Montclair is unsustainable, overdeveloped and not progressive

I went to a meeting where some people were singing praises of Montclair.

Which Montclair? Do you recognize Montclair? You mean Upper Montclair, where you can't build 11 units, or Montclair, where you can build tall buildings, dump 46 units on a gas station next to a hotel, and 90 more illegal units on a parking lot?
When I look at Montclair today, I see hideous high rises (but only on our side of town), traffic, too many young couples with too many children, lines of idling SUVs, tons of school buses, mobs of churchgoers, and homeless people. I hear a constant drone of mowers and blowers, cars honking, and smell exhaust and pesticides.

It doesn't look, sound, or smell like a place that prides itself on being green, diverse and progressive. From a community that had affordable housing for single people (remember the Ys? They no longer provide housing for singles, and cater only to families), we have become a town which toadies to developers, destroys neighborhoods, and has a larger carbon footprint than a mammoth's.

Montclair, famous for what it no longer is, will soon only be known for having the highest taxes, the highest birth rate, the worst traffic jams, and the most illegal buildings concentrated on only one side of town.




Last stand for Lackawanna

It’s been wisely observed that “every nation gets the government it deserves.” Similarly, the redevelopment of Lackawanna Plaza will reflect the participation or apathy of its residents. We are down to the absolute wire during which your input can make a difference. There are two (possibly three) final meetings before the Planning Board votes: Monday, Dec. 17; and Monday, Jan. 14. Meetings are held at 205 Claremont Ave., at 7:30 p.m. (arrive late or leave early if you must).
The Planning Board cannot accept commentary via email; you must appear in person at a meeting to let your opinion and concerns be known.

Another pertinent saying is, “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” The current development plan is woefully inadequate and shortsighted. Due to its crucial location at the entrance to town, at the intersection of two of our busiest streets (Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street), its impact on circulation, economic vitality, and livability cannot be overstated. If one of these issues touches you, you should make a sign stating so and bring it to the next meeting.

Neither the city of Montclair nor the developer has conducted a pedestrian safety study, or even a pedestrian behavior study. (WalkScore rates Lackawanna Plaza 95 percent, “a walker’s paradise,” and the area teems with pedestrians day and night).
How many children from Bullock Elementary School take the bus from the Lackawanna bus stop? How long does it take an elderly shopper with a cart to cross a 40-foot driveway? How many people walk on Glenridge Avenue between Grove and Willow streets and will have to contend with semi trucks? How many people enjoy Crane Park, which is about to become Ground Zero for a valet operation? No one knows.

The developer plans a 47,000-square-foot grocery building. For perspective, other area supermarkets, roughly: Kings in Montclair is 19,000; Foodtown in Bloomfield is 20,000; Whole Foods in Montclair is 18,000 and Whole Foods in West Orange is 38,000.
In fact, an independent urban supermarket expert testified that a 25,000-square-foot market would be most profitable and successful for a grocer. He speculated that there is still no supermarket tenant (despite four years of the developer’s effort) because the planned building is too large, there is not enough parking, and the delivery area on Glenridge Avenue is too constricted.
Note there is no requirement that the developer actually bring in a supermarket; any zoned business would be permitted. One auxiliary business already on the drawing board: a fast-food restaurant.

The developer seeks a 45 percent reduction in required parking meant to be shared among shoppers, employees, medical patients, residents of the 154 apartments being built on the east side of Grove Street. Valet parking has been put forth as a solution despite tripling congestion (in/out on Lackawanna Plaza; in/out of the main lot entered from Grove Street or Bloomfield Avenue; and in/out again on Lackawanna Plaza). Valets will be parking overflow anywhere they can find space. Note that this plan removes two metered spaces used primarily by Post Office customers.

The developer has not surveyed Second River which most maps show running directly under the project. Flooding is already a problem for many who live along the creek, and there was a massive flood on Bloomfield Avenue in August. Montclair’s Master Plan encourages “daylighting” (opening) the creek wherever possible so the water has someplace to go, yet that safety measure was never considered. The expanse of this site could allow it to play a crucial role in flood planning, versus presenting yet another unknown.

In its original incarnation, Lackawanna Plaza had a lovely garden in the low spot; do you suppose those long-ago architects recognized something being ignored now? Environmentalists should question what happens if and when the developer encounters the creek during construction.

The developer has no inkling of what the site holds and they’ve displayed no interest in learning. They have never granted the Historic Preservation Commission an opportunity to verify an inventory, and they’ve dismissed the opportunity for a collaborative project which could be something truly remarkable. This developer is known for massive buildings built on blank slates and that has been the approach here.

The Fourth Ward desperately needs a grocery store; it is a veritable food desert. We should all insist that our neighbors have safe and reasonable access to an economically viable market. Instead of designing specifically to meet this overarching need, community members must contend with the developer’s drive for maximum leasing potential and hope for the best.
You must speak up and show up. “The people, united, can never be defeated.”




Speak up on Lackawanna redevelopment

As your fellow Montclair residents, we are asking for your attention and inviting participation in the re-development of the historic Lackawanna Train Station.

We have grave concerns for the Lackawanna application presently before the Montclair Township Planning Board. This Monday night, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m. will be the first opportunity for the public to comment on what has been proposed. We invite you to attend at the Town Hall, 205 Claremont Ave.

The applicant, Pinnacle Properties (the developer of the Siena, Valley & Bloom, the new hotel and the Seymour Street property just starting construction) has just completed many months of expert testimony regarding the Architectural Plan, the Parking Plan, and the Traffic Plan. There have been many modifications and revisions along the way.

Among others, the applicant’s takes the following key positions:
According to the applicant, the national-, state- and locally-designated historic property is not historic, only the parts they wish to retain as part of their plan. This according to their paid architectural historian who opined about the errors of its original designation and the position that the modifications made in the 1980’s disqualify the site’s historical integrity. On this basis they seek to justify the demolition of the historic train sheds, comprising of the majority of the station, what we believe and experts have testified are integral and indivisible from the historic site. The applicant is seeking a 400-car parking variance amongst other variances. Township ordinances require 859 parking spaces for the project as now presented. The applicant’s plan provides for 459. We believe that any such variance (viable or not) deserves a substantially better plan.The plan as presented will create a parking lot on Bloomfield Avenue deeper than almost all Big Box stores found on Route 46 or Route 10. The parking lot will be approximately 375 feet deep, 75 feet deeper than a stadium football field. We believe this is out of place and entirely inappropriate for downtown Montclair. The plan as presented does not accommodate better pedestrian traffic on Bloomfield Avenue, Lackawanna Place and Glenridge Avenue. Access from the Glenridge side of the site is basically non-existent or no better than what exists now.

Multiple expert witnesses have refuted the positions of the applicant’s experts and maintain in their expert testimony that the historic elements slated to be demolished are indeed historic.

One of many issues is the incorporation of a supermarket and how to achieve this. A national expert in supermarket design and site location which was hired by the planning board and refuted the applicant’s positions that the enclosed train sheds are not suitable for a supermarket.

That expert indicated that not only is the existing space viable but also attractive and desirable. The incorporation of a supermarket into the overall planning is a need that the 4th ward has and we recognize that this is important. However, the supermarket, as designed has been used by the applicant as one of the reasons to demolish large parts of the existing construction.

We believe the Fourth Ward will be the greatest beneficiaries of a more thoughtful and well-conceived solution. We further believe that an alternate plan, like the one we will propose this Monday night will take no more time to realize than the current plan on the table and ultimately will be a substantial asset to the Fourth Ward and the township as a whole.

We believe with proper planning and more thoughtful vision, this site represents an opportunity to create a vibrant and vital anchor location with features and amenities that are worthy of our residents, while honoring our shared history.
This coming Monday evening we will be presenting an alternate plan for the site that contains ideas that that we believe suggests a better path for our community. This will be the first opportunity for public comments and objections to the current application. Please join us.



The authors are members of Montclair’s Historic Preservation Commission.


Bad reporting on police use of force

After reading the latest “breaking news” stories and statistics put out by NJ Advance Media pertaining to the use of force by NJ police departments. I must refute their misleading and unjust reporting.
Yes, law enforcement uses force, but the article fails to explain that under the attorney general guidelines the use of force by police officers is permitted.
Whenever a police officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer, or others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using force.
According to 2016 statistics, 1,800 police officers were assaulted while doing their jobs, protecting the public at large.
With the use of of body cameras, dash cameras and cell phone cameras, police officers in today’s society are held accountable for their actions. You can’t turn on a TV news station without them displaying a video taken by a member of the general public showing a police officer allegedly using force. And 99 percent of the time these videos don’t tell the whole story, which is very unfair to the police officers.
There are “due process causes” which have been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as protecting individuals against government agents, (police officers) for engaging in improper or criminal conduct by the use of force. This is why we have prosecutors, judges and juries to weigh the evidence and decide and decide if a police officer’s use of force was justified or unjustified. An aggressive police officer with a high volume of arrests is at a high risk with this type of reporting, labeling him/her as a brutal police officer.
All claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force, deadly or not, in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other seizure of a free citizen can be analyzed under the fourth amendment’s protection to show in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.
NJ Advance Media should be held accountable for the poor and misleading reporting labeling NJ police departments as using excessive force in performing their sworn duties.



The writer is the former Montclair chief of police and director of public safety.


Support climate change legislation

I was very happy to read the two letters in the Nov. 8 edition of Montclair Local saying that HR 7173 has been introduced in the House to support a tax on carbon to be distributed equally among taxpayers, as recommended by the Citizens Climate Lobby.

I hereby encourage Mikie Sherrill to support it as soon as she can and for Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez to introduce a similar bill in the senate.

Climate change is becoming frightening and we need to take every possible precaution to thwart it. I really want humans to continue to live on this planet long after I do.




Believe in the light of Christmas

It’s kind of funny to realize that I’m sending a Christmas Letter to the Editor to the editor of Montclair Local in 2018 about a Christmas Letter to the Editor of the New York Sun written in 1897 by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon.

I realize that many people are well aware of Virginia’s letter and the newspaper’s response. It’s become a holiday classic.
To Montclair’s children, if you don’t know of it, please read this, it’s the main reason I’m writing it today. While in high school, a classmate handed me a sheet of paper and said, “Read this, I’ll bet you can’t get through it with a dry eye.” She was right.

I enjoyed the answer to Virginia but I did feel that parts were too negative and too grown up for a child to understand. I’ll not add those parts now but i will attempt to explain what I learned years later, after you read the newspaper’s response. I’ll begin with Virginia’s letter followed by much of the Sun’s answer to her.

Virginia: “Dear editor, I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says if you see it in the sun, its so.”

The Sun: “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love, generosity and devotion exist and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas, how dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlife faith then, no poetry. No romance. The external light of which Christmas fill the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies. The most real things in the world are those that neither children or adults can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart a baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in al this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Whew, years later after reading this in high school, I saw a TV movie on it. As I remember, the film there was the Sun staff writer that was going through some personal problems and had been feeling down for quite a while.

The newspaper’s editor thought that if he gave the writer the assignment to answer Virginia’s letter and the notoriety that came as a result, did lift his spirit.

Merry Christmas to all that celebrate it, happy holidays to others and may we all have a very happy and healthy 2019 and beyond.