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Township Council

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.”

Council to take over Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment process

in Business/Commercial development/Land management/municipal government/Pinnacle Cos./Planning Board/Township Council
Developers have provided a rendering of their proposed mix-use development for Lackawanna Plaza. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

In an effort to expedite the project, the Township Council is taking over control of the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza, mandating that a detailed plan for it be drawn up by June 1 and looking to hold public hearings on the controversial matter.

At their meeting on Monday night, members of the Township Planning Board disclosed the council’s plans, saying they had been notified by the local governing body via email that they would be “bypassed,” as one board member put it, and no longer be shepherding the Lackawanna redevelopment or holding public hearings on it.

“They decided to do it all on the council level. … They can really do what they want to do,” Planning Board Chair John Wynn said.

In prior redevelopment projects in Montclair, the planning board would carefully review the detailed redevelopment plans drawn up for such work, a process that would often entail a number of meetings, as well as public hearings to solicit feedback.

In this case, the council is only asking the planning board to evaluate whether the first draft of the redevelopment plan meets the standards of the township’s master plan, nothing more. Board members said that the council was certainly within its legal rights to take over the redevelopment, which has been pending before the planning board for about two years.

A resolution that asks the planning board to review the redevelopment plan is on the council’s agenda for tonight’s meeting.

“They (the council) now want to take control and actually draft the plan,” Township Planner Janice Talley said at the meeting.

Because of the lack of progress on Lackawanna Plaza, some community members have asked for the lengthy municipal process to move faster. Mayor Robert Jackson a few weeks ago said he was looking for ways to jumpstart the process. Jackson also asked the firms expected to be designated as the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopers, Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, to come to Tuesday’s council meeting to provide an update on their plans.

A consultant, Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, has already been named and has started working on the Lackawanna redevelopment plan, apparently based on the preliminary concept that the developers have presented to local officials. That mixed-use development would be anchored by a large supermarket, with talks being held with ShopRite, and have 350 residential units, some retail tenants and parking.

The council wants a first draft of that plan by June 1, according to the  planning board.

Opponents of the existing proposal claim it is too massive for the area, out of character for Montclair’s streetscape, and that it will obscure and diminish the landmark Lackawanna station, a national historic landmark.

Planning board member Martin Schwartz also pointed out that the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission has expressed “serious concerns about the developer’s plans to date.”

Board member Carmel Loughman voiced her own displeasure with the proposed redevelopment.

“It rivals Valley & Bloom for ugliness,” she said, referring to the mixed-use development on Bloomfield Avenue.

Loughman was at a recent planning board redevelopment subcommittee meeting with members of the historic commission, and said, “We really did not like the developer’s plan at all. (Township consultant) Ira Smith had an alternative plan … but it never got that far. It seems like the developer’s plan is what the council wants to go with.”

But some Fourth Ward residents want work to start as soon as possible, since they have been without a nearby grocery store since the Pathmark in the shopping center on Bloomfield Avenue closed in November 2015.

Wynn advised the board to be ready to discuss the redevelopment plan in detail at its June 26 meeting so “we can hit the ground running” and provide recommendations on it to the council.

The planning board will have 35 days to provide feedback to the council once it gets the redevelopment plan, according to Planning Board Attorney Arthur Neuss.

“Why are they bypassing the usual procedure?” Loughman asked.

“We did not get an explanation. … I wouldn’t want to speculate,” Wynn said.

Board member Anthony Ianuale asked why the developer had never made interim arrangements for Lackawanna, like having a supermarket temporarily set up shop at Pathmark’s old space.

Board member Keith Brodock said that he wanted it made clear that the board will not be taking any public comment on Lackawanna Plaza at its June 26 meeting, that all public comment will be heard at the council.

“Folks are going to see Lackawanna on the agenda,” he said. “They’re going to show up here and they’re going to be upset. … I just want the expectation set correctly up front.”

The planning board has already heard testimony about the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment. The redevelopment has been delayed, in part, because of uncertainty about whether the township would move its municipal complex and police headquarters to Lackawanna Plaza as part of the redevelopment. But earlier this year the township opted not to relocate there.

 

 

Parks advisory group unveils vision plan, including exploring one town pool

in Township Council
Adeloa Whitney, chair of the Montclair Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee, discussed the group’s 2017 mission statement at the Township Council meeting this week. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS

moss@montclairlocal.news

The township’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee on Tuesday presented its strategic vision plan, with one of its long-term goals to explore consolidating the municipality’s three pools into one central Olympic-sized pool.

At the Township Council’s conference meeting on Tuesday, the committee’s chair, Adeola Whitney, went through a three-page guide for its goals for the municipality’s parks and fields, athletic and recreation facilities, cultural events and recreation programs.

The group this year aims to: cooperate with other advisory committees; attend council meetings; take advantage of the expertise of its members; do outreach to residents at least three times a year and have an online survey for residents annually; recruit two more committee members; and create short- and long-term goals that coincide with the council members’ terms.

“We’d like to take it to another level,” said William Scott, a member of the committee.

The  committee also outlined a laundry list of short-term goals. For example, the group said there should be more LED or solar-powered lighting installed throughout municipal parks and their pathways. In terms of cultural affairs, the  committee also plans to provide support — with manpower, advertising and fundraising — for events such as the Fourth of July parade and the African-American Heritage Parade and Festival.

“It doesn’t make sense that we’re not at the events … it’s important to be active and be present at those events,” Whitney said.

The group’s long-term goal of exploring consolidating the town pools caught Councilman-at-Large Bob Russo’s attention. He said most other municipalities he knows of only have one pool, not several, like Montclair.

“If we look to the future long-range, and our pools need upgrading or they deteriorate, that’s a really important concept, a unifying concept, everybody go to one pool,” Russo said. “It would be a good investment.”

In his prior tenure on the council years ago, Russo said, he used to visit the town’s pools “incognito” to check out their condition, see if there were any problems and get feedback from residents about the facilities.

Referring to the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee, Russo said, “It’s really a very important committee. It seems to unify the town because it transcends everything. The parks kind of bring us together.”

On Tuesday Township Attorney Ira Karasick told the council that earlier in the day the state courts’ appellate division upheld the municipality’s taking of the former DeCozen lot on Valley Road near police headquarters by eminent domain. The town is now using that property as a parking lot for the police department.

However, the former owners of the property, the Cerino family, are still in court disputing the $475,000 the municipality paid for the land.

JUNE MEETING CANCELED

At Mayor Robert Jackson’s request, “only because many of us won’t be here,” the council agreed to cancel its June 13 meeting. During that time the mayor and several council members will be in Italy visiting the township’s sister city, Aquilonia. In January the township entered into a sister-city partnership with the Italian town. A number of Montclair residents have their roots in Aquilonia.

Protesters march to protest delay in Lackawanna grocery

in Food and Nutrition/Fourth Ward/municipal government/Planning Board/Renee Baskerville/Township Council
Protesters stop at the corner of North Fullerton Avenue and Valley Road on Sunday afternoon as the march in favor of food quality in Montclair. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS

moss@montclairlocal.news

Roughly two dozen demonstrators, many chanting and carrying placards, on Sunday afternoon marched down Bloomfield Avenue and through Montclair’s center business district to protest the delay in getting a supermarket to replace the closed Pathmark at Lackawanna Plaza.

The group, organized by Fourth Ward resident Daniel Cruz, took time to briefly stop at the Bloomfield Avenue offices of Montclair developer Pinnacle Cos., one of two companies that are undertaking the stalled redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza, where a Pathmark closed in November 2015.

“Brian Stolar you can’t hide, now it’s time to organize,” the marchers chanted, referring to Pinnacle’s chief executive officer.

The protestors carried signs that said “No more food desert” and “Fair food for Montclair,” and they also chanted, “Why are we in a bad mood? Montclair has no food.”

Cruz has organized a petition drive and is circulating a survey regarding the future of Lackawanna Plaza and how residents can be best served until a replacement for the Pathmark comes in. He has described the area near the former grocery store as a “food desert” because some of the township’s most vulnerable, the elderly and the poor, no longer have convenient access to affordable food.

“A lot of people are affected by the issue of food insecurity,” Cruz said.

He and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville addressed the crowd that gathered inside the nearly empty shopping center on Bloomfield Avenue to talk about options, including a ride-sharing program and farmers’ market, to enable residents who don’t have vehicles to get food and transportation to area supermarkets, such as the Brookdale ShopRite in Bloomfield.

Fourth Ward resident Daniel Cruz, who organized Sunday’s protest, hands out petitions at Lackawanna Plaza before his march started. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

Cruz also added a new suggestion to his list: That Montclair restaurants donate their unused food at the end of the day to the needy. He said he will also ask the Township Council if small plots of land the municipality owns can be used for community gardens.

Baskerville, who for several years has been at the forefront of getting the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment moving along, updated the group about the slow-moving status of the redevelopment project.

“Many of us are disturbed that we’ve been about two years without having a grocery store here, and that many of us are at a point in time now where we realize we no longer accept this quietly,” she said, describing the old Pathmark and bustling Lackawanna Plaza as a much-missed meeting and gathering place for the community.

Officials at Pinnacle and its partner, Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, have said they are in talks with ShopRite but no where near a closed deal.

“I believe in all sincerity that we will have a ShopRite here,” Baskerville said, later adding, “there are layers of bureaucracy that tend to show it (the redevelopment process) down.”

ShopRite would require 550 parking spaces, Baskerville said. A preliminary plan submitted by Pinnacle and Hampshire calls for a large supermarket retail anchor and residences on both sides of Grove Street at the Lackawanna site, with several floors of apartment units above the store, and parking.

“The design, I thought, was very tasteful,” she said.

The councilwoman said action on Lackawanna Plaza was delayed, in part, because its wasn’t until earlier this year that the council told the developers that it wasn’t going to relocate the municipal complex and Township Police headquarters to the site. The township had considered such a relocation, but decided against it after weighing financial considerations.

There are have been numerous meetings regarding Lackawanna Plaza since Pathmark closed due to the bankruptcy of its parent, A&P, Baskerville said, including one she held in February. Right now there isn’t even a redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza, a document that details how developers must proceed in such a project. Officials have estimated that it will take two to three years to get Pathmark’s replacement built.

Third Ward residents Tess Fils-Aime and her son Reeves, 8, took part in the Lackawanna march on Sunday. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

Township Mayor Robert Jackson has said he would like to see the redevelopment project fast-tracked. The muncipality does provide bus service for senior citizens to the Brookdale ShopRite once a week.

After the remarks Sunday, the protesters walked down Bloomfield Avenue to Pinnacle’s offices, then continued down to Church Street, cutting through past the Clairidge Theater — where the Montclair Film Festival had a screening — and then came back on Bloomfield Avenue past Pinnacle to end at Lackawanna Plaza.

The marchers included Tess Fils-Aime and her 8-year-old-son Reeves. They have lived in Montclair since 2011, and she said that she would be able to make quick shopping trips to the Pathmark when her son was at the nearby YMCA.

David Wasmuth, who lives nearby Lackawanna Plaza on Grove Street, was at the protest in sympathy for the plight of his neighborhood and its current food-desert status.

“There are a lot of people here who don’t have cars, and they depended on Pathmark for their basics,” he said. “It’s not a wealthy neighborhood. There are not a lot of people  who can afford to do all their shopping at Whole Foods, the only walk-able option … It’s really bad for the neighborhood.”

Cleveland Powell was at the rally inside Lackawanna Plaza, and said he has been giving the elderly without cars lifts to the Brookdale ShopRite and Shop & Shop in Bloomfield so they can buy groceries.

Bruce Tyler, a lifelong Montclair resident, said that Pathmark’s demise not only affects residents but businesses. He works part-time at Trend Coffee & Tee House, and said that he recently had to go to several spots before he could find a place to buy milk for the shop when it ran out.

There were about 50 people at the plaza when Baskerville, Cruz and several others spoke to the group. But only about half of them actually went on the march.

In addition to Cruz and Baskerville the speakers included Jose German-Gomez, president of the Northeast Earth Coalition Inc., and Trina Paulus.

 

With protest set, officials look to speed up Lackawanna project

in Montclair BID/Planning Board/Township Council
A demonstration is slated for this Sunday to protest the long-awaited replacement of the closed Pathmark as part of the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza.
DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS

moss@montclairlocal.news

With a protest about the project looming this weekend, some township officials want the approval process for the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment, and the replacement of the shopping center’s long-shuttered Pathmark, to be fast-tracked.

“Just get it done,” Mayor Robert Jackson said of the much-delayed project. “It’s just like over-thinking it, over-processing it and the only people who are making money on the deal, and doing well, are the consultants.”

The mayor and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville called for the Township Planning Board to move more swiftly to get a redevelopment plan drawn up for the site on Bloomfield Avenue, where a Pathmark closed in November 2015 in the wake of its parent company’s bankruptcy. At least one planning board member said the redevelopment undertaking shouldn’t be rushed.

Some community members, who are planning a demonstration and march at 1 p.m. this Sunday, are asking the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopers to essentially put a transitional plan in place to help neighborhood residents, particularly the elderly and those without vehicles, cope with the loss of the Pathmark.

Some of the suggestions include bringing a temporary farmers’ market to the site until construction starts, setting up a ride-sharing program and, recommended by Baskerville, establishing a community bulletin board to help those who need transportation to grocery shop.

The partners in the redevelopment project, Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, have given the town a preliminary mixed-use plan that will be anchored by a large supermarket and include more than 300 residential units. The real estate firms have been in talks with ShopRite as the main retail tenant.

Baskerville, describing herself as “frustrated too, very frustrated,” said that all parties agree that Lackawanna Plaza will have a supermarket and housing.

“That’s the starting point,” she said. “Let’s get together a redevelopment plan. Let’s start doing the traffic studies that will definitely need to be done and move forward.”

The councilwoman also suggested possibly setting a deadline for the planning board’s redevelopment subcommittee to get the project jump-started.

“I’m upset because it seems like they’re holding it up to try to figure out materials and intricacies of the development and I just want us to move forward,” she said.

FARMERS’ MARKET?

Also trying to spur progress on the project, Fourth Ward resident Daniel Cruz is circulating a petition and organizing a demonstration and march this Sunday to protest the delay in closing a deal for a new grocery store at Lackawanna Plaza. If Cruz secures the necessary permits, the demonstrators will meet at Lackawanna Plaza, walk west to Church Street and to the Clairidge Cinema and end up at Pinnacle’s offices, which are at 363 Bloomfield Ave.

The demonstration’s goal is “to show this is a serious issue, that it’s affecting people in the Fourth Ward,” according to Cruz, and “to raise awareness of the issue of food insecurity.” The Pathmark was a convenient option for neighboring residents to buy groceries, and its absence has been a hardship for some, particularly the elderly.

Asked to comment on the protest, a Pinnacle spokesman said, “The ownership group of The Hampshire Cos. and The Pinnacle Cos. looks forward to be working with the township on the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza.”

One of Cruz’s recommendations is that either the indoor or outdoor space at Lackawanna Plaza be used for a farmers’ market temporarily, a recommendation that Israel Cronk, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, said he made several months ago to Hampshire. He asked the company if the Tuesday farmers’ market on Park Street could relocate to Lackawanna Plaza.

“It’s really disappointing what happened,” Cronk said. “I thought it’d be a lay-up for them: Can you let me use it for the farmers’ market? Let’s feed the community, and no lift for them. I’ll take it all. And they said ‘Sorry at this time we are not available to entertain any events on the lot due to development.’”

Offering a “transitional plan” until construction on the Lackawanna redevelopment starts would have made the lengthy township approval process more “palatable” to the community, according to Cronk.

He said there’s been “radio silence, which is the most hurtful part of the process,” from the developers.

The Lackawanna project has been delayed in part by the bankruptcy of Pathmark’s parent, A&P, as well as the township wrestling with the idea of relocating its municipal complex and the township police headquarters to the site, according to Jackson. Earlier this year the municipality removed that uncertainty, opting not to move.

“Now it’s incumbent on Hampshire and Pinnacle, and whoever the store-people that they’re dealing with, to negotiate a deal quickly that makes sense,” Jackson said.

He and Baskerville suggested that township planning officials not get bogged down in minutiae regarding the redevelopment.

“I do believe that we can move through the redevelopment approval process quicker than we have been,” the mayor said. “It’s been encumbered by I think just way too many studies and so forth. I think that’s not been well handled in my opinion. That to me needs to be tightened up. … Some folks in town think they have a monopoly on what should be in taste, and it just brings the whole process down. How many public meetings do we have to have?”

Katie York, director of senior services/Lifelong Montclair, was at the ribbon-cutting for the new township bus for senior citizens this week. The event was at Edgemont Park. The bus on Wednesdays goes to Brookdale ShopRite in Bloomfield. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

Planning Board Member Carmel Loughman is part of that body’s redevelopment subcommittee, which she said has a May 10 meeting to discuss Lackawanna Plaza and the next steps to be taken. The project shouldn’t be fast-tracked in a way that would “cut corners in the way it looks,” according to Loughman.

“I feel there’s a tension here between getting it done quickly because there’s a need for a supermarket and having a lovely building,” she said. “I live within five blocks of this place. I’d love to have a supermarket there. On the other hand, 20 years from now I don’t want a crap building either … I don’t think that we’re delaying this. I think that it’s just the process has to come to fruition.”

Jackson said that Pathmark’s closing was actually a blessing to the town, and that the municipality is already offering senior citizens bus transportation to the Brookdale ShopRite in Bloomfield.

“Pathmark, particularly the last five years, was a disgrace to Montclair and a disgrace to the community,” Jackson said. “There were rodents running around. Stuff wasn’t fresh. I saw mice myself. And it was not affordably priced. So trying to pretend that somehow we lost this wonderful institution is an absolute joke.”

GETTING TO THE STORE

The mayor also said that the township has offered a variety of options for seniors to get their groceries since Pathmark’s demise. Earlier this week, Katie York, director of senior services/Lifelong Montclair, presided over a ribbon-cutting for the township’s new senior bus, which dedicates its Wednesdays to offering rides to the Brookdale ShopRite. The elderly also have the option of buying discount taxi vouchers from the township and arranging rides from Uber and Lyft through the Ryde4Life program, York said.

At one point there were two shuttle services, one by Essex County, that were taking people directly from Lackawanna Plaza to the Brookdale ShopRite. But those services “failed” and were suspended for lack of ridership, according to Jackson.

“Trying to resurrect that now to me is two years behind the times,” he said.

Township swears in 10 police chaplains

in Police/Public Safety/Township Council
Nine clergy members from around Montclair were sworn in as Township Police Department chaplains at a ceremony on Tuesday. The swearing-in took place at the Township Council meeting, and among those signing the oath of office were, from left, Rabbi David Greenstein; Pastor Robert Coles Jr.; Chaplain Barbra Bleecker; and the Rev. Michele Brown. COURTESY MONTCLAIR TOWNSHIP

The Township Council on Tuesday night swore in nine chaplains, representing various faiths, as part of a new Montclair Police Department program.

The police chaplains, clergymen and -women, represent houses of worship throughout Montclair.

Police Chief Todd Conforti addressed the council and explained the purpose of the chaplains.

“The program is designed to have a team of clergy members from the community with different religious backgrounds working alongside members of the department during times of crisis or incidents where a more comprehensive response will be given to those in need,” Conforti said.

Township police officials gathered with the first nine clergy members who were sworn in last week as Police Department chaplains. COURTESY CHRIST CHURCH

“As police officers we often see members of the community at their most difficult times and, though police try and offer emotional assistance to those in need, it is always beneficial to have as many support systems as possible within the department and within this community,” the chief said. “I am fortunate to have members of the clergy offering their expertise, wisdom and faith to the police department of Montclair.”

Those sworn in were: Rabbi David Greenstein, Congregation Shomrei Emunah; Pastor Elbert Maxwell, the Sword of the Spirit Christian Church Ministry; Pastor Robert Coles Jr., Petra Baptist Church; Pastor Brian Major, Christ Church; the Rev. Michele Brown, St. Paul Baptist Church; Pastor Ron Gonzalez, Christ Church; Chaplain Barbara Bleecker, Religious Society of Friends Montclair monthly meeting; the Rev. Dr. Paul Leggett, Grace Presbyterian Church; and Elder Terrance Taylor, Just One Prayer Away Deliverance Ministries.

A 10th chaplain, the Rev. A. Craig Dunn, a Montclair resident and senior pastor-elect at First Baptist Church of Madison, was sworn in as a chaplain on Tuesday, May 2.

The Montclair police chaplains received their own uniforms. COURTESY MONTCLAIR POLICE

As a uniform for their official roles in the police department the chaplains were given jackets with their names on them, short- and long-sleeved shirts and baseball caps, according to Police Officer Paul Rusiniak of the community service unit.

—Linda Moss

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