Redevelopment was on the minds of Montclair Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville and many constituents at her February 24 community meeting. The top issue was the newly proposed medical office building across Bay Avenue from Mountainside Hospital, part of which would be in Montclair but most of which would be in Glen Ridge, but proposed redevelopment of the Lackawanna Plaza area and the area around Glen Ridge Avenue.
John Fromhold, CEO of Hackensack UMC Mountainside, addressed the residents on the medical building issue. He said that the new building is meant to solidify Mountainside’s position in the community by allowing the hospital to bring in more physicians, particularly specialists, to be available on campus. He noted, for example, that Mountainside has recruited numerous neurosurgeons who are on campus part-time who are awaiting the office building’s completion. The new building, Fromhold explained would allow a greater presence of such specialists to be on call at the hospital.
The proposed 60,000-square-foot office building would be complemented by new parking lots. both around the building and in a new surface lot created on property owned by Mountainside across from the emergency department. A total of 239 additional spaces would be the result, Fromhold said, offset by the January 2015 relocation of the nursing school to Montclair State University as well as staffers and patients from Outpatient Behavioral Health and twelve day care center staffers.
The new medical office building, which is expected to cost $17 million, would be part of an investment in the Mountainside facilities that includes capital expenditures for 2015 involving, among other things, $2.6 million in General Electric CareScape monitors to improve doctor and nurse efficiency, $3.5 million in women’s services, and $1 million in the emergency department. The old School of Nursing building, constructed in 1914, and the dormitory, built in 1965, would both be razed. Neither building is deemed historically important, and it would not be cost-effective to retrofit them.
Dr. Baskerville told her constituents that the planning process would allow greater public input going forward, and Fromhold added that details for the building would be finalized through public participation. Montclair and Glen Ridge will collaborate on the planning. Construction would start in late 2015.
Also at the meeting, Planning Director Janice Talley addressed residents about ongoing efforts to redevelop areas of Montclair in the Fourth Ward and elsewhere. She said that the Lackawanna Plaza area, the former Social Security building, and properties along Glenridge Avenue near Willow Street are part of her latest redevelopment study. Talley also added that she is working on finalizing plans for redeveloping Phase 2 of the Montclair Western Gateway, which includes the Leach building and the current police station. One proposal for the Lackawanna Plaza area is a municipal complex to bring together the township offices, the Board of Education, and the police department, a proposal that the Township Council first brought up in late 2012.
A workshop hearing on the Lackawanna Plaza area is scheduled for March 30, with a public hearing for the Western Gateway Phase 2 agenda expected to be in April or May.
Talley fielded questions and comments from residents regarding the impact on the local neighborhoods. Residents wanted more traffic and parking studies to gauge the effect on increased activity in areas like Lackawanna Plaza, and others wondered about the impact on the schools from young families or initially childless young couples who later sire children moving in. Talley said that she had conducted a study on the issue based on the previous year’s school data on children living in multi-story buildings to determine potential impacts from further development. The Planning Board, she added, made it a point to update such information periodically. She agreed with one resident that it was a “valid concern” to ensure that development of such buildings does not overburden the school system.
Dr. Baskerville also updated residents on the water issue. She said that Montclair Water Director Gary Obszarny was still exploring whether to lease water from Kearny or from the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission (NJDWSC) via the Wanaque South Reservoir or make a permanent deal with the NJDWSC to purchase water, and that no decision to activate the Nishuane well had been made yet. Water is a concern not just for redevelopment but to address the water deficit that Montclair faces.
At one point in the meeting, Talley stressed that redevelopment did not necessarily mean rebuilding. “The intent is to make it a better experience,” she said of improving any given area, such as the haphazard streetscape around Glenridge Avenue. “It doesn’t necessarily mean new development, it means better development, and I think we can do it a very specific manner using the tools through redevelopment rather than just relying on the tools of zoning.”
She added that she didn’t anticipate formulating on a redevelopment plan for Glenridge Avenue for awhile, saying that the council recognizes that there are issues in the area to address “in a comprehensive manner.”
The Planning Board will address the master plan again on March 9, only this time the board members will deliberate, the public comment portion having ended. Talley did say that she would relay any letters and e-mails addressed to her about the plan before then.