MONTCLAIR, NJ - Construction on Lorraine Avenue was discussed during the Montclair Planning Board meeting on Monday. The Montclair Planning Board is also considering the impact of a recent lawsuit regarding an empty lot on Church Street. Planning Board officials state that the Redevelopment Plan needs to be revisited following this ruling.

Neal Zimmerman, attorney for the developer Michael Pavel, advised that his client's plans were revised and four witnesses were present to discuss the traffic impact study, new set of drawings and affidavit of service.

It was noted that the height of the building was substantially downsized. The mixed-use building project is now set to have 2 stories, which resulted in loss of affordable units. Currently the plan accounts for one story instead of two, with retail and office space, as well as 60 parking spots.

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A variance of 6 feet will be required for side yard. The Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) reviewed and provided a report that had but one exception with regard to the width of the front door.

Planning Engineer, Peter Steck, was the first to speak and noted the building was expanding to the rear by 28 feet, which would make it proportional to parking. No questions from the public were noted.

Architect Matthew Barry Jarmel, qualified as an expert, discussed demolishing what is currently there and rebuilding with an aesthetic that made it look as though it were part of the Warner building.

Having attended and presented drawings at the HPC meeting, the historic committee’s only request was that the stair exit be widened. There was some pushback based on it being a secondary means of egress and that for marketability the storefront is where the focus should be.

The historic commission also requested locating lighting on signs versus awning and the architect did not take issue with that. There was discussion around location of door (under center awning) and signage indicating handicap entrance and delivery area.

Board member Martin Schwartz said there were two issues to be addressed, “One is functionality and the other is that the historic commission wants to maintain symmetry and create a centering element that visually enhances the historic district." Schwartz suggested that barring functional reasons why not, it should be made a 40-inch door. Jarmel was happy to flank the door with sidelights.

John Wynn highlighted that drawings were misleading because they look like the corners flare all around. He recommended detail be consistent around the building.

Janice Tally recommended a master signage plan be presented, per ordinance, to show the approach.

Resident Gary Steindler was concerned about eliminating parking. One metered parking space is being eliminated but the lot itself will have 60 spaces. Throughout the meeting when this came up it was suggested this be dealt with at the town level.

Becky Cabaza, Montclair resident, asked a few questions. One was about size of windows, which in the rendering turned out to be actually planters. The other related to being able to see equipment on the top of the building. Given the vantage point of her home it sounded as though she would always be able to see that, but toward the end it was discussed that some type of netting or fencing would be incorporated.

Eric Hough, who holds a BA from Rutgers in Civil Engineering, works as a traffic engineer that provided a traffic report. He studied what he considered peak morning and evening hours and stated that he found no significant impact.

Questions arose about their choice of peak hours. When asked if they accounted for public transportation Hough replied "It's a conservative analysis assuming people are arriving by car." He also said he had observed about 5 or 6 buses during morning peak.

Carol Ferentz, a resident, suggested a review of both Decamp and bus-28 schedules be reviewed, which would indicate substantially far more bus traffic than Hough suggested.

Several residents raised safety concerns regarding pedestrian safety in the area.

Cabaza asked, "Is there a way to look at signage? What do you do to protect people from getting hit by cars?"

Resident Jennifer Haughton asked, "Is there a police officer that could help facilitate traffic?"

John Wynn addressed some of the concerns saying that certain recommendations can be made to the town public works but the planning board has no authority to require these measures.

When asked afterward if satisfied with the responses of the board, Cabaza told Tap into Montclair, "I'd say the response from planning board seems satisfactory so far and I am satisfied with revised scale of the building, so far. Traffic and pedestrian safety is still a big concern but as you've observed that's more of a township issue in conjunction with NJT."

Gerard Gesarro, NJIT grad who holds a BA in Science and Civil Engineering, was assigned to rework the site plan regarding items like drainage, lighting, landscape, and sidewalks, spoke on this items. He remarked that they are not in a flood zone, that the relocation of the driveway will remove one metered parking spot. He added that dumpsters will have ability to circle and exit and that snow storage with the new layout will not be a problem. Finally he said a trench drain would be added to improve storm runoff.

Wynn requested type and height of shrubbery at full growth, insisting they use native NJ shrubs. A resident noted the height should be maintained so not to impede visibility of signage.

Laura Torchio with Bike and Walk Montclair, an advocacy organization that promotes policy and programs that facilitate walking and biking asked, "Is there bicycle parking on site? How might we begin to reduce the demand for more parking… and accommodate people… whose primary mode is using transit, biking or walking?" She also asked about providing priority spaces for zip cars.

The site plan currently doesn’t show bike parking but they agreed to add it. Since there is no parking variance they are not proposing zip car.

In reviewing the findings, approval was given and some of the conditions of review were essentially a master signage plan, slight elevation to promote drainage, the applicant working with HPC for front door, stairs to the parking lot, a bike rack, fan lights, building mounted light fixtures that would be cast down and shielded, signage on building, and native NJ shrubbery.

Tap into Montclair inquired with the board directly regarding news that Montclair property owner and developer Dick Grabowsky had won in appellate court, that very morning, in regards to the matter of use of the empty lot on Church Street based on the fact that two of the voting members should have recused themselves from voting on the matter.

Jason DeSalvo, Vice Chairman who was not on the planning board when decisions were made regarding the Church Street property said, “We will be briefed officially tonight.” But the meeting ended without any official comment on this issue.

TAP then asked other board members whether everything was back on the table as far as the 106 parking spots originally required on the redevelopment plan prior to amendments, the goals for use of the site etc. Wynn basically said, “It puts us back to square one.”

TAP asked Arthur Neiss and John Wynn whether redrafting the redevelopment made sense and we were told, “technically everything is back on the table.”

Planning Director Janice Tally interjected, “The council has to decide what they want to do. If they want to amend the redevelopment plan then they would introduce it, refer it to planning board, board would have 45 days to consider it.”

Tally said, “The redevelopment plan is no longer valid. So there is no redevelopment plan.”