Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville touched on numerous subjects at her April 28 community meeting at the Montclair Fire Department, with one topic on particular interest: head shops. The topic came about as a result of a glassware shop, Mr. Nice Guy Glass Gallery, that recently opened in the South End Business District at 324 Orange Road.
The store displays glass objects that resemble filtration devices for smoking. While they are used for tobacco, they could conceivably used for smoking illegal substances. Head shops, by definition, sell drug paraphernalia, though Mr. Nice Guy has intended its wares for smoking legal substances. Even more concerning to Dr. Baskerville is its proximity to a school bus stop and Nishuane School. She and local residents found the placement of the store in such an area to be troubling at best, and local residents are looking to see what can be done about it.
Dr. Baskerville distributed copies of an ordinance passed by the old commissioners’ board in 1980 banning head shops. It specifically states that no person shall advertise, display, sell or offer to sell appliances ordinarily used to process and use drugs. She said that this ordinance would come the closest to allowing groups to challenge the Mr. Nice Guy’s legitimacy and question whether its wares are for smoking tobacco, as the store’s owner – whom Dr. Baskerville said she spoke to but declined to identify by name – intends them to be. Township Attorney Ira Karasick, who looked at the issue for Dr. Baskerville, said he was willing to explore the issue further.
Resident Margaret Whitsett said that local residents were ready to go to the township to file a complaint about the shop, and Dr. Baskerville suggested that they could get signatures on a petition to endorse such a complaint. The councilor said it was a “no-brainer” that such a store was inappropriate for the neighborhood and had an adverse influence on children, despite the fact that no one under eighteen is allowed in the store. Deputy Mayor Robert Russo, who attended the meeting agreed with Dr. Baskerville that the presence of Mr. Nice Guy in the South End was troubling, and he stressed how the council has been trying to discourage cigarette smoking in public spaces.
Resident Jarvis Hawley though that perhaps Mr. Nice Guy could be violating the head shop ordinance by simply selling products that could be used for drugs. Montclair Police Lieutenant Will Young, though said the glassware is perfectly legal to sell so long as no drugs are sold with it. Dr. Baskerville and Fourth Ward residents want to continue investigating the matter to see what can be done about it.
Mr. Nice Guy has not been in business that long. It opened the previous Monday, April 20.
Dr. Baskerville also took advantage of the meeting to introduce Montclair’s new deputy township manager, who was a familiar face to most of the residents in attendance and so needed no introduction. Brian Scantlebury, who served on the township council from 1992 to 1996, was hired to help council members deal with issues raised by their constituents in an expeditious manner. He will essentially be the township’s chief operating officer, helping Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford implement strategy and policy.
“I know I have your goodwill now,” he told the constituents as he prepares to start his new job, but, he added, with a laugh, “I know Montclair, and I know that the learning curve is expected to be short and the honeymoon’s going to be shorter.”
Dr. Baskerville also addressed the corner of Oxford and Grove Streets in the Walnut Street area. The intersection has been notoriously difficult to cross on foot, and the township, working with Essex County, has come up with a design to improve pedestrian safety. The plan includes a blinking pedestrian light not unlike the one and Midland and Bloomfield Avenues and a bump-out on the southeast corner along the frontage of National Cleaners and Tailors, with a flush concrete curb and a strong polymer surface on top of asphalt. The single bump-out is being installed to see if bumpouts will work on this intersection; the county, which is responsible for Grove Street, has an issue with installing bump-outs because hey impede snow removal in the winter. No date for the start of construction is available as of yet; the construction plan was distributed at the meeting.
Resident Howard Gardner asked about development, an issue that also came up at Third Ward Councilor Sean Spiller’s own meeting the previous week. Instead of Valley & Bloom, the concern at Dr. Baskerville ‘s meeting was the proposed redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza, which has people concerned about residents and local businesses possibly being displaced (the latter possibly in favor if more expensive stores) and the impact of a new municipal building on the immediate area. These concerns were expressed repeatedly at the March 30 meeting on the subject held by Planning Director Janice Talley, though no actual plans have been presented. Dr. Baskerville said a charette on possible redevelopment schemes for the area is likely to be held in May.
William Scott of the Housing Commission echoed Dr. Baskerville’s cal to become more involved, citing plans to build new projects such as the HUMC/Mountainside Hospital office building, as well as consideration of possible areas along Bloomfield Avenue. He cited the Valley & Bloom development, as well as the hotel that has yet to be started (but did not mention Montclarion II, also not yet begun, slated for around the corner from the firehouse), noting that development in the town is on “fast track” and should be monitored closely and that concerns should be voiced. Scott also called attention to the fact that several stores in the “Lackawanna Station” mini-mall have closed, a sign that things are already happening there.
Scott said it was important to remain vigilant over redevelopment, particularly in preserving affordable housing. He noted that community pressure has ensured a standard of 20 percent of units in a new development as affordable housing in the master plan, which is likely to be voted on by the Planning Board on May 4.
“We don’t want to be caught blind-sided,” he said.