Government

Residents Cause a Stir About Development in Montclair During Community Meeting

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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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Credits: Natalie Heard Hackett
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MONTCLAIR, NJ - "We voted you in, we can vote you out!" shouted Freeda McClean from across the room during the Fourth Ward Community Meeting on Wednesday.

After seeing presentations from Ira Smith and Janice Talley on the proposals for the Lakawanna Plaza Development, residents began to express their frustrations with the many developments taking place in Montclair. 

Councilor Renee Baskerville, who hosted the meeting, responded by asking residents to, "Be respectful of one another."

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One major concern that residents had over the closing of the Pathmark supermarket was resolved by the close of the meeting when Mayor Robert Jackson assured residents that he was in negotiations with two supermarket chains to move into that location. He said, "There will definitely be a store there." The crowd responded with applause. "I think it is important to remember that the Pathmark service to this community was abysmal, was a disgrace..." He continued, "For the last ten years, it has not been serving this community well." Jackson continued by speaking of the dated food and unhealthy selections. Baskerville responded saying that people should be given more healthy food choices, "I want us all over Montclair to be thinking in terms of health."

Planning Board Member Martin Schwartz was also in attendance. Although not on the program to speak, he began to answer questions about how approvals were given in other development projects. Numerous residents expressed concern with why the developer of Valley and Bloom was allowed variances to build above the guidelines that the town had on the books. After Schwartz explained that many of the waivers given were, "illegal," he explained that the Historic Preservation Commission now has a charge to ensure this doesn't happen again.

The crowd became more restless as the night went on.

After Schwartz's comments, a resident asked what consequences there are for developers who do not follow the guidelines already in place for construction, saying, "What are the consequences if they do not follow?"

Talley responded to inquiries stating, "The design waivers were requested by the developer."

Nearly one hundred fifty people packed into the Pine St. Fire Headquarters to hear the presentation on the Lackawanna development. There was standing room only. Among those present was Sen. Nia Gill, who did not speak.

The meeting opened with a presentation on the new Zipcar service the town has recently introduced, followed by a presentation by Talley.

She discussed housing and land use of the Lackawanna Plaza area stating that the structure will provide opportunities for smaller retail businesses, they will consider placing a farmers market under the train base, and looking into promoting nightlife and entertainment uses. Talley also expressed that commercial space will be provided on Bloomfield Avenue and residential space on the Greenwood Avenue side. She stated that they are considering providing affordable housing as well as workforce housing.

She further indicated that there are opportunities for mixed, multigenerational housing with a variety of unit sizes ranging from micro units to three-bedroom units.

As for the architecture and site design of the area, Talley stated that they are seeking development that reflects historic local design and materials and that at least the first story façade materials should be modeled after the railroad terminal, which includes brick, wrought iron and archways. Historic buildings and structures will be preserved with the train station as the possible focal point.

In her presentation, Talley indicated that buildings will be "less massive" than Valley and Bloom, with height limited to four stories, perhaps higher where not visible.

Their goal is for the design to reflect the neighborhood context. Talley stated that the architecture and site design should include the following:

  • Stores should be oriented to an exterior entrance to create a pedestrian-friendly design.
  • Structured parking should be hidden, either through a subsurface design or by buildings.
  • Maintain a pedestrian underpass and consider opening the pedestrian tunnel to the outside on the west of Grove St. However, many people  have said that they are uncomfortable walking through the tunnel in its present configuration.
  • Provide open space and a public plaza, including open space along Bloomfield Avenue next to the old station building.

For streets, transportation and mobility in the area, Talley said the goals were as follows:

  • Provide better pedestrian connections and bring back the pleasure of walking. They are proposing using the lighting, landscaping and design of Battery Park and the High Line in New York City as an example.
  • Improve safety for all modes of travel and circulation and safe access into and out of the site.
  • Street should be open and inviting and incorporate public spaces.
  • Provide bicycle parking, including bike share.
  • Minimize traffic impacts.
  • Grove Street and Glenridge Avenue may be incorporated with ample sidewalk widths, good lighting and landscaping.
  • Traffic calming devices could possibly be installed to slow traffic on Bloomfield Avenue.
  • Maintain on-street parking on Bloomfield Avenue.
  • Consider on-street parking on Grove Street.
  • Ensure that traffic, especially truck traffic does not utilize neighborhood streets.
  • Accommodate the disabled and senior citizens in terms of parking, mobility and shuttle stop locations. Development should be designed to support transit use and discourage driving.
  • Provide a more direct pedestrian connection to the Bay Street train station.
  • Establish a shuttle system that operates frequently enough that people will use it, such as every 10 or 15 minutes.

Smith followed up Talley's presentation with more detail into the two proposals that are being considered for the Lackawanna Plaza area. He said that they were looking into incorporating sustainable strategies. He also added that the rooftops of the buildings will incorporate greenspaces. Outline of his sustainable strategies presentation was as follows:

  • The project should be energy resilient, providing power through a renewable energy source such as geothermal.
  • Bring Toney's Brook back to its natural surface location. Daylight Toney's Brook and integrated into a pedestrian walkway, such as a complement to the sidewalk along Glenridge Avenue.
  • Include a connection to community farms.
  • Preserve existing buildings, rather than demolish and build new buildings.
  • Convert the parking lot in front of Pig and Prince to a park, as it was originally.
  • Provide green solutions to storm water management, such as rain gardens.
  • Require energy-efficient buildings.
  • Incorporate green walls into the design.

Smith next explored community amenities stating the following:

  • Include plazas and public gathering areas, connected by walkways to and through the site. These open spaces may not necessarily be green, but could be paved plazas.
  • Programmable indoor and outdoor spaces should be provided for year-round multicultural and multigenerational events.
  • Open spaces adjacent to residential areas should respect the visual and physical privacy of those areas and activities should be limited to 15 hours or less a day.
  • The High Line in New York City is a great example of a linear park with a raised plaza and walkway with benches and local greenery that can be replicated at this location.
  • The municipal building could contain a public space component, such as a large lobby for use as an art gallery and exhibit space, or for a world market featuring rotating vendors.
  • Include a performing arts center and an art studio space.
  • Provide a recreation center for kids and adults.
  • Include a farmers market.

Smith indicated that the overall goals and objectives of Lackawanna Plaza would be as follows:

  • Make Lackawanna Plaza less of a barrier, and better connected to the surrounding community.
  • Create a vibrant place with a mix of uses that bring activity to the area.
  • Promote redevelopment opportunities that create a positive fiscal impact on Montclair, which will complement existing uses in the vicinity and improve the streetscapes within the Lackawanna Plaza plan area.
  • Provide a regulatory framework that fulfills the Township's vision for the Lackawanna plaza area while accommodating market preferences and reasonable economic factors.
  • Preserve and enhance historic aspects of the Lackawanna Plaza area through preservation and appropriate new development.
  • Coordinate redevelopment efforts for the entire plan area to minimize disturbance to surrounding residences and businesses during construction.

After the presentations, residents began voicing their concerns about the developments taking place in Montclair.

Rev. Allen Shelton sounded off. Other residents chimed in. Residents were continually critical of the Valley and Bloom building. With the developer in the room, he did not participate in the dialogue.

Schwartz encouraged residents to bring their concerns to the next Planning Board meeting on October 26 at 7:30 p.m. in Municipal Council Chambers.

He said, "People have to participate in the process....we're only as strong as our input."

Schwartz continued, "We're hoping for these future rollouts, that we do a much better job with adhering to what people want."

Waulina Pelham called out from the crowd, "We are all here...The developer is going to do what he wants to do anyway."

Smith explained the approval process to the crowd, "The developer owns the property outright." He continued by adding that materials building height are all subject to approval by the Planning Board. "The Historic Preservation Commission will review.... and be more scrupulous."  He stated that buffers in this Lackawanna Plaza plan include the buildings being pulled away from the curb by 50 to 85 feet.

Among the concerns, residents also spoke of traffic, affordability of condos and the tax burden. 

William Scott inquired as to how many residential units would be available in the location. Smith replied, "At a minimum, you're looking at maybe 50 to 100 units."

Jackson addressed residents' concerns with taxes. He stated that this venture, "...will add over $4.5 million a year to the Township."  He assured residents that taxes "have not and will not go up."  Jackson also stated that the debt that Montclair owes has been reduced from $223 million to $185 million this year.

With concerns about affordable housing being called out from the crowd, a resident stated, "Balance is key." She stated that no one will be able to afford to live in Montclair any longer. 

Smith continued by informing the frustrated crowd that the developer was not at fault. "Technically the developer did follow the guidelines... the HPC has more strict guidelines now."

McClean stated that there was a breakdown in trust. She spoke of the storage facility proposed for the top of the building on Seymour St. "You're asking us to trust you when you have allowed it to happen all along."

McClean called out, "Why should we trust you?"

Talley informed residents that it will take at least 15 months before any construction will begin in the Lackawanna Plaza area because they have to go through the proper approvals. In the meantime, until the new supermarket is constructed or a new vendor moves in, residents will be shuttled to the Brookdale Shoprite.

When the Pathmark closes at the end of November, all residents will be given shuttle service to the Brookdale Shoprite. Jackson stated that shuttle service is, "...ready to go."

The slide presentation can be found here.

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