MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Planning Board met on April 20 for the first time since the state of New Jersey imposed restrictions on public gatherings due to COVID-19.
The meeting was held remotely, per pandemic-caused restrictions, with all board members attending from their homes, rather than any of them in attendance at the municipal building as has been the case with Township Council meetings.
The main topic of the evening was a proposed three-foot-tall retaining wall with an adjoining four-foot-tall aluminum picket fence along a private walkway running parallel to the northern elevation of the Fullerton condominium apartment building (the southern elevation of which fronts Roosevelt Place) and along the western side of Seymour Street. The wall-fence combination would separate a 25-foot wide strip of land between Seymour Street and the Plymouth parking lot from Seymour Street, extend along the private walkway, and connect to an existing wooden fence on the western edge of the condominium property. The purpose of the wall-fence combination is to prevent people from using the Fullerton-owned wooded area between the condominium, Seymour Street, and the Plymouth parking lot as a shortcut, a hangout place, or as a place to urinate. Gates would be set up on the western and eastern ends of the private walkway. The application was up before the board because of a required variance to allow the combined height of the wall and the fence to stand at seven feet – two-and-a-half feet taller than allowed. The wooden area that serves as a green-space buffer is sloped downward from the edge of the parking lot.
Landscape architect Barry Yacker testified by conference call that the top of the wall would itself be sloped to ensure that no one could sit on it along the perimeter of the wall outside the gated area. The fence would run immediately behind the wall. The green space behind the wall-fence combination would be on the opposite side of the fence. The benefit of the wall-fence combination, he said, would prevent access to the Wellmont Theater through the wooded area from the Plymouth parking lot. Patricia Davis, president of the Fullerton Condominium Association, added further testimony on how a wall-fence combination running behind the building’s northern elevation would aid in putting up gates at the end of the path along the building to prevent use by non-residents. She also envisioned a possible opportunity to create a usable green space for residents as well.
When board member Anthony Ianuale asked why Yacker hadn’t considered a fence along the property line between the parking lot and the Fullerton’s green space, which runs along the top of the slope, Yacker explained that he wanted the fence away from the property line to allow the township to push snow along the side of the lot so as to avoid a risk of any damage from a snowplow to a fence along the property line. (The township, in that case, would have to pay for any damage to the fence.) Ianuale opined that the fence should be closer to the property line because it didn’t make sense to him to have a fence through the middle of the property as opposed to near the perimeter.
“Fences usually aren’t in the middles of properties,” he said to Yacker. “The second concern is that, you put a fence there, the condominium may cede control of that [green space] of a de facto basis back to the municipal parking area. Maintaining that’s going to be kind of a nuisance.”
Board member Martin Schwartz made another point. “If you’re worried about people coming on to the property and using it as a toilet,” he said, “they could do the same now from where you’re proposing to place the fence, coming from the municipal lot!” Yacker conceded that point, and said that the condo association may decide to fence that off as well. Schwartz said that the condo association should fence off the wooded area along the parking lot first and assess how it works, saying that the proposed wall-fence combination is “not the most pleasant thing to see.”
Yacker said that the purpose of the wall was to lessen the steepness of the slopes, but Ianuale pointed out the amount of fill that would be required to make the wall-fence combination viable would be ten times the work of putting a fence along the municipal lot and cost more money. Yacker said that the wall-fence combination could be used to beautify the area along the Fullerton, but Schwartz said that it made more sense to put the aluminum fence already proposed along the top of the slope, closer to the lot, and build a wall at the bottom of the slope.
Board member Carmel Loughman said that she would be fine with approving the variance, and she didn’t think it was the Planning Board’s place to offer alternatives if what Yacker proposed was what the condo association wanted. She found the plan inoffensive. Schwartz said that others may disagree with that point. And Chairman John Wynn said he had a hard time seeing in his mind’s eye what the final product would look like. Schwartz added that the logic of the proposal was to stop the flow of people from the parking lot into Seymour Street but said it was “creating a detriment to start with as opposed to taking one step at a time.” Planning Director Janice Talley suggested that Yacker and the condominium association could review the plans and present them anew at another meeting, and it was agreed that the application would be carried over to the May 18 meeting.
The other application for review was to allow Summit Avenue resident Gabriel Marabella and Cooper Avenue resident Paul DuWors to adjust the lot line between their respective backyards and move it north by 35 feet, adding 3,400 square feet to Marabella’s backyard to make a more usable area for his family. The application was approved easily.
The board also passed the resolution for the major addition to 182 Glenridge Avenue, and Director Talley informed the board that developer Brian Stolar’s revised application for the MC Residences on Orange Road would likely not be ready for the board’s May 4 meeting, which is likely to be canceled for lack of new business. The talk of such large projects occurred in the shadow of the state’s ban on non-essential construction during the COVID-19 crisis until further notice.