Board member who spoke out against density issue will not recuse himself
COURTESY PLANNING DEPARTMENT
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Planning board member Martin Schwartz, who had spoken out against how the town handled a question over density for a proposed multi-family redevelopment, will still be part of the decision making for that development — the 46-unit MC Residences currently being heard before the planning board.
At the Sept. 9 planning board meeting, Schwartz read a statement alleging that a township employee may have intentionally allowed for a much denser housing development at 33-37 Orange Road than was intended in the Montclair Center Gateway Redevelopment plan.
Before the Oct. 7 planning board meeting, chairman John Wynn suggested that Schwartz recuse himself from the rest of the deliberations on Pinnacle Companies application to build the MC Residences on Orange Road, Schwartz told Montclair Local.
“I would not [recuse myself] because I was not biased against the development,” Schwartz said. “I had accepted the density ruling by the zoning board, even though I disagree with how they came upon that decision.”
For about a year, the township, planning and zoning boards and the developer have been at odds over conflicting zoning language in the Gateway Plan that sets density at either 18 or 72 units per acre for the project, depending on how it is read. Schwartz has maintained that 18 units per acre was always the intention of the town council, which wrote up the plan.
An amendment to correct the language on the agenda for a September 2018 council meeting was pulled with no explanation, however. And on July 17, zoning board members voted unanimously to interpret the plan to allow the higher density and to let the 46-unit development to proceed. With that approval, the application was then sent back to the planning board.
In his statement on Sept. 9, Schwartz asked why an investigation had never been done, asserting the council directed township manager Tim Stafford to conduct one, but it had never been received by the board. The town council countered that an inquiry had been done and the results were conveyed to the council only.
After a half-hour pre-meeting conference behind closed doors that delayed the start of Monday night’s hearing — which included Schwartz, chairman Wynn, vice chair Keith Brodoc and board attorney Dennis Garvin — it was determined that Schwartz “recognized the zoning’s board’s decision on the density issue,” said Gavin.
The attorney however asked the developer’s attorney, Tom Trautner, on the record to waive Schwartz’ statement as an appealable issue after board’s decision on the application, to which Trautner agreed.
WHAT WAS HEARD
After architect and LEED expert Glenn Haydu at the last meeting told members the applicant was looking to replace all solar responsibility with the purchase of renewable energy due to confined rooftop space, Haydu came back on Oct. 7 with a plan to create 25 percent of the solar requirement by placing 145 panels on the rooftop, and purchase the other 25 percent in renewable energy points. In doing so, however, the tenant amenity space would be reduced in half, to 1,819 square feet.
Planner Janice Talley reminded the applicant that the neighboring Orange Road garage was built to accommodate solar panels and placing them there might be a resolution to the space constraints.
Board members also voiced concerns over the number of facade materials being used — about six, when the recommended limit is three.
NEIGHBORS VOICE CONCERN
There are seven single-family homes located across the street from the MC Hotel, MC Residences and the garage.
Two Orange Road residents recalled their three years of living across the street from the hotel construction site and are concerned with living near another building under construction.
Nicole Mollette recalled chemical and gas fumes that permeated her home during the cleanup of the former Exxon gas station that was once located where the hotel is.
“This [MC Residences location] is another gas station, you could hit another pocket like last time. This seriously affected us,” she said.
Developer Brian Stolar said that the cleanup at the site, the former Ferrara’s Auto Body property, has already been done.
She also recalled her car window being smashed by construction debris and contends her walls are now cracked from the rattling construction.
“For three years we endured this. You have to take into account the families and children that are in this area,” she said.
Tanya Richards recalled the dirt that crept into her home, flat tires caused by construction debris and water being turned off without notice.
“We invested in this block first, before it was a redevelopment zone,” Richards said. “I have already lived through this [construction], I can not do it again. I don’t want to fight developers.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated the developer's attorney Tom Trautner was in the pre-conference meeting on Oct. 7, he was not.