Residents Admonish Montclair Planning Board Over Redevelopment Concerns

MONTCLAIR, NJ - More than a dozen residents reiterated comments from the Planning Board’s Aug. 24 and July 23 workshop meetings, voicing frustrations over the updated language, historic preservation of the Montclair Police Department building and affordable housing in the draft of the Montclair Center Gateway Phase 2 Redevelopment Plan during the four-hour Planning Board meeting on Monday.
Public comment pivoted on better preserving the police building with only one added story or no additions, maintaining the commitment to twenty percent set aside on new projects for affordable housing, Portland Place traffic, self storage, and simplifying the plan’s language. 
More than 45 attendees, including Councilor Renee Baskerville, Portland Place residents, Montclair Housing Committee members, Montclair Branch NAACP members, Historic Preservation Committee representatives, and business owners in the township were present, applauding resident after resident who took their turn at the lectern. 
Margaret Drumlin, a Portland Place resident, asked, “Development by whom and for whom?” 

She urged the Planning Board to discontinue its use of dead space as an excuse, adding how important language and word choice proved in communicating the plan to the public.
Chair of the Housing Committee William Scott handed out a position paper the Montclair Branch of the NAACP submitted to the Board along with an op-ed from the president of the New Jersey state conference NAACP, the Township’s Unified Land Use and Circulation Element, and the Planning Board’s Housing Element and Fair Share Plan.  
Scott implored the Board to give the public “the respect it deserves.” Public comment began two-and-a-half hours into the meeting. 
He read from the position paper, introducing upcoming residential projects, as well as past, those in review and still being studied, specifically the Montclair Center Gateway Phase 2 plan where the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance requires six affordable units, and the Board has proposed three. 
“Over the past six years, the Township of Montclair has been using a municipal land use law as a tool to reduce the IZO 20 percent requirement in ‘areas of redevelopment’ by 50 percent. [Affordable] housing in the state of New Jersey has a constitutional requirement.”
Scott continued, “The Montclair NAACP agrees with the commitment made in the final draft of the Master Plan: ‘the townships existing affordable housing policy requires that 20 percent of all dwelling units and projects creating five or more new units must be affordable.’”
“[The Board] needs to start thinking of real people at this time,” he added. 
Mary Krugman addressed her concerns as a former HPC chair. “Massing is huge. Mass seems to follow mass.”
“We’re losing a sense of an Ozark building, its presence and that part of the gateway. Scale it down. Make every building four stories. Reduce your gateway. It should be a gentle gateway,” Krugman added. 
Resident Dave Heron reminded the Board their commitment to affordable housing is law. He also echoed Chair Wynn’s earlier sentiments to “keep [the language] simple.” 
Councilor Baskerville spoke on behalf of the Civil Rights Commission calling the fifty percent cut of affordable housing on the gateway project a “civil rights violation.”
She expressed, on a personal note, she stood with the housing committee’s recommendations. 
Board member Carole Willis clarified the public’s concern regarding affordable housing, “This board remains committed to affordable housing.” 
Jason DeSalvo, another Board member, responding to Willis’ comment, said the housing committee seemed to refer specifically to the ten percent met in this plan. 
Resident and Montclair business owner Ruth Brannier told the Planning Board to “listen to the community and its concerns.” 
Consultant Gerard Giosa spoke to ease concerns surrounding traffic imposed by the proposed self storage facility situated above the intended parking deck, citing inbound and outbound traffic during morning peak would include nine trips, while evening peak would generate fifteen. 
He described the traffic as “fairly light,” adding traffic would be six times greater if used as office space, thirteen times for a fitness club, and fourteen times if replaced by medical offices. 
“[The self storage facility] is a good fit for this site as traffic will be very light.”
Later in the evening, Portland Place resident Joe Admonti said the study only took traffic and trips generated by the self storage into account, disregarding the parking deck and current Portland traffic patterns, mentioning NJ Transit buses and trash pick-up trucks “compounding [Myrtle Avenue’s] concerns” a resident voiced frustrations over also during public comment. 
Admonti advised the Board put in speed bumps on Portland in addition to the proposed signage.  
Following the traffic update, Architect Ira Smith then introduced recommended changes to language in the current draft based on feedback from the Aug. 24 and July 23 public workshop meetings. 
Changes included 20 feet stepbacks on Bloomfield Ave. and Valley Rd., a more explicit starting point for the sky exposure plane, traffic signs limiting truck traffic on Portland Place, detailed conditional uses to current Delta Station on the corner of Valley and Bloomfield, and additional language for preserving the PSE&G building , proposing a setback of ten feet if developed, expanded, or renovated in the future. 
Chair Wynn said clearer, simpler language would be needed in the plan, particularly when it came to a particular size as evidenced in excluding “cementitious fiber panel systems” with four by eight or six by twelve dimensions. 
Director Talley added, “We don’t want to have to interpret the ordinance.”
She began concluding the evening by asking board members to bring questions to her prior to the next workshop meeting. 
Chair Wynn added the Board needed to “reconcile differing public views. We have to figure out what’s best and craft something that works best for the town.”
The Board tabled a discussion of proposed ordinance to create a Development Review Subcommittee, responding to this meeting’s public comment, and amending the plan at the next workshop meeting on Oct. 26. No public comment will be heard.  

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