Montclair Planning Board Approves Expansion of Fin Restaurant and James St. Subdivision

Credits: Marissa Kluger

MONTCLAIR, NJ - Residents came forward several times to comment on an application by Rawstrom Real Estate, LLC to subdivide the property between 53 and 67 James Street into three lots during a four-hour long Planning Board meeting on Monday.

Margaret Trucell said she did not understand why, if each of the three properties were independent of one another, the applicant must comply with affordable housing.
Township planner Janice Talley told Trucell the number of units, in which the applicant submitted site plans for six, is what determines the need to comply.

A James Court resident who described himself as happy and supportive of development said, “It only took 60 years for something to be done,” however three properties on this such lot were “inappropriate and an ill-conceived notion.”

He suggested two multi-family homes to avoid the need for the variance.

Like many residents who took a turn at the lectern, he expressed concern to the Board about the applicant’s “current misuse of the property” as a parking facility, adding his discontent for the lack of discussion on an adjacent property, the mill, owned by the applicant’s family member.
Talley addressed landscaping, another concern of residents and the board.
“You could enhance the landscaping, screening of the properties and the parking lot.”
Town Engineer Tom Watkinson answered storm drainage concerns from Julie Gendel of 53 James Street.
Gendel asked the Board what recourse existed if the applicant failed to meet proposed standards for drainage, on-site parking, and screening, reiterating earlier concerns about the “improper use of the property.”
Toure Weaver, also residing at 53 James Street, said the applicant’s lawyer and architect “don’t really care about this community.”
“What about the ten trees? Everything you’re doing is just to comply.” Speaking to the Board, Weaver added, “I hope you all get this.”
Resident William Scott asked about the length of the contract Rawstrom would be required to honor and whether the affordable unit would differ in square footage and layout.
The Planning Board approved the subdivision after including provisions to screen all perimeters of the property except the mill side, require the applicant to have up to 25 trees, not inclusive of street trees; comply with the town engineer’s site improvement recommendations, provide additional screening around the parking lot, and downsize the 22 feet-wide driveway to 18 on the side bordering 53 James St.
Board Attorney Arthur Neiss also stipulated, “No commercial vehicles parked on any lots.”
Chairman Wynn added, the applicant must “defer and abide by the town arborist’s recommendations.”
After hearing from Paul Sionas of Sionas Architecture, Fin manager Gerry Cerrigone, and their lawyer Alan Trembulak on further improvements including creating parking by utilizing valets, scouting locations for valet parking, removing on-street loading, raising the masonry wall on the Northwest corner of the property from 9 to 17 feet, and growing herbs and vegetables on the proposed green screen trellis, the applicant agreed to a minimum of 76 spaces and written agreements.  
Chairman John Wynn said the Board needed to see written agreements for the chosen valet service and the properties, Academy Square and Nicolo’s Bakery, where valeted cars would be parked as a condition of approving said application.   
A North Willow resident voiced safety concerns about valets driving around the area, citing excess traffic that already exists. He also asked where employees currently park and whether the 110 proposed parking spaces accommodate employees.
An Ordinance referred from the Council passed, and Talley called for feedback from board members about a proposed ordinance to create a development review committee.
The development review committee, she said, would be tasked with approving minor site plans to multi-family structures, and “streamline the process.”
Talley added the committee would meet monthly, consisting of two planning board members, a zoning board member, planning director, town engineer, and “other professionals” needed on a case-by-case basis.
Chairman Wynn responded, “I think it is a good idea but you need some provisions,” and suggested using alternates.
The Board will meet on Sep. 28 to continue discussing the Montclair Center Gateway Phase 2 Redevelopment Plan.

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