Before you comment on Accessory Dwelling Units and other topics, how will you apologize for last week’s column being your first in a while to ignore the proposed Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment?


A. Tonement

By spelling out “I’m sorry” with stuffed grape leaves from Falafel Hut.


Congrats on inventing a new font! Anyway, your thoughts on the ADUs measure that the Township Council passed 6-0 at its February 21 meeting after an effort led by TC member Lori Price Abrams?


Woohoo for the ADU

I love that it will allow modest new housing for seniors, young people, and others who wouldn’t normally be able to afford to live in Montclair — which is getting more expensive every day. Except on February 29, 2023.


Yup. Leap Year isn’t until 2024. Speaking of seniors, residents speaking during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting again lamented that Montclair devotes only a tiny portion of its municipal budget to senior needs. When will that change?


Estimation Adoration

Perhaps on February 29, 2025.


Um, the Leap Year after 2024 is 2028, when we’ll hopefully be in the fifth year of having a new senior center as well as a new director of senior services and other new personnel helping older residents. What else did the public ask for at the February 21 meeting?


Thomas More

A complete local ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. (Yay!) After that, the Montclair Art Museum could display one of those noisy, polluting machines in an exhibit called “One of the Few Things Leonardo da Vinci Was Smart Enough Not to Invent.”


Anyway, back to the planned Lackawanna redo, which would be too large despite misleading renderings that make it look smaller. For one thing, it would bring many more vehicles to that area of town, so why did a traffic study somewhat downplay that?


Not Roads Scholars

Perhaps because traffic consultants say what they think town officials want to hear, traffic is observed at less “trafficky” times, three-inch Hot Wheels cars driven on Grove Street are hard to see, the flying auto from “Harry Potter” was in the air at the time, and —


Enough! Your answer went off the rails, to mix transportation metaphors. What do The Eagles (including Montclair High alum Joe Walsh) and New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen have to do with all this?


Bruce Road Resident

Lackawanna’s developer is providing, via the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, the opportunity to bid on or buy scarce, pricey tickets to attend April concerts by those “classic rock” icons — who, if they ever performed together, would sing “Streets of Philadelphia Eagles.”


Great to help the MFEE, but is it right for a developer to use his wealth and connections to increase community goodwill while Montclair officials are deciding on his Lackawanna site?


Strategic Strategy?

Actually, the developer has consistently contributed to MFEE for many years prior to the current Lackawanna plan — even as the height of the proposed buildings could cause “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”


Which reminds me that, during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis was asked to recuse himself from Lackawanna deliberations because Out Montclair, the LGBTQIA+ organization with which Yacobellis is heavily involved, allegedly got donations from Lackawanna’s developer. Thoughts?


Never a Dull Moment

Yacobellis refuted the conflict-of-interest allegation, and said he’s always checked with attorneys to avoid problems. There’s potential awkwardness in this situation, but I give Yacobellis some benefit of the doubt because I’ve never seen a harder-working councilor (other than Dr. Renee Baskerville) since I moved here in 1993. That’s when The First Couple had the same name as Montclair’s Clinton Avenue: yes, Bill Avenue and Hillary Rodham Avenue.


You’re now banned from listening to “Chelsea Morning.” Getting back to Springsteen’s aforementioned “Darkness” song, is Lackawanna really on the edge of town?


Border of Education

Well, it’s not THAT far from Glen Ridge, whose fleecing of Montclair on the renewed fire-services deal left our town’s residents without a “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”


Enough stupid wordplay “inspired” by Eagles and Springsteen songs. The name of the supermarket chain that would have a store at Lackawanna has not been revealed. What would be your guess?


Food for Thought

I’ve narrowed it down to Albertsons or Aldi or Carrefour or CTown or Fairway or Kroger or Piggly Wiggly or Publix or Stop & Shop or Tesco or Trader Joe’s or Wegmans or Winn-Dixie or You’re Gonna Do Self-Checkout Because We Don’t Wanna Hire Enough Cashiers.


I’m not recognizing the name of that last grocery chain.


A Rather Long Name

Hold a loaf of bread over this column until you hear a beep.


Whichever supermarket ends up at Lackawanna, it needs to be more visible from the street and have easier parking than what’s in the current plan, right?



Right. For visibility, I think dancing paper towels in the window would help. Those towels could also be the opening act for Springsteen and The Eagles.



Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.



20 replies on “MontClairVoyant: Lackawanna Was Gone But Not Forgotten”

  1. Dave — doing good on some issues does not excuse ethical lapses on one’s own.

    5 municipal land use attorneys, all either working for or having done work for Montclair Township, have reviewed — including the last two township attorneys and all say there is a clear conflict of interest here under the statutes.

    Being the Board president of an organization that solicits and receives donations from a developer whose project he then advocates for openly as his “pet project” and then votes on, is itself, the trigger for a conflict of interest. That Councilor Yacobellis then sought to obtain a salary from that non-profit group in the process, only makes it worse. Even just the appearance or potential for a conflict can warrant recusal. So why hasn’t he really?

    I don’t know what lawyer Peter is talking to but he really needs to consider new Counsel.

  2. Martin,

    As an aside, were any of these land use attorneys ones that advised Councilor Schlager on the question of her recusal from Lackawanna 1?

    Curious if these five land use attorneys actually read the complete chapter or just went to 9-22.5? Maybe read the entire chapter.

    Curious if any of these attorneys were around in the spring of 2013 and had a hand in the budget amendment resolution? Yes, I want our $457,333.33 back. Maybe the State of NJ can add it to the list of things it various department and agencies are looking into. I don’t understand how taxpayers can assume almost a half million of new debt without a hearing.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am entertained by municipal skulduggery as much as the next person.
    What you should really be looking at is the Council’s committee system – specifically the Finance Committee and the Economic Development Committee. I’m unclear what the latter committee does. I just know all kinds of things happen in them and they have kicked out the CFO and the Council now takes their financial advice from the Fire Chief.

    Again, I am not, in any way, giving Yacobellis a pass. He is clearly part of the problem. I am simply pointing out to the blissfully unaware Montclair electorate that we have a long-standing organizational practices & culture problems, beyond the mistreatment of women, AND that the voters are fundamental enablers. Change the form of government if you like. Still the same quality of voters.

    But, this is a town that has to take an oath to recommit to doing the right thing. We somehow got away from it with keeping up the house, raising the kids, and blah blah. Absolutely priceless. And I thought all of us were in the running for the complement of “a life well lived”.

  3. Thank you for your comments, Martin, Frank, and Pat!

    Martin, I mentioned in the column about there being awkwardness in the situation involving the councilor, Out Montclair, and Lackawanna’s developer. But I tried to look at things in context. Peter Yacobellis is a very effective councilor who works really hard in that job, communicates a lot with residents, and is very responsive to residents. He is also the councilor who (along with Robert Russo) fought hardest to try to get rid of the township manager alleged to have treated women in Montclair’s municipal workplace so badly. All that means something.

    Frank, yes, there are enough problems involving the actions (or inaction) of the mayor and some other Township Council members that the focus on Peter Yacobellis is…interesting.

    Pat, I agree that the hiring of the politically connected Culturupt to look at the “culture and climate” of Montclair’s government and municipal workplace is ridiculous. Our “leaders” shouldn’t need a pricey outside firm to tell them to act like decent human beings, not harass women in the workplace, not allow racist/nepotistic manipulating of the fire department exam, etc.

  4. Dave,

    All the credit goes to Martin. He put the spotlight on the BID.
    I just “followed the money”.

    Turns out money flows the other way, too. Who knew?

  5. @pat.gottlieb

    25 hrs would, if no connection issues, could get me to Sydney. Worse comes to worst, I settle and go to the Shangri-La and the Crazy Rich Asians.

  6. Dave,

    It wasn’t hard. It took 20 mins to find. I regret not spending the 20 mins after the May 14th, 2013 Council mtg. Live and learn. It’s just money.

  7. Unfortunately. Now I am up to $1,035,000 in rainy day capital funds appropriations. I really have to stop looking at this Township’s finances.

  8. Dave,

    Below are links to two defining, 2017 financial policy statements – adopted by resolution – by the 2nd Jackson administration. I was shocked by their novelty – financial policy statements, by resolution vote, by elected representatives!

    They were never meant to be inviolable, but we can now note their shared shortcomings. The statements lack a WHEREAS clause that the Council should pass a new resolution saying when we are opting out. Montclair March Madness!

    Debt Policy
    Fund Balance Policy.

  9. Thank you for the two comments and the links, Frank.

    If looking at the township’s finances interests you, why stop? 🙂 Though I guess it’s a mix of interest and at times discomfort.

    As for the links, the thing that initially struck me about those two resolutions was how self-congratulatory they were. As the Township Council could have been told back then, “You do you.” 🙂

  10. And now those policies are in the circular file. Oh well. This is the thing about our local history – the more one knows about it, the better one can predict the future.

  11. Reminds me of the quote by William Faulkner (not the Faulkner Act’s Bayard Faulkner): “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

  12. @pat.gottlieb,

    I just read the culture assessment contract you provided in the above link. This will be great future discussion item when someone OPRA’s the report’s findings. I have some limited experience with anonymous, or not, culture surveys (of course you do frank).

    Let’s, using rounded numbers, say we have 425 f/t muni employees. PD has 120 in their bldg @ Valley. FD has 85 in their 3 bldgs. Shelter has 5 in their bldg on Willow. I’m guessing, but let’s say DCA has 60 in their bldg on Fullerton. I have no idea where the (25?) Utility people are housed when they are not out and about. This leaves roughly a 130 housed at ground zero, 205 Claremont.

    I’m wondering how the report will handle comparisons on the culture of, for example, the fire houses with an office setting. Just the vastly different work shifts create specific culture characteristics. Or, will we be limiting our findings to the aggregate? I’m sure all these various locations have similar gender diversity characteristics, but the sample sizes will make privacy a challenge. Still, it is worth $14K to see them pull this off.

  13. Dave,

    Like the quote. I’m partial to this because of the futility:

    “We can’t return, we can only look
    Behind, from where we came
    And go round and round and round, in the circle game”

  14. Appropriate Joni Mitchell lyrics, Frank!

    And Montclair restaurant patrons immediately wanting two foodstuffs in addition to the main course? “Both Sides Now.”

  15. Frank,

    You are such a Pollyanna today. Report findings from Culturupt study will never be made public under the secretive regime of Spiller. His henchman Paul Burr will make sure of it. The others on the Council will fall in line.

    I must say, I’m surprised and perplexed by Hurlock. He was the only one who had testicular fortitude to vote against the horrible fire agreement with Glen Ridge. Schlager was the swing vote and she publicly disclosed last October that the only reason she voted in favor of the botched fire deal was because Burr lied to her that she had personal liability. Whisky Tango Foxtrot!

    We have two lawyers on the Council: Lori Price Abrams and Bill Hurlock. Price Abrams is a known Spiller sycophant so I had no expectations of her. But how could Hurlock, a veteran on Council and seemingly reasonable man allow someone so patently unqualified to keep his job after the GR fire fiasco?!

    I do not understand how a town attorney can tell blatant lies to a Councilor and get away with it. And we are not talking small lie here. We are talking one that had material negative consequences for the town – it locked us in a horrible deal for the next fifteen (15) years!

  16. The survey report wasn’t for me. I don’t need the survey to know the culture issues.

    I’m mad at the entire Montclair Fire Dept. The FMBA & Superior Officers know a thing or two about contracts in NJ. They stood there and knowingly supported an illegal contract. They stood there and said that revenue GR was paying the Township, as an independent contractor no less, was their money. Their money!!!! Seriously? It wasn’t.

    I totally support a union standing up, even playing hardball for their members pay & benefits. All this is provided for. There is a time, a place, a process, and recourse. What they were thinking standing in the back of the Council chambers was not about fighting fires. That was an example of our union, that we want to provide worker housing to, not standing up for us taxpayers. They went further and wanted to take our money. We all agree we will fund the MFD to the level necessary, regardless of the GR contract. The servicing the GR contract was, as they so stupidly argued, was a de minimis cost. The MFD is a problem.

    An even bigger problem for Montclair is a lack of leadership. We have no leaders. CEO? Council? Legacy stakeholder orgs? I’m waiting for the electorate to figure this out what this means for bringing change. No worries, we get a new Council in 16 months. I’m sure there will a leader-type among them. Maybe a CEO, too?

  17. Pat,
    As bad as the Glen Ridge deal is if that is worst decision the town makes over the next 15 years I will take it.

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