The Montclair Township Council took an important step in the long-awaited, much-debated transformation of Lackawanna Plaza on Tuesday night when it voted 6-0 to send the township’s draft redevelopment plan for the 8-acre site to the Planning Board for review. Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings abstained.

The property, owned by David Placek’s BDP Holdings, is the largest site for redevelopment in the community, Township Planner Janice Talley said at a public information session held Nov. 29 by Mayor Sean Spiller, Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis and Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams. Cummings held two information meetings, on Nov. 3 and Nov. 10.

Talley noted that discussions about redevelopment of the site date to 2015. “This is not the beginning,” she said. “Hopefully, this is the final stage. And I say stage because it is a public process. This is the township’s plan.”

At the council meeting on Dec. 6, Talley explained the process the plan must go through before work can begin. The Planning Board must have at least 45 days to review the redevelopment plan to determine if it meets the requirements of the township’s master plan; the council has extended that review period to 60 days. 

The Historic Preservation Commission will also review the plan.

(LACKAWANNA PLAZA REDEVELOPMENT PLAN)
(LACKAWANNA PLAZA REDEVELOPMENT PLAN)
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If the Planning Board determines that the redevelopment plan meets the requirements of the master plan, the board sends it back to the council. If the council approves it, then the developer can go ahead with a site plan.

The redevelopment plan, drafted for the township by Smith Maran Architecture, calls for five buildings to be constructed on the site, which lies at the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street. Each building would be either five or six stories in height. The mixed-use development would include a maximum of 375 residential units and a minimum of 135,000 square feet of nonresidential space, including 75,000 square feet of office space. Three plazas totaling 72,000 square feet would be dedicated as public open spaces.

One of the central features of the plan is that it requires that a supermarket be included in the development. The Fourth Ward has been without a supermarket since 2015, when the Pathmark store at Lackawanna Plaza closed.

On Nov. 1, the council had been scheduled to vote on sending the 115-page redevelopment plan to the Planning Board. But Cummings asked for a delay to allow time for a thorough reading of the draft and for conferring with constituents.

“This is going to impact all of the Fourth Ward, all of Montclair, not just Bloomfield Avenue,” Cummings said when he called for a delay in the vote. “I want to make sure that it is beneficial to the residents who are going to be impacted.

“I'm not asking that we wait forever. I think we now have a plan. So there's no reason why everyone here can’t read it, review it, get to it and do what we're supposed to do, which is make a recommendation.”

On Nov. 29, Ira Smith, co-founder and principal of Smith Maran Architecture, showed residents illustrations of the layout of the development. He emphasized that the images showed only the size and orientation of buildings, not the specific architecture.

“What we’re about to see is the product of a lot of people saying what they don’t want, but also what they do,” Smith said.

The site is very unusual for a town center, he said. It doesn’t have the same structure as a typical Main Street that has storefronts about 10 to 15 feet from the curb.

“This is a very difficult site to develop because if we actually just use the DNA of the mainstream, we would end up doing harm to a lot of important pieces of this site, not the least of which is the historic waiting station,” Smith said.

View looking northwest from the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street. (LAKAWANNA PLAZA REDEVELOPMENT PLAN)
View looking northwest from the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Grove Street. (LAKAWANNA PLAZA REDEVELOPMENT PLAN)
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Three of the five separate buildings, designated as A, B and C, are planned for the part of the site that lies northwest of Grove Street. The remaining two buildings, designated as D and E, are on the other side of Grove.

The Lackawanna Terminal waiting room is maintained on the site. Smith said the building setbacks on Bloomfield Avenue were established in a way to maintain visibility of the historic structure.

Among concerns voiced by residents were the development’s effect on neighborhood traffic and the height and density of the buildings.

James Cotter called for an independent traffic study, paid for by the township. He said the study was “absolutely crucial for the quality of life and the lived experience of those who are actually going to suffer the consequences of whatever development occurs.”

Regarding the height of buildings, Smith said that four buildings would be six stories and one would be five stories. He noted that the buildings would have stepbacks for the higher floors, mitigating the effects of their height.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Montclair NAACP sent an email to Spiller asking for a delay in considering the redevelopment plan until “the community has been provided an independent public safety and quality of life impact analysis.”

At the meeting on Nov. 3, Placek pointed out that he, his wife and many people in his company live in Montclair. He said he passes the Lackawanna Plaza site multiple times a day and that he appreciates concerns about traffic and other impacts on the neighborhood.

At the council meeting Tuesday night some residents asked for a delay in moving the redevelopment plan forward. But many more urged the council to move ahead, saying that David and Bridget Placek have shown themselves to be community-minded and contributed their time and resources to many organizations in Montclair.