MONTCLAIR, NJ - The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of local business owner Dick Grabowsky on Friday in a case he brought against the Township of Montclair regarding the use of the 65 Church Street location, as an assisted living facility.
Back in 2012 Grabowski opposed an assisted living facility in that location saying it was “a far cry from being a catalyst for economic revitalization, it will put a drag on the economics of the vital business district, and will add to, rather than provide relief from, Montclair’s dire parking crisis.”
In the end, it was not the use that prompted the ruling but the a conflict of interest by those voting for the amendment to the redevelopment plan, that made it null and void; thereby the building of an assisted living facility is no longer an approved use of the site at 65 Church Street.
According to the developer’s (Kensington) Facebook page, they believe it is a setback and construction will simply be delayed. They posted, “We will request re-approval by the current council and are excited for the chance to be a part of the Montclair community.”
At Monday's planning board meeting, Tap Into Montclair spoke with Janice Tally about the ruling. She said, “The council has to decide whether they want to amend the redevelopment plan. We would then have 45 days to consider it.” When asked if the redevelopment plan needs to be fully redrafted, she said, “The redevelopment plan is no longer valid. So there is no redevelopment plan.”
We spoke to Martin Schwartz, appointed member of the Montclair Planning Board, who clarified, “The original plan does not allow a use for assisted living -- that is the one in force now. The amended plan passed agreeing to the use change is null and void.”
Tap into Montclair also reached out to David Faeder, Managing Member of Kensington Properties. He stated that the ruling of the court was related to the procedure for the approval of the zoning back in 2012. He said, “This was not a ruling having to do with use or zoning but with whether council members should have recused themselves based on their interest in the church” which is 200 feet from the proposed site.
Faeder said Kensington remains optimistic. They will restart the zoning process again, now four years later.
He said, “The tax differential is over a million dollars in these four years”, referring to how much Montclair would have made in taxes had the developers been allowed to erect the building four years ago.
When asked for a timeline in addressing the Montclair Council, Faeder said they would like to be reheard as soon as possible. He said they already underwent a thorough process and listened “to the residents who added several things of interest.”
He said, “It’s a very high quality building and it’s the passion of having your or my grandmother living there. That is our business model.” He said that long-time Montclair residents should live at a prime location in their town when they age and need assistance.
Schwartz provided further comment saying, "An Assisted Living "use" at this downtown site was not an approved for development under the original Hahnes-Church Street Redevelopment Plan there. Therefore, it was not considered the best approach to fulfill the underlying revitalization goals under that downtown economic development plan.”
Faeder had alluded to the Hahnes-Church Street Redevelopment Plan in his comments but said that they did, in fact, meet all the criteria, “one of which was to provide $175k to the town for parking improvements”.
Schwartz’s economic reasoning was that, "Assisted Living/nursing facilities tends to be inwardly focused, with big-hearted staff but with generally small wallets -- compared to say NYC singles and couples ready to head out to dinner on Church Street."
He proposed a mixed use residential building or a hotel which was, according to Schwartz, originally contemplated for this location, designed to revitalize the entire central business district, broaden the tax base, and increase both parking and public arts under the Plan.
We brought up that the developer alluded to lost taxes over these years and Schwartz responded, “While the ALF may provide a good new tax ratable on its own, that would be true of almost any commercial building built there.” He went on to say that the developer would need to prove they could fulfill the planned goals. He was critical of prior lack of due diligence as regards traffic and economic returns.
Toward the point of whether having that type of facility in our town was needed he said there was a place for it but not, "smack in the middle of our downtown where we've already spent $1 million to create a pedestrian mall designed to enhance other rateables there by better connecting the Park and Church Street center.”
He reproached the former Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried's Board and Council at the time in their dealings with Herod, the previous owner of the site. Herod was jointly owned by builders Brian Stolar and Steve Plofker then. Stolar is responsible for development of the proposed MC Hotel, Siena Building, Wellmont Theatre and many other development projects in town.
Schwartz said they were supposed to provide 106 public parking spots, a residential building, a hotel or commercial development there “and we let them sit, then sell off their rights to a developer with a "use" which on the surface, did not seem to provide the full economic benefits anticipated.”
Schwartz did add that whatever the final resolution, "I'm hopeful that our Township learns from those past mistakes and makes better choices today."
On why Kensigton chose Montclair, Faeder said, “We fell in love with the town and frankly were shocked that some people thought it to be offensive having 83 year olds walking around downtown.”
On asking whether their business endeavor would lend to the town’s economic vitality, Faeder responded, “We are creating 100 new jobs ranging from $13 per hour to well into six figure incomes.” He went on to say local eateries, pharmacies and businesses would profit from it.
He added that they intend to source jobs locally and added that Kensington previously also provided proof that they would achieve upwards of 20 thousand visitors per year, of family members to the residents in the facility, who would be contributing to the vitality of Montclair’s economy.
We asked whether the operation of the facility could be outsourced in the future and he assured us that it would be both owned and operated by Kensignton.
In response to whether they would consider another type of mixed use building in that location Faeder said it was the only use they plan for the site, asserting, “We are 100% focused on assisted living for seniors.”