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

BY  |  Wednesday, May 24, 2017 9:00am  |  COMMENTS (2)

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 (21)

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 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

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

Montclair Planning Board: Lewis Court, Master Plan Revision, Seymour Street Engineering

BY  |  Tuesday, Apr 25, 2017 9:30am  |  COMMENTS (31)

The proposed house on the southwest corner of Pleasant Avenue and the proposed street Lewis Court, facing Pleasant Avenue.

The Montclair Planning Board made its way through three topics at its April 24 meeting, approving one application, continuing another, and making a change to the master plan.

The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to completing and approving the application for the new subdivision to be built off Pleasant Avenue on the property occupied by the house of the late Aubrey Lewis, an accomplished athlete and FBI agent.  The street, to be named Lewis Court in his honor, is to feature eight new houses designed to fit in with the neighborhood, but some residents and even a couple of Planning Board members had their reservations – especially those who had sought to preserve the Lewis house as an historic landmark.

The proposed house on the southwest corner of Pleasant Avenue and the proposed street Lewis Court, facing Lewis Court.

Engineer Michael Lanzafama of the Millburn firm Casey & Keller presented a revised version of the plan for Lewis Court, explaining that the two corner lots on Lewis Court and Pleasant Avenue, Lots 1 and 5, would be set back 25 feet from the new street, with the house on Lot 1 set back 40 feet from Pleasant Avenue and house on Lot 5 set back 53 feet from Pleasant Avenue.  The two houses would be lined up together as closely as possible to preserve the character of the neighborhood, and would shield the two farthest lots on the southern side of Lewis Court (Lots 3 and 4) both condensed in size, from the perspective at Pleasant Avenue.  This would allow the two houses on Lots 3 and 4, as well as those on Lots 7 and 8 (the two farthest lots on the northern side of Lewis Court) to be built with front-facing garage doors rather than with garage doors facing the side, if customers for the houses so desire.  Lanzafama said this would give the developer flexibility to build what customers want.  Any house with front-facing garages would require a variance.

A couple of board members did not like the idea of the Lewis house itself being demolished, a 1906 building designed by noted Montclair architect Dudley Van Antwerp, but board member Martin Schwartz noted that the board could have saved the house.   “It’s important to point out that this board had the opportunity to vote to preserve that home,” he said, “and the majority of members did not choose to vote for that, unfortunately.”   He also pointed out that Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) had lobbied for its preservation as well, without the support for the Planning Board.

“That ship has already sailed,” Schwartz said. Continue Reading

Montclair BoE: Too Much Homework, Equity, Special Education, Field Trips

BY  |  Thursday, Apr 13, 2017 8:30am  |  COMMENTS (9)

The Montclair Board of Education

With the difficult budget season behind it, the Montclair Board of Education showed no signs of lightening its agenda in the short term.  The board’s four-hour meeting on April 12 was devoted to no fewer than three major presentations, one made by Montclair High School students.

A group of students led off the evening with a study of homework practices that raised questions.  The students said homework is viewed as a way of reinforcing class lessons, but their study found that students were given too many take-home assignments in too many of their classes, leading to time-management problems, anxiety and sleep deprivation.  The students advocated a professional development day for teachers to help them learn how to assign homework more appropriately and recommended a cap on the amount of homework a student gets.   They were also critical of elementary school homework.  One student even told the board she tutors a five-year-old child by reading to her and helping her answer questions, while the child in question is at present unable to read. Continue Reading

Montclair Third Ward Community Meeting: Lackawanna Development, Taxes, Law Enforcement

BY  |  Wednesday, Apr 12, 2017 9:01am  |  COMMENTS (1)

Montclair Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller at his April 2017 community meeting

Montclair Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller held his annual spring community meeting at the Montclair Inn, as he has done in the past.  And as at his previous spring community meetings, his April 11 event was dominated by development and law enforcement issues, as well as taxes.

Councilor Spiller had the township’s architectural consultant, Ira Smith, speak before the assembled constituents about the Seymour Street and Lackawanna Plaza projects.  Smith said his role was to ensure the architecture of the new developments was aesthetically pleasing and would not repeat the mistakes of the Valley & Bloom apartment complex.  He said the Historic Preservation Commission liked the designs for the Seymour Street projects but balked at sketches of the proposed plaza that would be developed in front of the Wellmont Theater’s entrance.  He told the audience the planning board was due to consider the civil engineering aspects of the project at its April 24 meeting and revisit the plaza two weeks after that.  The façade of the new building facing Seymour Street across from the Wellmont would be 65 feet from the existing theater, ensuring ample room for the plaza, and Smith added that measurements have been taken to ensure any renderings of the new buildings are faithful to the project. Continue Reading

Montclair Council: Dog Park/Mount Vernon Road Update, Glenridge Avenue Street Fair

BY  |  Wednesday, Apr 05, 2017 11:28am  |  COMMENTS (1)

The Montclair Township Council

About half of the Montclair Township Council’s hour-long conference meeting on April 4 was devoted to the ongoing effort to do something about people who use the canine facility in Brookdale Park just beyond the dead end of Mount Vernon Road and park on that street to access the dog park.

Montclair Police Lieutenant Stephanie Egnezzo explains solutions for Mount Vernon Road while Acting Township manager Tim Stafford listens. Deputy Police Chief Tracy Frazzano is in the background.

Lt. Egnezzo said police analyzed the situation after it was brought to the attention of the Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee (TPAC).  Although the police plan to do an extensive study in the spring months, they did conduct a study in February and came up with possible solutions.  The proposals they came up with were formulated after they talked to the fire department about safety issues.  Fire officials had their own concerns, given that Mount Vernon Road is 25.9 feet wide and parking on both sides could inconvenience emergency vehicles.   The TPAC has not yet weighed in.

For the time being, Lt. Egnezzo says, the solutions that the police are proposing that parking be prohibited at eastern dead ends of Mount Vernon Road and two parallel dead-end streets – Chester Road and Gordonhurst Avenue – and that parking also be prohibited on one side of each of the streets.  On Mount Vernon Road, parking on the south side would be prohibited.  Another suggestion was to prohibit parking on the north side 90.5 feet from the dead end because of the location of a fire hydrant, as that is where most people tend to park.

Mount Vernon Road, July 2013. Police Lt. Stephanie Egnezzo said that the police would recommend the elimination of parking on the south side of the street (left). Image courtesy of Google.

“At this point, it’s a public safety issue,” Lt. Egnezzo said.

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

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