MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Planning Board resumed its hearing at its August 10 meeting for Pinnacle developer Brian Stolar's application for the MC Residences project on Orange Road, the final piece of the puzzle in the CentroVerde redevelopment plan. Considerable changes were made to the proposed building, a four-story mixed-use building with light food retail on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors, but a question about market-rate apartments and affordable apartments being comparable to each other prevented the plan from coming to a vote.
The biggest change is a reduction in the number of apartments, from 46 units to 40 units. The plan now calls for 5 studio apartments, 13 one-bedroom apartments, 21 two-bedroom apartments and 1 three-bedroom apartment, which is an affordable unit. There are four affordable units in all, with the other three being one affordable one-bedroom unit and two affordable two-bedroom units. The number of parking spaces stays at 73, and a variance is still needed for that number because a project the size of MC Residences requires at least 85 parking spaces. But Stolar said that the reduced number of apartments should alleviate parking limitations, and he added that people coming to the building for the pick-up food service can easily park in the deck across Centroverde Drive if they need to.
Stolar said that the COVID-19 pandemic - which, again, forced the Planning Board to meet remotely and with technical difficulties - provided knowledge of how to make the project work in an era when the world is more susceptible to future pandemics and the present one isn't expected to abate for at least a year. He envisioned the 2,235-square-foot food court serving small breakfasts, 75 percent of which would be for quick eating on-site or for pick-up with a smaller percentage of delivery to offices. It would likely do 50 percent of delivery business for lunch with much more limited service for dinner due to the lack of a liquor license. With a severe limit on indoor dining - currently not allowed in New Jersey because of the pandemic - outdoor dining space would be provided in the public plaza in front of MC Residences to enliven the block. Stolar said that the limited parking wouldn't be a problem, envisioning most of the retail customers accessing the food court on foot, and the maximum number of retail parking spaces would more or less match the food court's capacity - as many as 29 spaces available out of the 73 provided. Stolar said that the revisions reflect more of an emphasis on take-out food and centering on the importance of home and family in the age of pandemics.
The project's architect, Jack Raker of Minno Wasko, offered up more changes, such as a 1,825-square-foot residential lobby with clear access to the stairwell and a single elevator to the upper floors, operable by key cards only available to residents. The elevator would have back doors to a move-in area in the parking lot directly under the second floor, eliminating the inconvenience of moving vans in front of the building on Orange Road. The appearance of the façades remained unchanged, with the use of bricks and also fiber cement panels in original factory colors. An amenity courtyard and small rooms for working remotely from home would be provided on the second floor, as would a terrace on a roof with plantings, a so-called "green roof."
Board member Carmel Loughman noted the absence of a back door from the back-of-house room connecting to the food court, and Raker made it a point to revise the plan and have rear access available. But most of Loughman's comments were intensely inquisitive. She disapproved of the dead spaces at ground level between private apartment terraces on the second floor. Stolar interjected that it would be a good idea to landscape them, as they would be seen from the second-floor amenity courtyard. Loughman expressed concern about the outdoor lighting to illuminate the building because it would be across the street from private residences, and Raker promised that it would only be a soft glow that wouldn't affect anyone living across the street. Loughman noted that similar promises were made about the medical building near HUMC-Mountainside and that the illumination there has had an impact on adjacent homes.
"If you can take a look to see that that's not going to happen, I'd appreciate it," Loughman said. Raker again promised to look into it.
Loughman also objected to what she thought was dead space in front of the transformer room on the building's northwest corner. Raker said that the space was planned for being utilized as part of the front plaza, and he insisted that street furniture would enliven the area directly in front of it while allowing more room for pedestrian traffic around the front entrance.
A more critical view came from Board Chairman John Wynn in reference to the apartments themselves. Chairman Wynn noted that the two-bedroom affordable units were smaller than the two-bedroom market-rate units and the building's only three-bedroom unit, an affordable apartment, had only one bathroom. Raker attempted to insist that the apartments were comparable because the affordable units offered the same finish and quality materials as the market-rate ones, adding that the three-bedroom affordable unit was larger than the market-rate one-bedroom units, but Wynn would have none of it. He noted that, in the three-bedroom unit, which had one bathroom like the market-rate one-bedroom units did, the bathroom facilities would see more use.
"You don't compare a three-bedroom apartment with a one-bedroom apartment," Chairman Wynn said. "Give me a break!" Resident William Scott of the Montclair Housing Commission later said that off-site equivalents to affordable units could be provided to match the market-rate apartments, and Planning Director Janice Talley reminded Raker that market-rate and affordable units had to be comparable.
On the subject of parking, township parking consultant Gerard Giosa asked how the 12-space deficit in the 73-space parking lot was justified. Stolar said that he thought he was providing parking that was"more than adequate," and when Giosa went over the various restrictions on the food retail business - fast food only, no bar, no serving of alcohol, no table-service restaurant, no more than 30 seats for dining - Stolar said that the new realities of the pandemic fit with the restrictions on the food establishment, which would cater to the limitations imposed by COVID-19.
With all that said, the application was carried to over the board's September 14 meeting when Stolar, after a conference with his attorney Tom Trautner, decided to revise the plans for the apartment units to make the affordable units more comparable of the market-rate units.
The board then turned its attention to the subject of whether or not to approve the incorporation of the SAFE Complete Streets Implementation Plan into the larger master plan. A suggestion was made to append it as a reference rather than to amend the plan, but Chairman Wynn saw that as being tantamount to amending it. Controversy has continued over whether to incorporate bicycle lanes on streets and whether that would reduce parking spaces, and Mayor Sean Spiller and Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, the Township Council's representatives on the Planning Board, said the opinions on bicycle lanes tended to be a "mixed bag" of for and against. Board member Anthony Ianuale suggested that the NV5 consulting firm, which aided in the drafting of the plan, make a presentation that the board could consider for the purposes of amendments, and the idea was approved. Such a presentation is slated for October, with Director Talley acting as a conduit for questions to NV5 from board members.