For Montclair Local

My New Year’s resolution for 2022 is to stop worrying. After all, worrying leads to stress, which weakens your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to viruses like the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is sweeping the world thanks to the idiots who won’t get vaccinated, making it certain that this pandemic is never, ever going to end. 

OK, maybe I can’t stop worrying — not about COVID-19 or climate change or the possibility of a fascist coup. But at least I can stop worrying about Montclair. Nothing to worry about here, right? Like, there’s no chance that Bloomfield Avenue will soon be lined with eight-story luxury apartment blocks from the art museum to the Bay Street Station, or that our community will be completely destroyed by out-of-control development and gentrification. Right? 

On the other hand, maybe I have to worry about that, too.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but our lovely little village is in the middle of a massive frenzy of development, with more than 1,000 new housing units either recently completed or in the works. Then again, why would you notice? There’s been no public debate about it. Sure, we argue over rent control or other symptoms of gentrification, but the inexorable push to grow Montclair to new heights? That seemingly cannot be questioned. 

Exactly why does Montclair need to be developed in the first place? Was the township strewn with boarded-up storefronts, vacant lots and abandoned buildings? Not that I recall. The presence of poor people or businesses that cater to poor people is not a sign that a township needs development, merely that it’s economically diverse. Maybe you didn’t know that. 

Montclair doesn’t need to be developed. Rather, there’s an opportunity to make a lot of money by developing it. Those are two different things. There’s great demand to move here, so naturally, our response is to destroy the things that make people want to move here. The Market demands it, and as we know, the Market can never be denied.

Still, there’s no reason to worry. Everyone knows that development is Good for the Town. And if it’s Good for the Town, then who are we to oppose it? I mean, we only live here.

The people who will be displaced by rising rents? I guess they aren’t part of the town. Racial diversity? Not important. The loss of open space? Congestion and crowding? Don’t worry about it. Development is Good for the Town.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, I’m part of the town, how is all this development good for me?” Why, don’t you know it will bring down your property taxes? Except it hasn’t, and there’s no proof that it will. The new development is largely residential, which puts an increased burden on township services. But don’t worry, we’re told, these new residents won’t have children attending school. How do we know this? Is it in their leases? Do the new buildings have birth control in the water?

But wait, surely the township must get something out of all this development. What about affordable housing? Funny story. Township ordinance requires 20% of all new units be set aside for affordable housing, yet the largest developments have found ways to get around that.

Another funny story. Virtually all of the new development is in the third and fourth wards. “Upper Montclair,” that idyllic hamlet that also happens to be mostly white, has been spared the horrors of urbanization. Maybe that’s why there’s no debate about it.

An even funnier story. We’re not done. There are new buildings planned for Bloomfield Avenue and Church Street. There are two new buildings on Glenridge Avenue and we haven’t even seen the plans for Lackawanna Plaza. Think that historic district designation will preserve some of old Montclair? Think again. Since 2012, the Historic Preservation Commission’s role in approving new development has been purely advisory. 

Don’t blame the developers. They’re only doing what they’re supposed to do — building as tall and wide as they can, charging whatever the market will bear, minimizing costly amenities like public space and affordable housing and squeezing every last penny out of their properties before moving down the street to begin all over. 

Instead, blame our elected leaders. (But not the school board, wait until they’re elected.) People need places to live, and increased demand to live here will force changes one way or another. But aren’t we entitled to insist that those changes, you know, improve life for the people who live here? Shouldn’t development preserve the very things that make people want to live in Montclair, like diversity, community and open space? Shouldn’t we insist on a vision from our leaders that makes the town more livable, more walkable, and a better place to live? 

You know, Good for the Town?

But I’m sure someone is taking care of all that. So, don’t worry about it. 

Editor’s note: The Montclair Township Planning Board has approved a plan for Lackawanna Plaza, but the property has since been sold to BDP Holdings. BDP managing partner David Pleck has said he expects to file a new plan, but hasn’t done so yet.

Richie Chevat
Richie Chevat

The author of opinion column “On the Other Hand,” Richie Chevat, is a writer, activist and Montclair resident for more than 30 years. He’s the author of the comic sci-fi novel “Rate Me Red,” the play “Who Needs Men?” and the young reader version of “A Queer History of the United States,” among other works. He can often be seen running errands around town on his bike.