Future arts and entertainment district on display for Planning Board
By LINDA MOSS
Montclair aspires to become a regional arts and entertainment destination, and Wednesday night local officials began hearing detailed plans about the project that’s meant to be the linchpin for that initiative.
Pinnacle Cos., which is based in Montclair, began offering testimony to the Township Planning Board on its site plan for the Seymour Street Redevelopment Area. Pinnacle has a joint venture with Brookfield Properties, a global real estate firm in Manhattan, to develop a roughly 3.5-acre site adjacent to the Wellmont Theatre. Pinnacle led an investment group that acquired the Wellmont in 2015.
The majority of the mixed-use redevelopment project is slated for a parcel that currently includes the former Social Security Administration building and the STS Tire and Auto Center on Bloomfield Avenue.
At the start of the planning board’s four-hour special meeting, the attorney representing the developers, Thomas Trautner Jr., said that the redevelopment will include two new buildings. But board members complained that they didn’t have the final architectural plans at hand.
One of the buildings, a six-story mixed-use structure, will replace the Social Security building and STS, basically taking up the block on Bloomfield Avenue between Seymour and South Willow streets. It will have 200 residential units, 232 parking spaces and 40,000 square of retail and arts and entertainment space. The housing will include 28 “micro” units, 46 studios, 96 one-bedrooms, 26 two-bedrooms and four three-bedrooms.
The second building, seven stories, will be a combination parking/structure and office building. It will be adjacent to the Wellmont and have 226 parking spaces and 34,540 square feet of office space.
The 164-page redevelopment plan, which was approved by the Township Council last September, aims to create a downtown arts and entertainment district. The redevelopment’s centerpiece will be a 14,000-square-foot public pedestrian plaza, created by closing off part of Seymour Street in front of the Wellmont. On Wednesday, Brad Thompson, an engineer with Bohler Engineering of Warren, presented renderings and discussed the plaza and the site plans for the two buildings.
Pinnacle’s chief executive officer, Brian Stolar, also briefly addressed the planning board about the project.
“It’s really an arts and entertainment destination that preserves the Wellmont and creates an exciting destination for everybody in town,” he said. “Montclair is known as an arts, cultural and culinary location. This will really cement that reputation permanently.”
During a break at the meeting, Stolar said he couldn’t provide a cost estimate for the project yet. His company Pinnacle has done several downtown Montclair redevelopments, including The Siena mixed-use building on the site of the former Hahne & Co. department store and the Valley & Bloom complex. Pinnacle is also constructing The MC hotel on the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Orange Road in Montclair.
At the Seymour Street hearing, which was continued until March 27, several planning board members expressed concern about the timing of site-plan presentation by Pinnacle, and wanted information on what programming was being planned at the redevelopment, since it is meant to be the center of an arts district.
Trautner told the planning board that detailed architectural information wasn’t being provided yet because the developers were slated to appear before the Montclair Historic Preservation Committee on Thursday night, and they were waiting for that feedback before finalizing those plans.
Planning board member Martin Schwartz said it was hard for the board and the public to hear testimony about the redevelopment without having those architectural details at hand.
“I’ve been a supporter of this project, and I appreciate the applicant’s wish to move this ahead as quickly as possible, to get testimony on the record,” Schwartz said. “But I find this process not helpful, not having seen the buildings, the structure, to start with and to work through that ... I find it detrimental overall to the approval process.”
Board Chairman John Wynn had similar concerns.
“We don’t know what it looks like, we don’t know how it’s meshing in with everything,” he said.
A number of board members also asked for information on what the developers had lined up in terms of programming in order to live up to the promise of delivering arts and entertainment on Seymour Street.
“There’s going to have to be some specificity on this,” Schwartz said.
At the session, board member Carole Willis expressed her dissatisfaction with what had been presented.
“It doesn’t come alive to me. ... It’s just not attractive,” she said.
During the public’s opportunity to comment, local real estate agent Adriana O’Toole voiced her objections to the project, which she said will be near two other five-story buildings planned for that area of the municipality.
“I think the whole plan is overdevelopment,” she said. “There are a two five-story buildings going up on Glenridge Avenue ... I’m sorry, too big. People move to Montclair for the quiet and the trees, and we’re eliminating that. It’s going to be a canyon alley.”
Pinnacle’s witnesses included David Lustberg, CEO of Arterial LLC, a landscape architectural firm in Montclair.
He offered a detailed description of the pedestrian plaza, which will have “overhead string” lighting suspended on cables strung across its promenade. The plaza’s streetscape will have planters and furniture, including large structural concrete seating, called “twigs,” and benches made of large wood blocks put on steel stands, according to Lustberg.
The plaza will provide a performance area, he said.
“It’s a place to congregate and exchange ideas,” Lustberg said.