Updates to the latest draft of Montclair’s Gateway Phase 2 Redevelopment Plan were presented to the public at Monday evening’s workshop Planning Board meeting.
Gateway 2 comprises a number of properties at the intersection of Valley Road and Bloomfield Avenue, which have been declared areas in need of redevelopment or rehabilitation by the Township Council. Monday evening’s discussion focused on the area on the northeast corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Valley Road, which encompasses part of Portland Place. The plan currently includes townhouses on the south side of Portland Place, with a parking deck and a 60,000 square foot self-storage facility behind them. The current Police Department Building on the corner of Valley Road would be retrofitted and be converted into mixed-use retail and residential use.
Montclair Planning Director Janice Talley opened the meeting by explaining that the Board’s subcommittee had met with representatives from Portland Place since the previous workshop held on July 27th, and they had made changes to address some of their concerns, as well as other concerns raised at the July meeting.
Traffic and Parking
Gerard Giosa of Level G Associates, the township’s traffic expert, opened the meeting with a brief presentation regarding the expected traffic that would be generated by the potential redevelopment in this area. He said that there would be six dwellings on Portland Place, 26 residential units in the police building, 30,000 square feet of office space in the Leach Building on Bloomfield Avenue, 10,000 square feet of retail, as well as the 60,000 square foot storage facility. Primary vehicular entrance and exits would be on Valley Road. The self-storage facility, he stated, would generate eight trips in the peak morning hours and 16 in the peak afternoon hours. All other uses would generate 51 cars in the peak morning hours and 67 in the peak afternoon hours. Most of the traffic generated, Giosa said, would be on Valley Road, with only a small percentage on Portland Place, which would remain a one-way street.
There would be one-way ingress into the parking garage from Portland Place and one-way egress onto Valley Road, to minimize traffic on Portland Place. A total of 18 parking spaces in the parking garage would be set aside for residents of Portland Place.
The parking deck would have up to 190 spaces and would include spaces at grade, and then two more floors above that, for a total of 20-22 feet in height. He said the deck would be screened by the town homes on Portland Place.
Peak parking hours would be on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., mostly generated by the office use in the Leach Building, resulting in about 163 cars in the garage during these hours. By design, Giosa said, because office is the most intensive use, these cars would vacate after office hours and will not be there on weekends, leaving 80+ spaces open to serve the neighborhood in the off hours and weekends.
Giosa said that when the application to build the project comes before the Planning Board, the applicant’s traffic expert would go into more detail on parking and trip generation.
Architectural Aspects of Redevelopment Plan
Giosa was followed by the Board’s design consultant, architect Ira Smith, who began his presentation by summarizing the many redevelopment projects going on in town. He said Montclair has a downtown corridor of over a mile, rising toward First Mountain to the west. He briefly summarized the other redevelopment areas before moving on to Portland Place. Each place will have its own identity, he explained.
For instance, the Bay Street Station area will be transit-oriented due to its convenience to the train station and bus stops. At Lackawanna Plaza, Pathmark has a 30-year lease, and although it will be sold as part of the A&P bankruptcy, it will be taken over by another grocery chain and possibly rebuilt/relocated. TD Bank has said they are willing to relocate elsewhere on the site, which will open an opportunity to create a hidden parking deck, a new Town Hall complex, and housing, all built around the historic train station.
The Seymour Street area, he said, includes the Wellmont, the Social Security building, STS, and municipal parking. The area is slated to become a performing arts center built around the Wellmont theater. The owner of that building is restoring its plaster ceilings and positioning it as an anchor for various performing arts. It will include outdoor space and will support neighboring restaurants and retail stores before and after performances, Smith said.
The Gateway development at Orange Street, including the Valley and Bloom project, the planned hotel and the Montclair Art Museum nearby, all combine to create a regional draw to the area, “enlarging our welcome mat.” The Phase 2 Gateway project will “create a compelling crossroads” at this intersection and become a destination, he said.
Priorities include keeping the “sky exposure plane” intact to ensure light and air reach the north side of Portland Place after the townhouses, parking deck and mini-storage building are built. In order to do this, the townhouses will be required to imitate the size and scale of the residences on the north side of the street. Then, set back, would be the three-story parking deck and then the self-storage building. As a result of the two setbacks, the taller buildings will not be visible from the right-of-way on Portland Place.
Smith said the townhouses would incorporate many of the architectural elements of the homes on Portland Place to ensure they blend with the existing residential area. He showed pictures of examples of the type of architecture that would fit in. He said it would be required to be in a vernacular architectural style, and would “mix and match” to create variety.
There will be a publicly accessible green roof on top of the parking deck and a 4000 square foot community room to accommodate seniors in the area. Other green space will be provided on the corners of Valley Road and Bloomfield Avenue and on the corner of Valley Road and Portland Place.
Smith said the Leach Building, which faces Bloomfield Avenue, is somewhat of an anomaly as it is taller than surrounding buildings and has no windows on the east and west sides. Renovation and reuse of the building would need to be done “surgically,” keeping the historic elements such as the cornice, the “Leach Building” badge, and the street-level facade, while renovating other parts of the building.
He also discussed a possible 2-story residential addition that could be added to the existing historic Police Station building, citing the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for additions. He said that it was not recommended to copy the existing architecture but instead to make the addition clearly different from the historic section of a building. He showed examples from Europe and elsewhere, where modern additions were added atop historic buildings, many set back or in some other way made unobtrusive.
Janice Talley brought up concerns the public had raised about the Delta gas station, which falls in the redevelopment area. Residents wanted the station to remain, she said. Talley said the zoning would be revised to make the gas station as a conditional use, enabling the Board to address aesthetic concerns such as landscaping and parking locations.
After a short break, Harold Simon of Montclair’s Housing Commission’s Inclusionary Zoning Subcommittee spoke about affordable housing in Montclair. He said they were asked at the July 27th meeting to come to the August 24th meeting with ideas on how to prioritize Montclair residents for the Low-Moderate Income (LMI) housing produced through inclusionary zoning. He went over the history of the Mt. Laurel Doctrine and the creation of the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), as it relates to Montclair’s situation. He also emphasized that including an affordable component in developments does not cost the town more money, since tenants pay rent, which goes toward the landlord’s taxes. In addition, he said, households living in housing set aside to be affordable do not disproportionately add children to the school system.
Comparing Montclair’s 20% affordable housing set-aside for LMI households to neighboring towns such as Bloomfield is not appropriate, Simon stated, because Bloomfield is a “Qualifying Urban Aid Community” and as such is exempt from this type of allocation as it already has a high percentage of affordable housing. He said Bloomfield also builds tax credit projects, such as the downtown 82-unit 55+ apartment building currently under construction, which is 100% affordable. He said instead that Montclair should be compared to towns such as Princeton or Montville, which do have set-asides of 20% and 21.5%, respectively. “Let’s not compare ourselves to towns that don’t look at all like us,” he said.
Janice Talley stated that in redevelopment areas, they are able to craft these plans in order to get additional items from the developer. If the affordable housing component is reduced, she said, “then it gives us the opportunity to ask for other things in return.” Simon countered by urging the Board not to negotiate down the 20% affordable housing component within the redevelopment area, as this aspect should be equally important as other aspects of the plan. He suggested offering the developer other incentives, such as an expedited permit process, rather than a lower percentage of affordable housing units.
Members of the public then spoke and asked questions for well over an hour. The first speaker questioned whether a senior community center was really needed in the Portland Place complex, given that seniors in Montclair already struggle with getting to and from numerous other small centers and do not currently have a large central location to meet.
Others questioned the addition of two more stories of residential space on top of the historic Police Station building. Joann Cornolia, speaking on behalf of Historic Preservation Commission member Kathleen Bennett, who was on vacation, said there were concerns with the addition adding more bulk and height to the building rather than keeping its existing form. Later on, another speaker pointed out that the Police Station was a contributing building in the historic district, and stated his concerns about adding an addition to the building as well.
There were also objections to the inclusion of a self-storage building in the plan. Janice Talley explained it was the developer’s idea to utilize the interior space of the block in this way. She later explained that even though they are creating a plan for the development, since a developer already owns some of the affected properties, the Board and Planning Department need to work with the developer during the planning stages.
The Gateway 2 redevelopment plan will be discussed again at the next workshop meeting on September 28, 2015.