Montclair residents brought questions about gentrification, housing, and traffic and pedestrian to a community meeting held on Tuesday, August 8th, regarding the Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment Plan.
Dozens attended the meeting held in the auditorium at Glenfield Middle School, where Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings, Planning Director Janice Talley, and consultant Ira Smith from Smith Maran Architecture + Interiors were speakers. Professional planner Keenan Hughes from Phillips Preiss and Traffic Engineer Joseph Fishinger from Brightview Engineering were expected to be present at the meeting, but they were absent.
Smith gave a presentation highlighting changes made to the Lackawanna Plaza Redevelopment plan.
“The presentation you’re about to see is the product of what the Planning Board heard and said. They delivered a very long report with comments and recommendations,” said Smith.
Smith went through slides that illustrated the new plan as “leaner and greener,” and with “more robust historic preservation requirements.” The revised plan was downsized from 375 residential units to 300. The heights of all five buildings were reduced. Three of the five buildings were reduced from six stories tall to five stories. There is an additional open space and a new pedestrian passageway.
Smith also showed slides to explain the location of the proposed supermarket for the property, the study of traffic flow, and the solar light studies during winter and summer.
“This plan is deeply influenced and responds to the report well as follow-up conversations that Talley has had with the councilors. I’ve had a chance to meet with most of the councilors as well for the past several months,” added Smith.
Cummings spoke of how 20% of the planned housing units would be designated affordable housing. He said he was still in conversations with BDP Holdings, the property owner, to define the percentage of workforce and veteran housing on the property.
“That is not definite. There are still a lot more conversations to go with this development,” added Cummings.
Questions about the Plan
Residents asked the speakers to use precise language for the structures presented in the plan.
Smith went through the numbers to explain how they got the measurement of each store of the buildings.
“I don’t normally go into this level of detail because people lose patience and it helps them to see the map. I Invite anyone who wants to contact Janice or me; you can talk more about this in detail,” said Smith.
People at the meeting questioned the role of the town government in the proposed plan.
“Our town needs to be protected from pollution, traffic, and gentrification. Three hundred apartments are too many. Nobody asked the Fourth Ward if they wanted this kind of density,” said one resident.
Another concern was the percentage of the units destined for affordable housing, workforce housing, and short-term rentals.
“To maximize the number of affordable units and the number of workforce units, we included the short-term rentals in the mathematical population,” answered Talley. “If we have a total of 300 units, 20 percent of those 300 units are affordable, 10 percent are workforce. Of the remainder, 10 percent can be short-term rentals.”
The future of some businesses operating in Lackawanna Plaza was also discussed. Smith shared that one of the buildings in the plan (building C) has been identified as a good location for restaurants and retail units.
“It is possible Pineapple Express will find a new home there,” said Smith. Smith also shared that the TD Bank, currently located on the property, will be relocated to a designated space.
Talley added that the plan does not permit any drive-through uses, “but if TD Bank comes up with a kiosk system, that’s something that would be presented to the cycling approval,” said Talley.
There were questions about the management of the project’s open space and maintaining public access to it.
“The public open space in this project is not owned by the township. It will be owned by the developer. It will be managed by this developer, but the developer will have to ensure those open space areas are open to the public,” said Talley. “How will he propose to manage it? That will be up to him.”
Talley said there needs to be an appropriate mechanism to ensure open spaces are available to the public and to allow for public events.
“Based on tonight, the council should know that the community has some more concerns based on the current plan,’ said Cummings, adding that the plan presents compromises with the community, but there has also been pushback.
Cummings said there were financial benefits that could come from the plan, but expressed concerned about the grocery store yet to be named and the impact on affordable housing.
“My concern is those residents who will be moving out of current affordable housing. Will those places stay for them? So that’s where you get to the ultimate gentrification, but it goes to what can the council do? How do you ensure those properties stay for them?” said Cummings.