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municipal government

Council hears more on town traffic issues

in Community/Fourth Ward/municipal government/Pinnacle Cos./Planning Board/Township Council
LINDA MOSS/STAFF 
Beth Calamia Scheckel, a co-founder of Vision Montclair, spoke at Tuesday night’s Township Council meeting.

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

In the wake of an accident that killed a woman taking an evening walk, residents voiced their concerns about local road safety, particularly on Grove Street, as well as other traffic problems to the Township Council on Tuesday night.

Also at its meeting, the council declined to approve four liquor-license renewals, for Tierney’s Tavern, Trumpets Jazz Club & Restaurant as well as two inactive licenses held by developer Dick Grabowsky and New Montclair Entertainment. Tierney’s and Trumpets haven’t received the tax-clearance certificates that they need for their approvals from the state yet. Those liquor-consumption licenses expire June 30. The council approved eight other renewals.

At the meeting, over a half-dozen people addressed the local governing body, with several calling for better lighting on Grove Street following the June 7 death of Mary DeFilippis, who worked at Montclair State University. Pat Kenschaft and her husband, Fred Chichester, both talked about what they consider dangerous, dark stretches on Grove Street.

DeFilippis, 73, sustained fatal injuries while crossing Grove Street at its intersection with Chester Road. Since her death, the township has asked PSE&G to install additional lighting at that site. Kenschaft said she lives on nearby Gordonhurst Avenue three houses in from Grove, and that both she and a neighbor have been involved in car accidents at their corner.

“Both of these accidents were due to a slight rise between us and Chester Road, in the road, which makes it hard for cars to see and cars come much too fast,” she said. “It would help if we could enforce the speed limit, but I think a sign, something like ‘Warning: Dangerous Intersection Ahead,’ or something that indicates to people that this is a worse situation than we normally have on Grove Street.”

But Kenschaft said she is opposed to reducing the current 35 mph speed limit or putting any kind of median in the center of the county road. At the council meeting, Beth Calamia Scheckel and Adriana O’Toole, co-founders of a new group called Vision Montclair, once again complained about the traffic problems that they believe two new redevelopment projects, at Lackawanna Plaza and Seymour Street, will cause along the Bloomfield Avenue corridor.

“I’m representing about 100 of my neighbors and other residents who have given me permission for me to speak for them tonight,” Scheckel said.

Michael Stahl also came to the podium to ask why Orange Road must remain closed in one direction during construction of The MC Hotel on the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Valley Road. He said that Valley Road between Church Street and Bloomfield Avenue, by the Bloom & Valley apartment complex, is an uneven stretch, and when trucks drive down it, local homes shake. That problem is exacerbated because Orange Road is closed in one direction, forcing trucks and buses to detour onto Valley instead, according to Stahl.

“Right now it seems we ceded a lot of roadway to the developer, probably to make it simpler for them to do their construction … It could be managed by the police instead, allowing at least on weekends buses and trucks to go that way,” Stahl said.

Montclair Council casts wary eye on drone use

in municipal government/Police/Public Safety/Renee Baskerville/Township Council
LINDA MOSS/STAFF
Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville both voiced concerns about the municipality employing drones at Tuesday’s Township Council meeting.

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

Montclair is considering adding a new device to its toolbox: drones. But not all the Township Council is on board yet.

Several council members reacted with skepticism and questions on Tuesday night when it was disclosed that buying drones was part of a $3.475 million bond ordinance that the local governing body was voting on at its meeting.

The council adopted the ordinance, which will pay for townwide capital improvements, but it remains to be seen if any drones are purchased in light of the issues raised at the session. For example, Councilman-at-Large Bob Russo said it should be a policy decision made by the council, not by any municipal department, whether or not the township should use drones.

Several New Jersey municipalities have taken action to restrict the use of drones within their borders, including Garfield and Toms River.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville, who abstained from voting on the bond issuance, brought up the drone issue after reiterating her dismay that the various municipal departments heads didn’t do individual presentations to the council this year about their capital-budget needs. The bond ordinance mentions the drones but doesn’t break out exactly how much would be spent to buy them. Baskerville wanted to know who had decided what was included in the bond ordinance and what the drones would be used for.

Mayor Robert Jackson said that the municipal public works department was considering using drones to inspect snow-removal sites in the winter to make sure that contractors were doing a good job. It would be “a more efficient way” of managing and seeing what a contractor is doing rather than sending a town employee out to check, according to the mayor.

“I also believe that the police department is looking at it for potential at a jazz festival, or some big event … as a way of monitoring events, again, more globally,” Jackson said. “It may or may not happen, but we include it [in the bond ordinance] just in case it does.”

Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller joined with Baskerville and Russo in expressing concern over the drones. Spiller asked Township Attorney Ira Karasick if the municipality would need guidance for regulating the drones, saying that a lot of other towns are trying “navigate” their use.

“I think it’s very important that before we actually we start any serious use of drones, either by the government or by individuals, we do need to come up with some regulations,” Karasick said. “Many towns are already tackling this issue … There are a lot of ordinances being created now. Essentially there are privacy issues. There are issues of the drone actually hitting somebody, causing danger, etc. There are also federal laws that apply to the airspace. So all those things take into account, I’ve been working on that.”

Karasick said he would speed up his research if the township was contemplating acquiring drones.

Russo said if any town department is considering using the devices, “that’s somewhat of a policy decision.” He also recounted his experience with drones.

“I was recently on the beach in Asbury and a drone came right over, I don’t know what this drone was doing,” Russo said. “I had a big issue with the drone … It could have fallen and hurt people … It’s a whole new world of 1984. So let’s get more input on this before we do anything.”

 

 

 

Montclair’s PlanetCivic goes statewide

in Community/Environment/municipal government/State politics/Township Council

Just in time for the November election, the Montclair-based group PlanetCivic on Friday expanded beyond taking on just local issues to statewide ones. The group, founded by township resident Javier Guardo, has set up a New Jersey page on its website and will be seeking feedback on state issues.

“This means you now belong to PlanetCivic’s Montclair community as well as its New Jersey community, and you can cast votes and propose initiatives in both groups,” Guardo said in an email on Friday.

He launched PlanetCivic earlier this year as a mechanism for residents to bring issues to the attention of the Township Council, but has now decided it is time to go statewide.

“Our state political system has been at a stalemate for too long,” Guardo said. “As New Jersey heads to the polls this November, voters deserve action on the issues that matter most to them. PlanetCivic provides a way for you to demonstrate to your candidates and elected leaders the level of support behind your ideas at this pivotal moment.”

The group’s New Jersey page already has information regarding proposed initiatives regarding “stopping the PennEast Pipeline, resisting the Concealed-carry Gun Reciprocity Act, fast-tracking the Gateway Project, re-entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”

Planning board sounds off on council, rejects Seymour traffic study

in Business/Commercial development/Hampshire Cos./municipal government/Pinnacle Cos./Planning Board/Seymour Street redevelopment/Township Council
LINDA MOSS/STAFF
Traffic engineer John Harter, left, and attorney Thomas Trautner Jr. were at Monday’s Township Planning Board meeting on behalf of Pinnacle Cos. and Brookfield Properties.

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Planning Board on Monday night sounded off over the Township Council taking control of one major redevelopment project in town, and sent a traffic-impact study on a second project slated for Bloomfield Avenue back to the drawing board.

At a nearly five-hour-long meeting, outgoing Vice Chairman Jason DeSalvo and several of his fellow board members criticized the council for “fast-tracking” creation of a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza. That controversial mixed-use development is slated for the site of the shopping center that used to house a Pathmark, which is also home to a historic train station, at Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street.

DeSalvo described the council’s action as a “joke,” which if mishandled threatened to “bollix” traffic on Bloomfield Avenue.

In other action, the board also told the developer of the Seymour Street redevelopment, a mixed-use project with two buildings slated for the site adjacent to the Wellmont Theater, to revise and come up with additional data for its traffic-impact study for that site. According to testimony Tuesday, the project will increase traffic on Bloomfield Avenue and surrounding streets such as Roosevelt Place and South Fullerton Avenue.

The board wants information on the impact of the traffic created by the project – which includes 200 apartments, retail space, and a 7-story parking garage with office space – on Sundays and when the Wellmont holds an event, information that hadn’t been collected in the report presented Monday by traffic engineer John Harter. Harter did the study for Seymour Street’s developers, Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Brookfield Properties of Manhattan.

The board also asked Harter for what Chair John Wynn described as a “Plan B” if a major traffic-improvement project that Essex County has planned for intersections along Bloomfield Avenue never gets executed. Harter’s traffic study assumes that the changes that the county wants to make will in fact happen. But the county is depending on a federal grant of $4 million to $5 million to do the work, and its application hasn’t been approved yet.

“What I’m not seeing is a Plan B, because everyone is relying on something that you don’t have control over,” Wynn said.

LINDA MOSS/STAFF
Aerial view of the Seymour Street redevelopment site.

Monday’s meeting was a hearing on the site plan for the Seymour Street redevelopment, which was continued until July 17. But one resident brought up the Lackawanna Plaza project, proposed by Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, during the public-comment portion of the session.

William Scott suggested that the board take a comprehensive look at the various projects in development in the township when it considered applications, not consider them piecemeal and in isolation. Scott also recommended that the board move some projects along more quickly, such as Lackawanna Plaza, which will bring a supermarket to replace the Pathmark that the Fourth Ward has been lacking since November 2015.

But DeSalvo quickly interjected, pointing out that the council had recently opted to take over the drafting of a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza, to speed up the process, and then have the board just review it within a tight timeframe.

The process the council has chosen means that there will be little study or public discussion of the Lackawanna plan, compared to the many hearings and public input the board would have held before drafting a redevelopment plan, according to DeSalvo.

“What I can say is the public cannot have its cake and eat it,” he said. “If you want the exhaustive process that we’re going through here [on Seymour Street], with numerous opportunities for public input, for thoughtful discussion, to hear all points – you cannot do that in 30 days through a referral process by the town council. That’s a joke.”

Wynn said that under the usual process, the planning board would have carefully vetted the Lackawanna redevelopment plan before it went to the council.

DeSalvo told Scott, “You want a grocery store and you want it fast, that’s fine, but you don’t get to discuss the nuances of traffic, you don’t get to discuss which tree goes where, how much open space there is. You get your grocery store fast, and if it bollixes up Bloomfield Avenue, well you got your grocery store, fast.”

Board member Martin Schwartz also commented on the “fast-track” route the council had taken.

“And if you don’t like the way it [the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment] looks, you feel there’s too much volume, it destroys a historic site, tough,” he said.

Carmel Loughman, another board member, told Scott, “You’re making some very good points, but the council is where you should address them.”

During the portion of the meeting devoted to the traffic study for Seymour Street, Harter said the new development will increase traffic by 3 1/2 percent on Bloomfield Avenue, and that the residential component of the project would generate 100 vehicular trips an hour, minus 12 trips to reflect residents who use public transportation, on weekday mornings.

The development will alleviate some traffic issues, he said. For example, the part of Seymour Street in front of the Wellmont will be permanently closed to create a public plaza, instead of just being closed part-time when the theater has an event, providing “predictability” for drivers, according to Harter.

He also said that as part of the improvements that the county is planning it will install a crosswalk and traffic light at the intersection of Seymour Street and Bloomfield Avenue, a dangerous section of the street for pedestrians to navigate now.

The county’s other planned improvements, if it gets the federal grant it is seeking, include creating a left turn lane, with a left-turn signal, on South and North Willow streets where they intersect with Bloomfield Avenue, according to Gordon Meth, a traffic consultant for the county who also testified Tuesday. That area currently has a high incidence of traffic accidents, he said.

Data shows that in peak hours when the Seymour Street project is built traffic on Roosevelt Place will increase from 80 cars an hour to about 150 vehicles, according to Meth, which raised concerns from DeSalvo.

“I just want to make sure that we’re not turning this into what is right now a residential street into a commercial street,” DeSalvo said, adding that the original goal of permitting dense development in just certain areas of town “was to not negatively impact the residential nature of Montclair.”

The county is also considering removing the traffic light on the corner of Glenridge and Bloomfield avenues, permitting only right turns at that corner, Harter and Meth told the board.

South Fullerton will be one of the development’s three access points, prompting concern from board members and residents who spoke up at the meeting. They said that traffic on that road by the entrance to the Crescent Deck already gets backed up as vehicles try to cross Bloomfield Avenue, and that it would be exacerbated by additional vehicles coming from the Seymour Street development.

Meth said that putting “don’t-block-the-box” striping in that part of South Fullerton could help address the problem.

Ultimately, Meth told the board, even if the county doesn’t get the federal funds for the Bloomfield Avenue improvements, the traffic study and its recommendations would still be acceptable with “just a few modifications.”

Is Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan a rubber-stamp?

in Business/Commercial development/Community/municipal government/Pinnacle Cos./Planning Board/Township Council
LINDA MOSS/STAFF
Deputy Mayor William Hurlock and Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, discussed the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan the day it was released, Thursday, June 1. The topic came up at a First Ward meeting.

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

The first draft of a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza was submitted to township officials last week, and some critics are already claiming that the 92-page document basically rubber-stamps what developers have controversially proposed for the 8-acre parcel on Bloomfield Avenue.

The Township Council has sent the plan, which the municipality posted on its website last Thursday, to the Planning Board for its recommendations. At this point the redevelopment plan, which allows a mixed-use project with up to 350 dwelling units and a new supermarket to replace a shuttered Pathmark, is just a draft. It will be subject to public hearings and must be approved by the council.

The municipal website says that the plan “is the culmination of two years of planning efforts which included two public workshop meetings and several Fourth Ward community meetings where residents, local businesses, township officials and property owners expressed their opinions and concerns about redevelopment of the property.”

The plan was drafted by Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, a consultant, and it mirrors what developers Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown have already proposed for Lackawanna Plaza, plans that the planning board, preservationists and residents have voiced objections to at various public forums. The main worries are that the redevelopment plan, with its two multi-story buildings, would dwarf the site’s historic train station, won’t protect other historic elements at the site, and won’t provide enough open space.

HISTORIC COMMISSION

Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, and Planning Board member Martin Schwartz both said that the proposed redevelopment plan is very similar to the developer proposal that was reviewed by, and met objections from, the board’s redevelopment subcommittee.

That redevelopment subcommittee will be meeting this week or next week to go over the newly drafted redevelopment plan, according to Schwartz.

“We’re looking forward to balancing a successful use of this valuable space while addressing the needs of local residents and respecting this important landmark and maintaining Montclair’s unique architectural quality of life,” he said.

The HPC will be discussing the plan for Lackawanna Plaza, now home to a near-vacant shopping center, at its June 22 meeting according to Bennett.

The redevelopment plan allows one of the most controversial aspects of what the developers are seeking, namely several hundred residential units. It also calls for a grocery store, at minimum 40,000 square feet, as part of the project. Developers have been in talks with ShopRite as their anchor tenant.

“A maximum of 350 dwelling units shall be permitted in the Plan Area,” the redevelopment plan says. “A mix of micro, studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units shall be permitted. Three-bedroom units may be permitted if required for compliance with affordable housing regulations.”

BALANCING FACTORS

The redevelopment plan says it juggled various factors.

“The plan balances the often-competing objectives for the area identified in the visioning process by requiring a new supermarket, preserving important historic resources, ensuring pedestrian permeability throughout the site, locating open spaces in specific locations, and providing residential uses that include an affordability requirement,” the redevelopment plan document says. “This plan envisions the redevelopment of the Lackawanna Plaza area with a mix of uses that enlivens the eastern end of Montclair Center,” it says. “The plan includes standards for high-quality, pedestrian-oriented design, while respecting the historic character of the original Lackawanna Terminal building.”

The redevelopment plan’s land-use goals are to: provide a land-use mix that results in a sustainable positive fiscal and social impact for the township; ensure that it has a supermarket; provide stores and services for local residents and workers as well as drawing patrons from the broader community; have plazas and public-gathering spaces; provide mixed, multi-generational housing; offer affordable housing, including workforce housing; incorporate historic elements; encourage shared parking in structures that are hidden from view; and create programmable outdoor spaces.

Lackawanna Plaza consists of two parcels, a 4.38-acre property with the shopping center on the west side of Grove Street and a 3.44-acre one on the east side of Grove, which is now an open parking lot.

On the western plot of land, the redevelopment plan mandates a state-of-the-art supermarket with modern amenities, and a food court or restaurants, as well as additional retail space, particularly for the historic terminal building fronting on Lackawanna Plaza. Developers must also “provide open space between the supermarket and Bloomfield Avenue in a manner that will preserve the sight lines to the historic train station,” according to the plan.

MULTI-STORY

The plan encourages mixed-use development, “with a maximum building height of four stories (five levels for a parking garage), that includes structured parking and residential uses above the new supermarket.”

The plan also mandates that “existing historic resources including the historic station waiting room building and station terminal facing Lackawanna Plaza” be maintained and protected, and encourages “reuse and or replication of historic features such as the horse water trough, the brick piers and steel and concrete awnings.”

Existing buildings that face Lackawanna Plaza should be renovated for retail use, according to the plan.

The redevelopment “concepts” for the eastern parcel include multifamily residential with a maximum height of four stories, above a parking level, with large setbacks from Grove Street.

For that eastern property the plan will also: provide on-site recreation; permit office and retail uses; provide enclosed parking for uses on east parcel and supermarket on west parcel; permit vehicular access from Bloomfield Avenue, just one curb cut, and Glenridge Avenue, up to two curb cuts; and eliminate vehicular access from Grove Street.

The redevelopment plan also set forth a number of requirements for parking at Lackawanna Plaza. Surface parking will only be allowed on the west parcel in the existing lot adjacent to Lackawanna Plaza and in some existing parking areas on the eastern site.

PARKING RULES

“On the east parcel, structured parking shall be located on the lowest level of the building and hidden from view due to topography to the extent possible,” according to the plan.

“On the west parcel, structured parking shall be ‘wrapped’ by buildings on all sides except on the south façade, which may face a courtyard enclosed by interior walls of residential buildings, and on the west façade facing the existing office building,” the plan says.

In a somewhat unusual move, Mayor Robert Jackson and the council took on oversight of creation of the redevelopment plan from the planning board in an effort to fast-track the process. Some Fourth Ward residents have criticized the length of time it is taking to get a replacement for Pathmark, which closed in November 2015.

The council has asked the planning board to review the redevelopment-plan draft at its June 26 meeting and offer its recommendations “as soon as practical thereafter to allow for the governing body consideration at its July meeting.”

At its last meeting the planning board questioned exactly how long it has to report back to the council, since under state statute it should have 45 days, which would give the board till August, not July. Planning Board Chair John Wynn couldn’t be reached for comment, and Township Planner Janice Talley said that the resolution “speaks for itself.”

Montclair delegation to visit sister city in Italy

in Community/municipal government
COURTESY TOWNSHIP OF MONTCLAIR
In January Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson signed a sister-city pact with Aquilonia in Italy. Raffaele Marzullo, who is from that town, signed on behalf it.

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlcoal.news

A handful of Montclair officials next week will head to the township’s sister city in Italy, visiting the small town where a number of local residents trace their roots.he delegation traveling to Aquilonia will include Township Mayor Robert Jackson and his daughter Danielle, Deputy Mayor William Hurlock, Councilman-at-Large Rich McMahon, Municipal Clerk Linda Wanat, Deputy Police Chief Tracy Frazzano and the man who led the effort to forge the sister-city relationship, Raffaele Marzullo.

For Marzullo, the trip marks a return to the place where he was born, a town with roughly 1,800 residents, and where he still has many family members. The Montclair visitors will be staying at the Gronki Hotel courtesy of Aquilonia. The hotel is a vaulted facility that’s just four houses away from Marzullo’s mother’s house in the Italian village.

COURTESY RAFFAELE MARZULLO
Raffaele Marzullo’s mother has a home in Aquilonia that is just a few houses down from the hotel where the Montclair contingent will be staying.

Hurlock, who is of Italian descent, will have the opportunity to visit Airola, just two towns away from Montclair’s sister city. Airola is where Hurlock’s maternal great-grandfather immigrated from, coming to Ellis Island in 1901.

“It’s kind of full circle for me to come to where my ancestors started,” Hurlock said.

The Montclair group has a packed itinerary for its trip, arriving next Monday, June 12, in Naples, which is about two hours from Aquilonia, and departing Italy on Monday, June 19. Montclair officials will join in celebrating the feast and procession of St. Vito Martire on June 15, and have a number of visits to historic sites in the region on their agenda.

Aquilonia, in a mountainous region in the southeastern part of Italy, is the fourth sister-city relationship that Montclair has established over the years through Sister Cities International, a nonprofit whose mission is to create “relationships based on cultural, educational, information and trade exchanges,” according to its website.

Montclair’s other official sister cities are Barnet, which is part of London; Cherepovets, Russia; and Graz, Austria. The township also has an informal relationship with Laguna de Perlas, or Pearl Lagoon, in Nicaragua, according to Wanat.

In a ceremony in January, Jackson signed the papers that made the sister-city relationship between Montclair and Aquilonia official. Marzullo stood in for Aquilonia Mayor Giancarlo DeVito, who will sign the papers during the township group’s visit.

Marzullo, whose family owned Marzullo’s restaurant in town for 32 years, came to the Unites States when he was 7 ½ years old. Many of his family members, and others from Aquilonia, settled in Montclair, where Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Pine Street in the Fourth Ward was their parish. Marzullo is part of a committee that has been fighting to prevent the church from being shuttered by the Archdiocese of Newark following its merger last fall with the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Hurlock and Jackson stressed that everyone going to Italy is footing the bill for their own airfare, with generous Aquilonians providing their housing and food.

“We get the question all the time: We paid for our airfare and the sister city pays for everything else,” Hurlock said. “The town does not pay a penny.”

For Jackson, the trip’s purpose is twofold.

“So many of the Italian-Americans who live in our town have their roots in Aquilonia,” he said. “The proportion is unusually large. So I think it’s a great opportunity for the delegation and me personally to learn more about their culture, to see where so many of our residents hail from.”

Jackson also views it as an opportunity to see how the council’s counterparts in Italy run their local government.

“I’m looking forward to spending some time with our colleagues in our sister city and seeing how they do things, how their government functions, and maybe perhaps to get an idea or two from them and be able to bring some things back home,” he said. “So in that regard I think it’s hopefully going to be an enlightening trip.”

Jackson’s daughter Danielle, 32, studied in Florence and has traveled all over Italy, according to the mayor. She welcomed the opportunity to return, and she speaks Italian.

“So she’ll be able to help us out in that regard,” Jackson said.

Hurlock has been to Rome, but never to Airola, the birthplace of his forebears. His Aquilonia hosts were able to locate two of his relatives in that hometown, and Hurlock said he plans to take a side trip to meet them. One of them, ironically, is an attorney just like him, according to Hurlock.

Hurlock, who has also visited one of the town’s other sister cities, Barnet, said that sister-city arrangements are great forums for cultural exchange and sharing experiences.

McMahon traveled to Graz in 2015 and said he enjoyed that trip. He’s eager to see Aquilonia.

“I’m at a point in life where you have to take the opportunities as they come,” he said. “The few regrets I have is when I could have gone on a trip and I didn’t. I’ve been to Italy a number of times but I never really got to explore that area [where Aquilonia is].”

There are downsides to the trip, McMahon said, joking.

“Unfortunately I’m going to miss Father’s Day, I’m going to miss the U.S. Open: This is the cross I’m going to bear,” he said, laughing. “It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime shot, so I might as well take it.”

As part of their visit township officials will be touring Benedettina’s Abbey, a national monument that dates back to 1126; the Amalfi Coast; and the Sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel, which is embedded into a mountain with a cathedral. Pompeii was also added to the agenda at the request of the Montclair delegation.

There will also be a stop at Danny’s Pizza, which got its start in Montclair in the 1960s. The owners, who were originally from Aquilonia, decided to return to their hometown and opened up shop there, Marzullo said.

COURTESY RAFFAELE MARZULLO
Montclair officials in Italy will visit Danny’s Pizza, which got its start in Montclair in the 1960s.

As part of the sister-city arrangement, officials from Aquilonia will be coming to Montclair in October, Marzullo said. The Italian delegation will be in the Unites States for Columbus Day on Oct. 9.

Marzullo is still rallying support to keep Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a church of immigrants, open. He said that both mayors, Jackson and DeVito, will be writing letters to Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Newark’s archbishop, to keep the parish’s doors open because of its value to the Fourth Ward.

First Ward residents sound off on development, township planners

in Commercial development/Community/municipal government
LINDA MOSS/STAFF
Township Deputy Mayor William Hurlock, left, and Brian Scantlebury, the deputy township manager, address residents’ questions at the First Ward meeting on Thursday night. The sessions was held at the Bellevue Avenue branch of the Montclair Public Library.

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

First Ward residents voiced their concerns on a variety of topics — including development at the former Warner Communications building, the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza and pedestrian safety by the Starbucks on Valley Road — at a meeting Thursday night.

Deputy Mayor William Hurlock, who represents the First Ward, had about 25 people at his meeting, the 17th he has held since elected in 2012, at the Bellevue Branch of the Montclair Public Library.

During much of the 90-minute session, Hurlock fielded questions about development, namely the Warner office building in the First Ward and Lackawanna Plaza in the Fourth Ward. Jennifer Haughton complained about the Township Planning Board’s handling of developer Michael Pavel’s application to increase the square footage for his proposed plans for the Warner building, which is on Lorraine Avenue.

“I think the planners have an absolutely wrong vision for Upper Montclair,” Haughton said.

The planning board in a 5-4 vote rejected Pavel’s request, and the body was scheduled to vote on a resolution formalizing that decision at its May 22 meeting. Haughton told Hurlock that the resolution was suddenly pulled off the agenda.

At the planning board’s meeting its attorney, Arthur Neiss, said that Pavel was threatening to sue and the resolution was taken off the agenda so both sides could talk and try to reach a settlement to avoid litigation. Neiss also apologized to residents, including Haughton, who had showed up at the meeting to see final action taken on the Warner resolution.

Hurlock, who is a lawyer, told residents that as a council member he has no control over the planning board, and characterized the planning board’s handling of the Warner matter as “absurd.” He added that he had probably had 30 conversations with Haughton about the Warner building.

“I can’t tell the planning board what to do, but as a lawyer, and as a plain little old citizen — not as a government representative — I would never in a million years make a determination or a decision based on someone might sue me later on, unless I know what I’m doing is illegal,” Hurlock said. “That’s different story.”

In terms of planning, he said that when the town was working on a new master plan he had successfully championed against part of it that would have strained the First Ward’s infrastructure.

“I beat the master plan back in the First Ward,” Hurlock said.

Residents on Thursday also expressed their dismay at the proposed plans for Lackawanna Plaza, the shopping center that once housed a Pathmark and is also home to a historic train station. The plans include the construction of 350 dwelling units.

Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, was at the meeting and said that her group was “absolutely horrified” when it saw the proposed Lackawanna Center plan last month. Hurlock advised residents to write to the Township Council and attend upcoming public hearings on the project to register their objections.

When one resident asked why the council was fast-tracking the Lackawanna project by taking over drafting its redevelopment plan from the planning board, Deputy Township Manager Brian Scantlebury, who was at the meeting, responded.

He said the project had been discussed for several years now, with several “well-attended meetings” held on it.

“I’ve been kind of been there since the genesis,” Scantlebury said. “This thing has been plodding along.”

Hurlock started his meeting by asking residents to be patient about the “disruption” from the work PSE&G is doing along Grove Street, replacing a gas line that is more than 100 years old.

“They had a staging area outside of my house for about 2 ½ weeks where I couldn’t get out of my driveway for a couple of days, too,” he said.

That work will be done by August, according to Scantlebury.

As for First Ward roads, the township is in the process of getting blinking lights installed at the crosswalk by the Starbucks on Valley Road, similar to the one at Kings Food Market, and is also addressing some of the congestion with the parking there, according to Hurlock.

 

LINDA MOSS/STAFF
Gray Russell, the township’s sustainability officer, at the First Ward meeting on Thursday talked about an energy-saving program through PSE&G that is taking place in 10 municipal buildings.

During the meeting Gray Russell, the township’s sustainability officer, updated the group about environmental initiatives in the municipality. He said that the “shredfest” that the township held a month ago brought in 6 1/2 tons of confidential documents that 500 residents brought in to be shredded at the municipal public works yard.

The township is also in the midst of doing an energy-efficiency upgrade to 10 of the 12 municipal buildings, changing them to LED lighting as part of a program with PSE&G, according to Russell. PSE&G will foot the bill for 70 percent of the $200,000 cost, or $140,000, with the township permitted to pay the remaining $60,000, interest free, over a three -year period, he said.

“This will lower utility bills for town every month, by $40,000 a year … within five years we will be saving about $150,000, over the next decade save about a third of a million dollars, just from energy efficiencies,” Russell said.

Township gets Lackawanna redevelopment plan, with 350 dwelling units

in Fourth Ward/Land management/municipal government/Pinnacle Cos./Planning Board
LINDA MOSS/STAFF
A rendering submitted of the plan developers have proposed for the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza.

By LINDA MOSS

moss@montclairlocal.news

The first draft of a redevelopment plan, a 92-page document, for Lackawanna Plaza has been submitted to township officials, and it would permit 350 apartment units to be built on the site.

The municipality posted the plan on its website Thursday.

The website says that the draft plan “is the culmination of two years of planning efforts which included two public workshop meetings and several Fourth Ward community meetings where residents, local businesses, township officials and property owners expressed their opinions and concerns about redevelopment of the property.”

The plan was drafted by Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, a consultant, and echoes what developers Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. have already proposed for the 8-acre site, home to a shopping center that once housed a Pathmark as well as a historic train station that dates back to 1912.

In a somewhat unusual move, Mayor Robert Jackson and the Township Council took on oversight of creation of the redevelopment plan from the Township Planning Board in an effort to fast-track the process. Some Fourth Ward residents have criticized the length of time it is taking to get a replacement for Pathmark, which closed in November 2015.

The council has asked the planning board to review the redevelopment-plan draft at its June 26 meeting and offer its recommendations regarding it. A public hearing on the draft plan will be scheduled for a later date, prior to the council meeting, according to the township website.

The plan allows one of the most controversial aspects of what the developers are seeking, namely several hundred residential units. It also calls for a large grocery store as part of the project, and developers have been in talks with ShopRite as their anchor tenant.

“A maximum of 350 dwelling units shall be permitted in the Plan Area,” the redevelopment plans says. “A mix of micro, studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units shall be permitted. Three-bedroom units may be permitted if required for compliance with affordable housing regulations.”

The redevelopment plan says it juggled various factors.

“The plan balances the often-competing objectives for the area identified in the visioning process by requiring a new supermarket, preserving important historic resources, ensuring pedestrian permeability throughout the site, locating open spaces in specific locations, and providing residential uses that include an affordability requirement,” the redevelopment plan document says.

“This plan envisions the redevelopment of the Lackawanna Plaza area with a mix of uses that enlivens the eastern end of Montclair Center,” it says. “The plan includes standards for high-quality, pedestrian-oriented design, while respecting the historic character of the original Lackawanna Terminal building.”

The redevelopment plan’s land-use goals are to: provide a land-use mix that results in a sustainable positive fiscal and social impact for the township; ensure that one of the uses is a supermarket and encourage supportive food-related uses: provide stores and services for local residents and workers while also drawing patrons from the broader community; provide plazas and public gathering spaces at key locations, connected by walkways to and through the site; provide mixed, multi-generational housing opportunities, with a variety of unit sizes ranging from small micro-units to larger three-bedroom units; provide affordable housing, including workforce housing; incorporate historic elements into the redevelopment project; encourage shared parking in structures that are hidden from view; and “create programmable outdoor spaces that provide for year-round multicultural and multi-generational events.”

Lackawanna Plaza consists of two parcels, a 4.38-acre property with a shopping center on the west side of Grove Street and a 3.44-acre one on the east side of Grove, which is now an open parking lot.

On the western plot of land, the redevelopment plan mandates a state-of-the-art supermarket with modern amenities, and a food court or restaurants, as well as additional retail space, particularly for the historic terminal building fronting on Lackawanna Plaza.

Developers must also “provide open space between the supermarket and Bloomfield Avenue in a manner that will preserve the sight lines to the historic train station,” according to the plan.

The plan encourages mixed-use development, “with a maximum building height of four stories (five levels for a parking garage), that includes structured parking and residential uses above the new supermarket.”

The plan also mandates that “existing historic resources including the historic station waiting room building and station terminal facing Lackawanna Plaza” be maintained and protected, and encourages “reuse and or replication of historic features such as the horse water trough, the brick piers and steel and concrete awnings.”

The plan also asks that developers “provide a well-designed pedestrian promenade between the supermarket and the historic train terminal building fronting on Lackawanna Plaza, as well as a secondary pedestrian connection from interior of site to the parking lot on Lackawanna Plaza.” Existing buildings that face Lackawanna Plaza should be renovated for retail use, according to the plan.

The redevelopment “concepts” for the eastern parcel include multifamily residential with a maximum height of four stories, above a parking level, with large setbacks from Grove Street.

For that eastern property the plan also lists: provide on-site recreation for residents of the development; permit complementary nonresidential uses, such as office and retail uses; activate Grove Street frontage through stoops or other means; provide enclosed parking for uses on east parcel and supermarket on west parcel; allow limited additional outdoor parking for residential uses along Glenridge Avenue frontage; permit vehicular access from Bloomfield Avenue (maximum of one curb cut) and Glenridge Avenue (maximum of two curb cuts); permit standalone bank with drive-through lanes, referring to the existing TD Bank; and eliminate vehicular access from Grove Street.

The redevelopment plan also set forth a number of requirements for parking at Lackawanna Plaza. Surface parking will only be allowed on the west parcel in the existing lot adjacent to Lackawanna Plaza and in some existing parking areas on the eastern site.

“On the east parcel, structured parking shall be located on the lowest level of the building and hidden from view due to topography to the extent possible,” according to the plan.

“On the west parcel, structured parking shall be ‘wrapped’ by buildings on all sides except on the south façade, which may face a courtyard enclosed by interior walls of residential buildings, and on the west façade facing the existing office building,” the plan says.

“The façade massing of all structured parking levels should be architecturally integrated with the adjacent or upper-story residential, commercial, or mixed-use buildings, both horizontally and vertically,” according to the plan.

“Structured parking façades should be broken into bays, following the bay pattern of related buildings,” the plan says. “The lower level (s) of structured parking should be designed to ‘read’ as a base to the building, using, for example, a belt course or horizontal masonry banding to create a more detailed pedestrian-scale base.”

 

PlanetCivic starts project to find, fix broken streetlights around Montclair

in Environment/municipal government/Streets and Roads/Transportation
A Montclair streetlight is seen here during the daytime. The website PlanetCivic is doing a mapping project to identify all of the broken streetlights in town.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

There’s a problem in Montclair that the group PlanetCivic wants to shed a light on — literally.

The civic-issues website launched a mapping project this year to locate all the burnt-out or broken streetlights in town.

PlanetCivic.com was launched earlier this year as a venue for Montclair residents to bring certain issues around town to the attention of the mayor and council. And one of the most frequently discussed issues, says PlanetCivic founder and Montclair resident Javier Guardo, is the number of broken streetlights.

“I’ve been hearing from residents that they’ve been calling PSE&G and the council … nothing seemed to work,” Guardo said on Monday, May 22.

The map shows at least 88 burned-out lights, and Guardo expected more to come in over the next several days. By Friday, there were at least 90 reported streetlights on the map.

As of Tuesday, PSE&G spokesperson Lindsey Puliti said, PSE&G had fixed 55 of the 88 streetlights it had been notified about, and 18 were being referred to the company’s overhead and underground department for follow-up. “Typically, these take two to four weeks to be completed because we may need to repair the wiring. We plan to check the remaining 15 lights by the end of the day,” she said.

Puliti said that when PSE&G receives a report of a broken streetlight, the goal is to inspect it within three business days. Some repairs, like a broken light bulb, can take place right away, while others, such as wiring issues, may require the ordering of special parts.

On average, an industrial-grade light bulb lasts about seven years, Puliti said, but the company is looking into LED lighting, which may last as long as 15 years.

Besides burned-out streetlights, the map also enables users to report street corners and intersections that are not properly lit at night. But Guardo said that to fix those intersections would be a more expensive project, requiring PSE&G to run new cable and set up new poles. To replace the burned-out bulbs is a much less expensive project, since it is PSE&G’s responsibility.

“The police department had worked with the town and PSE&G to improve lighting conditions in areas of the town,” Police Lt. David O’Dowd said on May 23, noting that in 2013, the partnership had led to the lighting being updated on Mission Street and Elmwood Avenue. “Our officers report on inoperable street lights and other issues observed during their patrols. This information is then passed on to the responsible authority.”

“All we can do is highlight these locations that residents feel are unsafe,” O’Dowd said.

Guardo said PlanetCivic is not a platform to criticize anyone. Rather, he said, it is a venue to call attention to problems in town so that residents and officials can work together to get them fixed.

Guardo said that when a streetlight burns out, a lot of people don’t know who to call, or what happens after they report the light to the appropriate authorities. He will be presenting the data from the streetlight project to the mayor, council and township engineer at a later date.

“I mean, so far, they are very, very excited,” Guardo said. “They feel that this is going to resolve this issue once and for all.”

Council prohibits parking at dead-end of Mount Vernon Road

in Community/municipal government/Police/Public Safety
The Township Council last week introduced an ordinance that bans parking at the end of Mount Vernon Road, in order to prevent dog-walkers from illegally parking to get to the dog park at Brookdale Park. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS

moss@montlcairlocal.news

The Township Council last week introduced an ordinance that bans parking at the dead-end of Mount Vernon Road, a measure taken after residents complained that dog-walkers were illegally parking on their street to get quick access to the canine facility at Brookdale Park.

The action by the council follows many meetings with residents and studies and recommendations made by the Township Police Department regarding the street, which is adjacent to the Essex County park and near to its dog park.

The ordinance prohibits parking at the Mount Vernon Road dead-end from the north curb line for a distance of 25 feet and 9 inches south to the south curb line; and on the north and south side of the street from the first 90 feet and 6 inches west from the boundary of Brookdale Park.

Police Lt. Stephanie Egnezzo, the department’s traffic bureau commander, in April submitted a list of recommendations to alleviate traffic problems on not only Mount Vernon Road but also two other streets that dead-end onto Brookdale Park, Chester Road and Gordonhurst Avenue. She suggested that there be no parking allowed at the easternmost end of all three streets, but the ordinance that the council introduced only affects Mount Vernon Road.

Egnezzo’s list of recommendations also suggested prohibiting parking on the south side of Mount Vernon, but that wasn’t incorporated into the ordinance, either.

The lieutenant worked for months with Mount Vernon residents to address their concerns about people speeding down their short street and blocking their driveways when they visit Brookdale’s dog park, accessing it at the end of the dead-end street.

Last week the council also introduced an ordinance that will place parking meters on Label Street between Depot Square and Frink Street.

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