By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

Construction of a new supermarket to replace Pathmark at Lackawanna Plaza is likely several years off, with the developers still talking to ShopRite about committing as an anchor tenant, with no deal struck yet, according to officials.

Todd Anderson, an executive at Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, addressed the status of a potential agreement with the large grocery chain during a “walk-through” last week at the nearly vacant Lackawanna shopping center. The tour was held for the benefit of the Township Planning Board’s redevelopment subcommittee, in order for that group to become familiar with the architecture of the former train station and to provide input about its looming redevelopment.

The site on Bloomfield Avenue, where Pathmark closed in fall 2015, is being redeveloped by Hampshire and Pinnacle Cos. of Montclair, and representatives of both real estate firms were among the roughly 20 people who took the informal tour. Ira Smith, the township’s architectural redevelopment consultant, led most of the way, offering commentary about the history of the property and its structures.

Some residents who live near Lackawanna Plaza have voiced their concerns about the redevelopment of the site taking so long, leaving the South End of town without a reasonably priced grocery store. The project was held up, in part, because the township was considering moving its municipal complex and police headquarters to the Lackawanna site. The municipality earlier this year decided not to make the move, freeing the developers to proceed with their redevelopment plans.

At a community meeting in late February, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville first talked publicly about ShopRite being pursued as an anchor tenant for the Lackawanna redevelopment, essentially replacing the Pathmark. She said that ShopRite was looking to build a large, state-of-the-art grocery store, similar to one it recently opened in Cedar Knolls in Morris County.

Last week at one point during the tour Carmel Loughman, a planning board member, asked Anderson, a Hampshire principal and executive vice president of acquisitions, if there was a final agreement for ShopRite to be part of the Lackawanna redevelopment.

“Not even close,” Anderson told her.

Later on he and Brian Stolar, chief executive officer of Pinnacle, said that before the chain will commit to the Lackawanna site it will need details about what will be required of it and precisely how the township will permit the site to be redeveloped and reconfigured. The municipality hasn’t even completed a redevelopment plan for the property, which is why planning board members visited Lackawanna, so they can provide input. The proposed ShopRite would need about 60,000 square feet, much more space than Pathmark had.

The preliminary plan for the redevelopment calls for its western parcel, which includes the shopping center where the Pathmark was, to have a four-story building with ShopRite on the ground level and 200 residential units above it. The east parcel on the other side of Grove Street would have 150 residential units and retail space.

In addition to Loughman and Baskerville, planning board members Martin Schwartz and Robin Schlager were on the walk-through, along with Township Planner Janice Talley. The project manager for the developers, Christopher Richter, a principal and senior vice president of Avison Young in Morristown, also attended.

Smith escorted the group outside and inside Lackawanna Plaza, whose only remaining tenants are a Roberto's Pizzeria, a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Outdoors, Smith explained that the train station was built in 1912 and designed by architect William Hull Botsford, who died on the Titanic. The actual station building, which now houses the Pig & Prince restaurant, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

On one side of the Lackawanna parking lot along Bloomfield Avenue is a water trough, made of brick, that was once used for horses that would pull carriages taking affluent passengers to the train station, according to Smith. The trough has been filled with cement, and many of its original bricks have been replaced.

He also pointed out a now-closed staircase that was once part of an aqueduct.

“The question is what architectural elements will be retained,” Smith said of Lackawanna during the tour. “We’re refreshing our memory of it.”

Inside the shopping plaza, the tour went though some of the vacant spaces that face onto the side street Lackawanna Plaza, areas that could house boutiques in the future.

Smith pointed out the steel beams and arches on the ceiling, also part of the original train station.

The walk-though also traveled through the tunnel that goes from the plaza to the other side of Grove Street, emerging in the parking lot by the Montclair Mews.

“The Lackawanna site is bowl-shaped,” Smith said, noting that therefore the proposed redevelopment’s height may not rise above the apartment buildings that neighbor the site.

Some township officials have estimated that for the redevelopment plan to be drafted, various approvals to be granted and the project to be built could take from two to three years.

Work has just started on the redevelopment plan, according to Smith. It will be drafted by PPG Planners, the consulting firm that worked on the Seymour Street redevelopment plan. The Planning Board Redevelopment Subcommittee, which includes members of the Historic Preservation Commission, has met once with the PPG planner to discuss Lackawanna, according to Smith. The subcommittee will be setting up a second meeting with PPG to discuss guidelines and principles for the first draft, he said.

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There was a walk-through at Lackawanna Plaza members of the redevelopment subcommittee of the Township Planning Board last week. The former train station was built in 1912, and outside a trough to water horses remains on the grounds. LINDA MOSS/STAFF
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