Ten developments, 20 years: report looks at what worked, what hasn’t
ADAM ANIK/ FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
By Jaimie Julia Winters
A report commissioned by the Historic Preservation Commission gives a history of Montclair’s redevelopment — the good and the bad — over the last 20 years.
It contends that more community involvement and oversight by the HPC, smaller development and slower application approvals create better development that fits into its surrounding neighborhood.
The report also declares development such as Valley and Bloom, the Siena and the MC Hotel as “over-scaled” in respect to size of the neighboring buildings with “Anywhere USA” architecture, citing the lack of community and HPC input, and monitoring of the construction process.
The Historic Preservation Commission commissioned the report in April, and released the results at its Jan. 24 meeting.
“Each neighborhood has its own identity, its own texture,” said Mary Delaney Krugman, the historic preservation consultant who compiled the report. “Design guidelines should reflect the neighborhood.”
The report compares 10 redevelopment plans over the last 20 years and their effects on historic properties and districts.
“The goal of this study was to understand how, and if, historic properties were taken into account in the plans, and how better to accommodate change while not adversely affecting historic neighborhoods and districts,” Delaney Krugman said. “What worked? What didn’t?”
Taken into account were the following variables: the location within the township; the size of the redevelopment area; permitted uses; the character of the surrounding neighborhood; bulk standards (limited to height, massing, and front setback); any architectural design standards required of the new buildings; the status of the redevelopment activity to the date of the report; a listing of identified historic properties and districts adjacent to or within the redevelopment areas.
Under the Municipal Land Use Law, redevelopment is defined as “clearance, re-planning,
development and redevelopment; the conservation and rehabilitation of any structure or
improvement, the construction and provision for construction of residential, commercial,
industrial, public or other structures and the grant or dedication of spaces as may be
appropriate or necessary in the interest of the general welfare for streets, parks, playgrounds, or other public purposes, including recreational and other facilities incidental or appurtenant
thereto, in accordance with a redevelopment plan.”
An “area of rehabilitation” provides the governing body the same powers, except that of
condemnation or seizing by eminent domain.
Both an “area in need of rehabilitation” and an
“area in need of redevelopment” require a redevelopment plan. Montclair has both types of
areas, with the Pine Street area being declared an “area in need of rehabilitation.”
“You can’t throw a stone in Montclair without hitting a historic property,” said Delaney Krugman.
10 REDEVELOPMENT PLANS
The Lackawanna Plaza Urban Renewal Project, which began in 1979, was Montclair’s first official redevelopment project. The Montclair Redevelopment Agency, a local public agency, was created to oversee the project. It resulted in the redevelopment of the area around the 1913 Lackawanna Terminal, including the introduction of a supermarket and smaller shops along the old train sheds which were enclosed in glass, and a new commercial use for the waiting room building. Delaney Krugman said that most of documents from the 1979 Lackawanna plans are lost. She was only able to find a map of the area, she said.
The Deteriorated Housing Project was first adopted in 1998 to address an increasing number of deteriorated and vacant properties, mostly residential, that were scattered throughout town. Twenty-eight structures were rehabbed, while three were razed. Spearheaded by the Montclair Housing Coalition, it is one of the few plans that included a “scatter site” approach. Although the result was “clean and tidy,” said Delaney Krugman, many of the renovations included vinyl siding and replacement windows, and loss of architectural detail. The recommendation for the future is compliance with design guidelines and Historic Preservation Commission review involving any historic building rehab.
The Bay Street redevelopment began in 2001 and was completed in two phases with phase one including the firehouse and a senior living facility, and phase two including the Montclarion residential units and parking garage.
“These facilities were successfully integrated into the community fabric without the loss of historic properties and much more compatible to the surrounding area,” said Delaney Krugman.
She recommended that all future development utilize a similar standard for ratio of building height to street width in adjacent areas, rather than just using the existing zoning heights.
The Montclair Community Hospital Redevelopment Plan’s objective was the removal of a non-conforming use in a vacant building in a residential neighborhood – the hospital – and the creation of a more compatible, attractive residential development for singles and older couples.
Delaney Krugman said the development was compatible with the area and “an example of a successful strategy for managing change, rather than the overly large-scale redevelopment projects that often cause disorientation.”
Pine Street is the only current area in need of rehabilitation in Montclair. The neighborhood was known as safe, and many single mothers sought it out, said Delaney Krugman. With the goal of creating more affordable housing units it was designated need of rehabilitation 2003, and improvements were including street trees, sidewalks and green spaces.
However, the area may be in jeopardy due to gentrification, said Delaney Krugman.
“This [rehabilitation areas] is a small-scale remedy that has a noticeable impact in struggling neighborhoods, as it has in the Pine Street area,” the report reads. “Similar results have been gained in the neighborhood of Mission Street, where HOMECorp, the affordable housing advocacy group, has sensitively rehabilitated almost all of the formerly deteriorated houses on that street. However, the rehabilitation work on existing buildings should be done sensitively and in accordance with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties, so as to better preserve the character of the neighborhood.”
She suggested historic preservation review and approval of all significant rehabilitation plans. Financial incentives such as low-income housing tax credits, historic rehabilitation tax credits, low interest loans, and grants should be sought for the Pine Street area, she said.
When Hahne’s department store closed its doors in 1989, three properties including the building sat vacant for years and had a “depressing effect on the economic vitality of Montclair’s downtown.” It presented a difficult challenge. Rehabbing the building was not popular due to its windowless architecture, according to Delaney Krugman. It was razed and replaced by the Siena in 2003.
“As for the project’s compatibility with the fabric of Montclair’s downtown, it has yielded mixed reviews. First, it is taller than any other building in the vicinity. The building is located within the Town Center Historic District, and is surrounded by no fewer than five individually identified historic buildings, all of which consist of just two or three stories. At seven stories, it exceeds the C-1 zone’s permissible height,” said Delaney Krugman. “The Siena does not offer the same aesthetic pleasure that the Art Moderne composition did. Where the Hahne’s building spoke to a particular era; the Siena is a pedestrian building design that might be found in any city in the United States. In future, when replacing an icon with a new building, special effort should be made to attract good designers of exciting contemporary architecture.”
The report found the Crescent Parking Deck a good example for future parking structures. It required no removal of existing buildings, was built in scale with the surrounding neighborhood, it was compatible in terms of materials with nearby buildings, and it incorporated artwork.
Also part of the Hahne’s redevelopment is proposed 74 units of housing for the Church Street parking lot. “Great care should be taken in the development of the next design scheme for this vulnerable area surrounded by two churches, the library and at the edge of the historic district,” she said.
The Elm Street, New Street and Mission Street area saw the construction of a new school over the past 10 years, but also the loss of the historic YMCA.
According to the report, renovations along Bloomfield Avenue “are not particularly sensitive to the extant historic architecture, as architectural detail has been removed, windows have been replaced with contemporary units, and vinyl siding is the default fix for deteriorating clapboard.”
Recommendations include that future development should be kept at a compatible scale. “The truth of the matter is that in the vicinity around this redevelopment area, the buildings are rising to the top of the permissible building envelope. This would mark the death knell for the small scale commercial and modest housing that has marked this area for 100 years,” the report reads.
The report criticizes the Gateway Redevelopment Plan, where Valley and Bloom was built in 2011 and the MC Hotel is currently being built, as having fallen short of the “pedestrian-friendly urban node compatible with the historic town center that was hoped for. Its position on the boundary of the Town Center Historic District makes its impact particularly noticeable.” The report states the six-story height is incompatible with the neighborhood, and architecture unremarkable. The HPC did not have any input in hotel plans.
“The over-scale and a-contextual architecture has no chance of a dialogue with the older historic buildings that populate the streetscape in the adjacent blocks. Furthermore, although the plans were reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission, which provided its comments on the design, there apparently was no follow-up review of the construction documents that would have shown that the recommendations of the Redevelopment Plan were only marginally followed,” the report reads.
The “Eastern Gateway” area redevelopment plan was adopted in 2013 and resulted in the loss of the Mount Carmel Holy Church on Bloomfield Avenue.
Delaney Krugman said the area houses buildings of the low-scale development of the working class neighborhoods and that the bulk standards for the C-1 district are incompatible with this scale.
“They should be downsized before they become an even greater incentive to redevelopment,” the report reads.
The Mountainside Hospital Redevelopment Plan for a nursing school, approved in 2016, had the benefit of the input of the Glen Ridge Historic Preservation Commission, which offered the guidance for compatible architecture.
“In general, future redevelopment projects in Montclair should encourage greater general participation in the process by the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, so as to ensure that aesthetics and good design elements for a historic context can be incorporated into the redevelopment plan,” the report reads.
Although just breaking ground, the Seymour Street Redevelopment process is a good example of a combined effort with the developer, the community and Historic Preservation Commission input input the final plans, the reports states.
“This project, while it took a longer time in development, was indeed a community process – something that is recommended for future plans,” according to the report.
A proposal to limit building heights along Bloomfield Avenue to four stories was nixed in July. An amended land-use plan will allow the downtown area to remain a six-story limit zone.
- Smaller developments (height and footprints) and slower approval process result in better development.
- Developments that have more community and Historic Preservation Commission input have better design elements and fit in more with the neighborhood.
- Historic Preservation Commission should have more weigh in during application process and with post-site plan approvals.
- Historic designation overlay areas should remain intact.
- Sensitive design guidelines are needed for new construction related to the historic context