Government

Residents Sound Off on Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment to Montclair Planning Board

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MONTCLAIR, NJ - Nearly two dozen residents voiced frustrations about redevelopment during the Planning Board workshop meeting on Monday.   
 
After seeing presentations from Peter Grygiel and Ira Smith on the proposals for Lackawanna Plaza Development, identical to those presented at the Fourth Ward community meeting on Oct. 21, resident after resident spoke to maintaining the 20 percent set aside for affordable housing, redeveloping with the areas surrounding Lackawanna in mind, parking, preference for the first concept, financial implications, renting the municipal complex from the developer and discouraging an “urban neighborhood.” 
 
 
Rev. Allen Shelton, speaking on the Black Clergy of Montclair’s behalf, posed, “Where are people going to park? What will this development mean for small business owners? What will this development do for affordable prices in Lackawanna and the surrounding areas?”
 
“This is a functioning neighborhood and community. Stop the Gestapo tactic of hanging the zoning ordinances over our heads.”

 
“Be proactive and listen to residents,” he added. 
 
Resident Stacey Woods voiced her preference for Concept A, with the municipal complex constructed east of Grove Street and an open entryway of green space welcoming visitors.
 
James Cotter, on behalf of the Grove Terrace and Clover Hill Place neighborhood association, said he fears a “freeway” as a resident in the “direct shadow of the redevelopment.” 
 
He suggested a traffic calming plan, and no detouring during construction onto neighborhood streets. 
 
He also thanked Councilor Renee Baskerville for advocating on the association’s behalf. 
 
A resident for more than 20 years, Melissa Grace Hadley called herself a “Montclairian,” and implored the board to “keep in mind the human factor here.”
 
“Lackawanna was [the Montclairian’s] public square,” she added. 
 
Seventeen-year Montclair resident Rita Smith said she moved from New York City with her family because she “does not want an urban neighborhood.”
 
Licensed urban planner and resident William Mazarski urged the Board to “help and protect” the surrounding communities, after inquiring for more clarity about the process for deeming an area in need of redevelopment. 
 
Baskerville and Deputy Mayor Robert Russo were among the 50 people who were present, and among the 20 residents who approached the lectern.  
 
Russo said three stories was more than enough. 
 
“Make a town hall that is welcoming for seniors, residents, and taxpayers,” he added. 
 
Baskerville urged “maintaining as much of the character of the neighborhood as possible.”
 
She added concern about the police building and its proximity to Clover Hill, an area where many residents are seniors or families, suggesting closing off the road.
 
Housing Commission member William Scott suggested better liaising with residents as he intended to speak about Gateway Phase 2. 
 
He also reminded the Board to uphold the twenty percent commitment to affordable housing. 
 
“Let [the decision making] take place at the council level,” he added. 
 
During his presentation at the top of the four-hour long meeting, Grygiel indicated 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.
 
He said public comment from the June 2 visioning workshop were heard. 
 
“The project would maintain a grocery store, keep the heights down, open up the property, and diminish the impact on the surrounding area and the environment.”
 
Grygiel added Lackawanna redevelopment operated under the following assumptions: 
 
• The site is going to be redeveloped.
 
• Municipal complex will be moved there.
 
• Uses include grocery or supermarket, retail, residential, and office space. 
 
• Requires better streetscapes, walkways, plazas, and affordable housing include workforce housing. 
 
• Incorporates green design.
 
• Improves connections to train and NJ Transit.

 

Board member Martin Schwartz said he was concerned about the town’s finances for redevelopment, particularly in moving the municipal and public safety buildings to Lackawanna. 
 
Janice Talley responded that although not part of the planning board’s job, anticipated cash flows would be $4.7 million annually, and would cover the annual relocating costs of municipal and public safety, totaling $2.5 to $3.5 million. 
 
Smith then followed Grygiel’s presentation showing residents the two concepts presented at the Fourth Ward community meeting last week, emphasizing eighty to ninety residential units in the first concept and a supermarket located east of Grove.  
 
Residents chimed in. “Will the tunnel be preserved? Would people live above the municipal building?”
 
Smith reminded residents, “It’s a draft and a work in progress.”
 
He added the Board and consultants embedded in the project wanted to hear specific input from residents. 
 
Developer Brian Stoller from Pinnacle spoke following Smith’s presentation. 
 
He ensured residents the development would be “meaningful.”
 
“If it doesn’t serve the community, it doesn’t work. It also has to be economically viable. We want to avoid a vacant not vibrant area,” he added. 
 
During public comment, a resident wanted to know why the developer “chased the stores out of the mall.”
 
Stoller responded, “We did not chase out a single store.” 
 
The slide presentation can be found here.
 
The Board also approved the Essex Restaurant Group’s application for minor site renovations at the top of the meeting. 
 
The Board tabled discussing the Gateway Phase 2 redevelopment draft plan, and said  public comment will be heard at the next workshop meeting on Nov. 23. 
 
During public comment, Portland Place resident Maggie Joralemon railed the Board for tabling Gateway Phase 2, as she said she came to comment on the proposed self storage mentioned in previous drafts.
 
A regular Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m., at 205 Claremont Ave. 
 

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