By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

The developers of the Orange Road garage say they no longer plan to use a vehicle lift system at the site — even though Montclair's Planning Board in 2017 let them expand their footprint to accommodate the structure.

According to Tom Trautner, the developers’ attorney, the system cannot be utilized due to engineering problems and safety issues. He said he could not speak further on the issues due to litigation against the company that installed it.

The developer was back at the Planning Board on Jan. 25 to present plans to remove the “non-functioning mechanical parking apparatus” and replace it with a horizontal flat-floor expansion of five of the six parking levels. 

The applicant, Montclair Acquisition Partners Urban Renewal LLC, argues that even with the loss of parking from the lift system from 614 to 550 spots (the system was to handle 116 cars), the garage would still provide adequate supply based on pre-pandemic usage data.

The Orange Road parking deck was expected to provide 119 parking spaces for the Valley & Bloom apartments, 231 spaces for the MC Hotel (with 123 reserved at all times) and 78 for Montclair Board of Education employees (now down to 48), as well as public parking. 

The garage also will not have to accommodate cars from the neighboring housing development, MC Residences, which will now provide parking onsite for 40 units.

Last February, MC Residences developer Brian Stolar told Planning Board members that he had severed ties with the owners of the Orange Road deck.

In 2017, the garage redeveloper presented its plan to build the stacking system to increase parking by 116 spaces, but asked to expand the building out about 20 inches onto township property to accommodate the build out. Also, the new plans came with facade changes from precast concrete to the metal stacking mechanisms prominently flanking the building today. The planning board approved the waiver.

The developer said 63 of the stacking spaces could be retained with new floor plans, but 53 would be lost without the system. 

On Monday, Jan. 25, board members suggested that the front of the building be removed and with it the 20-inch encroachment, and that the facade be updated with what the board had originally approved. Although the stacking system would be removed, the metal bars would not, according to the developer.

“Waivers, variances, facade and easements were specifically based on this system. The [20-inch easement] was a compromise and the only way we could get to the parking capacity. It should go back to the original [plan],” board Chairman John Wynn said.

But Trautner said that removal of the front of the building would cost millions and take too much time. Also, pulling the building back would result in a loss of three spaces per floor, he said. 

After nearly three hours of testimony, the applicants said they would return on Feb. 22.

Municipal parking also an issue

According to township records, the township created the Orange Road Parking Plaza in 1948 and made a subsequent 1967 purchase of what is now Centro Verde Way for access from Valley Road, combining the lots and declaring it a redevelopment area. The town leased the land to DCH Auto Group in 2003. The group built a storage deck in 2004, with Montclair retaining exclusive rights to 78 spaces, historically used by the neighboring Board of Education office, for $1. 

The Gateway Redevelopment Area was created in 2012 and absorbed the redevelopment area. Pinnacle Cos. partnered with MAP Urban Renewal to refurbish the parking deck. The plan requires Montclair to retain the 78 spaces.

Subsequently, MAP, replaced by LCOR, developed the hotel parcel and the Valley & Bloom development.

The town has since leased back 30 of the 78 spaces to MAP at $52,000 annually. Board consultant Gerard Giosa said previously that the 48 spaces are for exclusive use for the town, but are distributed and not designated throughout the deck. He has said the garage owner, not the town, is collecting revenue from those spots used by the general public when not in use by the Board of Education since they are all self-park spots, and fares are collected by one gated payment system. The Board of Education does pay the town’s parking authority the $50 a month per a spot.

“Assuming a parking rate of $2 per hour  and an estimated 60,000 annual paid-hours of parking time (during periods when the 48 spaces are not  in use by the BOE) the township is probably missing out on about $120,000 per year in potential parking revenue,” according to a memo by the planning department.

The problem lies in the current “gated” operating system in the parking deck that does not allow the 48 spaces to be segregated or designated as those belonging to the township as they are on the upper levels. 

“In order to satisfy Section 3.3 of the License Agreement, allow public / transient parking in the 48 space supply (when they are not in use by BOE), and provide the township access to a valuable  revenue stream to which it is entitled, it is recommended that the 48 spaces be physically segregated  from other spaces in the deck,” the planning department memo reads.

The parking issue will also be heard at the next hearing.