A rendering of art panels along the front of the proposed Midtown Deck sparked a discussion of public art at the Planning Board’s Monday meeting. COURTESY JANICE TALLEY

By Elizabeth Oguss

The Township Planning Board on Monday night gave mixed, but overall positive, reviews to preliminary plans for the Midtown Parking Deck, a four-story facility with 315 parking spaces that will replace an existing municipal surface lot on Glenridge Avenue.

Tim Tracy, representing Desman of Manhattan, the firm that was the architect and engineer of record on Montclair’s Crescent and Bay Street parking decks, presented the design, which he told the board was 30 percent complete and would be further fleshed out with suggestions from the board.

Tracy displayed a rendering of the site as seen from Glenridge Avenue. In order to avoid a monolithic look and to break down the mass of the structure, he said, the deck will have the look of a “series of buildings,” with fronts stepped back progressively from east to west.

Planning Board chairman John Wynn called the rendering a “good start,” and said he’d like to see the plan when it’s at 50 or 60 percent complete.

“I think there’s good potential, I like the materials, I like the way that it’s staggered, but… we need more work on the details to really bring it in,” Wynn said.

The deck is to be built as part of the Seymour Street redevelopment plan, a mixed-use project slated for a site adjacent to the Wellmont Theater. The board was asked by the Township Council to review plans for the deck, which will be constructed on municipal land, the existing metered Midtown Parking Plaza, on Glenridge Avenue.

As a capital improvement, the deck doesn’t need the planning board’s approval, but the council wants input from the board.

The facility will replace 56 metered spaces and 129 regular parking spaces, as well as create 130 additional spaces, for a total of 315.

Building the deck is the responsibility of the Seymour Street redevelopers, which are Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Brookfield Properties of Manhattan.

Accompanied by attorney Ira Karasick and Gary Obszarny, the township’s director of utilities, Tracy spoke to the planning board for about an hour, describing the structure’s layout, location of entrances and exits, stairway/elevators, and other details, many of which were tentative, pending the board’s input.

The materials proposed for the deck’s construction include panelized pre-cast brick, “one step above what we did at Crescent,” Tracy said.

Tracy said that property owners on Bloomfield Avenue, whose property backs onto the site of the parking deck, will continue to have access to their private parking spots behind their buildings. Private parking will remain accessible to those owners without their having to pass through the garage, he said.

Other concerns included whether garbage and fire trucks will be able to get into the site; Tracy assured the board they would. The board asked that lighting, particularly on the upper levels, be designed so as to shield residential neighbors from direct or reflected light.

Planning board members were keenly interested in the public art component of the project, which so far has only been roughed in. An art panel is proposed along the front facade between the deck’s first and second stories, and as it appeared on a rendering of the building, was viewed by some board members as tame and uninteresting.

Carmel Loughman referenced the exciting public art she has seen on buildings in Jersey City .

Tracy reassured the board that the art panels in the illustration were just placeholders.

“We will work with the township’s designated committee,” he said, outlining a process whereby request for proposals will be put out to the art community, and the building’s design coordinated with the art that is chosen.

Wynn suggested public art could also be in the form of sculpture, grillwork, and glasswork.

“That’s the kind of thing we want to embellish into the architecture,” he said.

“Particularly on a building like this, which nobody really wants,” Wynn said, laughing. “Because it’s a parking garage … it’s a necessary evil. … We want it to bring something to the town other than a place to park.”

Karasick said the art aspect of the project is in the hands of the township and recommended that the art committee, or whatever entity would be making the decision about art, get started soon.

“In the end, Mr. Tracy and Desman will build what they’re asked to build,” Karasick said.

The core of the Seymour project is a 3.5-acre site on Bloomfield Avenue, where two buildings and a large public plaza will be constructed. One building will be six stories, with 200 residential units, 232 parking spaces and roughly 30,000 square feet of retail space. The second building, seven stories tall, has two stories of office space and five floors of parking.

Jaimie is an award-winning journalist and editor.