Amid visions of modernizing or even replacing Montclair’s 53-year-old Municipal Building, the township’s Planning Board approved an early but necessary measure Tuesday night, moving these ambitions one step closer to reality.
The board, in a 6-to-3 vote, acknowledged that the building and two adjacent properties owned by the township meet state criteria for redevelopment. Town planners can now more fully explore the possibilities, including whether to move police headquarters to the site and create a senior center there, before they return to the Township Council and the board with a fleshed-out proposal that could move the project in any number of directions.
“We don’t have an architectural plan yet, we don’t know what will happen,” Janice Talley, Montclair’s director of planning and community development, told the board. “It could be expansion. It could be renovation. This is the first step before you do a redevelopment plan, and that’s where the magic happens.”
The debate and vote, held in a second-floor hearing room at the Municipal Building, created an odd dynamic, with town officials contemplating the future of a structure they were sitting in at that moment and know well. As Talley pointed to the building’s defects — including a dilapidated roof, chronic mold, a faulty ventilation system and a crumbling facade — board members nodded in agreement and in concern, some wondering aloud about why immediate dangers to themselves and visitors have not been addressed.
“I’m troubled, if we’re saying it’s unsafe and unhealthy,” board member Anthony Ianuale said. “We knew that the roof was leaking 20 years ago. It’s an odd thing — if you don’t fix the roof, then you end up meeting the criteria for redevelopment.”
The three-story, 34,000-square-foot building on Claremont Avenue and bracketed by Park Street and North Fullerton Avenue, serves as Montclair’s bureaucratic hub. Converted in 1980 to serve as the seat of town government, it houses several departments, including Parks and Recreation, the Municipal Clerk’s Office and the Tax Collector’s Office.
It shows its wear and tear. A simple walk-around suggests that the building has fallen into disrepair. Its egg shell-colored brick facing is chipped and fading, including over the main entrance, with some bricks missing altogether. Even the green, white and orange Municipal Building sign by the front steps is cracked down the middle, seemingly held intact by a strip of clear tape.
Any transformation would likely include two properties the town owns — an abandoned PNC branch on Park Street. and the Cornerstone House, a Victorian home run by the Salvation Army as a homeless shelter, which abuts the Municipal Building’s parking lot. Talley and other township officials said at the meeting that there were no plans to disrupt the shelter, only to “tweak” the layout of the grounds.
Roughly 75 employees work in the Municipal Building, though that number would multiply significantly if the police department were moved from its headquarters a half-mile away on Bloomfield Avenue. At the same time, the creation of a senior center at the site has been under discussion for some time. The Edgemont Park House, which serves as an informal venue, is seen by many seniors as too small to accommodate an expanding schedule of activities.