Lorraine Avenue Project Closer To Reality After Contentious Montclair Planning Board Meeting

BY  |  Tuesday, Jul 25, 2017 7:31am  |  COMMENTS (9)

It was a meeting that lasted nearly four hours, but it ended with Montclair Planning Board getting very close to the end of a long, drawn-out application process for one of the most controversial projects in town.

The project was not, however, either the Lackawanna Plaza or Seymour Street redevelopment projects; it was the redo of the Warner Communications building on Lorraine Avenue in Upper Montclair.  The entire July 24 meeting was devoted to one more variation of developer Michael Pavel’s earlier plan for a retail/office building that would take up a huge swath of space behind the current building.  The meeting continued a process begun when Pavel threatened to take legal action against the township for rejected an earlier version of his project that, like the latest one, required no variances.  Board Chairman John Wynn later explained – more than once – that the appeal Pavel threatened to file put the board in a race against time, caused in part by its failure to memorialize the rejection of the earlier version of the Warner project.  In an effort to work with Pavel and avoid litigation, Chairman Wynn said, the board’s executive committee and Barton Ross, the board’s architectural consultant, offered up suggestions for a revised design Monday night.  Board attorney Arthur Neiss bluntly added that Montclair would never have defeated Pavel’s appeal, and that he would have been able to put up the very building the board had already rejected.  He said this method saved the town a large sum of money in court fees.

The latest version of the redevelopment plan for the Warner Communications building on Lorraine Avenue, as seen from the west.

Several members of the public, including Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) chair Kathleen Bennett, were unhappy that the HPC hadn’t been consulted first.  Chairman Wynn found himself repeating the explanation that the time constraints based on legal issues meant there wasn’t enough time for the HPC to go over the revisions of the new plan.  He did stress, however, that the HPC could still advise and consult the board after the project was approved and before it was memorialized by resolution.  He later made such a review a condition of approval.

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Planning Board Questions Parking & Traffic Consultants About Seymour Street Plan

BY  |  Tuesday, Jul 18, 2017 7:51am  |  COMMENTS (2)

Traffic consultant Jon Harter’s plan for South Fullerton Avenue in Montclair to accommodate the Seymour Street redevelopment plan

The Montclair Planning Board met again to discuss the Seymour Street redevelopment plan, this time in a special meeting on July 17, but its progress was, as always, slow.  The board heard mostly from traffic consultant John Harter on alternate plans to reconfigure traffic on Bloomfield Avenue and side streets in the immediate area in the event that Essex County does not make improvements to Bloomfield Avenue, which would be mainly in the form of signal re-timing.  Harter based his proposed traffic reconfiguration Bloomfield Avenue, a county highway (Route 506) on ideas he got after consulting the county government, who would have to approve any traffic patterns sought by Montclair. Continue Reading

Montclair Planning Board Hears More About Diva Lounge Site, Finalizes Resolution on Lackawanna

BY  |  Thursday, Jul 13, 2017 2:43pm  |  COMMENTS (6)

Architect John Reimnitz prepares to present new drawings at Monday’s Planning Board meeting.

The Montclair Planning Board split their time at Monday’s meeting between testimony on developer Steven Plofker’s project on the corner of Willow Street and Bloomfield Avenue, and finalizing the Lackawanna Plaza resolution that was discussed at the last Planning Board meeting on June 26.

The Plofker application had been continued from the May 22, 2017 meeting, when the board heard the initial testimony from architect John Reimnitz. The application, submitted under Plofker’s LLC, Montclair Property Associates, calls for converting the former Diva Lounge building on Bloomfield Avenue, which has been vacant for a number of years, into a combination retail/residential project, with a new addition behind it fronting on North Willow Street. The addition would be six stories high (including a ground level basement floor). The original Diva Lounge building would be preserved and improved in appearance to more closely resemble the original building, which was once a car dealership.

The project requires three variances – one for rear setback, one for a loading zone requirement, and the last for parking spaces.

At Monday night’s meeting, Plofker’s attorney, Alan Tremulak, summarized changes that had been made to the application since May, based on comments by the board at that previous meeting. Continue Reading

Montclair Council: New Crane Park Farmers Market, Limited Approval For South End Liquors, And Registering Home Alarms

BY  |  Wednesday, Jul 12, 2017 8:55am  |  COMMENTS (2)

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  And except for overlooking the need for procedure, it was.

Israel Cronk, the executive director of the Montclair Business Improvement District (BID) found himself explaining his intentions for a farmer’s market in Crane Park at the Montclair Township Council’s July 11 conference meeting.   In the past, Cronk had to deal with problems having the farmer’s market on South Park Street and the problems that resulted from having to close the street.  After a brief effort at having the farmer’s market at the former Hahne’s parking lot now owned by the Kensington assisted-living development firm, Cronk was ready to give up on the market when an organic farmer offered to supply a huge quantity of surplus produce for it.  Cronk thought Crane Park near Lackawanna Plaza would be the ideal place for a farmer’s market in order to utilize the underused triangular space.  After getting a permit from the Parks and Recreation Committee to use Crane Park for two days a week for 90 days, Cronk set about having the park refurbished and getting volunteers to mulch and weed the beds with the possibility of planting vegetables and herbs as a way of inspiring residents to grow their own food.

There was just one problem: Cronk didn’t go through the proper procedure.   Department of Community Services Director Steve Wood had to inform him that his idea should have been presented to the township’s park advisory board.  Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville said she was concerned about any such proposal that did not go through the standard process, indicating that some people were afraid of increased traffic as a result.  Cronk said he would go through the process to bring his idea to fruition and make it work.

Montclair Business Improvement District Executive Director Israel Cronk at the July 11 Montclair Township Council meeting.

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Development Issues The Focus of Councilor Baskerville’s Community Meeting

BY  |  Wednesday, Jun 28, 2017 8:10am  |  COMMENTS (19)

(This story has been updated with a new, revised rendering of the Midtown parking deck.)

Montclair Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville (standing) with, from left, Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, housing advocate William Scott, and Planning Director Janice Talley.

Montclair Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville held another community meeting on June 27, only six weeks after her previous meeting, and she devoted it entirely to development issues in the Fourth Ward, underscoring the intensity with which projects there have picked up.

The Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan was a leading topic, but Dr. Baskerville also wanted to call attention to a new townhouse project on Orange Road, just south of the South End business district.   Developer Michael Koep, who is completing the redevelopment of the old Drew funeral home property on the northwest corner of Grove Street and Claremont avenue with a single family house and two new two-family houses, plans to build seven townhouses on a narrow but deep property situated between the Willowmere Court garden apartments and the special-needs housing recently built by the Mental Health Association of Essex County (MHA).  The townhouses would be perpendicular to Orange Road and be comprised of three buildings , two with two units each and the third in between with three units.  This project will go before the Board of Adjustment and does not conform to the single-family zone that the property is in. Continue Reading

Montclair Planning Board: Preserve Lackawanna Plaza History In Redevelopment

BY  |  Tuesday, Jun 27, 2017 7:10am  |  COMMENTS (8)

The Montclair Planning Board held a discussion of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan at its June 26 meeting, though it was a discussion between themselves with no input from the public.  Ironically, members of the audience made clear their approval for the board members’ comments, which were largely against the plan as currently envisioned.

Planning consultant Peter Van Den Kooy (right) addresses the Montclair Planning Board while planning consultant Paul Grygiel takes notes.

Paul Grygiel of the Phillips Preiss Grygiel consulting firm summarized the general objectives of the latest plan dated June 1, which was the result of numerous meetings over the past three years.  Grygiel said his presentation was “a statutory review, by state law, to look at master plan consistency,” a reference to Montclair’s own master plan.  Grygiel offered his overview by saying the plan essentially would make room for open space, allow for a mixed use of residential retail and office space, and set a minimum of 40,000 square feet for a new supermarket, which has been set as an essential part of any plan.  The idea, he said, was to try to get a development that would make economic sense for the developer as well as provide a benefit for the township.

Board member Carmel Loughman said she understood that the right for a developer to build whatever he wants is negated by an area declared in need of redevelopment. Noting the historic nature of the Lackawanna railway terminal, Loughman asked Grygiel if he explored what needs to be done to get approval from the state to rebuild the area as envisioned – because a developer would have to apply to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) if he wanted to demolish part of an historic structure to build on the site.   Grygiel said the plan doesn’t look at specific timing for when or if a developer would have to go to SHPO, and Loughman said that the plan didn’t even mention the need to apply.

“We’re fast-tracking this,” she said.  “So all of sudden I feel like we’re up against this hurdle of getting state approval. And they may not give approval.”  Loughman, who opposes any such altering of the Lackawanna railway terminal, made it clear that the process of going to through SHPO to change an historic building was a cumbersome one. Continue Reading

Montclair Historic Preservation Commission Reviews Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Plan

BY  |  Friday, Jun 23, 2017 2:21pm  |  COMMENTS (24)

The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) held a marathon meeting on June 22 picking apart the finer points of the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan.  Chairwoman Kathleen Bennett presided over the dissection of 15 items in the plan that the commissioners felt needed to be reworded or changed in an effort to preserve the historic character of the area as much as possible. Commissioner David Greenbaum made it clear that the HPC was the only public body that had the “gravitas” to integrate historic definitions and recommendations into the plan.

The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission

Many of the items in the plan were handled with little more than changes of words or phrases, but some of them took extra time to amend.  The Montclair Township Redevelopment Subcommittee (MTRS) had met to discuss the redevelopment plan, and there had been general agreement among the MTRS’s members that the Lackawanna Plaza plan should acknowledge two themes – one, that the town should hold the developer to a standard of construction that preserves the elements of the old Lackawanna railway terminal and create a new set of buildings that takes the “DNA” of the original 1913 structure, and, two, that the township should find another developer if the current one is not up to the task.  A couple of commissioners asked how that could happen when the developer owns the property.

“Eminent domain,” HPC commissioner Stephen Rooney replied. Continue Reading

Montclair Council: Debate About Police Using Drones Causes Concern Among Councilors

BY  |  Wednesday, Jun 21, 2017 9:14am  |  COMMENTS (8)

The Montclair Township Council had a light agenda for its June 20 meeting, but the routine voting on ordinances and resolutions came to a standstill over capital spending priorities involving the animal shelter, parks and . . . drones.

The Montclair Township Council

A bond ordinance providing for capital improvements to the tune of $3,475,500 and authorizing the issuance of $3,300,500 in bonds and notes to finance the cost struck a sour note with Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, who asked what the ordinance specifically does.  She said she was expecting a presentation on capital spending that would lead to a more thorough discussion on the issue.  Mayor Robert Jackson explained that the ordinance was for the “meat and potatoes” of spending, such as snowplows and park improvements.  Dr. Baskerville said she didn’t understand the process of how the line items in the ordinance were selected, and she added that some of them were too vague – for example,  she could not tell which parks were supposed to get improvements based on the information she had, and what the improvements were.  She also asked about drones.

Here’s what a drone looks like, flying overhead at Montclair High’s pre-prom event Tuesday night at Van Vleck. Mayor Jackson says police are looking into the possibility of using drones to crowd monitor large events.

Mayor Jackson said that drones may or may not happen, but he explained that the police were looking into the possibility of purchasing them for, as an example, crowd monitoring at large events.  This led to a new round of comments from Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller about regulating their usage and Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo expressing concerns of “1984”-style surveillance and said that more input was needed into the issue.

Dr. Baskerville remained frustrated over the apparent lack of a more detailed presentation and asked if there would ever be one.  She said she wanted a presentation for clarity on what the council is voting on.  ”This is just papers with things on it,” she said, complaining that under a budget presentation, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Pat would have given the council a better understanding of what she wanted.  “In here, it says some things they want to do to the parks,” Dr. Baskerville said, “but I still have no clue of what [Pat Brechka’s] needs are and how we got here,” She said she wasn’t clear if they were meeting the needs of Brechka’s department or any other, because she was only reading “blurbs” on a page.

Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford admitted that Dr. Baskerville had a good idea, and he said he would be happy to arrange for her to meet with department heads, but he tried to explain the nature of the ordinance at hand.  “There’s not much fat on this bone,” he said, “and this ordinance keeps us on target to achieve our goal of paying down our debt while still engaging in certain necessary projects.” Continue Reading

Another Montclair Planning Board Meeting on Seymour Street – This Time It’s Traffic

BY  |  Tuesday, Jun 13, 2017 8:26am  |  COMMENTS (10)

A bird’s eye view of Seymour Street redevelopment area

The Montclair Planning Board heard testimony on the traffic study for the Seymour Street redevelopment plan for most of its four-hour meeting on June 12.  Traffic engineer John Harter testified on behalf of the applicant, the partnership between Brookfield and Pinnacle, while traffic consultant Gordon Meth tried to provide some context.

Harter told the board that, with the inevitable increase in the traffic flow, the plan should be able to mitigate the worst effects.  Seymour Street, as a two-way dead-end street cut off from Bloomfield Avenue for vehicular traffic, would provide a benefit to Seymour Street residents.  The overall traffic in Montclair Center would likely increase by about 3.5 percent, with approximately 20 additional vehicles coming from the north, 25 from the south, 35 from the east, and 20 from the west – all in peak hours in the day.  Harter said the additional traffic could be handled by changes and improvements to Bloomfield Avenue, but these improvements would obviously have to be made by the county. Continue Reading

Residents Protest Staff Cuts at Montclair BOE Meeting

BY  |  Thursday, Jun 08, 2017 8:40am  |  COMMENTS (1)

The Montclair Board of Education had a light agenda for its June 7 workshop meeting, but the meeting itself lasted a long time due to the overwhelming number of comments from residents protesting the various cuts in the 2017-18 school-year budget and the proposal to cut 55 paraprofessionals and 35 teachers. At the same time, 10 science teachers were present to receive awards for their participation in a science fellowship.

The Montclair Board of Education

 

Parents of Nishuane School students were out in full force to protest the proposed dismissal of Assistant Principal Evan Kozak, who was lauded by one Montclair resident after another for his attention to the students and for his innovative program of elective classes. Kozak had developed an elective curriculum allowing first-graders to select classes that included instruction in Shakespeare, architecture, and astronomy. Nishuane parents also praised him for being engaged with families with children in the school. Continue Reading

Featured Comment

It's a shame that this happened. Michael Pavel came up with a plan for Charlie Brown's that worked out great and lived up to his presentations. Following it up with this is like a movie director who makes a movie that wins the Best Picture Oscar and follows it up with a film that gets ten Razzie nominations. :(

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