Western Gateway Phase 2 Redevelopment

The Montclair Planning Board continued its workshop on the second phase of redeveloping the township’s western gateway area along Bloomfield Avenue at its September 28 meeting, which focuses on new development in the blocks along the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Valley Road.

Architect Ira Smith, who is consulting the township on redevelopment, said that the township was taking a “broad-based approach” in redeveloping the area, the proposals for which includes new townhouse-style residences along the south side of Portland Place, a mini-storage facility, and anew parking deck.  He said that it’s part of a plan to connect the different areas of activity along Bloomfield Avenue and help make the western gateway area a  “landmark destination,” which would included the Montclair Art Museum and the as-yet un-built MC Hotel.  As explained in the August 24 workshop meeting, the parking deck would have 190 spaces and the storage facility, at 60,000 square feet, would be behind it.  The Leach building would see office use.

Smith showed a birds-eye view that represented the proposed buildings as blank, gray shapes to give people a sense of proportion and demonstrate how the forms would rise gradually as one coming south Valley Road nears the intersection with Bloomfield Avenue.  A four-story building on the present site of the Montclair Motor Car would also be allowed, as well as a two-story building on the current site of the Delta gasoline station if that business should ever close.  Any new building on that site would be on the footprint of the gas station garage,  allowing for open green space along the perimeter of the intersection. Smith also included the proposal of turning the Valley Road parking lot into a park, as those spaces would be replaced by the proposed Portland Place deck.

Smith remained supportive of the idea of adding two stories to the Beaux-Arts-style Montclair Police Department building, formerly the municipal building, as part of the structure’s adaptive re-use.  He explained that the two additional stories would provide more of a sense of balance to the larger buildings around it and help it stand out among all of the buildings in the redevelopment area.

Public comment was largely negative toward many of the elements in the redevelopment plan.  The biggest complaints centered around the persistent issue of affordable housing, and specifically the recommendation that at least 10 percent of the new units be affordable, rather than the 20 percent specified by Montclair’s inclusionary zinging ordinance (IZO).  William Scott, chairman of Montclair NAACP and co-chair of the Montclair Housing Commission, reminded the Planning Board that the final draft of the new master plan called for an affordable-housing initiative that would exceed the requirements set by the Council On Affordable Housing (COAH), yet many projects have not honored requirements in the past.  Scott said that the township “believes it has met its obligation for affordable housing through 2018,” though he added that the latest assessment by the Fair Share Housing Center to be constructed over the next decade – a thousand units is “not realistic.  Scott also charged that Montclair has used a municipal land use law to reduce the IZO’s requirement of 20 percent  in areas of redevelopment by half, and he also noted with concern the many families who lose affordable housing as the affordability controls s in their units expire; as many as 46 units that have a high risk of a conversion to market-rate housing, Scott said.

Montclair NAACP president Al Pelham (with microphone) is joined by other NACCP members as he makes the case for more affordable housing.
Montclair NAACP president Al Pelham (with microphone) is joined by other NACCP members as he makes the case for more affordable housing.

Al Pelham, president of the Montclair NACCP, said that his NAACP chapter has always fought for affordable housing as a right, decrying the threats to it through COAH violations, gentrification, rent increases, and mismanagement of resources.  He said that such threats have brought racial and economic imbalances in the town and weakened the community as a whole.  Fourth  Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, speaking on behalf of the Montclair Civil Rights Commission, said that the commission endorses the NACCP chapter’s position, saying that affordable housing is a basic civil right.

Planning Board member Carole Willis said that the board has always supported the goal of 20 percent affordable housing but added that it doesn’t have total control over the issue, and that efforts to allow developers to build affordable housing off-site didn’t originate with the Planning Board; she got the impression that the township council came up with the idea.  Board member Jason de Salvo told Baristanet that the board did not know where the 10 percent affordability standard came from, or how it got in the redevelopment plan currently under review. He said that the board would definitely talk more about it in the days to come.

Other residents objected to the bulk and mass of the proposed buildings.  Mary Krugman, a former chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, said that the massing was too huge, and that the police headquarters building would get lost in the bulk, and she was also concerned about parking overflow on nearby residential streets .  Kathleen Bennett, a current Historic Preservation Commission member, said that Smith did a good job showing what could be built atop the police headquarters building by showing examples of historic buildings in Europe that were adorned with additional, modernistic floors, but she said that the additional two stories being proposed for the police headquarters building had nothing in common with the building’s original architecture,  and that the rooftop addition should not be more than one story in height.  She also feared that such an addition on such a small building would have a negative impact on the building’s character.  Resident Ruth Perretti also expressed worry that the bland aesthetics of recent projects would carry over into the designs of the next round of new building projects.

Chairman John Wynn said that the board was trying to come up with a cohesive plan for all the properties at once to get the best use out of them, given the fact that they’re adjacent to each other.  The idea of the plan, he said, would set certain requirements that would establish parameters for one or more developers.  Wynn added that the board will ultimately make a recommendation to the township council, which could make changes or reject it.  At the end of the meeting, Wynn said he had heard a lot of feedback — more negative than positive — and that he needed to sort through all of it in discussion with the rest of the board. Planning Director Janice Talley has set the next Western Gateway Phase 2 workshop for October 26.




21 replies on “Public Pushes Back At Montclair Planning Board’s Gateway Phase 2 Redevelopment Study”

  1. I agree with Chair Wynn in that so much of the feedback has been negative. I will give a giant positive for what is proposed to comprise 67% of the footprint of the entire project yet receives about .1% of the attention and concern form the board and the public. The two green spaces that show up from time to time in some of the renderings on the north and south side of the valley/bloomfield intersection are awesome ideas!

    It is mind boggling that with all the talk about “aesthetics and scale”, the “charm of “Montclair” and the need to “reduce bulk” while also “creating places people want to be” on such a “prominent gateway block,” there is virtually zero attention or praise being paid to the conversation of two aesthetically unappealing, dead spaces like the gas station and surface parking lot into pocket parks and hopefully charming green spaces.

    All good downtowns provide places for people to congregate, relax, sit down and just “be” in a vibrant place. Places like Morristown and Princeton have great examples of central town squares and parks around which their entire downtowns are centered. Church street is the concrete embodiment of this type of public space (and should really be closed of to all cars all the time but that’s another story), and what a great job it does! The success of Church St and the renovations to S Park St cannot be denied. They are people magnets. Gas Stations and surface parking lots are the opposite and destroy any hope of vibrance.

    We have no places in the town center for a green, mini-parklike “place”. In fact, the way in which humans are required to act and interact while walking or existing in any form on Bloomfiled Avenue is quite disturbing, depressing and downright dangerous. What a great way to beautify what is an intimidating 6-car wide streetscape that is Bloomfield Avenue than by removing these two auto-centric eye sores that take up 67% of the entire footprint of the Gateway Plan. What a great way to get people to want to spend more time in this part of time instead of filling up on gas or rushing back into our parked cars and driving away. Please accept these recommendations! They are vital! They are absent in our streetscape and while 99% of our time is spent arguing over sky view planes and the what goes on top of buildings, components of the plan that 1% of the public will actually interact and engage with on a daily basis, let’s spend more time on what 99% of the public would spend time with everyday…open-green-well planned places.

  2. I don’t agree. I don’t think the open-space parcels are well-conceived considering their location, layout, access and adjacency to a “6-lane” thoroughfare like Bloomfield Ave that has 25,000 cars a day. Further, there is no indication the gas station is going away anytime soon.

    Considerable time and emphasis has been placed on a holistic approach to the Bloomfield corridor redevelopment and how they relate. This focus has been on the new redevelopment areas. I would suggest we go back to an existing one – the Hahne’s parking lot parcel. This would be a much more suitable green space in almost every aspect that makes a successful urban green space. We are well past the point of retaining a village feel for Montclair Center and it is not a goal. However, this parcel is well suited for an urban pocket park and would be an appropriate connection between Church Street’s hardscape space and the BOE green space at the other end of of Church St. It also eliminates the streetscape issues the previous plans for this space created. Furthermore, it could offer multiple access points on this block from both Valley Rd and Bloomfield Ave.

  3. To me the “bulk” as they say looks ok. None of the buildings look too large. The hotel is the biggest thing in that model and that is going to be built and that is going to be a huge asset to the town.

    The things that are a fail are the storage aspect. I just don’t understand that at all. Montclair will probably be the only town with a massive storage facility right downtown. That is a fail.

    Parks on Bloomfield avenue is also a fail. Any break in the retail corridor (dead space) whether ti be a curb cut, bank, gas station, parking lot or a park is just a waste. Jane Jacobs 101 is you shouldn’t have large breaks. You want to tie in Valley and Bloom and the art museum to downtown you need to put in a building with ground floor retail there. There used to be a building there in Montclair. Put one back.

    If a park must be built a better option is the Lackawanna parking lot. That could be Montclair’s Bryant Park. Turn Lackawanna Plaza into Chelsea Market and the parking lot in front into Bryant Park. You just created a destination by doing that. Ice skating rink in the winter. outdoor concerts in the summer.

  4. I say, do it. No nit-picking the improvement. As for a right to affordable housing, the will may be formed as the moral thing to do, but only pressure from below, the people, will make it happen. Ten years ago, this was written” “Maybe it would be an easier sell if we make clear the costs of having one-third of a nation ill-housed – and explain how eliminating those costs greatly reduces the bill. And it may be an easier sell if we drive home the point that upper-income taxpayers already get subsidies of that order via the tax system. Not that the society can’t afford this: look how easily we come up with similar amounts to bail out savings and loans, make war, give massive tax breaks to the wealthy. It’s all a matter of political will.” National Housing Institute 2006. If we as a nation keep electing “no-government” advocates like tea-partiers, producing obstructed progress for what is needed to meet our rights and needs, a difficult issue will be impossible. Who among us is willing to give up the mortgage interest and real estate tax deduction? How progressive are we in Montclair?

  5. Must all conversations about this plan get hijacked by endless nagging about affordable housing? Here’s news: affordable housing is NOT a “right,” much less a “civil right,” any more than is “affordable cars,” or “affordable restaurants.” Does anyone at these meetings ever challenge statements like that, or are they too afraid of looking unprogressive? Here’s the deal, I can’t afford to live on Central Park West, so I don’t. I also don’t go to CPW condo/coop planning meetings and tie them up by whining that they should provide me with an “affordable” apartment. Montclair is expensive, if you can’t afford it, live in a cheaper town.

  6. Here we go again. Racial pressures for potentially unrealistic affordable housing policies that will create higher taxpayer debt and even higher taxes for everyone.

    Social engineering to force people to live in every town ward..fighting the housing market..which everyone then has to pay more for.

    It’s not enough Montclair is diverse..that the schools are diverse. Each ward now needs its own economic and racial diversity.

    This kind of 60’s, social engineering is exactly what drives both rich and poor out of town when they can’t afford their taxes. Look at Orange. Except here..our white liberals say nothing because they’re too afraid of being accused of racism. Instead, they just leave quietly for lower tax pastures.

    More affordable housing is a taxpayer SUBSIDY. It’s not just making white builders pay up. It’s not just shifting costs from building affordable units to market apartments — to then cover those construction costs.

    What about the costs to the taxpayer after…to YOU. All taxpayers, black/ white, rich and poor have to pay for that. What about the services needed when too little tax revenue is collected to cover?

    Some affordable housing advocates speak as if there is no cost at all to anyone from housing subsidies. They act as if no one will have to pay more and there is no budget deficit created. That’s wrong.

    Montclair still has debts today of nearly $200 million. The taxes here more than doubled here in the last 15 years. Many left because of this. And that includes many African Americans who walked from exactly this kind of out of control liberal tax and spending policies from the past.

    Remember…the same words were used then for expenditures: lets support “Montclair values.” Economic reality took a back seat.

    Haven’t we learned our lesson from the last 5 years when we were effectively broke? We cannot solve a national housing problem ourselves.

    The affordable housing units do not provide enough tax revenues to cover costs for any new student which may then come into the school system? It’s a very big spread.

    Ok..so how much affordable housing subsidies are you willing to put into the budget?

    How much should the township allocate towards this “civil right”?

    How many kids can we accommodate from the new apartment units coming? Those are the questions to answer.

    Let’s just not act blind and scream ‘social justice’…as if there is no cost to the people already living here.

    We need to live in the real world about this issue.

  7. I don’t disagree, but can someone explain how more mandated affordable housing leads to higher taxes? I think of it as modern rent control, where the tenants in the “unaffordable” units cover the subsidy on the affordable units. I guess the affordable units could reduce the property value, which would reduce tax revenues, but that doesn’t seem first order.

  8. You are correct, and we do not even have agreement on health care as a right. Affordable housing as a right is even more difficult to embrace, if not impossible. Affordable is in the next town, or state or even neighborhood where we do have a right to move. The need for more income to meet available housing is another story. For that we have our own Sen Sanders and Donald Trump. Let’s hear it for our boys.

  9. Affordable Housing as a civil right is a slogan used by all liberal politicians (i.e Current NYC Major). They argue that although the laws say that we are all equal and there is no discrimination on paper because rich people like to live around other rich people who then send their kids to the same school which is in turn a good school which in turn sends that kid to a good college that there is actual discrimination still because the poor people don’t get the same access. They say this in’t fair.

    Well life isn’t always fair.It’s that simple. Life not being fair isn’t discrimination, it just is. As someone mentioned above. Not everyone gets to live on Central Park West although a lot of us would like to. Similarly not everyone can live in Montclair. People priced out of Manhattan move to Brooklyn and people priced out of Brooklyn move to Montclair and if you can’t afford Montclair you move to Bloomfield and if not Bloomfield the next town lower.

    btw. Montclair is going to be even better with all of these new Developments and the hotel coming. Can’t wait.

  10. Does everyone have a right to live in Montclair? The argument being made is that we value diversity. Therefore we need to pay for it.

    How does that cost us directly asks elcamino..not just builders, or the market rate renters who pay higher, now shifted over costs?

    Every new student at the Board of Education costs the school system $18,000 plus..almost 19 thousand it was published. So the yearly cost from three new kids from a 3 bedroom family affordable rental housing unit under COAH regulations is $57,000. But the taxes collected from that affordable rental apartment by Montclair is less than $5,000.

    That difference falls on to YOU. You have to subsidize this uncollected tax spread. That’s why affordable housing advocates continue to play on the heart strings of civil rights, guilt and liberal values – without saying anything about economic costs.

    Do the math. If there are 30 three bedroom family units from the developments now planned and say 90 new school age kids added from new affordable units, that’s over $1.56 million in uncollected taxes yearly a deficit) now needed to subsidize expenses just on the education side alone. It doesn’t even take into account the per person costs also for police, garbage pick-up and other tax based services.

    There is no free lunch despite what some on this Housing Commission say. There actually is a subsidized cost from affordable housing.

    So is it a right to live in Montclair? No it’s a want. Bloomfield is 5 minutes away. Like some argued above, the same ask can be made for diversity for lower and moderate income residents who want park and river views on 5th Avenue. The market no longer supports it. And we do live in a market economy.

    Montclair is hot today. It has higher priced and more desired housing and more desired schools than Bloomfield. That’s just the demand side.

    On the tax side, who suffers first and most when taxes go up to compensate deficits, higher expenses and higher taxes? Working class and working poor who already live here (yes largely African Africans). They get pushed out of town first from tax increases.

    But housing advocates and the NAACP don’t see this. Affordable housing under the COAH regs can’t directly help those already living in Montclair. We can’t limit affordable housing subsidies to low income residents already here who need help to stay.

    Instead, supporters want to subsidize and accommodate bringing in new, lower income residents from around the County who don’t yet reside here. They want the affordable housing 20% set aside from all new developments to go to this County wide list under COAH. And on top of that, some want even more unfunded housing subsidies for what’s called now work force and senior housing needed. So it’s really more than 20% in housing subsidies that some advocates are asking for today under this social engineering.

    Without moderation, the economics don’t work. And over time they can tank a Township and set up a spiral of white flight. You’ve seen it with other communities.

    Sure, the rich up on the hill can afford higher taxes short term even though their housing values (and tax assessments)drop. Many now want to leave when rates hit $60 thousand a year. That’s what’s happened now. Our top housing prices are much lower than Short Hills. Therefore lower tax collections.

    But forget the rich. Those with less have the hardest time from increased taxes. Low income renters eventually have to pay higher rents when landlords pass along their new costs. Even more gentrification. If owning, working class families can no longer afford to keep their homes and stay here. They have to sell. So lower income families actually get pushed out of Montclair first from higher municipal costs and even higher taxes.

    That’s exactly what happened here. It’s the opposite market effect of what affordable housing supporters wanted. So they should now give pause and thought as they push for new, subsidized larger kid family housing units to go on to the tax rolls.

  11. @bloomfieldave …I agree that life isn’t always fair but the social order you described is eminently fair. I bet a lot of the the inhabitants of the grandest houses in Montclair come from humble beginnings. Not everyone aspires to live in Montclair or Greenwich or CPW but it is good those places exist for people who do. No one should be entitled to it.
    As for all the development….not so sure how well planned it is. Can Montclair’s infrastructure handle it. More cops, more fireman with more equipment, how about water and sewage? What happens when all those new showers get turned and all those toilets flush in the morning? The traffic should be interesting….

  12. Agree that traffic should be interesting and that is a wild card but I know that all of us here would agree that Bloomfield Avenue is currently a mess from a car and pedestrian standpoint. That is a whole different can of worms.

    The hotel is going to be a huge asset for the town. The W hotel in Hoboken has been a great asset for Hoboken and people were very skeptical of it before it opened. I don’t mind the height of the buildings. The materials they used on Valley and Bloom could have been much better. Panels look cheap. Bricks look good. Too many panels and not enough bricks but the end result will still be the same. High Earning dual income no kids couples mostly living there.

    Affordable housing as others have pointed out here will cost the town money. No free lunches. In fact you’ll probably be subsidizing school lunches for those kids as well on top of their housing. Also I think people forget or maybe they don’t. Montclair already has a large number of affordable housing units. In fact a significant number as well as lots of 2 and 2 family houses that aren’t that expensive. Poor people in luxury buildings is just an odd idea. I lived in one before so I’m speaking from experience and not just arm chair quarterbacking.

  13. therealworld,

    Some good points about a complete discussion. As I have said, the Planning Board is not the venue…and certainly not the venue to first introduce & hold hearings on the Workforce Housing initiative. That’s crazy.

    Anyway, a couple of comments about your numbers. By my conservative calcs, Montclair’s current AH subsidies are just under $4MM annually. I expect this to grow 5-7% from 2015-2019.

    Also, all the housing in these redevelopment zones do not contribute a dime to the school district…affordable or not. They are under PILOT agreements.

    I support AH, but I think our 20% number is too high. I like the Workforce Housing concept, but it scares me that Montclair is capable of implementing it properly. I wish the discussion could be part of next year’s municipal election campaigns.

    I feel very strongly that subsidized housing should not be expanded beyond 20%.

  14. Yes Mr. Rubacky, 20% should be a top figure but with more kids being added…even that percentage may not be sustainable from the new construction developments coming. Some serious number crunching needs to take place..and maybe that workforce concept pursued — not just calls for more civil rights and social justice.

    While I think you’re right about PIOLOTs not contributing directly to the schools, from Mayor Jackson’s explanation in the Montclair Times some months ago – he claimed that the township receives the same amount of monies as if the developments were taxed normally. So whether PILOT money went to the schools directly or first into our general funds..then is moved over to the BOE system budget….this does not appear to be the issue for total tax collections.

    Its the actual shortfall from adding more kids into the system when only minimum taxes are collected behind that from affordable housing to pay for it.

    Yes, there is still a tax shortfall from upper middle class single family homes with 3 kids paying just $30,000 instead of $57,000 – the real school cost. But a $52,000 subsidy needed from the same affordable housing family is still much more than $27,000 – the shortfall from say average single family homes both with 3 kids — if we are really looking at class based apples and oranges here.

  15. I’m not sure schools don’t get any pilot $. It’s true the town does not have share those funds with BOE, but they may anyway. Money is fungible; if BOE gets less from town in usual way, it may get it through PILOT.

    Bless her heart, Dr. Baskerville–once a real doctor, now a public school “doctor”–wants the town to shuttle shoppers to other stores once Pathmark closes. Her urge to nurture and protect all God’s creatures knows no limit. Thank god those former Pathmark shoppers won’t have to drive, or take a bus or taxi, or get friends or family to drive them. My neighbor doesn’t have car and gets rides to the grocery store; will the Baskerville shuttle include her?

  16. therealworld,

    I can’t bring myself to deal with your content yet after you called me Mr Rubacky. I appreciate the courtesy, but anything but Mr. works better for me.

  17. therealworld,

    1. Municipal & education are Church & State – there is no mixing of funds. It’s bad enough Mr Spiller is on the BoSE. Also, the Mayor is going to pay down debt before he hands over any discretionary funds to the school district’s K-12 responsibility that can’t spend straight. He has to reduce debt to make new debt.

    2. Once you look at NJ Property Tax Cap law and also how charter schools are funded, it actually would make sense financially to deal with the increased enrollment from our AH initiative to establish a charter school here for the grades 6-12 with an enrollment of around 235-250 students. We actually save money and if we can also rent Edgemont or Rand to the charter school, we would be probably be $1MM in the black. The proverbial having our cake and eating it!

    3. Then we can fund a competing initiative…Pre-K. The +$1MM from pt 2 and a municipal contributions from PILOT checking account would cover a universal public/private partnership model…and the MPS still doesn’t get to run it – the biggest concern.

  18. Frank Rubacky – Yes..you cannot mix municipal and school tax collections – I see that..but if the revenue coming from PILOTS is the same as if the school portion was still being collected (what the Mayor said is the structure) — nothing more should be needed to raise the tax rate or increase gross revenues overall. Unless, as you suggest the Council unloads its money taken in for more debt reduction. I think that would be unlikely however, in an election year coming.

    One could anticipate the budget process for 2016 to be flat or produce a very minimum tax hike — however that needs to be obtained.

    Charters are an interesting fiscal phenomenon as you postulated with the potential for cost reduction if handled right. That would mean existing school space rented out and even perhaps some administrative overhead also handled by the school system. It could be set up as a separate program within the public realm but operating at lower costs. HOWEVER, the political and union opposition to such a proposal would only further inflame this community.

    As you certainly know, there is very significant resident opposition to charter school concepts here as an attack on public education. Many believe they are just a scheme to turn schools into profit centers for the already rich and connected. So unless the NJ. State Education Department had ruled for that proposed charter school application here some time ago making it a fait de compli, I fear your creative private/public fiscal suggestion (which others do sometimes dangle) would not make it past the first public meeting.

  19. “I fear your creative private/public fiscal suggestion (which others do sometimes dangle) would not make it past the first public meeting.”

    Yup. It was just to illustrate it’s not about taxes until it becomes about taxes…and then vice versa. Just an ongoing dialogue accompanied by a continuing game of musical chairs.

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