Midtown Deck opening delayed after failed inspection
COURTESY PETER YACOBELLIS
After breaking ground in January 2021 — and then the promise of an opening in February of this year to provide much-needed parking relief — the now-built Midtown garage on Glenridge Avenue remains closed.
The new garage is part of the $135 million Seymour Street development and is expected to make up for the loss of parking at two Montclair municipal lots once located at South Willow Street and South Fullerton Avenue. It was constructed over the former Glenridge lot, increasing the parking allotment there from 83 to 314 spots.
It was expected to open four months ago, officials said, but delays in obtaining elevator parts and then a problem with rainwater puddling in the deck lobby delayed the opening, officials said. In mid-April, Director of Utilities Gary Obszarny said the repairs would be completed by the latter part of April.
However, a building department log of inspections on the garage obtained by Montclair Local states that it failed inspection on Jan. 31, with the note “first floor ADA accessible route does not comply.” No inspections were conducted on the garage by Montclair’s fire department, code enforcement or engineering department, according to township officials.
The “ADA accessible route” noted in the log is an alleyway between Diamond Bicycle Montclair and Trend Coffee Shop, according to Councilman Peter Yacobellis. Although the log states the deck failed inspection on Jan. 31, Yacobellis said the first he heard about the inspection failure was on June 3, when he, Mayor Sean Spiller and Councilwoman Lori Price Abrams approached Township Manager Tim Stafford.
They were told the building department deemed the alleyway was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Yacobellis said. The alleyway is about 4 feet wide and runs from the back of the garage to Bloomfield Avenue.
At a June 21 council meeting, Stafford confirmed that the alleyway is not ADA compliant due to “elevations,” and said compliance is also needed for ADA-compliant van-accessible parking.
Yacobellis noted to Montclair Local it’s the same alleyway that has always been there and was used for years by visitors to the former lot as a quick route to Bloomfield Avenue, and was not previously cited for ADA noncompliance.
“Short of moving the buildings there is nothing we can do,” he said, adding that the building department is a semi-autonomous department over which the council or manager have little to no oversight.
Jason Gleason, executive director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, expressed frustration at the delays and what he described as a lack of communication around them.
“How can our stakeholders reasonably expect to make critical business decisions and sound plans with no information?” Gleason said. “The recent lack of transparency and continued absence of communication must be remedied immediately. We suggest in the future that the township appoint a single project manager to oversee and communicate on projects such as these.”
BUSINESS OWNERS SPEAK OUT
After writing to the township seeking answers, Glenridge Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue businesses attended the June 21 council meeting, hoping to get attention.
Craig Cornell, owner of Diamond Bicycle Montclair, said that his business is down 70% since construction started.
“We have had zero communication from the township on what the holdup is,” Cornell told Montclair Local. “I have sent numerous emails and called the mayor and township manager. They won’t even respond.”
At the council meeting, Cornell, visibly upset, asked Stafford why he never responded to his numerous emails.
“It’s sad,” Cornell said. Stafford apologized “if his emails were never returned.”
Gleason told Montclair Local that the township’s “lack of planning and communication with respect to the project over the past two years demonstrates a complete disregard for our businesses, property owners and residents” and has led to confusion, frustration and anger.
“Six months have now passed since the deck has been substantially complete, and no further work has been discernible. Six months have also passed without any effective communication — good news or bad,” he said.
At the meeting, former Planning Board member Martin Schwartz asked why both the architect of record and the construction official at the building department “did not pick up on the existing site conditions that failed final inspection and why none of the issues noted today as failing for ADA noncompliance were not picked up on earlier.” Schwartz also asked when those inspectors sign off on multiple reviews during the buildout process.
Stafford said he couldn’t explain why the issue was never flagged, but that the township is looking into the oversight “so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Spiller said that the “key piece” to the issue is better communication, and that he believes Stafford got “that loud and clear.”
UPGRADES TO ALLEYWAY
Stafford said the township has sent informal plans to the Department of Community Affairs to get the alley “as compliant as possible.” The building department is currently working on formal plans for upgrades, he added.
The Township Council at the June 21 meeting gave its initial approval to $200,000 in capital improvements to make the alleyway somewhat compliant, with techniques such as grading mitigation and lighting.
But the funding is allocated through an ordinance — which takes two readings and two votes to become official. A second reading and vote won’t happen until July 26, after which work could begin, Yacobellis said.
Cornell said he is hoping the council can correct the lack of access to his back parking lot, which allows direct access to his bike shop. He said customers were able to park and then wheel their bikes into the back of the shop, but now, with the new garage, they have to cross through the back lots for marijuana dispensary Ascend and the neighboring Aozora Japanese restaurant in order to get access from the garage.
In the agreement allowing for the mixed-use Seymour Street project, in which developers Ironstate Development Co. and Brookfield Properties took over the two municipal lots at South Willow Street and South Fullerton Avenue for development, they agreed to build the Midtown garage and, upon completion, turn it over to the township.
The Seymour Street developers broke ground in 2018, completing 200 residential units, retail and office space, an area for art, public parking and a pedestrian plaza in 2021.
Parking fees for Glenridge Avenue garage were set in April at $70 per month for daytime parking, $60 per month for night parking and $130 per month for 24 passes. Visitors will also have access for $2 per hour. The township has set aside parking on the rooftop level at a 20% discount for downtown employees and business owners.
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