forest street
After neighbors were concerned with the lack of parking, the developer pulled his plans for an eatery at the former Astro Club.

By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local

Following months of back and forth with the Montclair Zoning Board of Adjustment and informal meetings with neighbors, developer Steven Plofker obtained approval in December to turn a 497 square foot empty social club into a space for retail, office or personal services uses. Uses exclude nail and hair salons, dry cleaners and medical offices.

Astro Realty Association had submitted an application on June 6, 2018 to convert the first floor of an empty social club at 112 Forest St. into a restaurant. After criticism from residents concerned that an eatery would exacerbate parking issues, he amended the application on Dec. 11, 2018. The board approved it on Dec. 19, 2018.  

The 3,050 square foot, .07 acre property is located in a two-family zone. It features two residential units on the second floor. The 900 square foot first floor space only includes 497 square feet of usable space since the balance is for storage and mechanical uses.

“I met with neighbors and we came to a consensus on uses we’re both comfortable with. I want to reserve the right to sell things like chocolate but not take out food, more likely for retail, personal services or office space,” said Plofker.

Seven parking spaces are required. Since parking on site only consists of a narrow driveway for two tandem parking spots used by the two residents who live on the second floor, Plofker asked the board to allow him to limit parking on Forest, Walnut and Chestnut streets to two-hour parking due to neighbors’ complaints. Additionally, he wants to use his property across from the shuttered social club for up to eight parking spaces.

“There are 75 off street parking spaces within a block of this property that can accommodate this use easily,” Plofker added, highlighting his other properties.

The board asked Plofker about his vision for the neighborhood, which is in the vicinity of the Label Street Worker Housing Area. The area contains several properties on Friendship Place, Fidelity Place and Oak Place that were once used as worker housing for the Crump Label Factory near Label Street during the 19th century, the 2016 Montclair Historic Preservation Element of the Township Master Plan shows.

“I try to take old dilapidated structures and make them look as nice as I can with new uses while keeping historic details,” Plofker told the board. “We’ll be upgrading windows and gutting the social club space.

Plans include removing the wooden stairs at the rear of the property and constructing decks leading to the residential units, which would increase the coverage from 37 percent to 42 percent, where the maximum allowable is 25 percent. Side yard setback is 3.4 feet where six feet is required.

Overall the board agreed that daytime use of the storefront as opposed to past use as a social club, which opened in the evenings would be best. The retail space trash will be stored at Plofker’s property in a dumpster across the street, he noted.

The board agreed that The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission’s five recommendations will be met as conditions of approval. They included approval of the use variance since the building is not configured for two-family use, matching the paint at the entry doors to the existing storefront, cleaning the brick façade, repairing the pointing, replacing the coping and allowing the \commission to review the signage installation.

Plofker’s attorney Alan Trembulak said the storefront space was a challenge for the property owner.

“The storefront space has a lengthy history of non-residential uses. It’s interesting to see four or five buildings on Forest Street where you have storefronts in front of residential portions. It’s part of the historic fabric of the community,” Trembulak said.