MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Planning Board continued its hearing on a plan for a new two-story, three-bedroom duplex apartment atop the roof of 423 Bloomfield Avenue, the location of the Studio 042 printing shop. The review of the application resumed after a rocky start to the remote meeting involving technical difficulties and disputes over the minutes.
Architect Paul Sionas produced revised plans for the apartment, which building owner Scott Kennedy, who also owns the Studio 042 shop, plans to move into with his wife Pilar. Many of the revisions made were adjustments to the floor plans and the window plan. Sionas adjusted these plans so that the addition would not affect light into or views out of the windows of adjacent buildings, particularly 425 Bloomfield Avenue. One notable change is that the south wall of the addition steps further away from the neighbor’s existing windows to allow said light and outward views. Sionas also added a perforated brick screen wall along the second-floor terrace to provide privacy, with the perforations intended to permit natural light to filter in.
Sionas also said that he was aiming to use an aluminum composite siding for the box bay windows he designed, explaining that using a façade similar to the adjacent historic façades would be “falsely historic” and that the Historic Preservation Commission recommended a look that would be “of its time.” He also adjusted the design of the light fixtures in the back of the apartment, having the lamps shine down directly on the roof deck in the rear to avoid light pollution. He also told Vice Chair Keith Brodock, who asked about the logic of the roof deck being against the window of an adjacent property owner, that the deck could be effectively screened with strategically placed planters with plants about five feet tall.
Sionas revisited the variances needed for the project. He defended the variance requiring a rear-yard setback of ten feet, saying that the proposed addition’s 2.1-foot setback matches the existing condition’s measurement, and the upper floors are stepped back. He reiterated the variance requested for the 6-square-foot business directory sign for Studio 042, proposed to be placed on the rear next to the building’s existing rear-entry door, as the sign would provide customers with direction to find the business. The main bone of contention, however, was the requested parking variance to allow the apartment to be built without two required parking spaces. The Kennedys have already gotten an agreement from the Montclair Parking company for two parking spaces on an ongoing basis in one of Montclair Parking’s facilities near their property.
Board Chairman John Wynn was skeptical about the parking arrangement, expressing fear that Montclair Parking’s facilities may not be there in perpetuity. Attorney Alan Trembulak, representing the Kennedys, said that his clients and anyone who owns the building or rents the apartment in the future would have the burden of finding another place to park their cars, and that it would not be the township’s problem. Chairman Wynn wasn’t so sure, opining that the township is always trying to provide parking in a manageable way so that there is no burden for anyone. Acting board attorney Herschel Rose suggested an annual renewal of a parking agreement for the apartment with a parking provider as a condition of approval, but Chairman Wynn feared that there would be no way to enforce it.
Trembulak, for his part, said that the township could always revoke the apartment’s certificate of occupancy if there is no compliance from either the Kennedys or future owners and/or tenants of the building, noting that there would be an incentive for a future owner to guarantee two spaces in order to rent out the building, otherwise no one would want to rent it. “No one has a greater interest in parking two vehicles more than the property owner himself, whether that’s today or twenty years down the road,” he said.
A new wrinkle, however, was thrown in by attorney Jonathan Guldin, representing the owners of the adjacent building at 425 Bloomfield Avenue. Guldin called in to the meeting to say that the paved area immediately behind the Kennedys’ building was owned by his client and that a 1994 agreement between the previous owners of each of the properties states that the paved area, called an easement, can only be used for only for business, not residential, purposes. Trembulak objected to this, saying that the business purpose of the previous owner of the Kennedys’ property could have been to invest in it and lease it to other parties and insisting that any particular business use intended should have been spelled out. Trembulak defended the Kennedys’ plans for their 423 Bloomfield Avenue property, saying that the improvements were a benefit to the community and that the apartment would allow the Kennedys to age in place and enhance a pedestrian-friendly environment. As for the parking, he said again that they would utilize spaces already available privately, without burdening public spaces.
Vice Chair Brodock asked about the easement issue, which would have to be settled in court. Chairman Wynn said that the Kennedys would not be able to use the easement for their purposes if the courts favored the rules as the owners of 425 Bloomfield Avenue interpreted them, and the ability to use the easement would be a condition of approval for the project. “It’s one or the other,” he said. “It’s either an agreement or a court order saying that the easement permits or doesn’t permit X, Y and Z.”
The parking still bedeviled the Planning Board, despite the personal support for the project itself from board members such as Anthony Ianuale and Carmel Loughman. Loughman was frustrated that they could not get any data based on what parking is available to rely on, though Ianuale did note that the use of two private spaces for the apartment would not impede on parking available for anyone simply coming into town to have dinner. Mayor Sean Spiller, however, reiterated his concern over the long wait for permits, and he also reiterated his fear that public parking coming online in the near future would not lessen that wait very much.
Loughman made a motion that the Kennedys’ application be approved with the conditions that parking spaces be acquired in a private lot, the easement issue with their neighbors at 425 Bloomfield Avenue be satisfied, and that a development fee for affordable housing be paid. Any tenants without cars could seek relief from the parking requirement. The board narrowly approved the application, 5-3-1, with Vice Chair Brodock, Mayor Spiller and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager voting no. Board member Carole Willis abstained. And with that, Chairman Wynn advised Trembulak to work out a deal on the easement on the Kennedys’ behalf.
“We’ll get to work on that right way,” Trembulak replied.