rules that make establishing spending priorities more rigid and leave less room for discretionary spending.  Nevertheless, Montclair’s 2017 municipal budget includes items that were sure to please the council and residents alike.  The library will get $3.4 million, an increase of $116,000 over 2016, while the code enforcement office adds six new employees – two full-time, four part-time – to handle the growing amount of construction in town.    There is also more funding for public safety, with an emphasis on the township’s community policing program. Continue Reading

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Another "ground-level basement" (to get around the building height rules)?!

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