Planning Board Chair John Wynn at the meeting on June 5. (VIA YOUTUBE)

Montclair Township’s Planning Board has embarked on a multiyear project to review the municipality’s land-use document, in preparation for a Master Plan Reexamination Report scheduled to be approved in 2026. At its conclusion, this long process will determine the future of the township’s built environment.

A master plan is a living document that guides municipalities in long-range planning and growth of the community. All towns in New Jersey must have a master plan; by law, every 10 years it is subject to a “reexamination report,” which reviews the prior version and updates the document to reflect current conditions, policies and objectives.

The Planning Board’s work is focused on the Unified Land Use and Circulation Element of the Master Plan, which deals with transportation options and designing and maintaining streets, sidewalks and other auxiliary areas to be safe for pedestrians and cyclists. This document is divided into two sections; the first, regarding the township as a whole, has six areas of interest and the second section, concerning area-specific strategies, has seven areas of focus.

Small board committees are inspecting each category to make certain that the recommendations are in line with current planning strategy for the township. Then these draft reports are brought to the entire board for examination and discussion. The board will be reviewing these reports throughout the summer.

And while these reports are not going to be approved in their current form, they are an indication of the Planning Board’s direction in the future of development in Montclair.

At its June 5 meeting, Planning Board members reviewed the Flexible, Affordable Urban/Suburban Lifestyle, or housing, section, the second report of six focusing on township issues.

Some of the issues board members discussed from this report include the diversity of housing stock within the township, the number of single-family homes as compared to two-family or multifamily homes, affordable and special-needs housing, market-rate housing for senior citizens. Board members expressed concerns on maintaining the character of residential neighborhoods while still meeting possible needs of the future.

Board members dissected the report’s recommendations word by word as they sought to come to a consensus in their directions to the township’s director of planning, Janice Talley, on revising the report.

Single-family neighborhoods are important to residents, said John Wynn, the Planning Board chair. “One of the reasons why we advocate for increased density in the commercial areas” is because it wouldn’t change the balance between single-family and multifamily neighborhoods, he said.

Board member Carmel Loughman disagreed. “We are a town that is predominantly single-family homes, and that’s why we have an affordability crisis,” she said.

And where would affordable housing go, Wynn asked rhetorically. It would go in the more commercial areas, and this causes an issue “with too much in one area, and it’s a very difficult dynamic to negotiate,” he said. “And I don’t know what the answer is.”

The housing report includes several recommendations, including awareness of the need for smaller one- and two-family residences as entry-level housing, ensuring the availability of affordable housing, and expanding housing for seniors and disabled citizens. Another recommendation, to expand fresh-food access, brought on a heated discussion about the design plans for the supermarket at the proposed Lackawanna Plaza development.

A supermarket must be seen from the street, to be inviting to shoppers from outside the immediate neighborhood, board member Carole Willis said. The proposed market “is not accessible” from Bloomfield Avenue nor from Grove Street, which limits who is able to shop there, she said. “You need a location where people who are not just Montclairites will come,” Willis said. “All of the supermarkets that thrive are visible.”

Talley will take all the board members’ comments and incorporate them into the next version of the report, which will be combined into a full report.

In May, the board reviewed the Land Use + Parking draft report. Next up is the Transportation + Mobility section, scheduled for the board’s June 26 meeting. Two other reports, Infrastructure + Utilities and Economic Development + the Arts, will be presented to the board in the summer, Talley told the board. A sixth report, Neighborhood Character, will soon get underway with the appointment of board members to the review panel.

Several other township boards are reviewing relevant sections of the Master Plan, Talley said. The Historic Preservation Commission is concentrating on the Historic Preservation Element, and the Environmental Commission is working on the Conservation Element. In addition, the township Housing Commission is reviewing and commenting on the 2009 Housing Element and Fair Share Plan, she said. These boards are to submit their reports to the Planning Board in the fall, when it will begin compiling the reexamination report, she said.

The last time Montclair conducted a master plan reexamination was in 2016; the circulation document was last reviewed in 2017. The township’s master plan was originally approved in 1978 and has been revised and reexamined over the decades since then.

— Merry Firschein/Montclair Local

10 replies on “Planning Board Reexamining Montclair Master Plan”

  1. 3 years.

    The process first step is an internal review of what to keep and what to change.

    But, there will be no measurable comparison of neighborhoods within Montclair, or with other towns who are already at the density levels we will be in 20 years. Internal, insular first steps.

    There isn’t a committee that will look at topography. Unfortunate. That unlike other communities, and a part of our cultural fabric, we are located on a slope and have grown up on that same slope for quite a few years.

    No, there is no committee charged with the responsibility of the natural beauty in Montclair, much less make recommendations as part of land use vision & policy. (And please, you don’t want to be that person that suggests it falls under Historic Preservation)

    No, we begin comforted that changes to the Master Plan have to be made, but the underlying assumption is that our past approach, our current plan themes/goals/objectives, its organization of the LUCE, is not flawed.

    And, we will wait at least of year to get community feedback on a year’s worth of committee work based on revising the existing Master Plan.

    Until then, we are still debating if a supermarket has sited to be easily seen (in your face) from the Avenue. Brilliant! We place all of our parking decks off the Avenue, yet people still manage to find them. OK, that is different Frank. OK, all the 65KSF, state-of-the-art supermarkets have a sea of parking in front. So, that means the Planning Board really wants to revert to the 2018 Lackawanna Plan and expand the surface parking lot IN FRONT of a clearly visible, 65KSF, state-of-the-art supermarket.

    Yup. And this Board is writing our vision of the built environment for the next 25 years.

    Personally, I am going to wait 2 years, just as we did in 2012, to get the first draft and we can start the 3 years of rewrites. Great process. Best in class.

  2. Town → Growth → Land → Built-out → Highest & Best Use → Increase Density/Utilization → 25% Front Yard setback zoning → Development pressures → Increasing variances, amp; non-compliance & impervious backyard surfaces → Streetscape protections: multiple public benefits → Increase public benefit yield of a privately held, but already restricted asset – the residential front yard.

  3. There are two serious planning mistakes that are causing harm to Montclair’s redevelopment, 1) “Area in Need of ReDevelopment” legislation because it is discriminatory. 2) “Transit Hub” strategies, because Montclair was not planned as a mono-centric town with a central station. Instead, it was designed to have 6 neighborhood stations in green” naturalistic settings. The current Montclair planning mechanism (for more than a decade or so) has based development strategies on “Area in Need of ReDevelopment” legislation as well as “Transit Hub” legislation. There is also confusion within the community who thinks that Montclair has a Historical Society who supports preservation and backs up the Historic Preservation Commission for planning issues so that landmark buildings don’t risk demolition.

    “Area in Need of Redevelopment” legislation used in Montclair’s Master Plan is a continuation of discriminatory redlining.…/ghosts-housing-discrimination… It it doesn’t provide enough affordable housing in new redeveloped neighborhoods, while pushing out longtime residents who are priced out. Its seems like a form of “inductive planning” rather than “deductive planning”

    Montclair is embracing real estate discrimination with “Area in Need of Redevelopment” legislation. Neighborhoods’ long-time houses get demolished and the multi-generational community members get displaced. In return the % of affordable housing that the developers promise does not satisfy the community that they are displacing and destroys long time neighborhood fabric. Neighborhoods adjacent to big new development become unaffordable because of the Real Estate market. So many people leave. It’s sad. We need legislation that helps like allowing people to reconfigure their existing properties to make them more affordable.

    Mistake #2 is that Montclair cannot be planned as a transit hub because it was not designed as a single train station town with a central station. Julius Pratt who is responsible to for planning the East Coasts train system, lived in Montclair (Martin Funeral Home) and designed Montclair’s train system with six stations that would bring you right to your green neighborhood. Montclair is not a mono centric city where you can develop all new big scale housing near the central train station. The Lackawanna Station is only ornamental …a dream of Thomas Edison who lived nearby.

    The Historic Preservation Commission mechanism seems undermined because Montclair does not have a functional Historical Society that aligns with the preservation process. (you can see how it works here)…. The Montclair History Center is technically a museum for the Israel Crane House. The organization ignores preservation standards and make their own rules (like moving historic structures from their sites which is not consistent with NJ DEP landmark designation guidelines.) This refusal confuses the public who think that Montclair has a Historical Society that will protect historic buildings. We don’t, and this is a big problem. In the last round of Lackawanna, the History Center did not support the protection of the historic Lackawanna Train Station possibly because of their affiliations with the developers. A trainwreck for Montclair Historic preservation and a big waste of time and energy for the community. I do not agree with the Montclair History Center’s presentation of African American history. The remarkable achievements of the community a rich legacy of American history, seems to be relegated to what feels like a back room. They are the same folks who were OK with moving the Freed Slave House (the first property owned by an African American citizen) to behind the Israel Crane House and characterize it as a “slave house” which would have deleted its true history and destroyed its eligibility for state and national landmark status. What the Montclair History Center does is fine if they change their name to what they technically are, The Israel Crane House Museum, and to stop trying to put their organization’s “brand” on all Montclair history. They are not a Historical Society, and we greatly need one to preserve our history.

  4. Excerpt from “Ordinance Now Before Board of Commissioners Will Have Far-Reaching Effects on Character and Appearance of Montclair” – By Herbert Swan, Montclair’s Zoning Consultant, The Montclair Times, February 12, 1921 (front page lead):

    Character of Buildings Here.
    Of the residential buildings in Montclair, 88.2 per cent. are one-family dwellings; 9.2 per cent. two-family dwellings, and 2.6 per cent tenements. Three-fourths of the families reside in private houses; one-sixth in double houses, and one-tenth in tenements. The average number of families per residential building, whether dwelling or tenement, is only one and one-sixth. The average number of families per tenement residing in the 114 tenements of the town is only 4.6. But a single tenement is over four stories in height, and, outside the downtown business district, it is the exceptional building that occupies more than a quarter of the lot.”

    I take and offer the facts stated at face value. Read the article if you are interested in the Township consultant’s take on growth & planning.

  5. Hello Frank, I would love to read the entire article. Seems that in 1921 there were no upscale apartment buildings (that could be), just single family houses and double houses. Technically, a tenement is a multi family building with only one toilet per each floor. Tenements were usually built in NJ circa 1900 to house immigrants who worked in indentured service. As part of the indenture, they were not provided a salary and were provided with a dwelling and a “job” to build tenements for the local contractors who would ten house more indentured. (You needed a job and an address for immigrations) In Montclair, tenements were built in the flood zones of Toney’s Brook in the Pine Street area.

  6. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights. We are fortunate to have your voice.

    One day our Montclair History Center (or Lisanne Renner) will put together a history of zoning in Montclair. Zoning, as we know it and as you know, is only 100 years old here and tells a history of how we walked versus how we talked over the years.

  7. Thank you Frank, you knowledge of the real reality of how things work, both in the past and present, is so valuable for my understanding of history. We are truly fortunate that you share your insights. I learn.

    Thats not going to be such a nice task for Lisanne (whose work I am also grateful for, Adam too) Our Zoning over the last 100 years is all about redlining and discrimination based on race and religion. It’s upsetting to read.

  8. As long as you bring up the wrongful application of the Area in Need of Redevelopment (ANR) tool, how’s about that Bellevue Theater ANR designation? The owners withdrew their application, but I hear they still hope to open the theaters.

    That will be a neat trick. Of course, they needed the ANR to continue the use and the Council keeps the ZBA at bay. So does this mean the owners get the tax exemption for making no changes?

    I also think maybe the Planning Board allowed themselves to be used…again…by a Council. They were just happy to oblige them. However, now we have to see whether the Zoning Board will intervene or just let stuff happen.

    As I wrote a few years back, the devil is in the detail with the Bellevue ANR. This will be one of my favorite I told you so’s.

  9. Remarkable. The ANR “Area in Need of Redevelopment” tool has got to go. It’s a broad and insensitive cookie cutter and Montclair is the wrong dough.

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