The Montclair Planning Board, which normally ends its monthly meeting at 11 pm and resumes discussion on pending applications at the next meeting, stayed until just before midnight on September 10 to wrap up testimony and feedback on Montclair Kensington Urban Renewal, LLC (MKUR)’s proposal to build an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) on the Church Street parking lot site.
The Board approved the application with only board member Peggy Seip, who did not attend the August 13 meeting at which testimony began on the application, abstaining.
Montclair Kensington’s attorney, E. Neal Zimmermann, began the testimony by citing the issues expressed at the August 13 meeting. He agreed with Fire Chief Kevin Allen on the need for fire alarms directly connected to the fire department and dry-chemical fire extinguishers for the garage. He also agreed to accommodate the removal of dumpsters from the property per a recommendation by Planning Director Janice Talley.
Harley Cook of Fountain Square Development, MKUR’s parent company, broke down the 88 units planned for the facility into 47 single-occupancy rooms and 43 single/double-occupancy units that could hold as much as 114 residents with double rooms utilized by pairings such as siblings or married couples. The maximum number of residents would top out at 131, though Cook would prefer not to reach the maximum number. At least 71 percent of the Kensington’s residents would be ambulatory.
Much of the testimony early in the evening centered on the issue of parking and the twenty spaces set aside for the public. Board member Paul Rabinovitch asked about an extreme case where many of the spaces may be utilized by employees of the ALF, as well as some of the more able-bodied residents who may still be able to drive. “Every member of your staff may drive, rather than take the bus,” he asked Zimmermann and Cook “I think the township needs to know that the twenty spots that you said will be available, will be available, and [that you] have some way of tracking that. “
Cook said that an on-site concierge would be there to monitor parking spaces and that the Kensington would share data collected by its contracted parking service (expected to be Montclair Parking, LLC) and report revenue from paying customers. Wynn was eager to see data kept on all utilized spaces, not just on who pays.
“You’re just keeping data on who pays for parking, it doesn’t tell you whether the other remaining spaces were actually available for somebody to park in, and they just didn’t park,” Chairman Wynn said. “Unless we know how the spaces were used to put that into perspective it doesn’t tell us anything.” Talley concurred by noting that available spaces beyond the allotted twenty public ones should be made available for shared parking between employees and residents of Kensington and the community. Though Zimmermann and Cook insisted that the concierge may have trouble keeping track of every car in constant ebb and flow of incoming and outgoing cars, Wynn countered that if the concierge is keeping track of parking people, he’s able to keep track of how spaces are used throughout the day.
Further testimony from architect Dora Kay and landscape architect Paul Sionas centered on the look of the facility. Kay focused on lighting, with emphasis on a “PUBLIC PARKING” sign large enough to get the attention of motorists on Church Street with a backlit LED system to indicate whether or not the lot is full. Sionas emphasized the plan for a narrow garden on the western edge of the property adjoining the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Montclair next door, with different flowers for the season to keep the garden festive and interesting, along with three Zelkova trees along the back of the property to provide shade and a green-clad chain-link fence along the perimeter of the property. The fence did not sit well with Unitarian Congregation treasurer Judith Strachan, who likened the fence to creating the illusion of a fortress in the center of town.
Kensington envisions the garden open for activities for the public, and Cook is interested in working out an arrangement with Strachan in which the church could use the grounds. Strachan found the placement of the garden across the parking lot odd, citing the fact that Kensington residents would have to cross the parking space under the building to access it.
While the Planning Board approved the application, Chairman Wynn ran through a laundry list of features that would have to be modified in preparation for construction, from the parking to the placement of shade trees and streetlights and how they would be spaced to the use of banners two stores above the entrance. He said that the proposal would have to be adjusted further to accommodate the Planning Board’s concerns.
The issue does not end there, however. Jonathan Guldin, attorney for Montclair Center property owner Dick Grabowsky, who opposes the plan, addressed the Planning Board on the issue of Grabowsky’s lawsuit against the township’s passage of the ordinance that made the proposed ALF possible. With his client present, Guldin informed the board that Grabowsky appealed the dismissal of his case on August 28, and hoped that any approval application would include a rider nullifying it in the event of a repeal of the ordinance. Board Director John Wynn said that would not be necessary.
The ensuing discussion, which delayed the final vote, ensured that the final plan would be a work in progress – if Grabowsky’s ongoing legal battle doesn’t kill the project first.