Montclair’s Planning Board members say they’re concerned the Orange Road garage won’t be able to accommodate enough cars for special events, using valets instead of a previously planned stacking system the developers now say isn’t possible. 

But the board’s attorney this week told members they should vote through the plans for the garage anyway.

The deck and its lift-and-stack system, which the board approved in 2017, were expected to accommodate 614 cars, with 123 valeted and 116 on the lifts. In January, the developer’s attorney told the board that the lift system had been deemed unsafe and could not be utilized due to engineering problems. The developer, Montclair Acquisition Partners LLC, is now in litigation against the company that installed it, said Tom Trautner, the developer’s attorney. 

The developer is now seeking a minor site plan change to remove the stacking system and expand the garage floor plates in its place. 

In March, the developer’s parking expert told the board that the garage could park up to 694 vehicles in the case of a special event by going mostly valet and lining cars up, up to nine vehicles deep. 

The board’s parking expert, Gerry Giosa, said he had concerns about car retrieval times and that Valley and Bloom residents who use the garage would be “put upon” in the case of special events. The parking deck currently accommodates parking for residents of Valley and Bloom, Board of Education administrators, office users, retail employees and the public. Additionally, the MC Hotel uses the fifth floor of the deck for its guests on a valet basis. The hotel provides a pickup and drop-off by the hotel porte-cochere.  

The developer’s parking expert, Kristen Sokich, executive vice president of Propark Mobility, has maintained that only on one occasion, at the opening of the hotel, usage was as high as 438 cars. The garage averages 270 cars, with up to 315 15% of the time, Sokich said.

But board members are concerned that valeting would result in long wait times for car retrievals and that the garage could close due to full capacity with special events.

Although planner Janice Talley said the town would not get involved in enforcement in the event of extended wait times or garage closures since the deck is privately owned, the Planning Board and the developer agreed on April 12 to reconvene on April 24 for a vote after an agreement has been drawn up creating penalties if garage users are not accommodated.

Also at issue is an approximate 1-foot encroachment into municipal property approved in 2013 and another in 2017, and a change to the facade — both of which were allowed to accommodate the stacking system.

Planning Board members had questioned if the front of the building should be demolished and moved back, and if the facade should be the board members’ preference of precast concrete, not stucco, as originally planned.

Former Planning Board Member Martin Schwartz called into the April 12 meeting and contended the developer had demonstrated a “pattern of deception, misstatements and obfuscation here – at the public’s expense.  

“The applicant could have just completed the building within the original footprint under the early redevelopment plan — with or without a lift system. However, they clearly wanted extra land to obtain more parking,” Schwartz said. ”And yet, when Montclair asked them, they somehow couldn’t give us a better building façade. Because the applicant claimed then that their framing was already installed and was not strong to accommodate both the lift system and a better and more expensive precast façade. Yet, they kept taking more public land nonetheless.”

Schwartz showed photos of current work being done on the facade, which he said means that the developer could provide the framing to support precast concrete since there is no lift system and the framing is still being done. 

Trautner countered that no construction is ongoing that was not previously approved by the board, and that the encroachment is minor, mostly at the columns, and still allows for the required 4-foot-wide sidewalks and a grassy area.

“This is a minor site plan change to expand the floor plates,” he said. “We can with valet park up to 692 where 686 was approved.”

The developer said that the stacking system can be dismantled in a matter of weeks, and that the suit against the installer had been holding up its removal. 

The board’s attorney, Arthur Neiss, told the board that “there seems to be no legal reason to deny the application,” citing a small reduction in parking allotment and that the developer was not asking for a variance. “If it were to go to court [after a denial], a Superior Court judge would say the board is being unreasonable.”

Council liaison and board member Robin Schlager said she felt “sad and duped.”

“This has been a waste of time,” she said.