Montclair Township Council delays action on Lackawanna Plaza plan
Over roughly a decade, ambitions to redevelop and revitalize Lackawanna Plaza have met with fits and starts. Lawsuits and community concerns over traffic and environmental concerns and the sheer size of the project – one of the largest in Montclair history – have put it on a slow track.
On Tuesday night, the Township Council opted to press the pause button once more, voting to table for another five weeks, until Dec. 6, a decision on whether to send the matter to the Planning Board for review. The council reached the decision to push back the timetable, even though it now has a new draft of a redevelopment plan presented by the township.
The problem: at 115 pages, dense in detail and schematics, the draft landed in the packets of council members only 11 days earlier, Oct. 21.
“This is going to impact all of the Fourth Ward, all of Montclair, not just Bloomfield Avenue,” said Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings, in calling for a delay in the vote. “I want to make sure that it is beneficial to the residents who are going to be impacted.”
Cummings added: “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.”
Cummings said he planned to meet with constituents at Bullock Elementary School on Thursday night and would be joined by Placek.
Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis urged his colleagues to approve sending it on to the Planning Board, saying that the board would have 45 days to review it and send back recommendations to the council. At that point, he said, the council would have the opportunity to assess the particulars and gauge community sentiment.
“The point of tonight is that we're just starting the process so that the experts on the Planning Board can have a look at it and can give us the feedback and their thoughts,” Yacobellis said. He called the additional wait time “delay for delay sake.”
The redevelopment plan reads like a Utopian vision for a space that is often regarded as the gateway to Montclair. Not far from the hub of town, it has been forsaken and largely abandoned. The Pathmark store that anchored the shopping center since the mid-1980s fell into neglect, giving the plaza a worn-down appearance. But when it closed in 2015, it left behind a neighborhood without any other grocery store options. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority regards the Lackawanna Plaza area as among the 50 “food desert” communities in the state.
“It has been a long time that we have suffered through the blight of Lackawanna Plaza,” said Placek, a Montclair resident, speaking during the public comments part of the session. “It has been inactive since I moved here in 2013, for the most part.
“Pathmark was still open, but many of the shops were closed. We've been talking about this for a very, very long time, and the public has been commenting on it at numerous Planning Board meetings, numerous town council meetings over the years.”
He asked the council, “Why would we delay it further?”
Cummings stressed that he supports the project.
“Yes, it’s been described as a food desert,” Cummings said. “It's also our lowest-income area in town, so I think it's something we definitely need to do.”
But these issues, Cummings suggested, rather than spur the council to rushing the process, were instead a cause for more deliberation.
“I’m not delaying this just to delay this and I don't like that term,” Cummings said. “I am asking that we go through a process and that we handle this properly. It's been near 10 years, and so three or four weeks is not going to stop this.”
The vote to table the matter was 5-1, with Yacobellis the lone opponent.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly states who presented the draft redevelopment plan. The presenter was Montclair Township.