The Montclair Planning Board held three hearings for “minor” site plans for its first meeting of the new year on January 13, but a hearing on the old Charlie Brown’s building at 50 Upper Montclair Plaza was anything but minor.
After having won approval from the Planning Board several months earlier to redo the old Charlie Brown’s building that could be subdivided for as many as five retail establishments, developer Michael Pavel tore up his original plans and submitted a new plan to add a second story to the building.
The redesign by architect Paul Sionas, who designed the previous makeover for the building, kept the same use of expansive glass along the façade, with an aluminum parapet along the roof and vertical brick first-floor columns of red-toned colors consistent with the standard set by the Montclair Historical Preservation Commission. The same materials would be used along the westerly side to soften the view from Anderson Park across the NJ Transit railway.
In all, 6,799 square feet of office space would be created on the second floor, with 4,000 square feet reserved for medical offices. The staircases and elevator shaft would be adorned with brick on the outside. A landscaped walkway along the edge of the easterly side would also be included. As with the original design Sionas submitted in June 2013, the purpose is to revitalize the parking plaza and make it more aesthetically pleasing for pedestrians.
The redesign immediately met with skepticism, with board member Paul Rabinovitch asking Pavel why he suddenly decided to add a second floor to the building.
“At that time, we were in the midst of testimony of our master plan, and your proposal wouldn’t have any impact on the sightlines for the park, which is an important resource for the area,” Rabinovitch said. “Could you explain for us your reasons to changing to a second floor and why it is that you feel you need to come back?”
Pavel replied that one or two board members – he couldn’t remember which – encouraged him to consider the possibility, and so he reviewed his finances and worked with Sionas to see if such a plan was feasible, ultimately deciding that it was.
“We have a very strong [real estate] market, and the building would show itself beautifully,” he said, adding he was encouraged by the prospect of more development being allowed in the area. “I have concluded that this would be a very pleaseable [sic] project.”
The biggest sticking point – and the issue that got the board hemming and hawing over the course of two hours – was the parking requirement. Charlie Brown’s Restaurant required 113 parking spaces on nearby streets and lots. Pavel and his attorney, Robert Gaccione, are asking for 79 spaces, based on the offices, stores, and the smaller restaurant envisioned for the building.
Traffic engineer Harry Maltz testified that he had observed parking in four different areas in the spring of 2009 for an earlier Pavel project – the Bellevue Avenue parking lot, Lorraine Avenue between North Mountain Avenue and Valley Road, Valley Road between Bellevue and Lorraine Avenues, and Valley Road between Lorraine and Oakwood Avenues. He found the parking compatible, insisting there hadn’t been any major changes in the overall parking availability since then.
He stressed that Charlie Brown’s, having closed in 2010, had generated a good deal of the parked cars. However, the board suggested the arrival of new retailers and expansion of several other restaurants, particularly those with large lunch clienteles – something Charlie Brown’s did not have – may have changed the dynamic of parking availability and rendered the 2009 study no longer accurate.
“You’re relying on an unsubstantiated representation that business has not changed,” Chairman John Wynn told Maltz in reference to Upper Montclair, “but you haven’t done any of the groundwork to verify that you have the same type of businesses, what the differences are in the businesses in 2009 as opposed to 2014, and therefore what the difference in the clientele might be. ” Wynn added that a restaurant replacing a retail business could make a noticeable impact on overall parking patterns, even if parking appears to be the same.
Gaccione and Maltz agreed to have a new parking study done before the board acted, with the hope of having one submitted by the February 10 Planning Board meeting. To underscore the seriousness to which he gives the project, Gaccione said he would arrive and adjourn the application if the study is not ready by then, out of respect for procedure.
The planning board also recommended two minor site plans after hearing them. The first was a new addition to the Montclair Kimberley Academy (MKA) Upper School campus on Lloyd Road to provide 3,788 extra square feet to the library. MKA says that its present Upper School library is undersized and needs extra space to allow for more modern technological amenities. The board approved the site plan, and gave the academy an option to add a “green roof,” an environmentally friendly rooftop with grass and plantings. Such a project is contingent on funding, but MKA has the recommendation to go ahead should funding be available.
The board also approved a plan to subdivide a lot on Bradford Avenue to create an additional house. Chairman Wynn recused himself from that hearing because he represents an organization in town that retained David Owen, the attorney who represented the Bradford Avenue landowner, for a previous zoning board application.
The board also passed resolutions approving signage at 85 Park Street, the HOMECorp project at Dey and Talbot Streets, and the fence for the Montclair Manor at Claremont Avenue. Rabinovitch and Sally Ross abstained from all votes. It was Ross’s last meeting; she announced her resignation from the board after nineteen years. Rabinovitch is succeeding her as vice chairman.