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