By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

A five-story, 22-unit housing and office project that has been proposed to replace a carpet center and auto parts store at 10 Elm St. will not generate much more traffic for the area, according to a parking expert.

But some planning board members who heard the application on Monday, Dec. 13, voiced concerns with adding more density to the area just off of Grove Street and Bloomfield Avenue. The area currently houses the Charles H. Bullock School, an Exxon gas station and the two-story Arbor Gate apartment building. Also nearby is the Lackawanna Plaza, where the Planning Board in 2019 approved a previous owner’s plan for a supermarket and 154 housing units. The current owner hasn’t yet said exactly what’s in store for the property, though it’s still expected to include a supermarket once a new plan is proposed. 

The Elm Street developer, AD Holdings, proposes demolishing the existing building, which now houses Bynderian Floor Coverings and Smith Boring Auto Parts, as well as a rear garage. The developer plans to construct a new five-story mixed-use building with a lobby and parking on the first floor, a 1,100-square-foot office on the second floor and 22 dwelling units — four of which would be classified as affordable housing — on the third through fifth floors. The building would include eight two-bedroom units and 14 three-bedroom units. 

Traffic expert Betsy Dolan told Planning Board members that the proposed development would only generate eight additional trips in the morning peak hour, compared to the current three. She said it would add four trips in the evening peak hour, compared to the current nine. It is not anticipated to have “an appreciable impact on the adjacent roadway network,” she said.

Montclair’s master plan states that the maximum height for the area should be four stories. But the property is in the C-1 Central Business Zone Center area district, which allows six stories for apartment, retail and office developments. Planner Janice Talley has conceded that the Master Plan and the C-1 zoning were inconsistent. The zoning allows a maximum density of 55 dwelling units per acre.

Although the application meets with the height and density of area zoning, the developer’s attorney, Alan Trembulak, said three variances are being sought concerning the parking and a ground floor terrace. Three waivers concerning storage space and parking space size are being sought as well.

Township code requires 50 spaces at the site, but the proposal falls one space short, requiring a variance.

The ground-floor parking area would include 44 parking spaces accessed by a driveway with a gate at the center of the building. Five of those spaces would be set aside for electric vehicles, which would let the applicant claim a credit for another five spaces, as though there were 49 in total. Four of those would meet the office requirement of four spaces. 

Area zoning requires a mix of retail and/or office space along with housing. Board member Carmel Loughman questioned why the developer sought office space and not retail storefronts instead. She said that the office space, at only 1,100 square feet, is “a small amount just to be able to get the development. It doesn’t conform with the spirit of the master plan.”  

Chairman John Wynn asked how the development would play out without the office space and therefore the need to set aside four parking spaces for it. Architect Paul Sionas said that the developer could create a residential amenity space instead of the office space, or make the residential units larger, but Trembulak said that the zoning requires mixed-use.

Sionas said that the developer wanted the office, and that it could be used by attorneys or architects.

Board member Jeffrey Jacobson asked the architect what would happen to plans if the board were not to grant the variances and waivers — particularly pertaining to the variance sought for being short one parking space, and the waiver sought for having six spaces that are only 17 feet in depth, when 18 is the standard. Montclair zoning allows for the 17-foot length for compact cars.

Trembulak said if the parking plans needed configuring, and that resulted in taking away a space or two but the board would not grant that variance, the architect could reduce the office space or eliminate a couple of bedrooms, because the number of required spaces is dictated by bedroom counts. 

The developer has not yet purchased the 17,949-square-foot, 0.41-acre property and is awaiting the project’s approval by the board before moving forward. 

The application will continue at the Planning Board’s Jan. 10 meeting.