The debate over the reimagining of Lackawanna Plaza has gone on for years, with some arguing that the redevelopment plan now on the table will revitalize the area, infusing it with new commerce and a new community of residents calling Montclair home.
Opponents, though, are galvanized around the notion that it is simply too big, too ambitious, and will alter the character of the historic Fourth Ward neighborhood.
On Sunday afternoon, April 16, at the Pine Street firehouse, next to the Bay Street station, a group that calls itself Montclair Residents for Responsible Development is holding a townwide community meeting on the project to discuss what it foresees as the perils of the plan.
The program, beginning at 4 p.m, includes discussion on the threat of gentrification to Montclair’s diversity, the potential for increased flooding, and how to “repurpose” the 110-year-old Lackawanna terminal.
Former Fourth Ward council member Renee Baskerville will be one of the speakers, along with Joan Pransky, an attorney who has fought for rent control; Catherine Outlaw a civil engineer; David Greenbaum; and Cary Heller, a developer who owns a site abutting Lackawanna Plaza.
The redevelopment plan, which is still in the draft phase, is grindingly making its way through a review process that may end up producing new iterations. In January, the Planning Board, issued a recommendation to the Township Council that the project be scaled back to reduce the impact on the surrounding community. The board’s resolution, asserting that the redevelopment proposal clashed with the township’s Master Plan, included objections to many elements, including the development’s bulk and density, the height of the buildings and a lack of “sufficient protection” of the plaza’s historic riches.
In blunt language, the board said that the Lackawanna Plaza drawn up in the plan could “form a barrier to adjacent neighborhoods.”
Both sides of the debate agree that the 8.2-acre property, fronted by the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street, desperately needs to be rescued from neglect. And a community without a nearby supermarket for eight years would finally have a new one.
The redevelopment plan was drafted for the township by Smith Maran Architecture and envisions five buildings that would reach at least 87 feet in height. The Planning Board’s resolution says this surpasses zoning limits. The mixed-use development would include 375 residential units at most, and a minimum of 135,000 square feet of nonresidential space. It calls for 75,000 square feet of office space, while three plazas totaling 72,000 square feet would be dedicated as public open spaces.
On Jan. 31 the Montclair Housing Commission and Montclair Historic Preservation Commission passed their own resolutions. The Housing Commission decided that the number of affordable apartment units – 20% in the redevelopment plan – meets township zoning requirements. The Historic Preservation Commission said that the plan did not conform to the historic preservation elements of the master plan and should be scaled down.
Since then, the Township Council has had little discussion about Lackawanna at its public meetings.