Lackawanna development headed back to court
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
EDITOR'S NOTE: The April 30 hearing was postponed, according to Township Planning Board attorney Dennis Galvin. A new date has not been scheduled.
On Friday, April 30, a group of residents will ask a judge to reconsider his own earlier ruling, and send a plan to redevelop the Lackawanna Plaza property back to Montclair’s planning board for more testimony.
Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos, who presented the plans throughout 16 Planning Board hearings, sold the Lackawanna property to Montclair resident David Placek in February.
In a prior interview, Placek told Montclair Local he will probably file a new application with the Planning Board — but for now, the approved plan stands.
The existing plans, approved by the planning board in spring of 2019, include 154 housing units, a supermarket and 111,726 square feet of office retail space at the historical site in the Fourth Ward, which has been without a supermarket since the Pathmark at Lackawanna closed in 2015.
The developers were granted relief to create 459 parking spots for the entire site, instead of the 833 parking spaces required by township zoning. To make way for the parking for the supermarket, the plan also includes razing the mall, which since the 1980s has encased the Lackawanna Terminal waiting platforms and original stanchions.
On March 11, Essex County Superior Court Judge Keith E. Lynott dismissed a case filed in April 2019 against the planning board by a group of 200 residents, an advocacy group calling itself A Better Lackawanna and neighboring property owner One Greenwood to remand the plans back to the planning board. The group argued there were procedural problems with the planning board’s approval, saying the public’s input was stifled and that testimony and facts were lacking or not presented at all. The developers joined the suit at their request.
Lynott wrote in his March 11 decision that the board gave all parties and the public a chance to be heard, and that the board reached a decision based in substantial facts and evidence of record. He said it was outside of the court’s authority to reconsider the issues presented by the “complex application” itself.
Lynott also denied a motion to remand the application to the Planning Board for reconsideration.
The group had presented, what they called, a multitude of issues on the “complex application” — including that the Township Council ruled not to allow left turns in and out of the property after the planning board had already approved the plan, and that a council liaison was recused from hearings at the last minute. They presented concerns about county easements, traffic, parking variances, pedestrian access and safety, the size of the supermarket, environmental and historical impacts and limitations on public input.
On April 2, the group filed the motion to reconsider, claiming the court overlooked two key issues.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Jay Rice, argued that the court, when rendering its decision, overlooked a breakdown in the public process, claiming the planning board denied the public more information and an opportunity to question the developers when they announced that Lidl would by the grocer tenant, and that the size of the supermarket would change from a previously expected 47,000 square feet to 29,000 on the night of the vote. He argued that the site plan had essentially changed, and with it the location of the supermarket that would impact deliveries, the number of loading docks, dumpsters and parking — all of which would affect neighboring properties.
Rice also contends that a county easement was not disclosed during the hearings or in the developers’ application, and therefore the application should be deemed incomplete.
Pinnacle and Hampshire’s attorney, Tom Trautner, in his response said that easement was identified in surveys sent to the planning department and board in December 2017. He said due to the easement and the project being located on two county roads — Grove Street and Bloomfield Avenue — the project must garner approval by the county planning board as well.
Placek said that he will now be looking for a new grocer for the former Pathmark and will plan the square footage around that grocer’s needs.
According to township planner Janice Talley, Placek has hired Anne Babineau with Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer to represent him. Babineau has a long history in redevelopment including an arts-focused redevelopment in in Woodbridge and a master planned community in Verona on the site of the former Essex County Hospital Center.