Alternative Lackawanna plan diverts from developers’ options
By LINDA MOSS
Township Council members have two redevelopment plans in their hands for Lackawanna Plaza, including one that satisfies the cries of historic preservationists who want the landmark train station at the site incorporated into the project’s design.
The council’s Economic Development Committee is now studying a redevelopment plan that was drafted by Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC, a consultant commissioned by the local governing body for the task. That Hoboken-based firm submitted its 92-page plan June 1 for review by the council, which has asked the EDC to evaluate it.
But on June 1 the council also received an alternative redevelopment plan for Lackawanna Plaza, which was created by Smith Maran Architecture & Interiors LLC. That Montclair-based firm is the township’s redevelopment-design consultant. While the EDC won’t abandon the Phillips Preiss plan — which it plans to amend — for the one from Smith Maran, it has it in hand to look at as an example of redevelopment that fully integrates the historic station into its design.
The redevelopment plan commissioned by the council mirrors the proposal that Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair and Hampshire Cos. of Morristown have for Lackawanna Plaza, a roughly 8-acre site on Bloomfield Avenue that straddles Grove Street. The property is now home to a nearly vacant shopping center that once housed a Pathmark, which closed in November 2015.
The site was originally a train station, which has been designated a historic landmark by the township, state and federal officials. The Pig & Prince restaurant occupies the station’s former waiting room, and train sheds and even a watering trough for horses remain intact.
a Smaller footprint
The Phillips Preiss Grygiel plan as written would permit the developers to do what they want to do: erect what critics claim is a massive mixed-use project, with 350 apartments and a large supermarket that they say would destroy or dwarf many of the station’s historic elements.
By contrast, the alternative plan has a smaller footprint, thereby creating more open space and not blocking the view of the station. It also incorporates the historic station’s features, such as its train sheds, into its design. And it concentrates the two planned buildings’ masses in their center, as well as presenting different options to accommodate anywhere from 280 to 384 apartments, depending on whether the development rises from four to seven stories. Those higher stories would be set back from the exterior of the buildings.
Several EDC members said they like certain portions of the Smith Maran alternative and may seek to incorporate some of them in the Phillips Preiss Grygiel plan when they revise it.
“Regarding the ‘alternate plan,’ there are components that I like, such as increased open space, preservation of some historic elements, etc.,” said Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller, who is an EDC member. “Of course, however, keeping the density down as well as the height down is also important. We will continue to review and discuss.”
‘We’re not limiting ourselves to anything’
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville said the EDC is considering all the input it has received as it studies the Phillips Preiss Grygiel redevelopment plan.
“We are not limiting ourselves to anything at this point in time,” Baskerville said. “We know very much that we’ve listened to what people are saying, and I think it’s safe to say that we agree that we want to expand the open space, as much open space as makes sense for the community, and pretty much that we don’t want to necessarily exceed four stories, although nothing is necessarily off of the table.”
Ira Smith and Erik Maran, principals of Smith Maran, describe their alternative redevelopment plan as a conceptual one. It is only 22 pages, and includes many renderings contrasting their ideas to the official Phillips Preiss Grygiel redevelopment plan.
Smith Maran works closely with the EDC, in part reviewing and commenting on preliminary design submissions, according to Smith. The firm had been invited to sit in on several meetings of the Township Planning Board’s redevelopment subcommittee regarding Lackawanna Plaza, as well as attending community visioning workshops on the project. Smith Maran was to produce an alternative plan to incorporate feedback from all those sources, “try to resolve some of the seemingly competing interests for the site,” and report back to the EDC, according to Smith.
“This is a conceptual plan that tries to deal with many of the things that the developer is interested in and many of the things that the public and the visioning folks have been interested in,” Maran said.
Smith Maran did several versions of its plan, and in the final June 1 iteration the EDC asked for examples of how many residential units could be put in a building with heights that varied from medium- to high-rise.
“In the ‘alternative plan,’ which places the facade of the grocery store at the back edge of the platform shed closest to Bloomfield Avenue, the overall footprint for development on the west parcel is reduced,” the plan states. “With this reduced footprint, holding all development to four stories yields approximately 280 residential units.”
The alternative plan says that adding one to two floors on limited portions of the redeveloper’s four stories would make room for 352 residential units. Adding one final floor, a seventh floor, would bring the number of apartments up to 384.
“This increase would help offset the additional costs related to shifting construction from wood frame to steel, [which is] required above four stories,” the alternative plan says.
Pushing the supermarket farther back from Bloomfield Avenue, and incorporating the station’s open-air platform shed into the facade of the new grocery store, would about double the open space, to about 1 acre, created in front of the building versus the developers’ plan. In addition, a staircase leading to Grove Street can be restored and put back to use, and the water trough could be saved and reactivated as a fountain, according to the alternative plan.
The alternative plan accommodates a 65,000-square-foot supermarket, which is what Pinnacle has proposed. But in the alternative plan, the grocery store’s footprint is a rectangle rather than a square.
Kathleen Bennett, chair of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, said that elements of the alternative plan seem more workable and reasonable than the Phillips Preiss Grygiel redevelopment plan. The commission has been championing the so-called adaptive reuse of the Lackawanna station as an integral part of the redevelopment, making it the focus of the project.
“It [the alternative plan] maintains the spaces that we’re concerned about and it maintains the sight lines,” Bennett said. “I think it’s a more viable massing than what Pinnacle has proposed, that’s my opinion. And I think it would be more workable, has more options to work with ... The point is, there are other options to this site that Smith Maran seems to have.”
But she added, “Quite frankly, the developer is not under the obligation to work with Smith Maran as their architect. They have their own architect.”
Bennett also said two township officials told her the Smith Maran plan “would not fly” because of its height.