Montclair First Ward Community Meeting Features Traffic & Pedestrian Talk and Special Guests

BY  |  Friday, Oct 20, 2017 8:06am  |  COMMENTS (5)

Montclair First Ward Councilor William Hurlock had numerous guests to join him at his October 19 community meeting at the Bellevue Avenue Library branch, but despite the array of topics covered, constituents’ concerns still came down to two central issue: traffic and pedestrian safety.

Officer Travis Davis of the Montclair Police Department’s community policing unit was on hand to address the many concerns about traffic.  He said the traffic bureau has made more of an effort to enforce ordinances pertaining to motor vehicles and will soon add another officer to its ranks, but he conceded that budget restrictions and a lack of available personnel made enforcement difficult.  “Our traffic unit is only going to get bigger and bigger as our resources allow for that to happen,” he said.  Office Davis also said radar was being used to monitor areas of concern in the township, and he noted that police officers are helping with enforcement through overtime, between 4 P.M. and 8 P.M., paid though grants the township has received. Continue Reading

Montclair Planning Board: Plofker Plan For Diva Lounge Finalized; Watchung Parking Lot Discussed

BY  |  Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017 6:30am  |  COMMENTS (7)

The Montclair Planning Board

With the Seymour Street arts district largely behind it and an application for the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment project yet to be formally submitted, the Montclair Planning Board took it easy at its October 16 meeting, going over and passing two resolutions for previously approved projects.  Both applications were represented by attorney Alan Trembulak.

The first resolution memorializes the approval for a new apartment unit wing that developer Steven Plofker is adding to the back of the old Ford dealership on Bloomfield Avenue that until recently was the Diva Lounge.  The resolution bars any future effort to add stories to the original Bloomfield Avenue structure itself, but board member Anthony Ianuale was unclear as to how such a clause would be enforced.   Board attorney Arthur Neiss said that the specific ban as stated in the resolution would make that clear, and Trembulak elaborated that, with the resolution on file, any future developer or building owner who wanted to redo the structure would have to go over the resolution in the municipal records and would see the restriction as worded.  The band emphasizes the need to preserve the historic aspect of the original building, which Planning Director Janice Talley specified.

Board member Martin Schwartz, meanwhile, reminded Neiss that Plofker had agreed to attempt to match the architectural detail of the additions to the building with the surrounding architecture.  The resolution as written noted that the walls on the north and east elevations lack such detail and should blend in with the elements of the original building, but Schwartz suggested that the resolution should also specify that the architecture of the new additions also reflect other buildings in the immediate vicinity.  He said that Plofker had in fact agreed to do that.  Plofker is also required to meet with the board’s revisions committee to finalize the architectural detailing.

Board member Carmel Loughman asked if the board gets a final design when they go through anything that may have changes.  Talley said that if developers have to be changed before they get their building permits, they have to file final plans.  “We always do a resolution compliance review of those plans that are submitted,” she told Loughman, “to make sure that they comply with the conditions of the resolution.”  Schwartz added that the board’s more meticulous overview of the Seymour Street project was necessary because so much detail had been left open and not fully detailed and rendered in that case, while the Plofker project involved a much smaller area.  Ianuale questioned the wisdom of requiring the architectural detail to resemble the adjacent buildings, but Schwartz explained that the Plofker design should not have to look like the other buildings, only to harmonize with them.  The board passed the resolution 8-0 (board member Carole Willis and Chairman John Wynn, whose place was taken by Vice Chair Keith Brodock, were absent).

The board then turned approving a sign for the small strip storefront complex at 122 Watchung Avenue.  Planning Board members, including Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, whose ward includes the property, said that the storefronts needed to be spruced up before they would consider the sign application.  The application, which was heard in September, is for a monument sign at the foot of the parking lot along the sidewalk.

Attorney Alan Trembulak testifies at a Montclair Planning Board meeting on a sign application for the property at 122 Watchung Avenue.

Trembulak, speaking for the applicants, testified that the owners of the property had met the demands of the board.  The numerous eyesores – a pay phone, most of the freestanding signs relating to parking rules, poles close to the sidewalk, and hanging wires, have all been removed, and there are plans to resurface the parking lot and to restripe it with new handicapped-parking spaces, as well as add Belgian-block curbing to the edges.  The applicants had also agreed to landscape two interior areas of the parking lot – the area where the sign would be and on the opposite side of the center island.  The landscaping would include grass and low-growth shrubs, with native plantings.  Trembulak said he could submit a landscaping plan to the board. Continue Reading

Katy Tur Talks About Her New Book On Covering Trump Campaign at Montclair Library

BY  |  Saturday, Oct 14, 2017 9:35am  |  COMMENTS (0)

Broadcast journalist Katy Tur was living in London in the late spring of 2015, living out her dream job as a foreign correspondent for NBC News, when she briefly returned to the United States and was in the NBC newsroom at the time Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy.

“[NBC] Nightly News needed someone to cover it,” Tur explains, “and they said, ‘Well, who’s around?’  And one of my friends in the newsroom said, ‘Oh, Katy Tur!  She’s here!’”  Assigned to cover Trump’s presidential campaign, she expected to return to London as soon as his bid faltered.  Instead, it led to a whirlwind of an experience she chronicles in her new book, “Unbelievable: My Front‑Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” which she discussed at the Montclair Public Library on October 13.

NBC reporter Katy Tur discusses her book on covering Donald Trump’s presidential campaign with Tom Johnson of Bloomberg News at the Montclair Public Library.

In a talk moderated by Bloomberg News’ Tom Johnson (as part of the Open Book / Open Mind series), Tur explained she had been given the Trump campaign assignment because no one took Trump seriously enough to think he could win the Presidency, and so none of the political reporters wished to cover him; Tur, a political outsider, was thus given the job instead.  She said her lack of experience as a political reporter – ironically covering a candidate lacking in political experience – allowed her to see Trump from an outsider’s perspective and understand his supporters.  She soon found herself in a intense situation, as Trump’s rallies grew larger throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and the tone among his backers grew uglier and meaner.  She told Johnson that she got her earliest sense of the sort of a politician Trump was when he hosted a backyard campaign event in New Hampshire about two weeks after he announced his candidacy.  Trump bloviated about building a wall to keep out Mexican migrants and called out the press for lying. Then he turned to Tur and showed her the disrespect toward the press that would become his trademark.

“Katy, you haven’t looked up to me once!” he said with a smirk. Continue Reading

Benvenuti: Montclair Welcomes Delegation from Italian Sister City Aquilonia

BY  |  Thursday, Oct 05, 2017 10:12pm  |  COMMENTS (0)

The Italian navigators entered the New World, and the natives were friendly.  Less than four months after Mayor Robert Jackson and several other Montclair municipal officials visited the township’s new sister city of Aquilonia, Italy, it was Montclair’s turn to greet municipal officials from Aquilonia, who arrived for a much-anticipated reciprocal visit on October 5 and were feted with a welcoming ceremony.  The ceremony was delayed by about an hour and a half owing to last-minute snags, but the delegation looked none the worse for wear as Mayor Jackson and Montclair resident Raffaele Marzullo, an Aquilonia native and the individual who was instrumental in the sister-city union, expressed their gratitude for the visit.

Mayor Jackson said it was great to see the Italians once again after having met them in Aquilonia, and Mirco Annunziata, the Aquilonia town assessor, said in English that he was grateful for the hospitality he and his colleagues had been shown.  He spoke of establishing a new symbolic bridge between the two towns, and he said he hoped it would last for years to come.  Aquilonia Sister City Committee President Raffaele Michele Gala, who spoke Italian through Marzullo’s translation (Marzullo did all of the necessary translating), said he was glad the two towns could come together and hoped that they could “forge new bonds” going forward.

Aquilonia Town Assessor Mirco Annziata addresses the Montclair Township Council while Raffaele Marzullo, who spearheaded the drive to make Montclair and Aquilonia sister cities, listens.

Members of the Montclair Township Council (Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller was absent) expressed their own sentiments at the welcoming ceremony.  First Ward Councilor William Hurlock said he was thrilled with the prospect of showing Montclair to the guests, and he thanked them for helping him connect with relatives he hadn’t even known he had when he visited Aquilonia with Mayor Jackson in June.  Councilor Hurlock added that the residents of Aquilonia had “truly touched our hearts.”  Councilor-at-Large Rich McMahon, who was also on that trip, said his best memory of Aquilonia was the “sheer quantity of fabulous food.”  Unlike other members of the council, Councilor McMahon does not claim Italian heritage, but, as an Irish-American, he had expressed gratitude for Italians in America back in November 2016 when the sister-city connection with Aquilonia was first proposed.

“If it weren’t for the Italians,” he’d said, “who would the Irish have to marry?”

Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, who has Italian ancestry through her grandmother, said she regretted being unable to go on the official trip in June but was hoping to visit eventually.  Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo showed a picture of his 98-year-old mother, Florence, who hails from Avellino.  He confessed to never having been to Italy despite his own Italian heritage and has always wanted to go.  He told the Italians that if they ventured to St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, it was his mother’s parish, and his uncle was a priest there.

Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville celebrated the fact that the residents of Aquilonia were joining Montclair residents at a time when the township offers great diversity of Montclair’s population, and she also noted that Italians and blacks had lived next to each other in the Fourth Ward for many years.  She also applauded Italy for being first among nations in gender pay equity, where women make the equivalent of 98 cents to every dollar that men make (the ratio is 82 cents to the dollar in the U.S.).  She also said she was grateful that the sister cities were building “bridges, not walls.”

Also speaking was Township Clerk Linda Wanat, who visited Aquilonia with the Montclair delegate that went in June.  She said she was captivated by the wonderful people she’d met and the rolling hills and sunsets she’d seen.   The mood of the ceremony was encapsulated by Leonardo Marzullo, president of the St. Vito Society, who said the sister-city relationship was proof that there are so many varieties of people in the world, yet “we all talk the same language.  We all talk about being kind with people and being good hosts and be[ing] friendly, and try to accomplish something together.”

Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson is joined by members of the Township Council and others after presenting the key to Montclair to Aquilonia Town Assessor Mirco Annunziata.

The ceremony concluded with Mayor Jackson presenting the key to Montclair to the Aquilonia delegation.  Later, Raffaele Marzullo toasted the mayor for going beyond ceremonial acts and making a real effort to bring the two towns together, praising him for his leadership.

The Aquilonia delegation is scheduled to attend the upcoming Columbus Day Mass at the invitation of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.  The delegation will also march with the New York City Police Department in the city’s Columbus Day parade.

Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson leads a toast to the new sister-city relationship with Aquilonia, Italy.

Montclair Residents Afraid To Cross Grove Street Voice Concerns at Council Meeting

BY  |  Wednesday, Oct 04, 2017 7:44am  |  COMMENTS (11)

the Montclair Township Council

In one of the longest meetings of the Montclair Township Council in recent memory – nearly four hours – as many as 30 residents spoke out at the council’s October 3 conference meeting about the dangerous conditions for pedestrians on Grove Street.  The biggest concerns involved residents who lived on side streets to the east of Grove Street; one resident after another complained about how motorists made it difficult to cross.  One of the biggest issues was the problem of children having to cross Grove Street to their assigned school bus stops.  Heavy traffic on Grove Street has made it dangerous enough for adults to cross without children being at greater peril.

The public comment came in light of the council’s plan to consider enacting a 30-mph speed limit on both Grove Street and Valley Road, which is slated to come up at the council’s October 24 meeting.  Erin Krupa, a mathematics professor at Montclair State University, said the speed limit on Grove Street should be reduced, if to at least make it easier for children to cross.  Debra Kaplan said there were many close calls involving children, and she added that more enforcement of the law was necessary.   Abraham Dickerson, a resident of Oxford Street, said it was all good and fine to lower the speed limit to 30 miles an hour but also suggested that traffic fines be doubled for motorists in violation during peak times at rush hour. Resident Robert Rich called for an even lower speed limit on Grove Street – 25 mph instead of 30mph – coupled aggressive ticketing to send an effective message to motorists. Continue Reading

Montclair Councilor Sean Spiller, Residents Talk About Development At Community Meeting

BY  |  Wednesday, Sep 27, 2017 9:48am  |  COMMENTS (19)

Montclair Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller speaks at his September 26 community meeting.

Twenty-two Montclair residents showed up for Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller’s September 26 community meeting at the Salvation Army Church on Trinity Place.  The lack of air conditioning in the room that was used – during a warm, muggy night more appropriate for the middle of August than the start of autumn – meant that things got heated, and so was the rhetoric over concerns about development.  Councilor Spiller also addressed ongoing issues regarding debt reduction and public safety, as well as eye-opening complaints about the new Crosby restaurant on Glenridge Avenue.

Resident Melinda Morton came to the fore about redevelopment issues.  She told Councilor Spiller that overdevelopment was ruining the quality of life in Montclair, with the new apartments going up along Bloomfield Avenue proving to be unaffordable for local residents and pushing them out in favor of more affluent newcomers from places such as Manhattan.  She doubted that the new Seymour Street arts district would be truly devoted to fostering arts, saying that it was a ruse to build more luxury apartments. Councilor Spiller admitted there was concern in trying to balance the objectives of the developers with the needs of the residents, but he also noted that the layers of board and committees augmenting the mayor and council – the Planning  Board, the Environmental Committee – were integral in setting policies and establishing guidelines to make development work in everyone’s best interests. Continue Reading

Montclair Planning Board Passes Seymour Street Arts District Resolution

BY  |  Tuesday, Sep 26, 2017 8:43am  |  COMMENTS (0)

The Montclair Planning Board

The Montclair Planning Board had an uncharacteristically short meeting on September 25, during which the main order of business was to pass the resolution that would memorialize the recently approved Seymour Street arts district project.  Pinnacle CEO Brian Stolar, whose company is developing the new arts district with Brookfield, was in the gallery looking on as the board finalized the wording of the resolution.

Board member Martin Schwartz read over a few changes to the language of the resolution that were included in the final version, some of which were suggested by Board Vice Chair Keith Brodock, who, along with board member Carmel Loughman, was absent.  One change involved insuring that the pavement used on the frontage would flow well with the pavement for the plaza, and another change said that the application would provide a record set, “signed and sealed, by the respective responsible professional of all plans and submittals to the board,” including sight plans, engineering drawings, architectural drawings and renderings, and landscape architecture drawings and renderings, among other things.

The most significant rewording involved the clause that required electronic signage at the entrances to the planned South Fullerton Avenue and South Willow Street parking decks informing motorists of available spaces for cars.   The use of any future digital signage in other parts of town directing people to park would have to be interconnected with the digital signage in the arts district and require cooperation from the applicant, as one of the conditions. Thomas Trautner, the attorney for the applicant, suggested a clause saying that the application “shall not be required to purchase additional software or hardware for other locations” if said locations are interconnected with the digital signage at the parking decks built for the arts district.

The final vote among the seven members present including Board Chairman John Wynn, was 6-0-1, with board member Anthony Ianuale abstaining.  Schwartz acknowledged Mayor Robert Jackson for advocating the project, and he praised the township council for giving the board the time and the opportunity to work on the Seymour Street plan and get it right, saying also that it was an excellent plan that would bring great benefits to Montclair.  Schwartz also commended the council for its foresight.  (Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager was not present for the Planning Board vote on the Seymour Street resolution.) The board then went on to approve the resolution for Timothy Bray’s subdivision of a Claremont Avenue lot that will yield a new duplex house on Willard Place and the resolution for the renovation of the building at 10 North Willow Street. Continue Reading

Montclair Council: Edgemont Park Improvements, Waste Receptacles, Private Streets, Mitochondrial Disease Awareness

BY  |  Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017 8:06am  |  COMMENTS (7)

The Montclair Township Council had a light agenda for its September 19 meeting, passing eight pending ordinances and six resolutions, as well as the bill list.  One resolution that got much commentary from members of the council was the one awarding a contract to Abraham General Construction for improvements to Edgemont Park.

The Montclair Township Council

Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said the improvements that members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee proposed for the park were “outstanding,” and she said that committee members hope to be more involved with the council in all issues regarding parks and open spaces.  Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager said that the Friends of Edgemont park group was also supportive.  But Dr. Baskerville asked if the money was left over from a previous source for park spending, or “reprogrammed.”

Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford explained that funds were in fact reprogrammed from Green Acres funding for Edgemont Park. He said there was more funding possible through the state Green Acres program, and he added that Montclair has sent a letter to the state asking to be kept informed of such funding.  Mayor Robert Jackson has a sent a letter to the state endorsing such funding. Continue Reading

Montclair Planning Board and EDC Have Different Ideas About Supermarket For Lackawanna Plaza

BY  |  Tuesday, Sep 12, 2017 6:45am  |  COMMENTS (3)

An early-twentieth-century picture of the old Lackawanna railway terminal.

The Montclair Planning Board spent its September 11 meeting finalizing one application and foregoing another, but before all that, they heard from the Montclair Township Council’s Economic Development Committee (EDC)  – which includes the Planning Board’s council liaison, Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager – about the feedback the committee received on the board’s critique of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan.  Despite the extensive briefing, the Planning Board did not engage in a public tête-à-tête with the committee members, but Chairman John Wynn appreciated the EDC’s input.

Deputy Mayor Schlager, Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller, and Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville went through 19 comments the Planning Board offered up in its rebuttal to the town council, and the EDC members agreed with the board on all the major points.  They agreed with the board that any plan should identify the historic elements of the Lackawanna railway terminal building, and that the main plaza between Bloomfield Avenue and the train sheds should be made into a green space.  The EDC also concurred that the bricked-up walls of the train shed facing Bloomfield Avenue should be opened up and turned into storefronts, rather than the current arrangement in which the entrances to the stores are from the inside of the mini-mall that was built in the train sheds’ space.  Even more importantly, the EDC agreed that the number of apartments should be scaled back.  The Pinnacle and Hampshire development companies wanted 350 units; the EDC said that 280 units would be enough.

The Montclair Township Council’s Economic Development Committee presented its input on the Lackawanna Pala redevelopment plan. Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville (at the podium) led off the presentation.

However, the EDC disagreed with the Planning Board on how to include a supermarket in the plan.  Deputy Mayor Schlager, speaking as a councilor and not as a planning board member, said that a supermarket on the parcel of land east of Grove Street would have a negative impact on nearby neighborhoods by increasing noise and truck traffic, which put the EDC at odds with the Planning Board’s desire to see a supermarket built on the east parcel.  Furthermore, Deputy Mayor Schlager said the EDC disagreed with limiting the maximum square footage of the supermarket, saying it would discourage more supermarket chains from opening a store in Lackawanna Plaza due to lack of sufficient space.  The EDC, though, was on the same page as the Planning Board in preserving historic elements of the railway terminal building and restoring some of the building’s historic elements, such as the water basin between the west-parcel parking lot and Grove Street. Continue Reading

Montclair Township Council Reviews Temporary Alcohol Permits and Abandoned Properties

BY  |  Wednesday, Sep 06, 2017 9:00am  |  COMMENTS (0)

The Montclair Township Council

The Montclair Township Council breezed through yet another 20-minute meeting on September 5 in a conference meeting that dealt with a pending ordinance, three resolutions, and one comment from the member of the public.

The pending ordinance was an amendment to allow alcoholic beverages to be consumed on public property through a temporary permit for what Township Attorney Ira Karasick referred to as “narrow circumstances” such as social events like the food and wine festival, or if a license holder wants to extend his or her permit for such an event.  The amendment allows the township to give such permission, although it would not necessarily have to.

Deputy Mayor / Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager said she was very pleased with the amendment to the ordinance because it had always been a gray area for people who wanted to plan a public event using Montclair parks or parking lots at which serving alcohol would be expected.  She noted that the council had listened to residents asking for clarification in the ordinance.  “I’m pleased we did this,” she said.

One member of the council who was not pleased was First Ward Councilor William Hurlock.  He first asked Karasick if he had discussed this with the police in terms of enforcement and in terms of patrolling.  Karasick replied that he’s discussed it with deputy chiefs, and Acting Township Attorney Tim Stafford interjected that any such application for a temporary permit of alcohol consumption on public property would have to be reviewed and approved by Police Chief Todd Conforti before the township would even look at the request.   Despite that assurance, Councilor Hurlock pressed further, asking about responsibility for liabilities.  Karasick explained that there would still be a requirement for insurance.  Then Councilor Hurlock asked about his biggest concern – the township’s liability under the “Dram Shop” rule, the rule that holds a bar liable for serving alcohol to an individual who later cause a car accident. Continue Reading

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I'm struck by how much attention is being paid to the details of a parking lot, as opposed to the attention paid to the future impact of the monstrous projects being planned.

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