MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Planning Board met on April 26 with the intention of wrapping up the controversial application by Montclair Acquisition Partners to extend the floor space of the Orange Road parking deck, but that application had to be carried over to the next meeting pending a final agreement to be completed. Board attorney Arthur Neiss and applicant attorney Tom Trautner are currently negotiating the final deal. The board did go ahead with the other application on its agenda - an application for the Faubourg restaurant on Bloomfield Avenue to install a retractable glass enclosure for its outdoor dining space on the right side of the building.
Alan Trembulak, testifying as Faubourg chef/owner Olivier Muller's attorney, said that the glass enclosure would be an enhancement to a restaurant he considers a "crown jewel" for Montclair Center since it opened in 2019. The enclosure, Trembulak said, would allow Faubourg to continue year-round dining through the COVID pandemic while dealing with COVID restrictions and allow the restaurant to remain open. The crisis involving Montclair 's restaurants during the pandemic has been accentuated by the closure of three restaurants in proximity to Faubourg due mainly to COVID: the Montclair Social Club - which had only been in business for two years - Costanera, and Casa Piquin. Many more Montclair eateries have also gone out of business due to COVID.
Chef Muller's proposal was to have the retractable enclosure to allow more dining on the patio and bring in more revenue for his establishment. It would be employed during times of inclement weather to shield diners from the elements in the warmer months, and it would even be used to accommodate diners in the winter. Chef Muller said that he looked to add heaters and air conditioning to accommodate weather conditions, and his proposed glass enclosure also would have a roof engineered to support the weight of a heavy snowfall. Architect Mark Bess and engineer Tom Reynolds explained the structure in greater detail. The top glass panels along the roofline and the panels immediately above the door into the patio would remain in place, while other panels could be opened to allow air to flow through. The glass itself would be clear, providing natural light and also a less conspicuous appearance than tinted glass.
The hearing went smoothly at first, with board members asking relatively simple questions. Board member Carmel Loughman asked about cleaning the panels, and Bess explained that most of them were removable and could be easily maintained. Board Chairman John Wynn asked about emergencies when the electrically powered enclosure is in use, specifically exit plans - and the possibility of electrical blackouts during an emergency. Reynolds said that the panels can be moved without electricity should the power go out, and he told Loughman that it would be possible to climb out of an enclosure window with the glass panel removed. Planning Director Janice Talley assured the board that the township would take all safety and emergency requirements prior to construction.
However, the hearing got bogged down over an unexpected development regarding variances. Trembulak had only sought one variance for his client, one to allow the outer wall along the rear property line when the zoning rules require a 10-foot setback for a new structure. But Director Talley informed the board that, since a retractable enclosure would be regarded as a permanent structure, a parking variance based on the amount of usable square feet plus 15 percent or more of the new building would be needed. It would be necessary to figure out all of the square footage involved for the required parking spaces to determine the variance.
Jeff Jacobson, who, along with Michael Graham, took part in his first Planning Board meeting as a member, said he needed legal advice on whether a glass enclosure added onto an existing building should be considered a building, but Chairman Wynn insisted that, as a permanent addition, it did in fact meet that definition. Board member Anthony Ianaule found the efforts to determine usable versus unusable space to be a waste of time, saying that a variance should simply be granted. Otherwise, he said, the board members would be "chasing our tail" over the mathematical calculations for the structure. The patio allows seating for eighty customers, and Chef Muller said he had no intention of expanding the capacity.
In a final appeal to the board, Trembulak said that he would seek whatever parking variance is required based on a determination of the amount of usable square footage over and above the 15 percent threshold that demands such a variance, as well as the setback variance. He reiterated that it was important to encourage the continued business of Faubourg for its power to draw visitors to Montclair. Chairman Wynn agreed, asking only that Chef Muller maintain proper safety requirements and seating capacities. The board approved the application on a voice vote.