The Montclair Planning Board, troubled that the proposed plan to redevelop Lackawanna Plaza clashes with the town’s master plan and threatens to “change the character of the surrounding neighborhood,” has delivered a resolution to the Township Council recommending that the project be scaled back.

The resolution, finalized on Monday, Jan. 30, and obtained by Montclair Local from a confidential source, cannot compel the council to heed its suggestions. But after assessing the plan over the last two months, the board has sent a strong signal that it objects to many elements, including the development’s bulk and density, the height of the buildings and a lack of “sufficient protection” of the plaza’s historic riches.

In perhaps its most striking language, the resolution says that the newly envisioned Lackawanna Plaza outlined in the redevelopment plan could “form a barrier to adjacent neighborhoods.” 

Overall, the resolution reveals a thirst by the board for more information, calling for more comprehensive examinations of how the plan would affect on-the-ground, day-to-day realities in the Fourth Ward community, including traffic, utilities, fire safety and trash collection.

As council members were digesting the Planning Board’s recommendations, more input was flowing in. The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission has also given its resolution to the Township Council, saying that the plan did not conform to the historic preservation elements of the master plan and should be scaled down.

On Tuesday night, Jan. 31, the Montclair Housing Commission passed a resolution saying that the number of affordable apartment units in the plan meets township zoning requirements.

Likewise, the Planning Board’s resolution said the 20% of affordable housing units as well as the 10% of workforce units called for in the redevelopment vision conform to the master plan. 

The redevelopment plan — drafted by the township with input from the developer, BDP Holdings — would bring new life to an expanse of land regarded as the gateway to Montclair, but which has long fallen on hard times. While the scope of the project has evoked strong feelings from people on varying sides of the issue, there has been virtual across-the-board sentiment that the 8.2-acre property is sorely in need of revitalization.

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. Four of the buildings would reach at least 87 feet in height, surpassing zoning limits, the Planning Board’s resolution says. 

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.

Fears that the project would loom over and encroach upon one of Montclair’s most historic neighborhoods are laced through the Planning Board’s resolution. Rather than melding into the community, the development would effectively create two neighborhoods, the resolution suggests. 

“The buildings, as proposed in the redevelopment plan, are out of scale and scope with respect to the surrounding area,” the resolution says. “The buildings not only impact, but change the character of the neighborhood, turning a traditionally low-rise commercial district into a major metropolitan center.”

Emphasizing the point, the resolution says that the “plan design appears to cut out and form a barrier to adjacent neighborhoods.”

Among its recommendations, the Planning Board zeroed in on the proposed supermarket, considered by many to be a linchpin of the redevelopment plan. Nearby residents have cried out for one ever since a Pathmark store was closed eight years ago.

“Long-term viability of a supermarket is paramount to the success of the redevelopment plan,” the resolution says, while adding that the plan lacks enough information for the Planning Board to evaluate the prospects for a supermarket as described in the plan. The resolution underscores that the developer has already signed a lease with an unidentified supermarket. Without knowing just what supermarket would be part of Lackawanna Plaza, the board has been operating largely in the dark in its deliberations. 

Still, it offered recommendations that the supermarket be moved to a more prominent location in the plaza from the more interior spot called for in the redevelopment plan. Contemplating the supermarket’s size, the resolution reflects debate among board members, with some saying it should fall within a range of 40,000 to 50,000 square feet, and others suggesting a hard floor of 50,000 square feet. In the end, the resolution says that a new supermarket should be no less than the average size of supermarkets in New Jersey as determined by industry data. It provided no further specifics.

Addressing the size of the buildings and the shadows, real and figurative, they would cast over adjacent blocks, the resolution suggests a number of stipulations. For buildings with Bloomfield Avenue frontages, it recommends restricting the maximum height to no more than 67 feet tall, 20 feet less than the plan proposes. The resolution, though, comes with a footnote – that the board is not offering specific recommendations on “how far back from Bloomfield Avenue the 67-foot maximum should be maintained before the proposed buildings may exceed that current maximum, if accompanied by appropriate setbacks and stepbacks.” Stepbacks refer to a design technique that pulls the upper floors back in a tiered effect, while setbacks pertain to a buffer space between the front of the building and the street.

The board also recommends that buildings with Glenridge Avenue frontages conform to a 37-foot limit for the first 100 feet of depth. Stepbacks could then allow for more height, the resolution says.