By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

A three story, 665-unit storage facility at 103 Grove St. will be a welcome addition to an oddly shaped plot with an industrial past, Montclair Township Planning Board members and developers say.

The proposed CubeSmart building will have a 19,147-square-foot footprint, with three stories and a cellar. The building will house 665 storage units, revised down from 750 in an earlier version of the plan. The Planning Board unanimously approved the proposal at its Feb. 28 meeting. 

The currently vacant lot, triangular in shape, is situated between BrassWorks at 105 Grove St. — owned by local developer Bob Silver — and New Jersey Transit railroad tracks. The property previously housed an oil company, operating out of several buildings on the lot, engineer J. Michael Petry, representing the applicant, said at the Jan. 24 board meeting. 

“It will finally convert a 100-year-old eyesore into an attractive addition that will add economic vitality to Montclair,” Silver said at a Feb. 28 Planning Board meeting. “It was a blighted, unsightly and environmentally challenged site.”

Behind the proposed 82,600-square-foot building is 49 Claremont Ave., a small shopping center with a CVS, Subway and kids hair salon Pigtails & Crewcuts, owned by Rail Link LLC. Rail Link submitted a formal objection to the proposal and was represented by attorney Jay DeLaney of Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper at an earlier meeting. The objection was later withdrawn after its concerns were addressed, according to the township’s planning department.

Applicant 103 Grove LLC first came to the Planning Board Jan. 24, asking for several variances including for reduced rear yard setback, a reduced number of parking spaces, reduced lot frontage and increased building height. At the Feb. 28 meeting, the applicant presented revised plans, no longer requiring the rear yard setback variance, instead complying with the zoning’s requirement of 20 feet. 

The revised plans also showed a smaller building, with square footage reduced by 10% — overall building square footage changed from 82,664 to 73,644 square feet, and the number of storage units decreased from 750 to 665. The change came after board members asked for a size reduction at the Jan. 24 meeting.

The plans presented Feb. 28 still asked for the plan to include just 12 parking spaces, instead of the normally required 74. That was due to the nature of traffic at a storage facility — “as low a traffic generator as you can get per square foot,” traffic engineer Nick Verderese had said at the Jan. 24 meeting.

“Of all the land use categories I can think of, this has the lowest parking demand and the lowest trip generation of anything based on the area of the building,” Peter Steck, a planning professional who evaluated the plans, said at the Feb. 28 meeting.

Two spots will be available for small moving trucks, but tractor-trailers will not be permitted on the lot. 

The board granted a variance allowing for no frontage on Grove Street, where 100 feet would normally be required. The facility will instead rely on easements for customers to access the facility. For that, 19 feet of driveway is already secured through easements with Silver and right-of-way usage, and an additional 10 feet is being negotiated with NJ Transit, Petry said at the Feb. 28 meeting. 

The plans ask for a height of 38.3 feet instead of the normal 35-foot maximum. The plans have not reduced building height for two reasons — the function of building and stormwater management — Andrew Ehinger of Storage Deluxe, which owns CubeSmart, said at the Feb. 28 meeting. 

The height is necessary to fit the storage units and the required sprinkler system, Ehinger said. Regarding stormwater, the construction will build up the average grade of the property to create a sloped site with water runoff to the rear of the building and in doing so will add unavoidable height, he said. 

“We’ve really crammed it and actually reduced the height of this building more so than what is standard in the industry,” Ehinger said. “It’s too difficult to reduce the heights of these floors to work for us.”

The proposed stormwater plans would be a “vast improvement” to the current site, which has little to no stormwater management, Petry said Feb. 28. The front of the site also had very high permeability, the best Petry said he’s seen in his 37 years working on projects in Montclair. 

The plans feature two water collection and recharge systems, one below the parking lot and one behind the building. The parking lot system, designed to collect roof water, has 33% more storage than is required, Petry said. The system in the back will collect water from the side and back landscape areas. 

Runoff from the parking lot will collect in a trench drain and be pumped to an underground inlet on Grove Street, he said. 

There were also five additional variances: a driveway setback of 0 feet instead of the required 1-foot minimum, a retaining wall height of 7.5 feet instead of the 4.5-foot maximum, a wall sign that will be 45.5 inches tall instead of the 24-inch maximum, a wall sign mounted at 29 feet, 2 inches high instead of the 12-foot or height of ground floor maximum and 25-30% of street facing facade made of glass instead of the minimum 60% required. 

Along the back of the property, the plans propose a 2-foot concrete wall with a 6-foot black metal fence on top along the CVS property line. There will also be native, evergreen trees planted along the rear to screen the building from the CVS parking lot.

“I live two blocks away from this site and you could be horrified by what could have potentially been built there,” Planning Board member Carmel Loughman said at the Feb. 28 meeting. “I don’t think we could’ve gotten a better project than this.”

Customers will have access to the storage facility daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Ehinger said. The office will be open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, he said.