Inept developer hindering supermarket

I’ve lived in Montclair for less than half of the four-year battle to develop a supermarket, but long enough to be appalled by what I’ve learned.

The owner purchased a property listed on federal, state and local registers as historic, yet neither the owner nor the developer had any experience repurposing a historic property, or building a supermarket. They have not hired outside experts who have and they consistently resist the input that’s been offered by the Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission.

  • The developer never presented research indicating what size of market is best suited to the location (note: they’ve been unable to find a tenant with any of their plans which have ranged from 35,000 to 45,000 square feet).
  • The developer was unaware of fire department regulations until a recent surprise visit by a fire marshal (mind you this is four years into this process).
  • There was no plan for rideshare or online order pickups, no plan for flood control or snow removal. They never surveyed the creek under the property. Never considered daylighting said creek, as the town’s plan suggests for flood control. Never surveyed pedestrian traffic in the area. Never personally walked to the location from Glenridge Avenue, Church Street, Glenfield Park, or Bloomfield Avenue – even though Lackawanna is within a vibrant shopping district and a two-minute walk from the pedestrian-oriented art center being built at Willow Street and Bloomfield Avenue.
  • The only sage input I’ve heard has come from renowned historic supermarket expert Brad Knab who testified.
  • Looking at area supermarkets and their sales per square foot, the Lackawanna market should be approximately 25,000 square feet; this would be the most profitable for a grocer and suit a community this size.
  • The developer’s proposed 45,000 square foot market is “better suited for an interstate” than the middle of town.
  • A market in an urban location such as Lackawanna should have entrances on at least two sides.
  • Using the contested historic train “sheds” as the market would make a “phenomenally gorgeous” supermarket (the developer intends to tear these down for parking).
  • A 25,000-square foot market within the sheds would provide ideal access for delivery trucks, ample parking for shoppers, and a smooth traffic flow.
  • Knab speculated that the developer hasn’t been able to find a supermarket tenant because the proposed building is too large and the delivery bays too constricted, all of which will hurt profits.
  • The pedestrian aspect of this project cannot be overstated. The people who most urgently need this market are people without cars, who have no other ready resource. However, the developer’s massive plan has the makings for a pedestrian hellscape.
  • A 40-foot curb cuts on Grove Street and Bloomfield Avenue, where cars will be making left and right turns into and out of the parking lot.
  • Glenridge Avenue will not have an entrance to the market but it will have a delivery bay serviced daily by tractor-trailers and delivery trucks forced to make incredibly tight turns.
  • Approaching the market from Bloomfield will require walking the length of the parking lot – some 400 feet of asphalt and cars jockeying for parking.
  • This project also includes the development of 180 apartments on the east side of Grove Street, with residents’ cars further congesting the area and adding parking pressure; their visitors must pay for parking or seek a free spot in the grocery store lot.
  • The developer’s plan has a severe parking shortage because the market is so large. The developer seeks a 50 percent variance on top of already dubious “shared parking” ratios recently (and experimentally) approved, yet to be proven adequate in several other large development projects currently underway in Montclair.
  • The developer and its architects are flailing. Numerous times they’ve proposed designs which they’ve learned by the next month are not permitted by law (stripes in the parking lot intended to mimic the lost train tracks and reusing sheds as overhangs are two examples).

Why should Montclair be made to pay the price for the developer’s and owner’s ineptitude and greed? The shops on Bloomfield and Glenridge avenues rely on pedestrian traffic to survive. If the developer has his way, Lackawanna Plaza will become a pedestrian landmine instead of the crown jewel visitors want to see and locals prize. Lackawanna Plaza is, after all, the single most significant historic and iconic building in Montclair.

A generic, mammoth supermarket surrounded by an overcrowded parking lot will not serve the town — most importantly the Fourth Ward — at all.

Come to the Planning Board meeting Monday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m., at 205 Claremont Ave. to hear an alternative plan showing we have the makings in the sheds for a right-sized market that will enhance life for the Fourth Ward and all of Montclair.




Dog days

The Oct. 18 issue of the Montclair Local was chock full of space devoted to the burning issues of the escalating costs to repair the stairways at Montclair High School and dog packs running wild.

In my humble opinion, the only dog without a leash in public should be a hot one in a bun (and with mustard not ketchup) and, while I am at it, a leash should be what its name suggests - a device to control movement and not something that is almost as long as the transatlantic cable.

I feel that its necessary to state, before I have an angry mob barking at my doorstep, that I grew up with dogs as part of my family. Loved them but leashed them and both the dogs and I were fine.

As life went on and I became dog divested by circumstance, I began to notice that there are a whole bunch of folks who have a genuine fear of dogs, based in large part on the notion that dogs do bite and large ones can knock down a person despite their loving and well behaved lifestyle in their homes. Some have allergic reactions to canine dander and/or have a rampant, but understandable, dislike of dog excrement.

Of course, the average dog owner is as lovingly and openly proud of their pet's behavior as if that dog was some sort of an honor student in middle school and want their dog to be able to run wild; but let us not lose sight of the fact that when the word "wild" is used to describe an activity, it's usually because the participant is behaving wildly - as in untamed and uncontrolled. Hence, the passage of leash laws with fines for their breach exist to keep the order and peace and dog parks, including that huge one in nearby Brookdale Park, exists to allow the dogs to run wild in a contained and fine free environment.

Those dog owners who flout the leash laws because they believe that either they are above the law or their dog is so special as to be exempt from the law are behaving selfishly in that they force their dogs wilding on the general public.

If you violate the law, particularly putting others at risk against their will, then pay the fine. If you do not like the law, then put down those doggie biscuits and vote for a dog pack friendly town council.

But what about those stair repair costs you say? Well, I may not know what is the statute of limitations on doggie fines, but from what I read in the paper, it seems like most of those dog owners letting the beasts run free have openly and without coercion admitted to doing so repeatedly and over an extended period. Sounds like a confession to me and a source of enough retroactively added penalty money in the town's coffers. I bet that would pay for a whole bunch of stair railings.



What do they have in common? Guns

A North Carolina high school student was shot and killed at school Monday.
Saturday, 11 members of a synagogue in Pittsburgh were shot to death while observing the sabbath. Many others were seriously injured. Earlier in the week, a Montclair mother was shot and killed by her domestic partner. Shocked? Don't be. Every day, 96 Americans die as the result of gun violence.

Sometimes we pay attention to these deaths. But many times they go unnoticed because they aren't part of mass shootings. But we need to take notice of them. All of them. We need to understand the magnitude of America's gun violence epidemic. We could greatly reduce gun deaths in America if we made it so that irresponsible, violent people couldn’t get their hands on firearms. It's all about access.

We're doing pretty well in New Jersey - Gov. Murphy recently signed six gun violence prevention bills into law in June. And more laws are in the pipeline. But we are only as strong as our weakest link. Until we pass strong federal legislation, like universal background checks, more people will die as a result of gun violence. Do your part to help reduce senseless gun deaths in New Jersey and in every other state.



The writer is the co-leader for Moms Demand Action, Essex County