Town officials counter board member’s assertions of development wrongdoing
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
The township council Thursday “denied any wrongdoing” by its members or town employees regarding the controversy over the Montclair Center Gateway Redevelopment Plan and a proposed 46-unit development for the area, rejecting a planning board member’s claim earlier this week that no investigation into the conduct of “certain township employees” had been done.
At the Sept. 9 planning board meeting, board member Martin Schwartz read a statement alleging that a township employee may have intentionally allowed for a much denser housing development at 33-37 Orange Road than was intended in the Montclair Center Gateway Redevelopment plan. He asked why an investigation had never been done, asserting the council directed township manager Tim Stafford to conduct one, but it had never been received by the board.
The township then released a statement Thursday, Sept. 12, rejecting that assertion.
“The Township Council denies any wrongdoing by its members involving the 37 Orange Road project. Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence that any township employee or board member acted to further private interests rather than the public good,” the statement by the township reads.
“Contrary to Mr. Schwartz’s assertions and insinuations, the manager did conduct an investigation as to the circumstances of publication and posting of the proposed redevelopment plan amendment, and as to whether anyone, township official, employee or member of the public, had interfered or attempted to interfere with the process. The investigation resulted in no finding of wrongdoing,” according to the statement.
The statement went on to add that the results of the investigation were communicated only to the council by the manager, although the details have remained confidential.
In response to the township statement, Schwartz said he was told no promised manager investigation was reported back to the council.
“Therefore today's C.Y.A. revisionist history response from the town is really not surprising,” Schwartz said. “If there was an investigation, the results could have and should have been made public to clear up this imbroglio.
“Instead, no investigation outcome was reported publicly by the manager, or even that one had been conducted. That the matter was resolved. That it was really just a mistake, a drafting error. Especially since the planning board site review was clearly coming and the density issue still open,” Schwartz said. “Since that was not done, all this just leads to the same reasonable conclusion: ‘that this dog still don't hunt.’”
Pinnacle Companies has presented plans to build the 46-unit MC Residences on 0.644 acres in between the MC Hotel and Orange Road parking garage, which were both built by the same developer. For about a year, the township, planning and zoning boards and the developer have been at odds over conflicting zoning language in the Gateway Plan.
Part of the redevelopment plan’s language sets the maximum density at 18 units per acre for multi-family homes. But the following sentence contradicts that: “The following requirements [18 units per-an-acre section] apply to new multi-family residential buildings with no commercial component.”
The applicant’s attorney, Tom Trautner, argued the 18-unit density limit did not apply to MC Residences because the application is for a mixed-use project that contains both commercial and retail. He claimed that the redevelopment plan calls for a maximum of 72 units per acre with a mixed-use plan.
An amendment to correct the language on the agenda for the Sept. 25, 2018, council meeting was pulled with no explanation. On July 17, zoning board members voted unanimously to interpret the plan to allow for the 46-unit development to proceed. With that approval, the application was then sent back to the planning board which was heard on Sept. 9.
Prior to the Sept. 9 hearing on the MC Residences, Schwartz said that 18 units per acre — not 72 as suggested by the developer — was the council and planning board’s density intention dating back to 2017.
He did not name any employee or employees specifically responsible.
“The bottom line is that the MC Residence developers got over on our township and will likely get unintended density of units seemingly not agreed to by both the council and planning board. Therefore, they will gain substantial added profits,” Schwartz told Montclair Local.
According to the township’s statement, in March Schwartz made “the same speculations and charges of misconduct” in an email to the council and administration.
“As required by long-standing New Jersey procedure, his message was promptly referred to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. The same was done with the video of Mr. Schwartz’s Sept. 9 remarks and a written version of those remarks sent to council members today by Mr. Schwartz. Because the matter is in the hands of the prosecutor, the township will have no further comment at this time,” the statement ended.