MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Planning Board had a very light agenda at its virtual meeting on May 18, devoting the bulk of the time to continuing and concluding the application for a wall and a fence along the edges of the green space behind the Fullerton condominium apartment building. 

The Fullerton Condominium Association, which owns the green space, had originally envisioned a fence around the property and a retaining wall along Seymour Street,  with the fence running along the top of the wall, but suggestions and skepticism from board members at the Planning Board’s April 20 meeting led landscape architect Barry Yacker to come up with a different proposal – a fence along the edge of the property adjacent to the Plymouth parking lot and a retaining wall along the edge of the property adjacent to Seymour Street, with thick ground cover behind the wall instead of a fence on top of it.

The Fullerton, which faces Roosevelt Place and sits along the corner of Roosevelt Place and Seymour Street, is built into a hill with two stories below the ground floor on its eastern end, a basement and a mezzanine.  The topography of the green space on its northern side has a slope where pedestrians trespass to get between the Plymouth parking lot and Seymour Street. Sometimes trespassers have been known to urinate on the property.  This project is an effort to correct that situation.

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Patricia Davis, the president of the Fullerton Condominium Association, said that previous efforts to curb trespassers taking shortcuts between the parking lot and Seymour Street, such as plantings and signs, had been destroyed, and she added that the property was becoming hazardous for the condominium association to maintain.  She said that the revised plan will have the fence along the parking lot, as well as new landscaping on the green space and a four-foot retaining wall. (The original proposal had called for a three-foot wall.) The wall would prevent rainwater running off onto the sidewalk along Seymour Street and the pedestrian walkway to the Fullerton building’s rear elevation.

Board member Carmel Loughman said she wanted to make sure that the revised plan addressed the condominium association’s issues.  Davis replied that it did, and she added that the association was prepared to come back at a later date in the event that the plan turned out to be ineffective.  The plan as revised eliminates the need for variances.   

Yacker then testified and filled in the details of the plan.  He explained that a six-foot fence would be installed along the perimeter of the parking lot, set back one foot from the Belgian-block curb on the lot’s edge.  He said that the one-foot distance would help prevent motorists from driving into the fence. The fence, which runs to the property’s northeastern corner, is to be made of aluminum, and its western end would tie in with an existing six-foot wooden fence behind the Fullerton near its northwestern corner.  The retaining wall, meanwhile, would run along Seymour Street and turn toward the northeastern corner of the building along the pedestrian walkway that leads to the back of the building. Two gates would be installed – one at the northeastern end of the building where the new retaining wall along the walkway would join with an existing wall and another at an entrance to the rear of the property closer to the western end of the building, where the aluminum fence would tie in with the wooden fence. 

To ensure that no one can sit on the top of the retaining wall, Yacker has proposed pyracantha, or fire thorn, bushes just behind the wall’s edge.  The pyracantha bushes would discourage trespassers with its prickly thorns, and its white blossoms in the spring would provide aesthetic relief, as would the orange berries the plant generates from summer through the fall and into early winter.  Right in front of the wall, Yacker plans to plant a mix of japonica and a variety of hastas to discourage people from climbing into the property.   According to the plan submitted to the board, the japonica stays green throughout the winter to make the bed of plants look interesting all year.  Boxwoods and day lilies would also be added, along with pachysandra to stabilize the ground, and there will be a mulch path between the plantings and the fence to allow residents to plant flowers of their own.

“We’re trying to do what the board is recommending as well as follow the guidelines of the town,” Yacker said, “and do what’s right for the homeowners.”

Loughman wondered about the wall tying in with the chain-link fence along the property line between the Fullerton and an apartment building at 11 Seymour Street.  She asked how the wall would be worked into the chain-link fence and the smaller wall along the adjacent property to look aesthetically pleasing. Yacker said the post at the end of the existing chain link fence would likely have to be reset, but he hasn’t talked to anyone in the residents of the neighboring building.

“We haven’t approached our neighbors about it yet,” Davis interjected.  “We plan to share with them the plans that we have and see if they would be willing to help us with the improvement of that corner of the property.”  

 Board Vice Chair Keith Brodock – known to be particular about keeping plantings to native plants only – asked if native plants that could provide the same functions as the pyracantha bushes could be used instead. Yacker said that he thought the pyracantha would be fuller and thicker, and Loughman concurred that it was a good choice despite Vice Chair Brodock’s possible objections, but the vice chair in fact had no such problem with Yacker’s choice of plantings.  

Board member Anthony Ianuale asked if the green space would be flat when the area behind the retaining wall would be filled in.  Yacker said it would be flatter, but there would still be a slight slope toward the retaining wall.  Ianuale also pointed out that pachysandra might not make the green space usable for the residents and suggested that the area could be made more open for possible residential uses.

“They haven’t decided yet what they want to do with the area use-wise,” Yacker explained.  “If they want to put a garden in or have a little seating area, they could do that.  It would just mean rearranging the pachysandra.”        

Board Chairman John Wynn said the new plan was a good revision that enhanced the neighborhood.  He proposed that the plan be approved subject to conditions with the condominium association’s next-door neighbors at 11 Seymour Street.  The condominium association would have to report back to the board based on dialogue with their neighbors if there is a problem, but he didn’t see a problem arising.  Robert Griffin, the condominium association’s attorney, asked if it were possible to avoid another full board hearing if there were any objections from the neighbors; Chairman Wynn said that the revisions committee could work it out, and Griffin promised to keep in contact with Planning Board attorney Arthur Neiss.  The board approved the application unanimously. 

The meeting ended with Planning Director Janice Talley reporting that she had correspondence with the master plan subcommittee about making changes to the master plan in order to integrate proposed pedestrian-safety recommendations into the Complete Streets implementation plan.  While that committee is looking into that issue, no action has yet been taken.