Attorney E. Neal ZImmermann (left) and Harley Cook of Fountain Square development testifying on the application for the Kensington assisted living facility on Church Street

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.

12 replies on “Montclair Planning Board Approves Assisted Living Facility Application”

  1. Fried’s final coup de grace .. what a disgrace. Montclair should be ashamed that we voted him (and Weller, Lewis & Baskerville) into office. If this goes thru it will be an outrage.

  2. Ahhh dentures, steaks, mold and rude neighbors. The empty Hahnes building actually was better, at least the we had imagination and hope.

  3. Presumably, for those patients who would like to be outside (for a gentle stroll, or perhaps in a wheelchair), there will be one possible destination in this built-up area: A stroll down Church street. What vitality this will bring! What an odd mix, with diners enjoying their alfresco dinners, waving to the semi-mobile geriatric train, looping through the district on their daily circuit.
    A facility such as this belongs near a park, not a key commercial district. Idiots.

  4. I really doubt that these seniors would WANT to live at that location, if they understood how busy and noisy it gets there.

  5. These are not your typical “senior”. They are essentially patients. Even most of the ambulatory ones will require escorts. There are no doctors on staff at ALF’s, so whenever there is a medical situation an ambulance is called. Should be nice for those people dining al fresco at Raymond’s.

  6. How do they come up with a statistic such as “at least 71% will be ambulatory”?? Will they have a certain number of beds for non-ambulatory? If they are non-ambulatory, wouldn’t they be better served in a Nursing home rather than an ALF? Am I missing something here? Or is that just one of those statistics that people invent in order to make it sound better?

  7. Kay, they are made up. There is no way they can say now who will be ambulatory 2 years from now, and how ambulatory. And I’m sure the mesh hurricane fencing will do much for the look of the area, too. And the number of beds has gone from 88 to a max of 131 (will that require more staff/parking?). They are projecting. And they also claim this will bring a certain number of jobs to the area. They fail to mention that the majority of the positions will likely be very low paying ones. But, Jerry visited the facility in White Plains (newly opened and not yet full) and got a tour. So it must be fine.

  8. I passed by yesterday and thought about this project.

    It’s ok. That area has no potential to be vital retail, the most one could do is add a few smallish storefronts to whatever was built, and we don’t need more smallish storefronts. It is across from and next to churches. The couple little retailers leading up to the felafel place and Krauser’s notwithstanding, better to promote retail growth along the Avenue.

    Gadflies might argue that another use might be more appropriate, like high end offices, but at the end of the day some entity has to risk millions of dollars to build something nice and ours is an aging society, so a facility like this probably makes as much economic sense as anything.

    Public parking and a commitment that the new building will forever be a ratable are the important things to fight for.

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