MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Planning Board looked at two issues at its June 22 meeting, held with each member once again attending remotely due to COVID-19.  At issue were planned improvements at the Lorraine Avenue well house and possible revisions to the Safe Streets Plan in the township’s Unified Land Use and Circulation Plan, or, the Master Plan.

Consultant Robert Wells of Suburban Consulting Engineers, together with architectural adviser William Slack, presented a plan for two large tanks that were needed to filter and remove a contaminant in the well water.  The plan originally proposed the construction of two walls to screen the view and hide the tanks, with the walls designed as an imitation of an old railroad building.  Though the original plan was shown, the wall idea was discarded when the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) said that walls made to look like a fake building were unnecessary, and Wells and Slack showed renderings of the revised plan – which showed a brick wall along the tanks with a fence on top on side and a fence with bushes in front of it along two other sides – along with the original plan.  The HPC had said that a more industrial look would be appropriate, which included painting the tanks dark gray. 

Board member Carmel Loughman asked if the tanks could be put along the driveway to the well house rather than around the building so the building could be visible.  Wells said that pipes would have to be run from the tanks to the building, and that would not be doable.   She also asked if the proprietor of DeNovo restaurant in the adjacent Upper Montclair railway station, owned by NJ Transit, was notified.  She was told that the restaurant owner might have been notified, and she said she believed that renters of properties nearby ought to be considered as well as the property owners.  She also asked about the noise from the diesel-powered generator for the project, and Wells said that it would be used for emergency power only.  

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“It’s quieter than a train,” Wells said.        

Board Vice Chair Keith Brodock had more technical questions about the machinery.  He asked if the water would go from the well to the air stripper and then back to the granular activated carbon (GAC) unit that treats it. Wells explained that it in fact goes to GAC and the into the air stripper and then into an underground tank from where it gets pumped.  He also said that it will be connected via a manhole to the sanitary sewer to flush out the impurities, saying that the state does not allow GAC backwashing.  Vice Chair Brodock said he was concerned that some of the runoff would leak in the brook nearby.  Loughman suggested that the tanks be placed underground, but Wells said that would be cost-prohibitive.

Board member Martin Schwartz also expressed concern about the environmental impact of the project, recalling a similar issue with the Valley Road-based well treatment tanks owned by the city of Newark, and Vice Chair Brodock expressed worry about spilled diesel fuel cascading into the nearby stream.  Planning Director Janice Talley reminded the board that the township had Newark install a containment system at the Valley Road facility if any chemicals or diesel fuel spilled over.   

“If there’s some relatively easy containment, even a plastic thing that went around the bottom of the tank that it sat in five feet up with some kind of cutoff, that would ring an alarm in the event of some catastrophe, or something like that, that might make some sense,” Schwartz opined.  Loughman added that it would be more cost effective than spending money to clean up a spill.  Wells said he could look into a catch basin under the tanks.

Vice Chair Brodock recommended the installation of piping to give the township flexibility either the air stripper or the GAC vessels after the well pump to minimize risk.  In regard to architecture and design, Schwartz recommended following HPC guidelines and also a classical circular details on the fence tops. With those recommendations, including a containment strategy, the plan for the well house was approved, with plans to finalize it at the board’s July 13 meeting. 

Afterwards, Loughman reported on amendments to address pedestrian safety in the town’s master plan that the Master Plan Subcommittee has recommended, comprised of herself and Planning Board members Daniel Gilmer and Carole Willis.  The committee has proposed focusing on pedestrian improvements and excising any mention of cycling.   Board attorney Arthur Neiss asked if cycling recommendations would be included later. Loughman replied that the committee has the mandate to go forward with pedestrian recommendations, and she expects the incoming Council under Mayor-elect Sean Spiller, which takes office on July 1, to look into cycling.  Gilmer added that, with greater impetus in favor of handling pedestrian recommendations, it was important to do what is possible now and address cycling later.  Loughman added that it was important to implement the recommendations as soon as possible.

Willis said it was also appropriate to edit the language in the master plan due to the awkward language that mentions walking and cycling together.  Schwartz concurred, saying that the language of the plan “almost mandated kind of a bike-centric focus that there wasn’t really agreement on, both on the board and in the township.”  He noted that the pedestrian safety measure fell by the wayside as a result.  Gilmer noted that the agreements on pedestrian safety made earlier still have not been implemented after a few years, and Willis said that they should pursue it but edit the necessary content of the plan – nine pages’ worth – to get the pedestrian agreements addressed.   She recommended that the Master Plan Subcommittee concentrate on editing it to focus on pedestrian element and schedule it for a public hearing.        

Director Talley recommended that the subcommittee go forward with the pedestrian improvements, where there is more consensus.  With criticism from Bike & Walk Montclair over the failure of the Planning Board to push forward on the entire Safe Streets Plan in mind, the three members of the Master Plan Subcommittee hope to present their proposed revisions at the July 13 Planning Board meeting in order to move forward on the pedestrian issue.  Director Talley told TAPinto Montclair that if the revised language is acceptable to the Planning Board, a public hearing will be scheduled on the amendment.

The board also appointed Loughman to the Development Review Committee along with Schwartz, who has been serving as the representative of outgoing Mayor Robert Jackson.  With Mayor Jackson about to step down, the June 22 meeting may be Schwartz’s last meeting as a Planning Board member.